Free things to do in Western Sydney
Western Sydney is a multicultural melting pot, overflowing with creativity, nature and history. A highlight? A lot of it is free. From bushwalks to galleries and museums, here’s where to play without spending a cent.
Discover local art
Presiding over the Nepean River from the western bank, Penrith Regional Gallery is an excellent free stop along the Great River Walk (an 8km walk with views of the river and Blue Mountains). The gallery is set among beautiful gardens and across two elegant buildings: Lewers House and Ancher House. Open every day (except public holidays), it hosts a rotating roster of excellent, thought-provoking exhibitions, with on-site cafe, Cafe at Lewers, a delicious spot to refuel.
Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre is a cultural treasure, housing artworks from both emerging and established artists, and most of it is free to explore. Beyond its permanent collections including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and local artists' art, it also hosts a range of exhibitions, workshops, theatre productions and events. This includes some of the city’s most popular film festivals with tickets almost always less than $30 and many less than $20. If you’re feeling peckish while you visit, stop for a bite at Bellbird Dining and Bar.
Campbelltown Arts Centre is another free hub of creativity in Western Sydney, offering a continuous calendar of exhibitions and performances. A stroll through the collection of the day and the serene and intricately manicured Japanese gardens won’t cost you a cent. If you need a caffeine hit, pause for a coffee at the Arts Centre Cafe.
Get into nature
Just 2km from the Parramatta CBD you’ll find the beautiful Lake Parramatta Reserve. This 70-hectare parkland offers an accessible way to immerse yourself in nature, and in summer you can cool off in the lifeguard-patrolled lake. Pack a picnic or use the on-site barbecues to cook lunch, then spend the afternoon row boating or kayaking (both are available to hire) or walking the bush tracks.
Sprawling 5,280 hectares are the Western Sydney Parklands, primed for outdoor adventures. With 60km of walking trails, the Wylde mountain bike and BMX tracks, picnic areas, playgrounds and the Shale Hills Dog Park, here you’ll find something for everyone. Also in the parklands is the 84-hectare Nurragingy Reserve, featuring a splash park, woodfired barbecues and the tranquil Chang Lai Yuan Gardens.
At Sydney Olympic Park discover one of Australia’s largest urban parklands, Bicentennial Park, combining the Badu Mangroves – the largest surviving mangrove forest on the Parramatta River – and 40 hectares of natural bushland beauty. There’s plenty to fill a sunny day here, from 35km of cycleways to picnicking by the banks of Lake Belvedere. Hire a bike from Sydney Olympic Park, fire up one of the free electric barbecues and revel in the fresh air.
Take a stroll
The Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan is 416 hectares of beautifully tended gardens planted with more than 4,000 native and introduced plants. Meander through endemic gardens, observe the vivid paper daisy beds during spring or spot native birdlife at the bird hide. Bikes are welcome in the garden if you’d prefer cycling over walking.
Penrith’s 8km Great River Walk follows the Nepean River and passes viewing platforms, picnic areas, cafes and the Penrith Regional Gallery. Keep an eye out for local birdlife and watch for dazzling glimpses of the distant Blue Mountains. You can pick up the trail from either Penrith or Emu Plains train stations.
Also starting from either train station is the 11km Penrith Heritage Walk. On your journey you’ll pass historic buildings such as Thornton Hall, Emu Hall and the Emu Plains Police Cottage, and absorb the Aboriginal Australian and settler history of the region.
Learn the area’s history
Once the home of Australia’s first 10 governors, Parramatta’s Old Government House is the country’s oldest-surviving public building and a World Heritage-listed convict site. The Georgian-style house sits on the traditional lands of the Burramatta Darug and overlooks 80 acres of parklands which are free to enjoy. Entry is free for National Trust members, and just $15 for adult non-members.
Keeping to the theme of Australia’s oldest-surviving buildings, a visit to the homestead of Elizabeth Farm in Rosehill is a must for history buffs. Now a museum, the residence has seen tumultuous times, including the dispossession of the Darug people, convict rebellion, and family and political drama. Entry is free – wander the 1830s-style gardens and well-kept rooms with original furnishings for a glimpse into early colonial life.
Experience diverse food cultures
If exploring has left you hungry, head to Western Sydney’s Harris Park, also known as Little India. Wigram Street is Harris Park’s centre, lined with heritage buildings now mostly reimagined as restaurants and cafes. Though not free, the food on offer here is great value for money: wander the streets with a paan (a post-dinner, spice-landen Indian treat from $3.50) or falooda (a sweet Indian dessert-drink, from $9) from Durga Paan & Falooda House. If you’re looking for a heartier meal, try Billu’s, Dosa Hut or Chatkazz, each a Harris Park institution. The suburb comes to life during Diwali, the Indian festival of light, when the streets are filled with colour and festivities during the free community events.