Exploring Sydney can be expensive but being on a budget does not mean you have to miss out the best things in Sydney. These free guided tours will help your money go a little bit further.
Every traveller knows that at some point on your holiday the money starts to run out. Finding free things to see and do on your trip is a bonus because it means you can save your $$$ for the really special things a city has on offer, like a Sydney Harbour Bridge climb or watching a performance at the Opera House.
Book a Personal Tour with a Sydney Greeter
A few years ago I was one of the volunteers who established Sydney Greeters. We are part of the Global Greeter Network, a group of locals around the world who love their hometowns so much that they offer free one on one tours of the city to visitors. These tours are called greets and are available seven days a week.
How does the greeter program work?
When you submit your booking, it will be shown to volunteers who are available at the time of your request. Once someone accepts it, they will contact you directly to introduce themselves and propose an outing.
While there are many volunteers, it is not always possible to find a greeter for every guest, so it is important to give a few options for your availability. It’s best to book in advance – at least 2-3 weeks is best.
What happens on a greet?
Usually, a greet lasts about 3-4 hours although they can be longer. If you have a specific amount of time available, let your greeter know so they can plan around your schedule. Your greeter will meet you at your accommodation or another central location, and you will explore part of the city together, chatting and learning more about each other along the way.
A greeter is not a tour guide, they know a lot about their city, but they are not trained or registered. Think of a greet more like two new friends meeting up. While the service is free, it is nice to offer to shout your greeter a drink or something to eat if you stop along the way as a way of thanks. Sydney greeters closed for a period over 2020 but will reopen to bookings in Jan 2021.
Check out the Facebook page to get an idea of what these greets are like.
Join a free tour at the Art Gallery of NSW
If you are an art lover, you will love the range of free tours offered by gallery guides and volunteers at the NSW Art Gallery. One of the areas you don’t want to miss is the tour of the Yiribana Gallery of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. These tours are offered at 1 pm every day.
Along with the general tours offered twice a day, there are weekly tours in Japanese, Mandarin and Cantonese. Once a month Auslan signed tours are available. Visit the Art Gallery website for times and details.
Try a Free Walking Tour
Like many cities around the world, Sydney has a couple of free walking tour companies. The reduction in traveller numbers in 2020 has seen these tours drop from daily to a few days a week. As travellers return to Sydney, the number of tours on offer will increase.
I’m Free Walking Tours offer a general Sydney sites tour at 10:30am Monday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday. They also offer an evening tour of the Rocks, which is a fantastic way to learn about Sydney’s colonial history. It is currently offered Tuesday, Thursday & Saturday departing at 6pm from Cadmans Cottage.
A second company Free Tours Sydney has a 10.30am walking tour offered on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Like all free tours these guides are not paid and work for tips, tip what you can afford and what you think the tour is worth. The average tip is $10 per person.
Free Tours Government House
Visit the beautifully decorated house and gardens of the Governor-General. 45-minute tours run on most Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays between 10.30am and 3 pm. The house is occasionally closed for official functions. You can collect your tickets for the free guided tours tickets from the Gatehouse. You can walk through the gardens during the week if you don’t happen to be here on the weekend.
For security reasons you will need to show a photo ID when you collect your free tickets from the Gatehouse. Check the website for further details.
Tour the Royal Botanic Gardens
Free guided tours of the Botanic Gardens are offered twice a day. The morning tour is 1.5 hours long and runs year round. The 1 pm afternoon tour lasts 1 hour and is offered between March and November only. You will learn about the history of the colony, the garden and more. I really enjoy these tours and they are a lovely way to see the best part of the garden quickly.
If you are mobility impaired, there is also a little train you can ride around the garden on. Get more details about the free gardens tours and other paid options like the indigenous heritage tour on the Botanic Gardens tours page.
All tours and walks depart from Information Booth outside the Garden Shop at the Palm Grove Centre.
Heritage Tour of the GPO at Martin Place
The General Post Office in Martin Place is one of the most beautiful public buildings in the city. Designed by James Barnet, a prolific and respected colonial architect it opened in 1874.
Discover the history of the building on a heritage tour offered by the buildings main occupant the Fullerton Hotel. Two public tours that run for ninety minutes are offered each week. There are also two private tours for in house guests.
Find out more about how to book here.
NSW Parliament House Tours
Join a free one hour tour of Parliament House every Monday and Friday. Tours start at 1:30pm and include tours of the Legislative Chambers, and three of the buildings most historic rooms.
Explore the Parliament with a free guided tour, kicking off at 1:30pm every Monday and Friday. Don’t miss the Fountain Court and High Tea (served every Friday in the Strangers’ Restaurant from 12 pm to 3 pm, with the last seating at 2 pm.
Find out more here.
State Library of NSW
There are three regular tours on offer at the State Library of NSW
Exhibition highlights tours led by a State Library volunteer-run for one hour, perfect for an introduction or lunch break visit. Guides will point out key pieces on display in the 5 State Library Gallery spaces. Tours are offered at noon Monday to Thurs (except public holidays). On Fridays, a curator-led tour is offered.
Architecture lovers will want to head along to a Heritage Tour of the historic Mitchell Library Building. Offered Monday to Friday at 10.30am
Have you tried any of these tours? Do you know of any we have missed? Please share you thoughts below.
First published Jan 2017 – Updated August 2020