Romance Down Under: Sydney for couples on a budget

by Sadhbh

Just because you're visiting Sydney as a backpacker doesn't mean you can't do romantic dates - try these three ideas for amorous outings that won't break the bank

For many couples, Sydney is the highlight of a round-the-world trip, but it can sometimes feel more arduous than amorous. Shared dorms and penny-pinching can take the shine off your shared adventure. However, the Harbour City doesn’t have to be Heartbreak City - here are a few ideas that will tug on the heartstrings instead of the wallet.

A romantic cruise for under $20

An ice cream date in Manly is always a winner. Take the ferry from Circular Quay for under $6 return ($2.50 on Sundays) - sweeping past the Opera House and through Sydney Harbour, it takes the same route as the tourist cruises for a fraction of the price. Outside peak hours, you’ll easily find a quiet seat to share and take in the view.

Bring a picnic and head to Manly beach, or pick up an ice cream from one of the many excellent gelaterias - you can get the Australian icon, the TimTam, crushed into your ice cream at the Cold Rock Café (10 Darley Road; Time your return for sunset and take the ferry back while Sydney twinkles in the dusk. It's cheaper than the cruises and you don’t have to listen to the bad show band!

You can plan all your public transport in Sydney at Manly tourism council website is dry but informative:

A luxury dinner and lie-down movie for under $60

Govinda’s in Kings Cross defies classification. A yoga and meditation centre, it is also a cinema and restaurant with a delicious vegetarian buffet. For $29, you can refill your plate from tables piled high with dishes including curries, bakes and salads, and then head upstairs, lie back and enjoy a film in the comfiest cinema in Sydney. Yep, you read that right – lie back. The boutique cinema has rows of long cushions that bear more resemblance to beds than seats. Kick off your shoes, stretch out and really make yourselves at home. Upright seating is also available in the form of couches and tub chairs.

The menu changes nightly but always includes Indian dahl soup, curry, pasta, lentil pie or potato au gratin, pakoras, potato wedges, rice, poppadums, and a variety of salads, sauces and side dishes. Heading for its 30th birthday, Govinda’s is a Sydney institution, and has been voted the best vegetarian restaurant in New South Wales. You’ll find it right next to Kings Cross station on Darlinghurst Rd (

Alternatively, if you fancy some meat, Harry’s Cafe de Wheels (, famous for its delicious pies, is open throughout the night in the same vicinity.

A night in a mountain retreat for under $200

A weekend away in a private room might be just what you need. Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, just two hours and a $20 return train ride from Sydney, is a scenic wonderland of rainforest, gorges and waterfalls, all easily accessible by foot. A very comprehensive listing of Blue Mountains hikes and walks is available at

A double room in Katoomba will cost less than $80 for the night. The Blue Mountains YHA is highly recommended as clean and spacious, with a wonderful common room and reading lounge. Alternatively, The Flying Fox is a Victorian building with all the features funky; it's friendly and breakfast is included in the price of your room.

You can’t visit Katoomba without taking in the famous Three Sisters rock formation, and if you feel like some privacy, descend a half-kilometre down the Furber Steps or Giants Staircase for a romantic walk in the rainforest. The trails are well marked and laid-out, so you won’t argue about directions, and there are plenty of places to rest and relax.

Don’t fancy all those steps back up? Ten dollars will buy you a cable car trip out or a ride on the world’s steepest train, the Scenic Railway ( More like a small rollercoaster than a train, it was built to transport coal and now carries giggling and shrieking tourists up the steep climb. It's thrilling rather than terrifying, and they do say that excitement makes for a better end to a date…

If you are feeling lazy, there are cute cafes, Art Deco lounges and antique shops. Book-lovers will be thrilled by huge stores selling antique books (Mr Pickwick's at 86 Katoomba Street is near impossible to leave) and gourmands can enjoy delicious home-made chocolates in the Art Deco Paragon café (65 Katoomba Street). It’s relaxed here, and your five dollar coffee will allow you to spend time enjoying the ambience without the waiters hovering.

The best bit is that you can often get the Blue Mountains experience for less. The iconic Carrington is a stunning Art Deco hotel, with ballroom, bars, billiards rooms and four-poster beds. It's a little pricey, starting at $130 midweek for a room, but you can have the Carrington experience – if only for an hour or two - by turning up and ordering high tea and scones for 10 bucks. Enjoy sipping your tea and taking in the views of the town from your wicker chairs on the veranda. The pleasant staff will leave you there dreaming your big budget dreams in the sunshine.

The Old City Bank Brasserie next to The Carrington does a delicious and huge steak dinner for $25 – not as cheap as quick-cook noodles, but worth splashing out for on occasion. Throw in a cocktail in Champagne Charlie’s lounge (in the hotel), and you can believe that you, too, are a rich Sydney socialite, taking in Katoomba in its heyday.

Of course, you could just stay at The Carrington. For $450 you can stay in the two-bedroom Lord Carrington Suite with corner spa, and another $60 will buy you a three-course meal in the Grand Dining Room. A bit much for a backpacker weekend, maybe, but sometimes love means breaking the rules – and the budget.