Sydney is a truly enjoyable place to visit. From the sweeping views of the famous harbor with the iconic Opera House on show to the many great restaurants, a long list of fun family activities and — my favorite — varied and excellent beaches.
Here’s a list of top activities in Sydney with kids:
Favorite Sydney Beaches
Bondi Beach: Our morning at Bondi Beach was the high point of the trip for my boys. Bondi can get very busy on the weekends, so we planned to have our surfing lessons with Let’s Go Surfing on a weekday to avoid the crowds. Let’s Go Surfing is based on a small street at the far north end of Bondi just across from the Biddigal Reserve park – a convenient and shaded area for a picnic lunch. I was impressed by the level of organization demonstrated by the surfing school. There were at least three school groups and a couple of other private lessons in session while my boys took their lesson.
We were offered right-sized equipment, gear storage and additional sun protection within 5 minutes of walking in the door of their admittedly tiny location. I can’t speak to the instructor’s skill but his encouragement and enthusiasm obviously hit home because for the rest of our vacation my children begged to take another surfing lesson.
Bronte Beach: Bronte Beach has lots to offer for families. The beach itself backs onto a park with play structures and bbq facilities. There are showers and changing rooms at each end of the beach, there are plenty of lifeguards on the beach and flags denoting safe areas for swimming and playing. Younger children might be nervous of the surf at Bronte since it’s pretty rough but on our visit there were plenty of children in the three to five age group playing at the shore and having a whale of a time running away from the surf and back into the water between waves.
Manly Beach: The ferry to Manly Beach (from downtown Sydney, 30 minutes) is an experience in itself. The views of Sydney Harbor and the city itself are spectacular. When you’re sitting on the beach at Manly, it’s easy to feel as if you’re at a resort away from all the stresses of everyday life. The Corso is an Italian-style promenade. On one side, there’s a wide paved pedestrian path just next to the beach and on the other, there’s a long street with cafes, restaurants, gelato shops and yes, souvenir shops.
For me, Australia’s flora and fauna are a big part of what makes Australia different and interesting. Traveling as a solo parent, much as I might have liked to get my kids out of the city and into the wilds to see animals in their natural environment, that really wasn’t a practical option. The Taronga Zoo was the next best thing – and it is an excellent zoo.
As you enter the zoo (at the main entrance), the path splits, with Australian animals to your left and Asian and African animals to your right. The paths merge at the bottom of the hill at the Southern Oceans exhibit (the seals and penguins). Within the Australian animals section you’ll find Kangaroos, koalas, wombats and plenty of exotic birds.The Backyard to Bush exhibit is hands-down the best integrated presentation I’ve ever seen on how humans and animals co-exist, educating about animals which live in and around our homes – from insects to domestic pets – and highlighting simple ways in which we can all be more environmentally friendly. The garden has a pit toilet, a recycling station and a kitchen garden with information on how co-planting helps plants and animals. This real home in the zoo then leads into a petting zoo with a playground for younger children.
Our visit to the Powerhouse Museum, a hands-on science and technology museum, was one of the highlights of our recent trip to Sydney – and at AUD$40 for our visit, it also ended up being the best value for money of all the attractions we visited. With two technology-hungry boys, I’ve been to enough science and technology museums to judge that the Powerhouse Museum really has a fantastic set of exhibits. The exhibit space is well organized, well labeled and with a good balance of interactive versus observational material.
We spent most of our time in just two exhibits: Cyberworlds and Experimentations. In Cyberworlds, the video of Ada Lovelace taking Charles Babbage forward through time to see the effects his Difference Engine had on the world was fun – if the acting was more than a little hokey. Following on to learn about Alan Turing and his work in deciphering the German Enigma codes during WWII was an easy transition. The rest of the Cyberworlds exhibit has interactive stations where visitors can play with digital photography – including adding sounds and image effects to a mini-movie – and large displays on the history and use of digital control systems, in traffic management for example.
The Experimentations area area is made up of multiple rooms of interactive exhibits covering light, radioactivity, magnetism + electricity, chemistry, taste, smell and chocolate (yum!). It seems to me that many science and technology museums present technical material in bright playful colors and short, punchy sentences – with little meaningful detail. Not so in this area of the Powerhouse Museum. There’s plenty of detailed information on many of the exhibits especially in the section on radioactivity. (Watch out for Moto, the dancing robot!)
At AU$85 (US$77) for a family ticket, I think the Sydney Aquarium is expensive. That said, the Dugongs and the oceanarium easily make the visit worthwhile. The exhibits are organized into Southern Rivers, Northern Rivers, Southern Oceans and Northern Oceans – not that this really matters when you’re chasing kids around a dimly-lit room with sharks swimming overhead. My boys were fascinated by the platypus and we got to see the dugongs happily chomping on monster heads of lettuce. This is a large Aquarium, so allow plenty of time for your visit. You’ll learn about many aquatic and pelagic species, some of which are only found in Australian waters.