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Wendy Whitley's Secret Garden
Photograph: Robert Polmear

The best things to do in Sydney for free

Entertain yourself in and around the city without spending a cent

Written by
Time Out editors
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Sydney can be a pretty exxy place to live, but if you keep your bargain hunting eyes open, you’ll find heaps of free and cheap things to do on any day of the year.

Now, if you want to flash your cash in the Harbour City, you can book a luxurious staycation in one of the swankiest hotels in town, eat at one of the 50 best restaurants, treat yourself to a pampering at a spa, or sample the fanciest ways to eat cucumber at one of the city's ritziest high-teas.

But then again, the best things in life are free. Here's where you can find them in Sydney.

RECOMMENDED: Sydney’s best op shops.

Free things to do every day of the year

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Wander the city's laneways
  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours

We know our friends in the south have the claim when it comes to laneway culture, but if you know where to look, Sydney can give Melbourne a run for its money.

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Free things to do today

  • Art
  • Paintings
  • price 0 of 4
  • Paddington
You can get lost in the topsy turvy dreamscapes of Melbourne-based artist Kevin Chin. His astounding oil paintings depict beautiful landscapes that are not quite as they should be, with urban sprawl melding into nature running wild. Australian, American and Asian scenes overlap, and are quite often turned upside down and sideways, a bit like in the movie Inception. His latest show, Never Closer, brings eight of these incredible reality-warping large-scale works to Martin Browne Contemporary in Paddington, from October 14 to November 7. And they are just the feast for sore eyes that art lovers locked up for too long need to drink in at length. “With borders intensified locally and globally, there’s so much attention on who’s allowed somewhere, and who isn’t,” Chin says. “These paintings mix up cultural references to test whether home can be grounded in just a single place, when so many of us connect on all different levels to various parts of the world.” Wowed? Find even more art to inspire here. 
  • Art
  • Paintings
  • price 0 of 4
  • Redfern
Curatorial and Co gallery in Redfern will reopen after the long winter of discontent with the glorious colours of Perth-based artist Isabelle de Kleine’s debut solo exhibition Un-Define. The exhibition of 15 large-scale works on paper is all about rejecting the restrictive idea that we should all fit into neat categorisation boxes, exploring gender, identity and beauty in a refreshing way. The collage-like abstract paintings of figures intersected by overlapping geometric patterns in beautiful colours is hypnotising. As de Kleine says, the haunting depictions are all about visualising, “the beautiful chaos that is our minds and the world around us.” Running for ten days from October 13 to 23, the eye-opening exhibition will be one of the first to welcome art lovers back into the city. “This has been such a tough time on our community and on the arts, so being able to present my body of works in person is an absolute privilege and I am looking forward to sharing what I have been working on over the past year,” de Kleine says of the thrilling return to seeing art up close and personal. Tickets will be made available through Eventbrite once NSW Health clarify details on the unlock. You will also be able to check out Un-Define online too.
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  • Art
  • Paintings
  • price 0 of 4
  • Sydney
Pintupi artists from the Western Deserts came together in 2000 to drive a hugely successful fundraising campaign, auctioning off beautiful large-scale works to help fund The Purple House, a First Nations-run, community-controlled, non-profit health service. Two decades later, that service has grown exponentially, and Art Gallery of NSW salutes their remarkable achievements. Curated by Time Out Arts Future Shaper Coby Edgar, The Purple House exhibition – on display and free to visit until February 27, 2022 – brings together eight historically significant works by Pintupi artists. Edgar says, “The Purple House is an example of how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can be successful in developing business models that work for their communities. The Purple House helps people living in remote communities, including some of Australia’s most senior artists, to lead happier and healthier lives, allowing them to record and share their stories for future generations.’ The Purple House director Irene Nangala adds, “I was in Sydney for that auction 21 years ago. We were dreaming for one dialysis machine in Kintore so that our families could come home. It was a great night. We were all so proud and happy. People were very kind. The money raised helped us get our family home to Kintore and then we kept going and going. We are still working hard to help get more people home and keep their spirits strong.” Need more art in your life? Here's our guide to what's opening. 
  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
  • price 0 of 4
  • The Rocks
