Things to do in Australia on a budget

Explore this beautiful country with our money-saving tips and alternative sites

Updated: 
Australia on a budget


For many of us, going to Australia represents the ultimate dream holiday. It would take months to explore all of this incredible country, not least because the major attractions are hundreds, if not thousands of kilometres apart.

Making sure you know what you want to see before you go is a must, as planning will help you get the most out of your trip. Most travellers want to experience the Australian Outback, see the Great Barrier Reef and visit Sydney and Melbourne, not to mention the amazing beaches, the rainforest, the wildlife and Uluru.

British tourists have been taken aback by the cost of visiting Australia over the past few years. Luckily, the newly resurgent pound has offered some respite (as of January 2015, £1 buys AUS$1.79, up from AUS$1.46 a year ago), although there's no question that accommodation and eating out can still be quite pricey.

Here are some tips for travelling Australia on a budget.

Top tips:

Getting around

Air travel within Australia is highly competitive and given the size of the country, you will more than likely need to hop on a plane at some point if you're planning to explore. Booking your flights well in advance to get the best deal. Car rental has always been good value in Australia: a good comparison site find the best deal, visit vroomvroomvroom.com.au.

Eating out

Take advantage of midweek specials. When you're on the road it's so tempting to eat out at restaurants every night. So, if you're set on eating out, why not go for lunch instead? Lunch menus are usually much cheaper than evening menu's for dinner.

Accommodation

Opt for self-catering accommodation in order to keep costs down. Budget hotels chains such as Adina, Travelodge and Holiday Inn provide affordable options. Luxury hotels also often offer discounted prices during quieter periods.

Getting in touch

When you arrive, it's worth buying a cheap SIM card and insert it into your mobile phone. This way you can keep your phone bill down. If you have an iPhone or Android phone, download an app called AroundMe. This free app shows you where you are and what is closest to you, such as petrol stations, hospitals, banks and grocery stores. This handy travel app is perfect for both the first-time traveller and the experienced jet-setter.

Alternative tourist spots

There's a lot more to the land down under than the three most popular tourist spots; Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru.

Here are some budget-friendly alternatives.

Skip: Uluru
Visit: Chillagoe

Chillagoe

Uluru is a four-hour flight from Sydney an sees half a million tourists a year. Chillagoe on the other hand, has a population of just 350. You don't have to travel to the middle of nowhere to experience the Australian outback.

Don't miss the limestone caves in nearby Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park, where there are 30,000-year-old aboriginal rock-wall paintings

Skip:Harbour Bridge Climb
Visit: Mrs. Macquarie's Chair

Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney

It's not easy to find stand-in for two of the country's biggest landmarks; the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. With the cheapest tour costing $194, you'll be forgiven for admiring the landmarks from afar. However, you don't have to miss out on the breathtaking views.

For a stunning and free perch, head to Mrs. Macquarie's Chair, a 201-year-old bench carved out of a natural rock ledge in the Royal Botanic Garden. The Royal Botanic Gardens are the largest of three major botanical gardens open to the public in Sydney. Wander around the gardens for an enjoyable and cost-free day out.

Sydney's Royal National Park is one of the oldest national parks in the world and is also free to walk around. There are dozens of miles of rainforest gullies, hidden beaches and dramatic cliffs.

If you simply can't miss the views from Harbour Bridge you can always cross it on foot. It may cost to climb it, but crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge by foot is completely free – and provides spectacular photo opportunities.

Skip: Taronga Zoo
Do: Hunter Valley Zoo

Hunter Valley Zoo

Entry to Taronga Zoo costs $45 and if you want to get up close with the wildlife you will have to for out a further $26 each for "encounters" programs. Entry to Hunter Valley Zoo cost just $18 and petting is included. Hunter Valley Zoo is tucked away in one of Australia's many wine regions, a two-hour drive north. Hunter Valley Zoo is small-10 acres, at most-yet it is home to every Aussie creature you could hope to see; kangaroos, wallabies, dingoes, wombats, and a menagerie of rainbow-hued birds. The best part is that twice a day, a handler lets visitors into the koala pen and nudges one awake from its perch on a eucalyptus. You aren't allowed to hold them, but you can pet them free of charge.

