We called Australia’s stunning Harbour City home for a total of seven years. City of Sydney calls New South Wales’ capital the ‘City of Villages’ – and it’s not wrong. You can enjoy something totally different within all the different communities and peninsulas across the city any day of the week. And we did.
Since becoming a parent, our thirst to explore continued. Sydney is stacked with family friendly fun and enjoyment. It’s beautiful in aesthetic and activity: whether you want to hit the beach, the hiking trail, or devour a fabulous meal with a Harbour vista — Sydney’s got it all. For everyone.
Without further ado, here’s our favourites. In no particular order:
A swim at Balmoral Beach
Balmoral Beach, a flat (non surf) harbour beach on the city’s Lower North Shore, would have to be one of our utmost faves for a dip with a little one. We’d come for mornings of sandcastles, seashore paddling and The Boathouse breakfasts.
Tip: Get your brekky and coffee to go and have a morning picnic if you arrive later than 8-9am. The lines for a table can be mega! It’s a stellar spot all ‘round. Other good toddler beaches: Chowder Bay, Shelly Beach, Little Bay, Camp Cove.
Breakfast at The Grounds of Alexandria
Don’t let the crowds dismay you, The Grounds is a unique food and floral experience that locals and visitors flock to. As the gardens grow, new eateries, florists, markets and more continue to sprout up in this awesome little inner city nook. There’s also a cubby house play area and a small inner city farm for the kids.
Our tip: arrive just after ’open’ for breakfast. Enjoy a lovely breakfast, delicious coffee and reasonable table service and then explore all The Grounds has to offer after. Table wait times can be lengthy (1-2 hours) which, if with kids, is a long time to entertain them before nabbing a table.
Wander Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden
Sydney can be sometimes referred to as The Emerald City. One of our favourite green spaces became Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden – a unique maze of flora nestled into a ‘hidden’ Lavender Bay hillside.
We spent many toddler-led hours roaming the many pathways, ramps and stairs that wind throughout this lush, harbourside oasis. We’d pack a picnic and when our little ones legs would tire, we’d enjoy sandwiches and fruit at one of the many available garden tables. Set just beyond the buzz of Luna Park, it’s a magically peaceful spot and unlike any other garden in the city to us.
Darling Harbour Delights
Hand on heart, I have to admit that Darling Harbour was one of our least favourite Sydney spots. We’d avoid it. Always. Then we had a kid!
So, as parents, we visited Darling Harbour. Usually, we came for our favourites: The Darling Harbour Children’s Playground and the Chinese Garden of Friendship. The playground is a free mecca of kiddo fun: there’s huge cargo nets to climb, a long flying fox and a series of slides and swings. The major attraction is the water play area: whether your little one chooses to follow the many waterways, engage with their buckets and water pumps, or dart between the fountains; there’s plenty of aqua fun.
Just a few hundred metres away, the Chinese Garden is a great place to step away from all the concrete on show at the Harbour. Similarly to Wendy’s Secret Garden, our tiny traveller loved following all the ramps, climbing the stairs, and spotting the many fish, lizards and birds from the bridges.
Wild Play Garden, Centennial Park
Within the majestic grounds of Centennial Park in Sydney’s east is the Ian Potter Wild Play Garden. A recent addition to the park (2017), it’s an awesome little spot for kids of all ages to stretch their legs and explore in a natural environment. With Australian trees providing refreshing shade above, the garden includes pathways, tunnels, dry creek beds, sandpits, stepping stones, climbing activities and water play.
Tip: go on an overcast or dreary day and the little ones can basically have the place to themselves! Just wear gum boots (‘wellies’) and pack a change of clothes.
Yes, many cities across the world have a zoo. But Sydney has Taronga – not only is it over 100 years old, it’s grown from just another tourist animal attraction to a wildlife conservation organisation. You can stroll the many paths and alleys to view animals from all over the world whilst simultaneously learning about how you can make decisions in your day to day life to benefit our furry and underwater friends across the world.
The zoo is also perched on the side of a hill overlooking Sydney Harbour. Everyday the animals enjoy views of the Opera House and glimpses of the Harbour Bridge. As a visitor, you can too.
Hike A Coast
It’s a pretty unique thing for a capital to have plentiful coastal access: and not only in one spot. During our time in Sydney we tackled many of the tracks on offer (baby, or toddler, strapped into a carrier). We found the quentessential Bondi to Coogee Coast Walk the one that had us returning time and time again – whether it was for the annual Sculpture by the Sea, a dose of vitamin sea air in the depths of winter, or to stretch our legs with visitors year round.
The walk is easily accessible (by bus or car) and you can boost the experience differently each time. Start with breakfast and coffee at Bondi Beach. Or, pack a picnic and sit by the sea at Tamarama when the kids need a snack. Or, finish up at Bronte to watch the nippers; or let the kids jump, run and climb all over the playground at Bronte Park.
See the icons on foot
Even as a local, you can’t not enjoy the beauty of what makes the city famous: the Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the beautiful harbour that connects them. Our favourite way to take in the icons was a saunter along the harbour’s northside.
Walk down the hill, through Kirribilli, towards the harbour from Milsons Point train station. You’ll find yourself directly across from the Opera House. Follow the path inland as you walk under the bridge, past Luna Park, and along the boardwalk to Lavender Bay. The views are timeless and largely uninterrupted – unless you count the myriad of boats and other vessels darting around Sydney Harbour.
Looking for the usual tourist tips?
There’s plenty more to see and do in Sydney. Learn more about the ‘top 10’ landmarks to see and other tourist attractions at Sydney.com.