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S, Z and I recently spent an awesome weekend in Sydney. Due to the times of our cheap flights we had a whole day to spend in Sydney to check out the sites. Being Australia’s largest city there’s lots of things to see in Sydney with kids and sadly we could only do a fraction of them.
Regardless of how long you plan to visit Sydney for, if you’re visiting with kids you won’t get bored. Read on for ideas and a small taste of what to do in Sydney with kids.
Sydney has two major icons: the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. So when I asked S and Z what they wanted to see in Sydney the most, I wasn’t surprised to hear that it was these. These two probably top any what to see in Sydney with kids.
When I was younger and on a trip to Sydney we had a picnic by the harbour next to the bridge and overlooking the opera house. S and Z thought this was a great idea and wanted to do the same. So we stocked up on picnic supplies and went to Bennelong Point.
Above the opera house is Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. The gardens have some nice lawns with fabulous views overlooking both the bridge and the opera house. The weather was good and both S and Z loved having a picnic while watching people climb the bridge (you can’t do it with kids, though) and everyone wandering around the opera house. They kept staring at the two and loved being so close to something they’ve seen in pictures and on TV.
An alternate picnic spot from the north shore is Milson’s point.
After lunch we wandered down to the opera house to have a look at it up close. The kids were very excited.
Bennelong Point and the Sydney Opera House is a five to ten minute stroll from Circular Quay (which has a train station). The botanical gardens are located to the south of the opera house.
While public transport usually doesn’t make it to a rundown of kids activities in Sydney the ferries are a regular part of getting around. They made for a fun break from walking and offered some great views, too.
There’s lots of ferry routes and if you’re checking out places outside of the CBD, like Taronga Zoo, a ferry can be a great way to get there.
After visiting the opera house and Bennelong Point we caught a ferry to the north shore and then another one back. The kids loved sitting on the outside, watching all the maritime traffic and going under the harbour bridge. Public transport means trains, trams and busses to them so the idea that people can catch a ferry to go to school or work is odd and made the journey even more interesting.
Our ferry was lightly crowded but during a Monday to Friday peak hour they can be much busier.
You can ride a ferry with an Opal Card (see ‘getting around’ below). There are many routes and stops with Circular Quay being the one terminus of the most routes. On average ferries leave 15 minutes apart on a Saturday and more frequently during the working week.
After a lot of walking Darling Harbour was a great place to stop and relax. It’s a great place for people watching. Or eating ice cream. We had a walk around and found a place to get some ice cream.
There’s quite a few places around Darling Harbour to get something to eat – be it a meal or a snack – or a drink with prices that aren’t too unreasonable (especially compared to, say, near the opera house).
Somewhat randomly there’s a Ferris wheel right on the water and a carousel. We didn’t have the time to ride it but still found Darling Harbour a nice place to go in Sydney with kids.
Just a bit to the north of Darling Harbour’s Ferris wheel is the Maritime Museum. Parked out the front are some of the star attractions: former destroyer HMAS Vampire and retired submarine HMAS Onslow. It got Z in particular quite exited.
There’s a lot to see in the maritime museum. You can get free entry to some of the museum (most of the indoor display galleries, a sea science area and a play area for kids five and under called the Mini Mariners play zone. You can pay for entry into any of the special exhibits that may be on, which may include entry into the 3D cinema for an accompanying film, too. If you want to see everything then you can get a “big ticket” which includes all of the above and access to the ships themselves (of which the Vampire and Onslow are just two).
Trying to pack in as much into our day as possible, I decided to forgo the sub and the destroyer (much to Z’s disappointment) and went for the free option. Otherwise we may have been there all day – there’s a lot to see and do before you even get to the ships and films.
The permanent exhibits cover the range of maritime history. There’s sections on the Navy, the wharves, navigation, early explorers and travelling by sea. There’s a lot to cover if you want to see and read everything.
That can be hard to do with kids but that doesn’t mean the museum is boring. Some of the exhibits are static but displayed in an engaging way. It should grab the attention (if even briefly) of all but the youngest of kids. There’s some hands on and interactive parts, too, which the kids got into more.
We didn’t have time to stay long in the play zone (S was too big anyway) but Z enjoyed it and it looked like a lot of fun. Overall we all had a good time and our limited stay flew by and seemed very short indeed.
We could have spent a much longer time here – maybe the entire day if we’d stumped up for the big ticket as there is just so much to see. If we ever come back to Sydney I’ll be back as it will be high on our itinerary of what to do in Sydney with kids.
To get to the maritime museum from the Sydney CBD you can walk across the Pyrmont Bridge from the eastern side of Darling Harbour or take the L1 Dulwich Hill lightrail line (which leaves from Central Station) to Pyrmont Bay. Entry to the maritime museum is free. The “big ticket” was $32 AUD for ages 13+ and $20 AUD for kids 5 to 12. Kids under 5 are free. For more information visit http://www.anmm.gov.au.
