The city break that doesn’t actually break the bank

Can you really spend a weekend in the heart of Sydney and not rack up the bills? If you’re doing it no-frills – sure. But what about if you don’t want to sacrifice the fun stuff? Challenge accepted.

We checked into the Ibis budget Sydney East on a sunny Friday afternoon. An easy (downhill) walk from Town Hall, cutting through Hyde Park, past St Mary’s Cathedral and along William Street takes us to the non-descript entrance right where the uphill climb to Kings Cross begins. You’ll have to tackle a few stairs to get to the lobby, but the direct William street access proves handy. A better way to arrive (especially if you have a suitcase) is actually around the back, off the one-way Premier Lane. Here you’ll walk straight into the lobby and breakfast area. It’s minimalist for sure, but there’s black metal ceiling lights, bucket chairs, and a comfy leather couch that set a bit of a laid-back industrial vibe.

One elevator ride later, we’re checking into our room, where a queen bed and a surprisingly stellar Harbour Bridge view will do the job nicely. The Ibis has a few different room types (besties will appreciate the quads with double bunk beds – perfect for girls nights) but it pays to get a high-level room because the view adds a vista that really opens up the space. There’s a clever chipboard feature wall, an Eames Hang It All coat rack replica adding pops of colour and some red houndstooth cushions giving the room a bit of spunk but other than that, the glimpses of the Opera House and the view straight down to Woolloomooloo sell it for me.

Bag unpacked and back to the challenge. It’s Friday afternoon, so the first thing in order is happy hour. Luckily plenty of Potts Point small bars are open for an early evening drink or two. The back access to Premier Lane gives us sneaky access up to the top of Darlinghurst Road without having to tackle the steep incline of the crest of William Street. I’m not going to lie, we’re distracted from the search for a cheap happy hour by the starburst lights strung up along Llankelly Place. There’s a handful of bite-sized bars and restaurants to choose from on this little al fresco strip. We settle with Et Al, where the fairy lights draw us in and the European bistro fare gets our tummies grumbling. Last year culinary heavyweight Alastair Little joined the team; his kitchen is tiny but his dishes are big. We’re on a budget, so the $10 Pimms or Campari Aperitif are a go. A shared main dish of herbed lamb rump and bean cassoulet, with a delicate fennel, leek and ricotta salad to start, bolstered by a jumbo bowl of shoestring fries has us fed and watered. Dessert takes us back across the top of William Street down Darlinghurst Road to the Gelato Messina, where a single scoop of Hazelnut sorbet has everyone happy.

Big nights and budgets are tough to go hand in hand. We’ve put good food at the top of the list for the night, but if you wanted to carry on, you’ve got wine bars in every direction, dance floors too. The best part is the walk home won’t take you longer than 20 minutes, even if you venture into the city so skip the Uber fare.

Before the city wakes up I’m on my way to a Barre class. Thanks to Class Pass, I’m only $15 lighter and after 45 minutes in Barre Body’s dreamy studio, I’m feeling a little like a New York ballerina. The studio’s pale wooden floorboards, high ceilings, arched windows and white architraves are distracting enough to keep the workout moving.

Back to the Ibis for breakfast, I’ve found possibly the best deal in town. $10 gets you a fresh fruit salad, cereal bar, yoghurt, toast, boiled eggs and Barista coffee. COVID-safe protocols keep everything single serve but that means I’m feeling extra virtuous after a healthy start to the day.

With the budget getting a workout last night, the day is all about free fun. We hit the pavement and are at the doors of the Art Gallery of NSW in about 15 minutes. The free collections deliver everything from Australian greats like Margaret Olley and Frederick McCubbin to a study on Asian references to the Way We Eat with pieces from White Rabbit Gallery. Culture hit complete, we take a look through the Royal Botanic Gardens before heading back to Kings Cross to peruse the weekend markets. Every Saturday and Sunday stalls gather around the Fitzroy fountain from 9am until 2pm. We’re there in time for a late lunch, there’s everything from high-end cheese toasties and superfood smoothies to seafood paella and Oreo chocolate croissants. A lap and a few samples later, we re-energise with cold-pressed turmeric sunrise juices and pastries. After all, it’s all about balance.

When it comes to budget holidays, you’ve got to remember that motto too. A budget hotel gives you the freedom of more spending money, whether that’s to eat and drink, play or hit the shops. The Ibis budget Sydney East goes one step further and puts location top of the list. It doesn’t matter which direction you strike out, or what time of day, there’s the best of Sydney city on your doorstep.

Lisa was the guest of Ibis budget Sydney East.

About the author

Lisa used to use Sydney as a base to drop off souvenirs before heading off on the next adventure but these days she’s got her feet almost on the ground, with a desire to try every high tea in Sydney, and a cute cavoodle puppy at home. Travel writer, photographer and Kitchen Aid freak, she loves to eat, bake and write.


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