The poor student’s guide to Sydney: how to eat, drink and dance on the cheap

By , September 29, 2015

So you want to soak up some of that sunny city vibe that only Sydney has to Queensland is known as the Sunshine state, and this couldn’t be more true in Townsville. Average hotel and accommodation prices in Townsville hotels are significantly lower than that of nearby Cairns and Port Douglas, making it an excellent base for exploring the nearby Magnetic Island and Great Barrier Reef.offer – dress up for the buzzing heart of the CBD, take in the pretty harbour views and experience the best of cosmopolitan dining. But, hang on, that can be hard when you’re a poor uni student especially with Sydney being the fifth most expensive city in the world.

But thankfully, most of us have been in the same shoes at least once in our lives before – that’s why we’ve put together a list of options for you to get everything out of Sydney without burning through all of your savings.



Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout

[caption id="attachment_394" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]View from the Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout. Photo by Sinead Friel CC BY [/caption]

Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge would be epic, right? That’s until you find out that it would leave you a whopping $250 out of pocket. If you’d rather spend your money on 25 beers instead, we suggest you check out The Sydney Pylon Lookout. Located on the southern end of Sydney Harbour Bridge, the lookout gives you practically the same views for a fraction of the cost. At 87 metres above sea level, the Sydney Pylon Lookout affords spectacular panoramic views of Circular Quay and the city surrounds. There’s also a museum within the pylon with everything you need to know about the history of the bridge.

Tickets cost $13 for adults.

Chinese Garden of Friendship

The Chinese Garden of Friendship, Sydney.

The Chinese Garden of Friendship is great for those days where you want to do nothing but soak up the sun in serene surroundings. For a modest entry fee you’ll be able to wander around waterfalls, lakes, exotic plants, pavilions and hidden pathways – all tucked away from the bustling city. The tranquil garden is also home to koi carp, weeping willows and a Chinese teahouse.

The surrounding Darling Harbour precinct is also worth exploring on a chill afternoon. Laze with the locals on the steps of the Cockle Bay Wharf, or if you’d rather treat yourself to a fresh, cold beer, a number of bars along the harbour side offer $10 jugs of beer during the afternoons.

Entry to the Chinese Garden of Friendship costs $6 for adults.

The Rocks Area

[caption id="attachment_400" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]The Rocks, Sydney Photo by Michael Coghlan CC BY-SA [/caption]

The Rocks is a curious place to explore, being home to the first Europeans in Australia. Its rough, cobblestone laneways are lined with rustic sandstone buildings housing boutique shops, market stalls, cafes and restaurants. Join in the crowds at Sticky to watch the rock-candy professionals make the famous sweet treats by hand – it’ll be sure to bring back childhood memories.

Top tip: wander down at the weekend for The Rocks’ famous markets.

Ferry Ride to Manly

[caption id="attachment_386" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Manly Harbour, Sydney Photo by Jeff Turner CC BY[/caption]

This is hands-down one of the most economical ways to see Sydney’s picturesque coastline and deep blue waters, whilst allowing you to check out Manly, a beach-side suburb in the city’s north. Firstly, for the price of a return ticket you get a 30-minute tour of Sydney Harbour; secondly, Sydney’s iconic green and yellow ferries are a delight to ride and thirdly; you can get your tan on at one of the city’s most beautiful beaches. Go for a refreshing dip in the ocean, grab some fish ‘n’ chips for lunch and you’ll have your day sorted.

An adult return ticket to Manly costs $15.20.

Top tip: if you want to see some incy-wincy little Penguins, we suggest you stick around till the evening. Between the months of July to February these furry critters emerge from the ocean at dusk to nest at Manly Wharf.

Bondi to Bronte Walk

[caption id="attachment_412" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Bondi to Bronte coastal walk, Sydney Photo by russellstreet CC BY-SA[/caption]

Don’t just brunch and tan at Bondi – if you want to get fit with the locals, do the Bondi to Bronte walk. The coastal pathways along Sydney’s rugged shoreline is your best bet for getting some #fitspiration. It’s regularly occupied by glistening guys and girls on their afternoon run and there’s even an impressive rock pool and a free outdoor gym for your daily dose of pull-ups. Don’t forget to snap some pics of the gorgeous, sun-drenched views over Bondi Beach of course, and for those who love marine life, Mackenzie’s Bay is home to some fascinating wildlife such as sea snails, starfish and crabs.

As a bonus, you’ll also get to discover the less-touristy Tamarama Beach and Bronte Beach.

Art Gallery NSW

Art Gallery NSW, Sydney

Sydney is generally sunnier than Melbs but rainier than Brissy. And when it rains, it pours. If this happens, just nip into one of the city’s range of museums and galleries. The Art Gallery is free and is one of the most beautiful museums of the world – an excellent choice for seeing both international and Australian art.


Brekkie for less than $7

Bourke St Bakery

Croissants at Bourke Street Bakery

Though Melbourne may be the queen of brunches, Sydney still holds a deep-rooted passion for an all-day brekkie. A typical café breakfast will cost you around $15 and upwards, but if you’re too broke for brunch, head to Sydney’s beloved Bourke Street Bakery. It has a selection of scrumptious pasties, so for less than a tenner you can tuck into a Bacon and Egg Roll, Ham & Cheese Croissant or a Pain au Chocolat.