Skip: The Great Ocean Road
Do: Captain Cook Highway

Great barrier reef

Any dream trip to Australia requires one splurge: the Great Barrier Reef. The only time and cost-effective way to get there is to on hop a three-hour flight from Sydney to Cairns, on the Queensland coast. Plenty of operators run reef trips right out of Cairns. But for the reef, avoiding tourists is all the more crucial as the more people you snorkel with, the fewer fish you'll see. You'll need to go through Cairns, but only because it offers access to lesser-known reef towns such as Cape Tribulation.

Cape Tribulation, in the heart of the ancient Daintree Rainforest, is a tropical playground of hiking paths and wide, empty swaths of sand, with easy access to some of the most pristine parts of the reef. The two-and-a-half-hour drive from Cairns along the two-lane Captain Cook Highway is a treat in itself. It's a worthy replacement for the famed Great Ocean Road near Melbourne, which, would require yet another flight from Sydney and sees a lot of traffic in high-tourist season.

Free activities around the country

1. Soak up come culture

The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, recently refurbished following a multi-million dollar development, offers free daily tours, as well as the ARTBAR, an evening put together by artists held on the last Friday of each month.

2. Visit a National Park

Any of the local parks dotted in and around Australia's cities make for a lovely place to stop, watch the passing scenery and have a bite to eat.

3. Visit the set of Home & Away

That's right, drive up to Palm Beach on the Northern Beaches of Sydney and you can wander around where the beach scenes of Home & Away are filmed. If you're lucky, you might even get to watch the show being filmed too.

4. Kincumber Mountain Reserve, Central Coast

Check out the historic Aboriginal carvings and axe-grinding grooves which can be seen at Kincumber Mountain Reserve amongst the undisturbed rainforests.

5. Haigh's Chocolates, Adelaide

Situated in Adelaide, Haigh's offers a free 20 minute tour of their chocolate factory along with free samples afterward.

6. Koala Hospital, Port Macquarie

Port Macquarie is situated half way between Sydney and Brisbane on the NSW Mid North Coast. Get up close to injured koalas and kangaroo's for free.

7. Byron Bay Lighthouse

Visit the most easterly point in all of Australia and take advantage of the views. The lighthouse is free to look around as are the walks.

8. Minyon Waterfalls, Byron Bay

Entry to the national park is free. The park is surrounded by rainforest with plenty of places to hike and picnic.

City by city

Sydney

Once you're finished wandering around the Royal Botanic Gardens and taking in the stunning views of Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge why not embrace your adventurous side and hike from Spit Bridge to Manly, through tiny secluded coves, before seeing the view open out towards Manly. You can also snorkel in Sydney's rock pools. Try Gordon's Bay for gropers and Cabbage Tree Bay in Manly for colourful fish species.

It's also free to use the city's world famous surf beaches, including Bondi.

Top tip: Parking at Bondi is notorious and the traffic wardens will pounce on any offenders! Ideally park your vehicle at King's Cross or Bondi Junction and catch the bus over for your day at the beach.

Sydney  - Australia on a budget

Perth

Exploring Perth on a budget couldn't be easier. Volunteer guides lead themed walks every Monday to Friday from the Information Kiosk in Murray Street Mall. The tours take up to two hours, and you can join in or leave anywhere along the way.

You can also get around the city using the free CAT (Central Area Transit) bus.

Perth, Australia

Melbourne

Melbourne's Queen Victoria's market host an eclectic mix of food, art, clothing and home wares (to name but a few) worth a stroll-through. Melbourne is home to the free city circle tram which you can hop on and hop off anywhere along the route. The National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and the State Library, are also all free.

Melbourne - Australia on a budget

Brisbane

A bunch of volunteers, known as the Brisbane Greeters, offer an expert and free introduction to the city.

On Sundays, join the locals at Ben & Jerry's Open Air Cinemas to enjoy movies, live entertainment and free ice cream.

Brisbane - Australia on a budget

Adelaide

With its flat terrain and Mediterranean climate, Adelaide is ideal to explore by bike. The city operates a free bicycle scheme with depots dotted around the centre and suburbs

Entry to the Botanic Gardens and the eccentric Museum of South Australia is also free.

Museum of South Australia, Adelaide, SA, Australia

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