This guide is going out to those legions of skint backpackers Down Under, determined to make the most of their time in Sydney despite their shrinking wallets
I know the feeling, because I've been there myself. You want to do justice to your time Down Under, but the funds are dwindling and that afternoon spent printing out your CV has so far proved fruitless. Well, despair not! For you are in a city with way too much to do in one lifetime anyway, and best of all, some of it won't even cost you a penny.
Sydney Harbour Bridge is home to a world famous guided bridge climb taking tourists right over the top of that iconic iron hump. But what the patrons of this attraction don't realise, is that a comparable experience can be had by simply walking the pedestrianised pathway along the eastern side of the bridge. Hanging over the water it provides panoramic harbour views and countless photo opportunities with no cost whatsoever. Don't forget to wave to the poor suckers above you who've paid through the nose for the same views only to be denied the right to take photos.
The walk starts from the top of the stairway leading up from Cumberland Street in The Rocks and ends in the surprisingly sleepy suburb of Kirribilli on the north shore. Spend some time here and savour the views of the city skyline from the breezy waterfront parkland before heading back.
'The' scenic walk
Want to experience the best natural scenery that Sydney has to offer? Then set a whole day aside for the Spit to Manly scenic walk right through the Sydney harbour national park. OK, so you'll have to pay for the bus to The Spit and then the ferry back from Manly, but will be amply rewarded with a day of exciting adventure and scenery to die for.
Simply follow the signposted path from Spit bridge for a challenging and unforgettable 10km walk through a world of dense forest, board-walked bushland, beautiful bays, ancient rock carvings and spectacular harbour views. In parts you feel like you are trekking through a wilderness miles from anywhere, totally forgetting that you are surrounded by Sydney's sprawling suburbia. Watch out for the wildlife as lizards scurry into undergrowth, Kookaburras cackle from trees and sinister spiders peer silently from their webs.
Royal Botanic Gardens
The Royal Botanic Gardens are a delight to explore and are big and varied enough to keep you occupied for days. Over 30 hectares of ponds, pagodas, fields and forests, right on the harbour front. The hustle and bustle of the CBD is always within shouting distance, but feels a thousand miles away.
Signs remind nervous visitors to 'please walk on the grass' and 'please smell the roses' helping to put any innate British hesitancy at ease. It's the place to come to forget about the world and space out with a book and a picnic. Just remember to pack enough for yourself and the Cockatoos. Free guided walks are done daily at 10:30am and Monday to Friday at 1:00pm.
Museums and galleries
The Art Gallery of New South Wales is found in the Royal Botanic Gardens near Wooloomooloo. It is housed within a pillar-fronted colonial stone building that is artistically splendid in itself. The impressive collection of art inside is mostly by local artists leaning heavily towards Aboriginal and Islander works. A range of free guided tours are done daily see (www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/discover-art/take-a-tour/guided-tours-at-the-gallery) for details.
The Australian National Maritime Museum, found on the western bank of Darling Harbour grants free access to most of its attractions, although some parts (the destroyer and submarine tours) have to be paid for. It comprehensively pays homage to Sydney’s epic maritime history, from military leviathans to Polynesian island hoppers. There are sections on convict transport, immigration and the barbaric whaling era that pull intentionally on the heart strings and leave you with a feeling of sadness and guilt. Still, visitors are cheered up by the interactive games where you can test your skills as a Victorian merchant sailor.
Government house is the former residence of the commonwealth governors of New South Wales. It is a strikingly beautiful bright gothic building set in lush palm-littered grounds on the western fringe of the Royal Botanic Gardens. Visits are allowed only by free guided tour, done Friday to Sunday every half-hour from 10:30am until 3:00pm.
Sydney boasts a world class collection of beaches strewn about its urban backyard. You could spend a month going to a different one every day and you still wouldn't be done. They are found right up and down the coastal suburbs and are frequently dotted about the harbour shore. Some of the best ones are:
Palm Beach - of Home and Away fame, right at the city's northernmost coastal extremity. The beach is quiet, easily reachable from the city centre on the L90 bus from Wynyard, and is idyllically surrounded by gorgeous bushland and million dollar homes. Oh how the other half live.
Manly is a well known surfing beach, reached by a spectacular half-hour ferry ride from Circular Quay. Manned perpetually by surf-mad locals and armies or tourists, it can be fairly busy, but is never overcrowded. The suburb of Manly is a utopia of classy restaurants and easy going cafés with that fabled laid back Aussie vibe in the air.
Bondi must be mentioned here, for this is the face of Australia - the international superstar of Sydney's beach scene. Its graffiti-clad surroundings are very commercialised and the beach itself is way too busy to be enjoyed fully, but the brash exhibitionism of the surfers, body-builders, supermodels and skaters are classic Sydney. Take the 333 bus from Circular Quay right to the beach-front parade.
Balmoral is a calm beach on the northern middle-harbour shore huddled around the wealthy suburb of Mosman. It is staggeringly scenic, with its dramatic rocky outcrop right in the middle, and no waves either due to its sheltered harbour position. To get there it's bus 179 from Wynyard, and then bus 275 from spit junction.
Public transport information: (www.transport.nsw.gov.au)
Spit to Manly Walk: Bus 179 from Wynyard to The Spit bridge, then the harbour ferry back from Manly wharf to Circular Quay. Take plenty of water and sunblock and wear appropriate shoes, it is tough going in parts!
Government House: Royal Botanic Gardens, Macquarie Street, Sydney Tel: 02 9931 5222 (www.hht.net.au/museums/government_house)
The Australian National Maritime Museum: 2 Murray Street, Darling Harbour, Sydney Tel: 02 9298 3777 (www.anmm.gov.au)
The Art Gallery of New South Wales: Art Gallery Road, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney Tel: 1800 679 278 (http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/)
Royal Botanic Gardens guided walks: Depart from the information booth outside the gardens shop at the palm grove centre Tel: 02 9231 8134 (www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au)
Where to stay
OK, I've done my best, but you're going to have to pay for this I'm afraid. I can recommend Wake Up! 509 Pitt St, and Base Backpackers 477 Kent St. Both offer fantastic value for money, have great central locations and all the usual hostel amenities. Also, Base Backpackers offer limited free accommodation to those willing to help out with hostel upkeep (changing bed linen etc).