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9 cheap hacks for Sydney's winter culture

The weather outside is frightful, so why not cosy up in a theatre, cinema or gallery? Here are our budget-friendly tips

Written by
Ben Neutze

Crawling out from under that doona and venturing into the streets can feel like a struggle in Sydney's colder months, but there are plenty of cultural savings to be had if you're willing to brave the chill. From blockbuster exhibitions to major musicals, there's lots you can see for nothing – or next to nothing.

Recommended: The 20 dishes you need to eat this winter.

It's the hottest ticket in Sydney and you'd generally have to book well in advance to secure the best seats in the house. But if you can't fork out for the regular ticket prices – or if you just aren't organised enough to think about what you'll be doing three months from now – you can enter the lottery to secure $40 tickets in the front row. If you want to know how good a deal that is, the seats in the row immediately behind you go for $165. Suckers.

The Art Gallery of NSW has two major ticketed exhibitions – the Archibald and John Russell – and the Wildlife Photographer of the Year always attracts a big crowd. But if you don't want to even open your wallet, there's plenty you can see, even at the AGNSW, which is pulling out its biggest immersive installations for a new free exhibition. The MCA has two big free exhibitions: master bark painter John Mawurndjul and Chinese rising star Sun Xun. And if you're wanting somewhere you've probably never been before, Paddington's Kudos Gallery has a fascinating exhibition inspired by Les Misérables and Cement Fondu is showing a multimedia exhibition by five Sydney artists.


If you're a committed theatre fan, you probably already know that you can get into all of STC's shows for just $20 with the Twenties program. Tickets are available each Thursday morning from 9am for shows in the following week and can be purchased online or by phone. They sell quickly though so you need to be fast. This winter you can see the mainstage debut of H. Lawrence Sumner, The Long Forgotten Dreamas well as the world premiere of Kate Mulvany's two-part, five-and-a-half-hour adaptation of Ruth Park's The Harp in the South.

Carriageworks has plenty of space so frequently presents big – and we mean big – installations. This winter there are two different but equally big (and free) works. French artist Daniel Buren's installation features more than 100 oversized children's wood blocks. Japanese visual and sound artist Ryoji Ikeda's dual video installations were developed at Switzerland's CERN, European Organisation for Nuclear Research. One video takes over 172.8 square metres of floor space, and the other is on a ten-metre wall. Even if you're not look for a transformative art (or science) experience, you can't deny the Instagram potential of these installations.


Most of us think opera is for the upper crust, but there are ways of getting in even if you're not a duchess or duke. If you're an opera newbie you can enter Opera Australia's $20 ticket ballot and hope for the best. But if you want a surer thing and are the type of person who gives a standing ovation anyway, you can get standing room tickets to any OA performance for $46 (plus booking fee). There's a good view, but you will be on your feet the whole show. This season is all about the big classics: Rigoletto, Lucia di Lammermoor and the operatic epic to end all epics, Aida.

Griffin is one of Sydney's most intimate but influential theatres and the city's home of new Australian writing. Its tickets are usually $60, but there are $20 tickets available to every Monday night performance. Just book online or via phone at noon that day – but get in quickly. Their next show is The Almighty Sometimeswritten by a young and little known Australian playwright Kendall Feaver. The play is already making big waves overseas – it won a prestigious international award and had its London premiere earlier this year to rave reviews. Not a bad prospect for 20 dollarydoos.

Get some free laughs at one of these comedy nights

It can be difficult to know where to see comedy in Sydney when there's not a festival on, but there are killer comedy nights all year round. These five nights have no cover charge and are a great place to see both rising stars and established acts. You can put your savings towards a few beers, and the good news for winter is most of these are inside warm, toasty pubs. 

Not every show at the Opera House is for the rich and elite, and we can vouch for this particular gem. It's a theatrical tribunal overseen by Aboriginal Elder Aunty Rhonda Dixon Grovenor, putting the Australian government's treatment of refugees on trial. It's obviously political but also a surprisingly moving and entertaining piece of theatre that cracks open conversations and gives everybody an opportunity to participate. It's just $36 a ticket and $21.50 if you're under 30 (plus booking fee). And if you go on Saturday you'll be greeted by Parents’ Cafe – serving free Iraqi tea, coffee and sweets before and after the show.

See a cult classic for $10

Cinema prices have been creeping up in recent years, but you can still get your big screen fix on a budget if you know where to look. One of our faves this winter is the Chauvel in Paddington's Cult Cinema Tuesdays. The tickets are just $10 and you can grab a beer for $5. Their focus is on hard-boiled modern crime classics with movies including Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011), the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing (1990) and a 35th anniversary screening of Scarface.

Looking for affordable theatre all year round?

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