Sydney is a city just asking for little explorers! It’s got things that go, dramatic buildings, wildlife, museums and beaches! You’ll need a good week to fit it all in but if you’ve only got a few days, here are the must-see highlights to get you started.
Home to the first European settlement in Australia, and originally home to the Gadigal Aboriginal people, this picturesque little corner of Sydney is steeped in history and makes a great first stop to get your orientation with the city.
Walk the cobblestone streets, take in the magnificent views of Sydney Harbour and the Sydney Opera House and visit the Rocks Discovery Museum (free – includes kids interactive corner) to learn more about Australian colony times.
Circular Quay and Sydney Harbour Bridge
Undoubtedly one of the most iconic buildings in the world, you cannot miss visiting the Sydney Harbour Bridge – or see it, photograph it, take a boat under it or drive across it – even climb across it!
Those on foot can take the 1.4km walk that starts at The Rocks and ends at Milsons Point (you can catch a train back to Circular Quay from here if the walk back doesn’t appeal). Don’t forget to stop at the Pylon Lookout for an in-depth tour through the history of the bridge (entry fee).
For the more enthusiastic and fit, the Bridge Climb is for your older city explorers only (kids need to be over 8 years old and 120cm). Advance Booking tickets for this is essential for an unforgettable Sydney experience.
Luna Park Sydney
If you’ve made the Sydney Harbour Bridge Crossing to Milsons Point (or taken the ferry if little legs won’t allow), make your next stop the iconic Luna Park Sydney.
You cannot miss the enormous smiling face that’s been greeting families for generations. Inside favourite kiddy rides await like the wild mouse, dodgem cars, the giant slides of Coney Island or take the Ferris wheel for some of the best views back to the Sydney Harbour Bridge!
For another little side treat while you’re here in Lavender Bay area, check at Wendy’s (not so) Secret Garden! A simply stunning retreat nestled on Sydney’s North Shore – and it’s completely free!
The Sydney Opera House & Royal Botanic Gardens
You cannot come all the way to Australia and miss a visit to the most iconic buildings in the world! Don’t just take your piccy outside (obligatory!) but get the kids inside for a tour too (suited to school age+ kids).
Don’t be mistaken in to thinking that the Opera House is for adults only either – an extensive range of shows and activities are on throughout the year for children too. You can check out the program here.
Once you are done here, pick yourself up a bite to eat and head into the Royal Botanical Gardens for a picnic. Not only can you let the kids unwind and run around a little, you will be spoilt with one of the most spectacular views in the world from Mrs Macquarie’s chair.
Day trip to Manly
Only a short a ferry ride away from central Sydney, or even a great place to base yourself, Manly Beach feels a million miles from the bustle of the city. Check out the famous swimming pools and if you’re sticking around, grab some snorkels and flippers.
A short walk from the southern end of Manly will bring you to Shelly Beach which is popular with families.
You can’t come to Sydney and not visit one of the spectacular beaches, right? If you haven’t squeezed in at least a day trip to Manly then you’ll want to at least visit the infamous Bondi Beach. If you can spare at least half a day, one of the best outdoor experiences for newcomers to Sydney is to take on the Bondi to Bronte Walk.
Bronte makes a great swimming spot for kids so if the weather’s good, pack your bathers.The walk with kids will take you around 2 hours but there are stops along the way to keep the kids happy. You can catch a train from Central Station to Bondi Junction then a connecting bus, or bus it all the way from town.
Any Home and Away fans? For the curious, the beach you are looking for is Palm Beach! Approximately 40kms north of Sydney, it is accessible by bus or die-hard fans may want to join an official Home and Away tour!
Australian Wildlife Experiences
An Aussie favourite for both native wildlife and it’s extensive collection or endangered animals is Taronga Zoo. Not only does it have one of the most spectacular views of the city it has extensive educational programs including their zookeeper for the day program.
If you have enough time, then it’s well worth planning a day trip out to Featherdale, one of Australia’s best wildlife parks located in the outer western suburbs of Sydney.
Up for more Australian wildlife experiences? One of our co-founders Keri has a super in-depth guide on where to have Australian Animal Encounters in every state.
Darling Harbour & Tumbalong Park
We’d also recommend marine lovers check out SEA Life at Darling Harbour. A great way to save a little money on transport is to combine a ferry ticket from Circular Quay with a stop at Darling Harbour.
You can, of course, walk to Darling Harbour from central Sydney but this way you have an excuse to go under the Sydney Harbour Bridge – more awesome photos!!
Next door you’ll find Wild Life Zoo, though if you are pressed for time we’d recommend Taronga & SEA Life as our top inner-city choices.
Nearby you will find Cockle Bay Wharf and Harbourside Shopping Centre with loads of eateries, a 9D action cinema and then into Darling Harbour Children’s Playground. For a country that prides itself on outdoor playparks, this is one of Australia’s most spectacular and extensive playgrounds – and it’s completely free!
Another little gem in Tumbalong Park is the Chinese Garden of Friendship. A beautiful reflective spot away from the hustle and bustle of the city. There’s a play-along app “The Emperors Quest” that your older kids will love playing along with.
Sydney’s Best Museums
Sydney is lucky to be blessed with several top-notch museums.
- Dinosaur lovers can’t miss the Australian Museum.
- Boat lovers will be at home at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour.
- A great interactive one for kids on a rainy day is the Powerhouse Museum.
- The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) overlooks the ferry terminal at Circular Quay and children become the artwork. Look out for school holiday programs – and best of all, it’s free!!
Allow a full day in your busy Sydney itinerary to make sure you get beyond the city and its beaches and get to the Blue Mountains. The contrast between city and Mountains is just stunning.
Why not include a tour out to the Jonolan Caves along with visiting Katoomba? If you’re not a confident self-driver in a new city, then skip the Sydney traffic and one way systems and join a tour to get out of town.
Should you get a Sydney Flexi Pass?
If you are going to be in town for more than a few days it’s definitely worth investing in a Flexi Pass.
The Sydney iVenture card lasts for 3, 5 or 7 days and even if you are only to visit a handful of the available attractions (most of them we have also mentioned above) you could save hundreds of dollars across your group.
They will also largely cover your transport needs as well with hop-on-hop-off ferry and bus tickets included.
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