To the north of Darling Harbour is the Sydney Aquarium. It is widely regarded as the best aquarium in Australia and the kids were excited to go see it.
Sadly, however, it didn’t quite work out for us.
When we got there we found a long queue for tickets. Although the queue was moving quickly we didn’t have much time. The aquarium is not cheap either. It would have been approximately $100 AUD for the three of us to go in and given we only had about an hour to spend there I had to reluctantly give it a miss.
However I include it in our list of things to do in Sydney with kids because it does look like a great activity. If you can be organised or have more time to spend than we did it would be worth the effort despite the cost.
Ticket wise you can buy ahead and get a discount. This locks you into a date and a time to enter (which I wanted to avoid) but if you are in Sydney for more time than us it could be a good option. You can also find admission packages with several other attractions that are within the same complex or nearby and get a reduced rate for each one. These attractions include a small zoo (WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo) and the Sydney branch of Madame Tussauds, amongst others.
We’ve found when staying in a city – especially in a small hotel room – a visit to a playground can help the kids to get out some energy and play and is a great chance for everyone to relax a little.
In the shadows of the Western Distributor, at the north end of Tumbalong Park, is the Darling Harbour Children’s Playground. It’s one of Sydney’s best places to go with kids. This gem of a playground is divided into a normal playground with some cool equipment (including a zipline) at one end and a water play area at the other.
The water area is awesome. There’s lots of water flowing through small channels that kids can redirect, pump, scoop and otherwise interact with. Z absolutely loved it and S enjoyed it too. I only intended to stop here for a little bit before heading on to the Powerhouse Museum but we never made it there. I had to drag the kids away in the end.
It’s probably the top of the Sydney kids activities we got to on our day. Maybe it was shaded by seeing the Opera House and bridge, but not by much.
The playground is also right next door to a cafe if you want a coffee, snack or break.
Tumbalong Park is in Pyrmont, just south of Darling Harbour and a close 5 to 10 minute walk west of Town Hall station. Entry is free.
For our one day (two night) visit we wanted to stay somewhere close to the city centre. The Sydney Hotel CBD fit the bill.
We had a triple room, which came with a queen sized bed and a single bed in a separate room. Not quite a suite but better than a normal hotel room. Our room came with a bar fridge, safe and tea and coffee making amenities, plus TVs and so we had everything we needed.
The room itself was quite small. There was little storage space. This wasn’t an issue for the three of us over two nights where we were barely in the room. However for a longer stay – where we tend to spend more time in the room – it wouldn’t have worked. Oddly enough, the bathroom was a decent size.
Despite the small size the room was very comfortable and clean. We had a good stay.
The location is great, too. Close to Darling Harbour by foot and also Circle Line train stations and supermarkets we never had to go far to get something or visit somewhere. The hotel is close to Sydney’s Chinatown and has a lot of eating options nearby.
Central Station Hotel – Another great hotel for families with triple rooms and child friendly facilities. The hotel has a babysitting service and is centrally located to explore the best attractions. Click here see the latest prices.
Meriton Serviced Apartments Kent Street – For families looking for luxury, Meriton Serviced Apartments offers spacious fully equipped apartments. Centrally located, the building includes access to a pool, gym and sauna. Families can choose from studios, one and two bedroom apartments. Click here to see the latest prices.
You can read more about finding family accommodation in Sydney here.
The centre of Sydney is adequately served by public transport. For getting around the CBD the City Circle train route is quite handy. Connecting on to all the different train lines it allows you to get around the edge of the CBD quickly or from the CBD to another part of town easily (although you may need to change lines at some point).
However, as the circle goes around the edge and some places are between stations you may still have some walking to do to get to everything you want to see.
A tram/light rail network is being built which will make getting around the centre of Sydney easier.
All of Sydney’s public transport – including the airport train – can be accessed using an Opal card. Available free from many stations, the card can have money/credit added to it as needed and can be topped up at many places. Machines are common at stations. Each journey is deducted automatically as you exit the station/bus/ferry terminal.
Fares are calculated using zones – the more zones the higher the fare. Prices are reasonable but as you’re charged for every journey (although there is a daily and weekly cap after which there’s no additional charge) it can add up.
Even though it was frenetic the kids and I had a really fun day in Sydney. We really only scratched the surface and explored the city centre (and even then we didn’t cover a lot of what there is to do). While it isn’t the cheapest city to visit (which is common to a lot of big cities) it isn’t necessarily expensive either. There’s many free and reasonably priced things to do in Sydney with kids to fill a visit, be it 24 hours or several days.
You can read more of our destination guides to other Australian cities here.
Have you visited Sydney with kids? Where would you recommend going?
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