Having kids tagging along for the ride (apart from being one very, very long ride) opens up many new doors.
Sure, some doors close (fine-dining restaurants and young kids don’t work together… I learnt the hard way), but the ones that open often reap wonderful rewards.
Life in kid-town dances to a different beat. Everything takes longer and requires lots of planning, but this is a blessing when it comes to exploring a city – or travelling anywhere, in fact. The best part of being out and about with children is that your eyes are opened up to wonder anew. Everything is fresh and exciting, even if you’ve been there and done it all before.
Making a splash at SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium
Whenever we get within 100 metres of SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, my daughter sees the images of fish on the exterior wall and gets overexcited. We’ve been there three times in the past two years, and I’m certain we’ll be back again soon.
Last time we visited we invited my dad, my sister and her three kids along. Everyone had something they wanted to see or do. For my five-year-old nephew, it was all about the sharks. We couldn’t move fast enough until we were in the famous tunnel staring up at the huge, dangerous fish glide around us. We were one of the many families trying to snap that memorable photo; the one with all kids in the photo smiling and a shark in the background gliding past nonchalantly. Near impossible, by the way.
My daughter, unlike her cousin, only likes Baby Shark. However, she adores penguins and remembered exactly where the Penguin Expedition Ride was. Even Dad loved the ride; six people to a raft, an adventure through the Macquarie Island-themed exhibit, with king and gentoo penguins in such close proximity. The fake flurry of snow and whistling blizzard conditions elevated the experience – and almost had the kids believing we were, in fact, not in Australia anymore.
Animal encounters at WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo
It does very much feel like you’re in Australia at WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo, which is located right next door. This is where you come to hang out with iconic native animals such as kangaroos, wallabies, emus, wombats, crocodiles and, of course, koalas. Breakfast with the Koalas, held at 7.15am each day, does require some pre-planning. But once you’re there those early-morning red eyes are all but forgotten. Indulging in a cooked breakfast surrounded by cute critters perched in gum trees is one of those special experiences that’s talked about for years to come.
Roaming around Featherdale Wildlife Park
Featherdale Wildlife Park, located in western Sydney, is another great option for getting up close with Australian animals. The roving kangaroos, wallabies and pademelons make for a fun day out, with plenty of photo opportunities. (They’re very comfortable around humans.)
Other great wildlife sanctuaries include Taronga Zoo Sydney in the north; the new Sydney Zoo in Bungarribee out west; and Symbio Wildlife Park down south. The new-in-2019 waterpark here adds another element of fun to a day out with the family.
Museums and galleries to explore in Sydney with kids
Sydney is full of great museums and art galleries; and many of them have exhibitions and dedicated activities designed especially for kids. Check out the Kids in Space program at the Powerhouse Museum, or learn about Australia’s musical history in the guitar exhibition.
The Experimentations exhibition (on until 30 June 2020) celebrates learning using sound and light play. In the Tinkering Zone, young learners can get involved with interactive experiments that will entertain them for hours.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia has an array of fantastic family programs. ARTplay (for under-fives) is a popular event that I’ve taken my daughter to a few times. The weekly creative play session is all about letting kids touch and explore interactive artwork, and culminates with music and singing.
I’ve come to realise that almost every single toddler has a fascination with all things automobile. The On the Move exhibition at the Museum of Sydney (until October 18, 2020) explores transport in all its forms. It’s the place to visit to learn about cars, trains and planes, as well as delve into Australia’s transportation history.
The Australian National Maritime Museum is another facility where little people can go on a voyage of discovery. There are various family programs designed to stimulate learning among visitors of all ages. Kids can climb aboard real-life tall ships, warships and a submarine (or to the top of a lighthouse!). You can also relax with a 3D movie, engage with interactive displays or take part in year-round hands-on activities like Mini Mariners and Kids On Deck.
Priceless moments without the price tag
You’ll find us at a park most days if it’s not raining. Fields are great for kids bursting with energy, and play equipment can keep them entertained for hours on end. My daughter would choose running, climbing, swinging and jumping around outside over just about everything.
In the centre of city, the Darling Quarter precinct has everything kids ever need… until hunger calls. The playground is huge and has equipment for all ages – swings, slides, balance ropes, climbing ropes, water play and more. When hunger does call, there are plenty of cafes nearby.
Beaches and nature reserves are wonderful places to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, for that big dose of fresh air and immersion in the wild. Play is simple here – sand castles and sand illustrations, collecting sticks and leaves, naming trees, flying kites… even picking up rubbish can be a game (and a lesson). Time among nature offers a chance for parents and kids to reconnect, to learn, to simply just be.
Some of my favourite spots to visit in Sydney with kids include Darook Park in southern Sydney and Bobbin Head to the north. Sure, it takes time to get to either location, but that’s often the point when you’re looking for an experience in natural surrounds with minimal crowds.
Kid-friendly restaurants in Sydney
Although fancy feasts may be out (unless you have kids who are older or mature beyond their years), Sydney is full of restaurants that are great for families. Many eateries offer kids’ menus and most have high chairs for younger children. Some provide activity packs to keep kids entertained and dedicated play areas are becoming more popular, especially in pubs.
My husband and I are regulars at Taren Point Hotel in southern Sydney exactly for this reason. There’s a toddler area for younger bubs and a ping-pong and basketball indoor field for the older kids. Unsurprisingly, the fancy pub is packed out with families most nights.
In the inner west, The Henson in Marrickville has a ball pit area for kids, conveniently located in the beer garden. The Exchange Hotel in Balmain features a secure kids area with play equipment and toys. For families with kids who need space to run around, the Backyard at Briars in Concord features a massive outdoor area with a playground… and it’s very popular on sunny weekends.
Further our west, Greystanes Hotel is epic in terms of what it offers. With various play areas and a flying fox inside the complex, it’ll be the parents dragging the kids home.
Where to stay in Sydney with kids
Sofitel in Darling Harbour is a great choice for exploring Sydney with kids. It’s located within walking distance to key attractions, such as SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo and the Darling Quarter precinct. The hotel offers interconnecting rooms and has a kids’ concierge. Kids even get their own robes, slippers and an interactive work book. There’s also a fabulous pool area with views over the harbour.
For a more adult-friendly exploration of the city, discover a few of Sydney’s newest offerings here.