Australia - East Coast · Sydney

Guide to Sydney, Luxury Vs. Budget Travel. 

Welcome to Luxury Vs. Budget Travel. Each week this spot will feature a comparison of the Luxury side and the Budget side of a city. This week is Sydney, Australia.

Sydney, capital of New South Wales and one of Australia’s largest cities is best known for its Harbour front Opera House, arched harbour bridge and its world renowned Royal Botanical Gardens. Be sure to book a window seat for your flight into the city, the view as you circle the skies before landing will take your breath away whether you fly in during the day or at night. Sydney wasn’t nicknamed the ‘show pony of Australia’ for nothing, the city is glitzy and glam and well-pruned, yet beautifully rustic and natural at its edges.  Adventure out further than Sydney’s slick inner city and you’ll discover Sydney’s hidden gems; secluded, hidden coves with golden sands, vibrant, arty suburbs and coastal tracks with spectacular, postcard views. 

Of course, experiences cost money but all of the glitz and glam that gives Sydney its appeal doesn’t have to cost a fortune, and for those travelling on a budget there are still a wide range of activities that you can enjoy, many of them for free. And with my top tips, even the most budget conscious traveler can feel like they’re enjoying a luxury vacation in Sydney. However if you’ve got the cash to splash, why not treat yourself in Sydney? Read on to find out how. 

Sydney’s Harbour Bridge and Opera House. ©Kirsty Milburn

Where should I stay if I’m on a budget?

Sydney is home to nearly 80 Backpacker Hostels, so there’s plenty of options for places to stay on a budget. Prices vary depending on location (the closer to the CBD and main attractions such as the Opera House you go, the higher the price) and on standard, with prices ranging from as little as $16 per bed per night, to $64 for a higher range guest house. My top tip is to scour websites such as Booking.com, Hostelworld.com or Hostelbookeds.com until you find a suitable match.

Where to stay when splashing the cash?

If you’ve got a bit of money to spend or simply won’t budge when it comes to accommodation standards, then Sydney is the place to be. Of course, there are the usual array of Meriton apartments or Four Seasons hotels but for me, my top Sydney Hotel has to be the Park Hyatt Sydney with its roof top swimming pool and stunning views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Dreamy.

Looking out over the city and the Park Hyatts roof top pool. ©Kirsty Milburn

Are there any fun activities that are free/budget friendly? 

Sydney is home to some of the worlds most stunning coastal beaches and bush walks, so get your walking shoes on and get out there! Check out Manly, Watsons Bay, Balmoral or Palm Beach. A personal favourite is the Bondi Beach to Coogee Walk, which starts overlooking Bondi’s world renowned Iceburgs swimming pool, where if you’re feeling brave you can take a dip for $6.50. The route takes you 6 kilometres around the coast to Coogee Beach, passing through Bronte Beach and Tamara Beach as you go. On the opposite end of the spectrum there is the Blue Mountains, which are beautiful and a must see when visiting Sydney. Most of the beaches and also the Blue Mountains can be accessed via train or bus from the city within an hour to a couple of hours. Be sure to pick up an Opal card for all public transport around Sydney as paper tickets are no longer accepted and buses no longer accept cash payments. Top Tip: On Sundays, public transport is maximum $2.50, meaning you can travel for a couple of hours and it won’t cost you more than that amount. This makes Sundays the ideal day to visit a destination out of the city. 

If staying within the city is more your thing then take a walk across the harbour bridge or visit the opera house for a picture in front of those famous landmarks. Half way across the Harbour Bridge is the Plylon Lookout and Harbour Bridge Museum which, for only $13 allows you to gain a vantage point for looking out over the harbour and the city. Sydney has some of the best free walking tours around the city that will allow you to see all of the city’s highlights and soak up some facts and local history, check out this website for more information. In addition, 5 minutes via bus from Central Station takes you to Glebe, a small suburb which has some wonderful small boutique shops, niche cafes and every Saturday at the local school, markets stalls are set up flogging anything from nicnaks to vintage jeans. 

If you fancy feeling the wind in your hair, ferries from Circular Quay also use the Opal system and allow you to take in the landscape around the city whilst getting from A to B. Take the boat round to Darling Harbour and visit the Chinese Garden of Friendship, $12 for entry, where you can while away the day in the relaxing environment of the traditional gardens.