Kamilaroi, Kooma, Jiman and Gurang Gurang man Richard Bell is one of Australia’s most impactful contemporary artists and dedicated activists, a force for First Nations rights forged under the under the oppressive Bjelke-Petersen regime in Queensland, and then in Redfern. His illustrious 30-year career to date is celebrated in expansive new exhibition You Can Go Now, hosted by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) with whom he has enjoyed an ongoing relationship. Reopening October 12 and running until November 7, it showcases his incendiary political artworks that use mighty satirical humour to eviscerate reductionist views of First Nations art within a post-colonial history and framework. It’s been overseen by MCA senior curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collections and exhibitions Clothilde Bullen, and draws together nearly 40 artworks created across a range of mediums including painting, installation and video works. A recreation of the original Aboriginal Tent Embassy set up on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra in 1972, ‘Bell’s Embassy’, is one of the exhibition’s centrepieces, providing a public space for retelling stories of oppression and displacement while imagining a new way forward. It popped up at the Venice Biennale previously. Significant early works include the first iteration of ‘Bell’s Theorem’ which questions the commodification of Aboriginal art. You’ll also be able to see large-scale painting ‘Scientia E Metaphysica’, hailing
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  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
  • price 0 of 4
  • The Rocks
The MCA is really spoiling us with two glorious free exhibitions to mark the reopening of the Rocks institution. There’s the brilliance of First Nations artist Richard Bell in You Can Go Now, and there’s also a major rehang of the collection, dubbed Perspectives on Place. Curated by Anneke Jaspers, the exhibition brings together artworks that explore the social and physical aspects of place and puts them in a global perspective looking at how we inhabit the world. Featuring the work of 38 Australian artists, the spectacular array includes new acquisitions from the likes of celebrated First Nations artist Gunybi Ganambarr, Janet Fieldhouse and Megan Cope. Roughly a third of the works are on display for the first time. There will also be a new iteration of the MCA’s Artist Room series, bringing together bark paintings by the late David Malangi Daymirringu, a senior elder of the Manharrngu people of central Arnhem Land. “The exhibition will take viewers on an idiosyncratic journey that connects many different locations, within Australia and beyond,” Jaspers says. “Although the works all stem from specific sites and localities, they speak to broader concepts, from geopolitics and environmental change to communal life and custodianship.” Love art? Find out what exhibitions are happening here. 
  • Art
  • Sculpture and installations
  • price 0 of 4
  • Zetland
Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran is one of Australia’s most exciting contemporary artists, so it’s only right and proper that he has a brand new solo show opening just in time for Sydney unlocking. The Guardians opens at Zetland’s Sullivan and Strumpf gallery on October 14 and will run through to November 13, transforming the ground floor space into a surreal mythological playground of incredible creatures sculpted in ceramic and bronze. Some of these guardians will tower over us, others will see us eye-to-eye, but knowing Sri Lankan-born Nithiyendran’s playfully subversive work, all will be magical to behold. Drawing on the imagery of ritualistic icons designed to protect from evil, their arrival is the perfect way to ward off the bad mojo of the last 18 months. “ The guardian figure’s allusions to ideas around regeneration, renewal and even collapse are particularly pertinent in our current global climate defined by social, environmental and public health shifts and upheaval,” he says. These curious creatures also reflect his fascination with emojis, zoology and queer imagery. Excited? You can find more ideas for things to do in Sydney here.
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  • Shopping
  • price 0 of 4
  • Moore Park
Every Wednesday and Saturday you can pick up a bag of crunchy carrots, loaf of warm sourdough and an armful of flowers at EQ’s Cambridge Markets. The Entertainment Quarter has been home to a fresh produce and arts and crafts market for 20 years, and in 2018 market experts Madelienne Anderson and Rebecca Fox took over the show, adding EQ to their list of market spaces around Sydney, from Watsons Bay to Cronulla.  There are about 40 stallholders at each market peddling gourmet cheeses, ripe cherry tomatoes and piping hot gozleme. It’s a broad mix of retailers, from fruit and veggie stalls to children’s clothing and French linen.  The Markets are back in action after the mass government shutdowns, but if you can't make it down to grab your haul, you can still order fresh food and flowers for home delivery on Wednesdays and Saturdays from the Cambridge Markets website. Place your order by noon on Tuesday for Wednesday delivery, or by noon Friday for a Saturday order. You can also get your hands on certified organic fruit and vegetable boxes from from Block11 Organics, third-generation farmers with farms in central western New South Wales and the Hawkesbury.  There's no beating the community vibe of getting down to the markets in person, however. No matter what day you visit, there are picnic benches all around the all-weather market where you can sip a coffee and soothe a hangover. Kids love the pony rides that are often available on weekends and there’s heaps of parking in Moore
