When it comes to planning a memorable family getaway, there’s nowhere in Australia quite like Sydney. And while it doesn’t have a reputation for being a budget-friendly destination, there are plenty of affordable ways to experience the best of the Harbour City – even with a family in tow. Here are ten family-friendly things to do in Sydney this summer that won’t break the bank.
1. Enjoy cost-effective culture at Sydney’s top museums and galleries
Competition between Sydney’s cultural institutions for pint-sized patrons and their parents is fierce, particularly during school holidays.
Entry for kids is usually free, and ticketed activities are always well-priced and great value for money.
Head online to check out what’s on during your stay. Entry to the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales is free of charge, and the gallery offers special workshops for kids and its popular Tours for Tots.
The Museum of Contemporary Art also offers free entry, along with Art Safaris for 3 to 5 year-olds. The Powerhouse Museum – Sydney’s Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences – is a must-visit if you have an Einstein in the making. The museum offers free entry for under 16s. For the dinosaur-obsessives, the Australian Museum is a winner. Again, under 16s enter free.
2. Time travel in The Rocks for free
The Rocks is the most historic part of Sydney and a visit here is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to bring the story of colonial Sydney to life for kids. It’s fun just to wander the cobbled stone laneways and secret passageways, and don’t miss out on taking a look at The Big Dig – an archaeological dig that has uncovered structures dating as far back as the 1790s, and more than a million items used in daily colonial life. The site is free to access and there are labelled artefacts on display. The Rocks Discovery Museum is also free to enter and offers kid-specific guided tours during school holidays.
3. Head for the city’s free ‘amusement parks’
Yes, you could shell out for entry for the family to one of Sydney’s many themed attractions, and they are great fun, but with everything from flying foxes to in-ground trampolines available for nix at the city’s fabulous array of public parks, it hardly seems necessary to spend a penny. One of the top options around town is the Darling Quarter Playground.
A day here comes with a caveat: you are actually going to be just a little jealous of your kids and the amount of fun they’ll have while you watch on. They can make like a circus performer and hit the tightrope, fly through the air on the flying fox, whizz down the hill slides or be Spiderman on the tangled web. See, we told you you’d be jealous!
4. Plan a picnic at Barangaroo: Sydney’s new harbour foreshore playground
Barangaroo Reserve is Sydney’s newest recreational precinct and a boon to parents looking for an outdoor space to hang with the kids on the harbour-front. The reserve is just a short walk from Wynyard railway station and features the stunning Wulugul Walk along the harbour foreshore.
Check online for details of upcoming events at the amphitheatre – constructed from 6,500 sandstone blocks. There are plenty of picnic areas to enjoy amidst the 74,000 native shrubs and trees planted on the site. And no, we’re not expecting you to lug a picnic basket around town. Head to the Barangaroo food precinct and drop by The Canteen to pick up reasonably priced supplies. It’s a collective of Sydney’s top providers of casual and street eats.
5. Walk across the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge
This is an oldie but a goodie, and a walk across the mighty Sydney Harbour bridge is guaranteed to enthral even the most screen-focussed teen. Access the pedestrian walkway via the stairs next to Milsons Point station on the northern side of the harbour, or Cumberland Street on the CBD side.
The walk itself only takes about 15 minutes, and offers sensational city and harbour views. You can extend the experience by paying a small entry fee to head up to the lookout at the top of the South Pylon. The pylon also houses a series of displays that chart the history of the bridge – one of the world’s most recognisable structures.
6. Have some splash-tastic fun at the North Sydney Olympic Pool
Enjoying a splash in the heat of summer is a time-honoured family holiday pastime and for a pool with a view, and a whole heap of charm, you just can’t beat the North Sydney Olympic Pool at Milsons Point. To access it, just head over the bridge from the CBD and down to the water’s edge.
For the princely sum of less than $10 for adults and $5 for kids, you can enjoy a soak in one of the world’s most spectacular settings, with the soaring coathanger as a backdrop. The pool’s fabulous Art Deco styling dates back to the 1930s. Just a word of warning to adults prone to give in to pester-power – Luna Park is located right next door.
7. Do the South Mosman to Taronga Zoo walk
Sydney offers no end of great, and totally free, self-guided walks. The Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk is an often-mentioned must-do, but another great option, particularly if you plan to ‘do the zoo’, is the South Mosman to Taronga Zoo walk.
Catch a ferry from Circular Quay to South Mosman wharf and head off on foot along what is a stunningly beautiful route, and one that offers sweeping harbour vistas. Taronga Zoo has been thrilling kids of all ages for decades, and of all the city’s attractions, this is the one not to miss. A family pass for two adults and two children is just over $100 when booked online. BYO snacks and water to reduce the cost of incidentals.
8. Hang ten at Manly and Shelly Beaches
Sydney is world-famous for its beaches, and locals and visitors alike make for Manly in droves. It’s one of the city’s most popular harbour and seaside retreats. Stake your claim on the beach and watch the world go by while the kids swim or perhaps take a surfing lesson.
For a change of scene (and a slightly smaller crowd), head for nearby Shelly Beach. You can reach this picturesque patch of sand via a pathway at the southern end of Manly Beach. The sheltered cove is home to many species of fish and is a top spot for snorkelling.
9. Design a cut-price day of discovery in the Blue Mountains
It wouldn’t be a visit to Sydney without heading up to the ever-popular Blue Mountains, and a semi self-guided tour is a reasonably cost-effective option for families. You’ll need an Opal card to catch the train from Central station up to the main Mountains township of Katoomba. The trip takes just under two hours and the earlier you arrive in Katoomba, the better (there are trains every half hour from Sydney until 9am).
On arrival, purchase a family pass for the hop on/hop off Blue Mountains Explorer Bus, which will take you to all the key tourist sites with ease – with the added benefit of live driver commentary. Bushwalking in the region is popular and free. There are plenty of options, including the walk from Echo Point past the iconic Three Sisters rock formation and down the 998 steps of the Giant Stairway to the floor of the Jamison Valley. Just remember – what goes down, must come up! Purchasing a ticket on the famous Scenic Railway makes it easy.
10. Tuck into fresh fish and chips by the water
Sydney is renowned for its seafood and what better and more reasonably priced way to wrap up a family day in the Harbour City, than with fresh fish and chips by the water.
Iconic seafood eatery Doyles does takeaway at Fishermans Wharf in Watsons Bay until 5pm, while Fishmongers at Manly offers lightly battered hoki out of the box (literally – it comes served in a box). Bondi’s Best is a good bet when chowing down at Sydney’s most famous beach, and Out of the Blue has you covered at the other end of the Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk.
Accommodation in Sydney
When you’re visiting these amazing places in Sydney, you’ll need a comfy stay. Choice Hotels has amazing accommodation options for you. For people who want to live in the heart of the city, take a look at the fabulous Castlereagh Boutique Hotel, Ascend Hotel Collection. Additionally, check out Choice Hotels in the surrounding areas including Quality Suites Camperdown, Quality Inn Sunshine Haberfield and Comfort Inn North Shore.
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has previously had the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten.