Things to do in Sydney with kids... more than just the typical tourist list
Updated: Jan 6
We all know about the top ten tourist attractions that draw families to Sydney, but what about a few extra things to do once you have been there and done that. Being only three hours away we love taking the kids away for a weekend or short break in Sydney, particularly when the weather is not being too friendly in Canberra.
Fortunately, finding new and interesting things to do and places to visit is really easy and there are loads of beautiful spots to discover away from the well worn tourist traps.
Five lesser known things to do in Sydney
Taronga Wharf to Chowder Bay Harbour Walk
One of our favourite days spent in Sydney was on a warm sunny day setting out from circular quay on the ferry to Taronga Wharf. Disembarking from the ferry we left behind the hordes of tourists heading to the zoo for the day and started one of the most stunningly scenic harbour walks. The idyllic bush trail follows the waters edge with ongoing views back over the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.
There are fantastic places to stop for a snack or lunch including Bradleys Head and the walk ends at Chowder Bay, a fantastic family friendly beach with adjoining sprawling lawns and playgrounds. You can indulge in an ice-cream or sit in one of the relaxing cafes before eventually heading back to the city via a local bus service that picks up from Chowder Bay.
We only very recently ventured out on one of the whale watching boats that depart from circular quay (they also leave from Darling Harbour and Manly) and I have to admit that it was pretty impressive. We quickly found a pod of six adult humpback whales who approached the boat once the motor switched off and turned on quite a show. They were so incredibly close and such graceful and majestic animals - I highly recommend the trip.
Be warned however that the boat does travel beyond the calm waters of the harbour so sea sickness is a real issue. It wasn’t particularly bad weather when we travelled however the boat had a solid and consistent rock going on so both our girls ended up sick and I went down in a blaze of sympathetic glory as well…. By half way into the trip the vast majority of passengers were quite unwell so I highly recommend taking some preventative sea sickness tablets before you head out.
Balmoral beach oozes a little sophistication and is a beautiful spot to spend a lazy summers’ afternoon sheltered in the calmness of the harbour. With gentle waves lapping the sandy banks, classy cafes and eateries, fun playgrounds and a relaxing foreshore footpath this place is a super spot to visit in Sydney.
The kids can play, swim and eat til their hearts desire whilst parents get to kick back and relax in the sunshine.
Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
Located on Sydney’s northern fringe, Ku-ring-gai National Park is a peaceful and scenic spot to escape the crowds. You will need a car to get there and explore the different parts of the park but once there you can enjoy a riverside picnic or barbecue, swimming in the banks of the Hawkesbury river or heading out on one of the many and varied family friendly walking trails.
Sydney Royal Botanical Gardens
Gardens are not the usual suspect for family entertainment but the views from Sydney’s Royal Botanical Gardens alone sells this as a place to visit. It’s a great spot to stroll about letting the kids run off some excess energy and if you are fortunate to visit during any of the school holiday periods there are often holiday activities such as art and craft and theatre shows being staged just for kids.
Our five favourite mainstream things to do with kids in Sydney are listed below.
There are also plenty of famous Sydney landmarks to weave these adventures around.
A sojourn on the Manly Ferry really is a right-of-passage for tourists and Sydney locals and for good reason. There are loads of family friendly things to do and see in Manly:
Swimming and sand play at Manly Beach
Stroll along the ocean promenade at Manly beach or trailing around the scenic footpath to Shelly Beach
If it isn’t too busy, hiring a bike to explore is a good option – if peak tourist season, dodging the crowd will make this impossible with little kids!
Catch the bus out to North Head (part of Harbour National Park) where you can wander along some pretty coastal trails for outstanding views or visit historic relics
Shop in the specialty surf stores
Sample some of the tasty food on offer
Simply visit Manly for the enjoyment of the ferry ride alone!
Taronga deserves the accolades it gets as one of the World’s great zoos. Set spectacularly into the hillside with views back onto Sydney harbour the zoo is a kids’ paradise with plenty of impressive animals and conservation minded shows.
To ensure you aren’t hiking uphill for the day (ie dragging kids uphill!) you are best to catch the gondola or bus to the top entrance if arriving at the zoo via ferry. You can then take your time exploring the zoo from top to bottom which is a little more forgiving on little legs.
Darling Quarter – Darling Harbour
No secrets here… you can literally spend hours just hanging out in Darling Harbour with kids, particularly in the newly re-developed Darling Quarter. The best part is that the child-friendly activities are all mostly free. The playground is an absolute favourite with the kids and the water play area is a welcome spot to wrap a warm day up as the kids can spend hours running and exploring.
With Gelatissimo and a number of other good eateries in the area you can sit back and watch the sun go down on happy kids.
It took me seven years before finally taking my kids to the Australian Museum next to Hyde Park.
The museum is essentially a small natural history museum but is housed in a beautiful historic Sydney building and whilst I admittedly tend not to find museums overly fun with kids this one proved to be a hit and my kids loved it.
Being school holidays, the kids were excited to discover the interactive dinosaurs as we entered the foyer and the enthusiasm stayed with them as they navigated themselves around with the child friendly maps.
Educational and interesting, this museum is not too overwhelming but offers good, simple fun for kids.
An oldie but a goodie, and so central and easy to get there as it is located in the heart of Darling Harbour. Let the kids run from tank to tank observing the vast display of fish, penguins and dugongs – all educational as well of course.
If you need help finding somewhere to stay make sure you check out my recommendations for the best family friendly hotels in Sydney.
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