Top 5 Free and Strangely Quirky Things to do in Sydney

Sydney is expensive. I didn’t believe this until I moved here. After living in London for over a year, I thought costs of living couldn’t get much worse. But I was wrong. Prices for groceries, clothes (especially imported British and American brands) are bordering on what you may call extortionate, and paying four Australian dollars for a can of Coke will remind you quickly of the virtues of tap water.

 In college, I thought a bowl of Cheerios and a Coors Lite made a fantastic option for dinner on a budget. But I don’t really want to revert to Ramen and peanut butter at 28. And, if you are coming to Sydney as a backpacker on a tight budget, you probably don’t want to either.  So, not to worry- I have put together a list of free things in Sydney, so you can see this great city and not go hungry. But, as there are about 100 websites listing free things in Sydney, mine has a little twist: in keeping with the theme of this blog, they are both free and slightly off kilter.  So, allow me to present the best quirky and unusual (and free!) things to do here. You can thank me later with a nice icy cold Coors.

1. The Nicholson Museum (University of Sydney campus) This museum, founded in 1860, contains collections donated to the University by a Sir Nicholson. Well, there are two collections. The museum is basically a very large room, divided in two sections- one side is Ancient Egyptian antiquities, and the other is Etruscan.  Sir Nicholson fancied himself a bit of an explorer, traveling to Egypt and Italy, where he purchased his artifacts, which had mostly been looted from tombs. (Cultural preservation and respect for other nationalities wasn’t big back then) The most interesting display lies in the Egyptian collection, specifically the large case filled with mummified body parts of both people and animals, including part of a small child. What’s weirder, that Nicholson purchased the body parts of a mummified child, or that the museum proudly displays them in a case, I do not know.

But, for those with a strong stomach, it’s a most interesting way to kill an afternoon, and the campus itself is very pretty as well.

2. Government House (Botanical Gardens) Government House, the traditional home of the governor of New South Wales (the state in which Sydney is located). It’s a beautiful building, and the Historic Houses Trust, who manage the property and its gardens, pictured above, offer free guided tours. The building itself was designed by an English architect who had never been (and never did make it) to Australia. This made for some great design flaws, such as fireplaces in every room of a house to be built in Australia. The tour itself was quite informative, and, if you’re lucky, you’ll get the same tour guide I had, a very debonair man with a vague resemblance to Pierce Brosnan. As Government House has been the location of recent international summits, our tour guide was full of gossip about world leaders who had attended. Which world leader brought his own food taster, presumably in fear of being poisoned by his Aussie comrades? Which leader flew over his entire motorcade and armored car, just for the duration of the summit? Well, you’ll have to go on the tour to find out! (Hint: our    th President is to blame for one). Also, keep an eye out for the portrait of Gov Bligh, who not only was mutinied by his crew on the infamous Bounty, but was also the only Governor of NSW ever to be overthrown from office-probably not a guy you’d want at your dinner party.

An English country manor down under.

3. If you’re into fish and saltwater, add this one to your list. No need to pay for an expensive sightseeing boat tour, just head to Clovelly Beach, near Coogee. This beach has been partially walled off, so there’s almost no surf. That, and some large coral reefs make it perfect for snorkeling. It’s also home to some massive blue groupers, which are almost as big as you, as well as many colorful fish, crabs, stingrays, and the lovable/highly deadly blue ring octopus. With some great aquatic life to see, as well as the area being popular for topless sunbathing, it’s a win-win for everyone!

Snorkelers at work.

4. The admission to Sydney’s famous Toronga Zoo is close to $50. While I don’t doubt its worth it, just across the harbor is the Botanical Gardens (where Government House is located), and is home to hundreds of flying foxes (mega bats), which seem to both scare and fascinate tourists daily. Despite their large size, they only eat fruit, so they are harmless, unless you are a pineapple. They spend most of their day hanging upside in large palms, as you might expect, but are still well worth a look. There are so many of them they are actually starting to do damage to some of the flora in the park. A great free day out can be spent in the tropical gardens, and enjoying the views of the nearby Opera House and harbor. If the bats aren’t enough wildlife to keep you happy, don’t fret- on a recent trip I also saw a nest of baby birds, some enormous spiders, and a large eel (though not all at the same time).

The birds were easier to photograph than the flying bats..
View of the Botanical Gardens

5. National Opal Collection (CBD) Like dinosaurs? Like opals? Think the two have absolutely nothing to do with each other? If so, make haste to this weird museum/showroom/jewelry store to learn about the correlation, while wondering amongst fiberglass models of dinosaurs, which look like they were commissioned when Nixon was in power. If you like South of the Border and photo opps with historically inaccurate dinosaur models, then this place is probably for you.

There it is: 5 fun, bizarre, and completely free things to keep you occupied while you’re in town. If I have missed anything, let me know!

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2 thoughts on “Top 5 Free and Strangely Quirky Things to do in Sydney

  1. Great recommendations, we did the museum and government house… and gardens… I try to avoid being submerged in water these days

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