This travel post is written by Vera who blogs at Life is in the Small Things. She travels regularly to Sydney with her petite travellers, N (5 years) and M (3 years) to visit family who are based there. The attractions highlighted in this post are tried and tested family-friendly spaces in the Sydney city centre for families with children under 6 years of age.
Whenever we start planning out holidays, Sydney, Australia is always one of the first destinations on our list. This is in part due to the fact that we have family living in Sydney which makes it a convenient place to visit, but it is also because we love the mix of wide open spaces, raw natural beauty, and family-friendly attractions that can be found scattered throughout the state. Road trips are part of the quintessential Australian holiday experience and we've certainly done a number of those, which I hope to share here in a subsequent post.
Apart from road trips, we also always make it a point to stay in the city for a few days to visit the city attractions. (And yes, to allow the parents to get some shopping done!) There is plenty to keep the children entertained, and here I would like to share some of our favourites. If you spend a few days in the city with young children under the age of 6 years, these are the attractions right in the heart of Sydney (or really close by) you will want to check out:
1. Australian Museum
The Australian Museum was an unexpected find for us years ago when our son N was 2-years old and is our favourite museum in Sydney. A natural history museum of international standing, the Australian Museum features a large collection of animal specimens and skeletons. There is a lot to see, do and (best of all for the kids) TOUCH. It's always a pleasant surprise to find exhibits that children are free to interact with and we found plenty of these here.
The one exhibition that keeps us going back is their Dinosaurs exhibition. This crowd favourite features 10 complete dinosaur skeletons and 8 life-sized models together with dozens of other fossils of dinosaurs and pre-historic animals. There is also a really cool palaeontology lab where you can witness actual fossil excavations taking place on-site and specimens being prepared for display. Needless to say, my dino-loving son was in heaven!
Another area I love in the Australian Museum is Kidspace, a wonderful space specially designed for under-5s. Here, the little ones are free to play, move and explore. There are five "pods" (or tents) full of activities -- puzzles to fix, flaps to lift, buttons to press, etc. There are also specimens in acrylic to be examined under microscopes and a treehouse to play in. It is also in Kidspace that you find the museum's baby-changing and feeding facilities.
Aside from the above, we would also recommend visiting the Skeleton gallery, a fascinating display of animal, fish and bird skeletons.
6 College Street, Sydney NSW 2010, Australia
Opening hours: 9.30am - 5pm daily.
Admission: A$15/Adult, A$8/Child, Free for under 5s. (Click here for more details)
Nearest train stations: St James, Museum and Town Hall
2. Powerhouse Museum
Another wonderful museum to visit is Powerhouse Museum near Darling Harbour. A science and design museum rolled into one, it showcases an eclectic mix of exhibitions from engineering marvels, to fashion, to ecological science, to design and technology. There is something for everyone, but not all will find every exhibition interesting, if you know what I mean. The exhibitions which my little ones most enjoyed were:
- The Wiggles Exhibition -- This popular group from Australia need no introduction and indeed, my kids were most excited to visit this exhibition. Their exposure to the Wiggles is actually fairly limited since they've primarily watched The Wiggles at their cousins' home but still this didn't prevent them from enjoying the exhibition thoroughly. There was plenty to play with and explore, and the kids loved the interactive video games, clips of The Wiggles' songs and hands-on play. There is also a stage with a holographic projection of The Wiggles in one corner that caused me to do a double-take at first glance because looked like they were really there! While the exhibition is more for kids, it is also interesting for adults as it chronicles the history of The Wiggles, from their earliest beginnings to how they became a phenomenal chart-topping success.
- Cogs' Playground -- An outdoor playground in the museum courtyard, the kids will surely have a lot of fun clambering through the giant spiderweb and swinging, twisting and balancing on the various pieces of play equipment. The best part for me is the cafe situated right next to the playground so parents can grab a snack or a cup of coffee while the children play.
- Space -- The space exhibition deserves a mention though it is probably more of interest to an older child. My son has a particular interest in space so he enjoyed seeing the replicas the US space shuttle, satellites and other space craft. Also of note is the zero-gravity space lab. If you're wondering, you don't actually float in the air, but rather, tricks are played on your sight and balance to give you the illusion of weightlessness.
In addition to these exhibitions, there are also regular storytelling sessions and the Science on Show! show in the weekends.
500 Harris St, Ultimo NSW 2007, Australia
Opening hours: 10am - 5pm daily.
Admission: A$15/Adult, A$8/Child, Free for under 4s. (Click here for more details)
Nearest train stations: Central Station, Paddy's Market Light-Rail Station
3. Sea Life Sydney Aquarium
The Sea Life Sydney Aquarium is a favourite with my kids. And why not when you get to come up close and personal with all varieties of creatures of the deep, and penguins to boot?
Our favourite zones are the Shark Walk and Shark Valley and Dugong Island. In both these zones, you descend underground and walk through long stretches of underwater glass tunnels while rays, sharks, dugongs and fish glide over your head. It is an immersive experience which the kids really enjoy. At the end of Dugong Island you are also brought up to an overview of the dugong tank where you can catch the two resident dugongs being fed. My kids are always tickled by the amount of lettuce leaves these dugongs eat, which is ALOT!
Another lovely area is the Great Barrier Reef where you can view a large variety of colourful fish from one of the world's most diverse ecosystems. These areas are at the end of the one-way walk through the aquarium though, so don't be in a hurry to get to them! Instead, take your time to enjoy the many different zones. Also, don't miss the Discovery Rockpool where you can get your hands wet touching urchins, sea stars, sea cucumbers, and fish.
The Sea Life Sydney Aquarium is one of those attractions where it really pays to get your tickets online, as you can get up to 30% off the ticket price, depending on the day and time of your visit, and other value-for-money combos. So make sure you get your tickets before heading down! You don't even need to print out the tickets -- just show them your confirmation e-mail on your phone at ticketing when you arrive and your tickets will be issued on the spot. My favourite offer is the Midweek Parent & Child Ticket for visits between 9am to 4pm, Mondays to Fridays. You pay only A$32 for 1Adult + 1 Child ticket where an Adult ticket at the door would cost you A$40.
The Sea Life Sydney Aquarium also offers Multi-Attraction Passes with other attractions under the same group, namely the Wild Life Sydney Zoo, Madame Tussauds, The Sydney Tower Eye, and Manly Sea Life Sanctuary. It might be worth getting these if you are considering visiting these other attractions, though if you ask me, the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium is the best of the lot. The rest are not must-dos and I would give Wild Life Sydney Zoo a miss in favour of Taronga Zoo.
Sea Life Sydney Aquarium
1-5 Wheat Road, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
Opening hours: 9am - 8pm daily
Admission: A$40/Adult, A$28/Child, Free for under 4s. (Click here for more details and online offers)
Nearest train stations: Town Hall Station, Wynyard Station / Light-Rail: Convention Centre, Pyrmont Bay
4. Taronga Zoo
There is a reason why Taronga Zoo comes up regularly in lists of must-dos in Sydney, and it is because it really is fun for the whole family. Coming from Singapore where we have our own award-winning zoo, you might not think you need to visit another zoo, but Taronga Zoo is worth a second look.
Part of the fun of visiting Taronga Zoo is getting there. You could drive there -- Taronga Zoo is at Bradleys Head in the suburb of Mosman -- but my children's favourite way of getting to the zoo is via ferry from Circular Quay in the city. From there it is a short 12-minute ferry ride across Sydney Harbour and you get to pass very near to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and sail right in front of the Sydney Opera House. These are perfect photo opportunities not to be missed!
