It’s the most wonderful – and expensive – time of the year. The sleigh bells are jingling but our wallets aren’t, thanks to Christmas shopping and end-of-year parties. If you’re looking down the barrel of the summer holidays on a budget, there’s plenty to keep you entertained in Sydney over the break – without breaking your bank account.
Half-price meals and free live music and discos at Merivale
Merivale wants to lure people back to the city for summer, so it’s put together a line-up of excellent – and cheap – activities to keep spirits high. Every Thursday and Friday afternoon from 5pm it’s turning pocket-sized coffee shop Will & Co into the city’s tiniest disco, with dance floor gurus The Dollar Bin Darlings on the decks, and beer, wine and cocktails on tap. Entry is free, so you’ll have more to spend on booze.
The hospitality giant is also giving punters 50 per cent off food between 11pm and midnight every night of summer at its city bars. That gives you loads of options under $10 – a $7.50 steak sanga at Bar Topa, $10 truffle mac’n’cheese at Palmer & Co and $6 steak tartare tartines at Little Felix. It’s also putting on a slew of free gigs across its venues. Aloe Blacc (ironically of I Need a Dollar fame) and The Preatures have already performed for free, so expect a pretty high standard.
Drink $10 canned cocktails on the harbour
2019 may have been the year of the apocalyptic bushfires, new public transport options and the repealing of the lockout laws, but it was also the year that cocktails in cans and tinnies came into their own. Buy a canned West Winds Negroni for $10, or a four-pack of Love Can spritzes split between four for $23.99 (that's $5.99 each), take it to the Milsons Point waterfront and watch the world go by.
Eat $6.90 hot-chip rolls at El Jannah
Storied Western Sydney Lebanese chicken shop El Jannah opened in Newtown this year, giving us even more places to eat its famous chook with garlic sauce. But it’s the hot-chips roll that has our bank accounts smiling – for just $6.90 you’ll get coleslaw, tomato sauce, pickles, garlic sauce and chips rolled up in pita bread. Even better: if you’ve partied too hard it’ll sort your hangover right out.
Swim in an ocean or harbour pool for free
While Sydney’s beaches are obviously incredible, so too are our unique ocean and harbour pools. Many are free to enter, and the ones that aren’t won’t set you back too much. Our favourite freebies? Maccallum Pool at Cremorne Point, Bronte Baths, Fairy Bower Rockpool at Manly and Mahon Pool at Maroubra. Iconic Bondi Icebergs, along with Wylie’s Baths at Coogee will both cost a few bucks – but they’re worth it.
Do the free walk from Bondi to Manly
A series of pathways between Bondi and Manly have merged to create one epic 80-kilometre walking track. It’s totally free to walk, and, while it’ll take up to a week to complete the whole slog, you can definitely split it up into bits for a more casual stroll. Our picks? Camp Cove and South Head near Watsons Bay, where there’s a lighthouse, some historic fortifications, impressive harbour views and sheltered coves for dips.
Watch free outdoor cinema at Olympic Park
Sydney is flush with outdoor cinemas this year, and a lot of them will set you back a pretty penny. This one at Olympic Park, though, is completely free. Catch flicks such as the live-action remake of Aladdin, Avengers: Endgame and Detective Pikachu. Pre-register for your spot on the lawn here.
Eat $2 oysters at a city diner
If you’re on a tinned-tuna budget this oyster-slurping season, Fratelli Fresh has you covered with $2 bivalves every day between 5pm and 6pm. The only catch is that you need to buy a drink – we recommend visiting during happy hour (3pm to 6pm daily) for $6 Aperol Spritzes and Espresso Martinis.
Free dancing at Harpoon Harry
On Friday and Saturday nights Surry Hills pub Harpoon Harry throws some pretty huge parties. And unlike a lot of club nights, these are completely free. If dancing isn’t your scene, visit on Thursdays for $5 tacos and $5 tinnies.
See free bands and throw tinnies at them at The Lansdowne
Every Wednesday at The Lansdowne Hotel in Chippendale is Chicken Wire Wednesday. Throw back a tinnie of Philter beer (there are weekly specials) and peg it at whichever band is playing behind the chicken wire fence. The only rules are: don’t waste good beer (i.e. don’t throw full cans), only throw from the dance floor and don’t be a dickhead.
Watch free rooftop cinema at the Taphouse
Head to the rooftop of Darlinghurst’s Taphouse each Wednesday for free movies and popcorn. Pull up a beanbag and watch a different cult film each week – past screenings have included Love Actually and Die Hard. Bookings are essential.