The Chinese Garden of Friendship at Sydney’s Darling Harbour ©Kirsty Milburn

And what about if we’ve got some money to spend? What activities come with a price tag?

If you’ve got a bit of cash to splash then Sydney has many activities that come with a price tag. The Harbour Bridge Climb was high on my bucket list and a must do for  me once I arrived in Sydney. It was absolutely amazing but does come with a price tag, although I feel that it was money well spent. My blog post on the climb explains all of the costs. One experience that I would have loved but simply have not had the disposable cash to be able to afford, is a Sea Plane or Helicoptor tour over the city. These tours are incredibly pricy, at up to $200pp for a 20 minute flight, but on a clear day the views would be incredible. 

Across the Bay from Sydney’s Circular Quay is Toronga Zoo which is a brilliant day out for all of the family. The Zoo also hosts a high ropes course, for those who want a taste of adventure. Compared to Australia Zoo (home of Steve Irwin), Sydney’s Toronga Zoo doesn’t have as high a ticket price at $46pp (for gate price) but once you add in food and drink prices in the Zoo the costs start to add up. The Zoo also does a ticket that includes access to the Zoo and the ropes course for $69pp, which is what we did and then take a picnic lunch to avoid any extra costs.
Those with an adventurous streak should also take a visit to Westfield Tower and do their Skywalk Tour ($50pp) for further breathtaking views of the city. 

Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge ©Kirsty Milburn

Where are the best hangouts to relax and take in the sights during the day in Sydney?

  • Royal botanical gardens
  • Glebe
  • Balmoral Beach
  • Manly
  • Hyde Park 
  • Darling harbour
  • Bondi 
  • Sydney CBD

And what about in the evening? Bars/restaurants? Nightclubs?

If you’re looking for a cheap beer or a bite to eat in the city then there are plenty of options to chose from. Scruffy Murphys on George Street is Sydney’s best Irish Bar and serves cheap beer and a top Guinness and Beef pie whilst hosting most sports games on their big screen and live music in the evenings. Bars that offer similar services are Pontoon in Darling Harbour and Buckley’s in Circular Quay. For cheap eats during the day, Westfield shopping centre food court offers a whole host of cuisines, from pizza to hotdogs, sushi and Indian food.

If you want to spend a bit more money on dining out then Darling Harbour is host to a whole array of affordable restaurants, some of my personal favourites are Cyren Bar and Grill for  Seafood, Adria for a great steak and Casa for the best wood fired pizza you can get in all of Sydney.

If you fancy drinks Opera Bar in Circular Quay offers crisp beers and wines and cool cocktails with a view of the harbour bridge and Opera House. And if you really want to go all out, Sydney’s O Bar offers the best views of Sydney from their spinning platform, 47 floors up.

For those with a sweet tooth, a visit to Max Brenner’s chocolate shop and cafe is a must. I can highly recommend the I-Scream Max-Wich for the best ice cream sandwich you’ve ever treated your tastebuds to, or the 80’s Milkshake for milkshakes topped with hard milk chocolate and ice cream. Heaven. 

If you want to shake your tail feather and dust of those dancing shoes then as previously mentioned, Sydney is the place to be and there are hundreds of bars offering the best in music and atmosphere. Personal favourites include The Ivy, The Kings Cross Hotel, 3 Wise Monkeys or Sidebar for those on a tighter budget.

The gang at Kings Cross Hotel ©Kirsty Milburn

Hottest shopping spots 

If you’ve got some money to spend, you urgently need a new item of clothing or you’re after a special luxury item then Sydney has multiple places to go. Martin Place is home to some of Sydney’s higher end stores such as Tiffany, while George Street hosts shops such as Louis Vuitton. Westfield Shopping Centre has everything under one roof, anything from Chanel and Kate Spade to Cotton On and Forever New but also has that all important food court, because you can’t shop on an empty stomach. Entrance is via Pitt Street or Market Street and Pitt Street also houses a number of high street stores such as H&M so you can grab a bargain. Top Tip: H&M are currently running an amazing clothes recycling scheme in an attempt to make the world a more sustainable place. They’ll accept your unwanted garments, in any condition or brand at all H&M stores and H&M will turn it into either a new garment or cleaning cloths. And they’ll even reward you for doing so, with most stores offering you a 10% off voucher which can be spent on one item in store. Winner!

That’s all for this week’s ‘Luxury vs. Budget Travel’ guide. Check back next week because I’ll be hitting Melbourne! 

K x



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