After you get off the ferry you can hop on the free bus shuttle up to the entrance to Taronga Zoo, or alternatively take the Sky Safari cable car up to the top. The cable car offers a fun ride for kids and views over the harbour but if you wish to take the cable car, do note that you have to purchase the Zoo Pass for the ferry ride and Sky Safari from Circular Quay before you board the ferry. Sky Safari tickets cannot be bought at the door. The queue for the Sky Safari can also be rather long, so do factor that into your considerations.
Perched at the top of a hill, Taronga Zoo is a zoo with a view. You catch glimpses of the Sydney Harbour as you walk around, and when we watched the QBE Free-flight Bird Show, it was amazing watching the birds soar to the backdrop of the harbour. Like the Singapore Zoo, Taronga Zoo also adopts a cage-less set-up, allowing visitors to get closer to the animals. The attraction here are the many native Australian animals like the Tasmanian Devils, Koalas and Wombats that you can see, to name a few. Children will also enjoy the Kids Trail where they would get to pet animals like guinea pigs and feed some sheep, goats, and even walk amongst the kangaroos, which are allowed to roam freely. There is also a playground and water play area, but the latter is currently closed for upgrading at the time of writing.
Taronga Zoo also host a wildly popular Roar & Snore programme where you can to camp overnight in the zoo in specially designed (read: really nice) tents and go on a behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo. Children have to be at least 5-years of age to participate and I'm definitely going to try to go for this once both kids are of age! Dates are booked up well in advance so advance (maybe super-advance) booking is essential. It is pricey (Peak rate: A$320/Adult, A$205/Child; Off-peak rate: A$288/Adult, A$184.50/Child) so in all likelihood, I'll be vetoed by my husband on this, but from what I hear, it is worth the experience.
Bradleys Head Rd, Mosman NSW 2088, Australia
Opening hours: 9.30am - 5pm daily (4.30pm in between May to Aug)
Admission: A$46/Adult, A$23/Child, Free for under 4s. (Click here for more details)
5. Sydney Opera House
I'm cheating a little with this one because while I have visited the Sydney Opera House myself, I have yet to bring my children. But it is definitely on my list to bring them to attend a concert or watch a play at this iconic location.
The Sydney Opera House offers a really good Kids at the House programme which includes world-class theatre productions all year round for little ones aged 2 years and up. During the school holidays, the programme is extended to include Creative Play sessions, which are a series of interactive installations staffed professional artists which are designed to inspire children to express themselves and have fun getting creative. Also in the line-up for the school holidays is the Sydney Opera House Junior Tour, a one-hour peek behind the curtains at the stages and dressing rooms within this famous performing arts venue. Sounds like fun already!
Sydney Opera House
Bennelong Point, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
Nearest train station: Circular Quay Station
6. Sydney Fish Market
The Sydney Fish Market gets an honourable mention here though I'll admit that visiting the Sydney Fish Market is more for us adults than the kids. I love to cook and all the fresh produce on offer at a fraction of the prices I pay at home gets me excited. But the fact is that my children do get enjoy visiting the fish market too for the following reasons:
- Pelicans. There is always a pelican or two loitering in the parking lot waiting to be fed and they make a fascinating sight.
- Chasing and scaring seagulls. The seagulls scare them back in return.
- Tanks full of interesting fish, crabs, clams to be found at the various market stalls.
- Yummy fresh fish & chips and fried calamari. Our favourite stall for this is Peter's Fish Market.
- Huge chocolate-dipped strawberries from Waterside Fruit Connection round the back.
The Sydney Fish Market also conducts Behind the Scenes Tours every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday where you get to explore facets of the market, including the austion floor. The minimum age for this tour is 10-years though, so while it's not for the littles, it is definitely worth considering if you have older children.
Sydney Fish Market
Pyrmont Bridge Rd, Pyrmont NSW 2009, Australia
Opening hours: Retailers open from 7am - 4pm (Mon-Thurs), till 5pm (Fri-Sun). Restaurant service till 11pm.
Nearest train stations: From Central Station, take the light-rail to Fish Market Light-Rail Station