Lunch for $12.50 or less

Harry’s Café de Wheels

Cheap eats in Sydney: Harry's Cafe de Wheels does the best pies.Cheap eats in Sydney: Harry's Cafe de Wheels does the best pies.
Photo credits (left to right): Lidija and Hui Ling

For Sydney’s ultimate humble pie, look no further than Harry’s Café de Wheels. Loved by plebs and celebs alike – such as Russell Crowe, Olivia Newton-John and Frank Sinatra – the stand has been serving up piping hot pies for more than 70 years. Ask for the Harry’s Tiger – that’s code for chunky lean beef pie topped with a dollop of mashed potatoes, green peas and a gravy reservoir.

You get all of this for a very reasonable $7.10.

Shakespeare Hotel

Classic budget pub fare at the Shakespeare Hotel

Pubs are the gateways to cheap and tasty lunches, and The Shakespeare Hotel serves just that. There, you can get a hearty fare of Bangers & Mash, Chargrilled Rump Steak or a Chicken Schnitzel for a banging price of $12.50.

Top tip: visit between 4-6pm on weekdays for the $4 happy hour.

Dinner for less than $20

Sydney’s cheap and delicious restaurant scene is largely thanks to the variety of Asian and Middle Eastern restaurants. In a typical week, the Sydney-sider will order a bowl of pho, a roll of sushi, a kebab, a pide, some laksa, and oh, takeaway Pad Thai…

Al Aseel

Authentic and cheap Lebanese fare at Al Aseel

We’re no strangers to Lebanese fare and Al Alseel never fails to satiate the appetite of Sydney-siders. Now located in the trendy inner-city suburb or Newtown, the restaurant continues to serve up the signature dishes that made their original Greenacre restaurant famous: think generous platters of delicious grilled meat, hummus and incredibly fragrant garlic dips. Go with some friends and order a couple of mixed plates to share – we guarantee you’ll leave absolutely stuffed.

Main dishes can be shared between two to three people for about $30.

Chat Thai

Cheap eats in Sydney: go to Chat Thai for authentic cuisine.Cheap eats in Sydney: go to Chat Thai for authentic cuisine.
Photo credits (left to right): Eat Woo and pingkolie

It may come as a surprise that Sydney’s favourite takeaway food is not Macca’s or anything barbequed or meaty. In fact, we’ve developed a palette for sweetness and spice, crunchy herbs, a squeeze of lime and oodles of Thai noodles. Yes – the humble Pad Thai tops the city’s list of favourite takeaway meals. If you want this and more, head on down to Chat Thai – a long-time Sydney favourite – for the said Pad Thai, authentic som dtum (green papaya salad) and  fresh and sweet sticky rice and mango.


El Loco

El Loco in Surry Hills, Sydney.

When the CBD starts to get a little pricey, head on down to the hip suburb of Surry Hills where you can have the same fun for half the price. El Loco is known to do cheap and cheerful pub-Mex, best reserved for some afternoon grub and a couple of Coronas to throw it down. With kitsch and colourful décor, $14 margaritas and $6 tacos, you can’t possibly go wrong.

The Glenmore Hotel

Rooftop views at the Glenmore Hotel, Sydney

Do you want stellar views without splashing the cash? The humble Glenmore Hotel doesn’t look like much from the outside but the casual three-story pub boasts some of the most impressive rooftop views in Sydney; overlooking Circular Quay and the Opera House. It’s great for those warm summer afternoons and you’ll be happy to know that a standard draft schmiddy only costs about $5.


The Cliff Dive

[caption id="attachment_422" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]The Cliff Dive bar and club, Sydney. Photo by Patrick Stevenson[/caption]

Sydney can be guilty of charging you $20 to get into a decent club – but if you’d rather spend that money on drinks instead, head to The Cliff Dive. Entry is free before 11pm, so before long you can be sipping on two cocktails for the price of a standard cover change. The Grapefruit Cutter (Barcardi, Gin, Cognac, grapefruit and apple) and Bali Hai (Bacardi, sugarcane and citrus) are just some of the adventurous concoctions you can get for a reasonable $10.

What’s more, the tiki-styled bar is sure to get you pumped with a groovy underwater-themed dancefloor, as well as music ranging from cool retro tunes to indie and rock.


Central Sydney YHA

Budget hostel accommodation Central Sydney YHA

If cheap eats and happy hour drinks are a deal breaker, then Central Sydney YHA is perfect for those wanting to be situated in the budget foodie heart of Sydney. Those looking for a place to rest their feet after a long day of exploring will be happy to know that the hostel offers comfortable accommodation with multi-share rooms as well as double, twin and en-suite rooms for those who prefer a bit of privacy.

Cafe at budget hostel Central Sydney YHA

Guests can even access the rooftop for panoramic views, or make use of the heated pool and sauna as well as the cinema.

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Big Hostel

Rooftop at the budget accommodation Big Hostel in Sydney

Big Hostel offers comfy budget accommodation with all the trimmings: there’s a rooftop courtyard as well as a library stocked with books and DVDs to keep you occupied during down time.

A room at the budget accommodation Big Hostel in Sydney

Guests on a budget can cut costs by making use of the laundry and cooking their own meals in the self-cater kitchen. On top of that, all of the rooms are provided with full-sized lockers, bedlinen and access to free WiFi.

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What’s your go-to budget tip for Sydney? Let us know below!

Lead image by Andrea Schaffer CC BY