  • Film
  • Romance
  • price 0 of 4
  • Sydney
For many ardent cinephiles, Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai’s lushly lit romance In the Mood for Love (2000) is their favourite film of all time. It certainly wowed critics at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was nominated for, but did not win, the top prize, the Palme d’Or (which went to Lars von Trier’s also excellent Dancer in the Dark). Star Tony Leung did take home Best Actor for his remarkable turn as a cuckolded man who slowly but surely falls for a neighbour, played by a radiant Maggie Cheung, whose spouse is also doing the dirty. Her dresses alone have been seared into cinematic history, as gorgeous as the sumptuous cinematography they’re folded into, as captured by Aussie Christopher Doyle alongside Kwan Pung-leung and Mark Lee Ping-bing. To celebrate 20 years of the film sashaying into the sublime, the Opera House staged a livestream event In the Mood: A Love Letter to Wong Kar-Wai and Hong Kong, a night of entertainment inspired by Kar-wai’s vision. You can watch it here.  Performing on the Joan Sutherland stage, Hong Kong-born, Australia-based pop star Rainbow Chan debuted new music inspired by the movie’s unforgettable score. She also threw some Bossa Nova moves from a famous sequence. Chan was joined by Sydney-based composer, singer and performance artist Marcus Whale – who has popped up at Liveworks, Vivid and Sugar Mountain Festival – and regular collaborator Eugene Choi, who narrated this lavish audio-visual feast, guiding us through a fever dream brought
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  • Art
  • Photography
  • price 0 of 4
  • Carlton
If you could not get enough of the trippy timewarp of Sydney then and Now, then you’re going to want to check out similarly themed art exhibition We Are Georges River. Capturing the continually evolving cultural diversity of the south of Sydney, it presents 200 vintage images from the Georges River Council vaults and tells a captivating story of the local communities, including Chinese Australians the First Nations peoples. If you’re in the hood, you’ll be able to check them out blown up giant-sized in various various spots including the Oatley Memorial Gardens, Hurstville Plaza and Carss Bush Park until December 17. You can find out where and when here. Or you can hop online and make the most of these gorge shots in digital form, with locals encouraged to get in touch with the council and share their own images current and historical by emailing LocalStudies@georgesriver.nsw.gov.au. If you see a photograph that sparks your curiosity, you can scan the attendant QR code to find out more about the story behind it. They include the legacy of the Nethery family of Carlton, whose seven sons went from sporting heroes to serving their country during World War II. They now have 44 great-grandchildren. Mike Nethery is really stoked to see them recognised. “We would like to share our stories to reflect on the resilience, the initiative and the stoic nature of our forebears in the Georges River area. The images are a captivating glimpse of our shared past and very evocative.” Georges Ri
  • Art
  • Digital and interactive
  • price 0 of 4
  • Sydney
Embracing these hybrid times when we’re often online more than we’re out and about, the Art Gallery of New South Wales has launched the mother of all digital galleries, and it’s a kaleidoscopic trip to creative wonderland. Part of their ongoing Together in Art series, Hyper-linked assembles seven exciting contemporary Australian artists pushing the envelope on how we engage with art from wherever we are in the world. Heath Franco’s 'Home Videohome' is a trippy, dystopian stare into the abyss of the interwebs through the search portals of doom. You'll very likely recognise one in particular, but to avoid any nasty lawsuit, it's been rebranded as Newspider. Get caught up in this web full of unnerving animalistic figures and ‘90s-style pop video imagery gone awry. It’s wrong-town in all the right ways. Justene Williams’ explosively colourful video 'The Unboxers' opens with shades of apocalyptic wrestling matches and a montage with a glimpse of a superhero-like character who resembles someone who rhymes with Maptain Carvel (prob don’t want Disney legalling this either). With creatures that look like sun-melted lollies and a bizarre egg experiment, it’s loopy goodness inspired by the unfurling of the legendary Bob Fosse's jazz hands. JD Reforma’s dreamy drone imagery in ‘I Want to Believe’ captures stolen glances of the world as seen from Sydney’s rooftops, with the traffic drifting by oblivious below. Exploring the idea of escape from abusive relationships, what at first seems li

Eat like a baller on a budget

  • Restaurants

Dining out on a dime is one of this city's great thrills. Here are our picks for Sydney's best eats on a budget. We've tasted everything from banh mi to tonkotsu ramen, biang biang noodles and vegan burgers without breaking the bank. 

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