Can you visit Down Under without the cost going up and over? Too right, mate.
Australia is a long way from just about everywhere else and the airfare alone will blow a big hole in any travel budget. But in Sydney, the country's largest city and one of its major drawcards, some of the best things to do and see are free, or nearly so.
THE HARBOR: From the landmark Sydney Opera House and the harbor bridge to towering skyscrapers, parks and multimillion-dollar mansions, Sydney huddles around the glittering azure waters of Port Jackson.
FOOD: Sydney's multicultural makeup is most clearly reflected in its food, from tapas dishes at Captain Torres, 73 Liverpool St., or other eateries in the Spanish Quarter to crisply fried felafel and creamy tadziki at Abdul's, at Cleveland and Elizabeth streets in inner-city Surry Hills. On Goulbourn Street in Chinatown, the unpretentious BBQ King offers some of the best Chinese food outside of Asia. No reservations here, so get there early or be prepared to wait on the sidewalk outside until a table becomes free.
The best of hope for a real Australian food experience is simple: make a friend. A casual conversation in a pub could easily become an invite to the backyard barbecue that has been a weekend fixture longer than anyone can remember. And these days, a "barbie" is just as likely to include marinated octopus, butterflied leg of lamb or a tagine of shrimp as yesteryear's fare of charred sausage served in a slice of bread with a copious squirt of ketchup. An etiquette tip: never turn up to a barbie without something, anything, to throw on the grill and some form of libation.
PARKS: From downtown, you can walk through the Botanic Gardens to Mrs. Macquarie's Chair, a historic site on a small peninsula shaded by huge Moreton Bay fig trees that is a prime picnic spot for locals and visitors alike, with killer views of the harbor and its main attractions. Stroll to the nearby Art Gallery of New South Wales, where the free-entry permanent collection includes works such as the style-defining Aboriginal dot paintings of Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Brett Whitely's emotionally troubled modernism.
Continue your park tour through the Domain and some of Sydney's most historic buildings to leafy, fountain-strewn Hyde Park. A walk through the Rocks district would almost complete a microcosmic tour of Sydney's early years as a British penal colony, though these days the city's first suburb is a look-don't-touch zone for the budget traveler. Nearby, Darling Harbor offers a more modern take on Sydney _ a buzzing waterfront chock-a-block with bars, restaurants, an Imax cinema, and trinket stores. If you really must have that stuffed koala toy, here is probably the place to buy it.