Sydney, Australia: Culture & Adventure for families

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Kids: 
11 years
13 years
15 years
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Parent
Date: 
2013-08-12 to 2013-08-15
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Sydney, Australia, is one of those cities that captivates her visitors and begs them to stay longer, explore further, do more, and fall in love. We knew that four days would only be enough to scratch the surface; nonetheless, we jumped in with both feet and made the most of every moment. If you’re strategic about your planning and you stay in a central location, you’ll be amazed at how much you can pack into your days.

Logistics

Sunrise over the Opera HouseMost people arrive in Sydney by air, as we did. You’ll find the train service directly from the airport to be excellent. It connects with the other light rail, bus and ferry service through Central Quay, which is also the stop most central to Sydney Harbour and the historic district of The Rocks. Plan to purchase a week long pass for public transport as it’s more economical than the daily pass. For a short stay, the cheaper Zone 1 & 2 pass will probably be more than adequate to cover your adventures. This allows you to hop on and off the trains and buses as much as you like. As of September 2013 there is an extra charge to add the ferry service to your ticket. We recommend adding it. There is also a free line of red tourist busses that run in the downtown region and can be ridden by anyone, anywhere on the route.

Lodging  

There are lots of places to stay in Sydney, from hostels to the Four Seasons, overlooking Sydney Harbour. None of them are particularly cheap, with the hostel beds starting at $45 per person. If you’re trying to make the most of a short visit then you don’t want to spend half of your time getting in and out of the city to save a few bucks on lodging. We recommend choosing a good, mid-range, family friendly hotel in The Rocks district. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Old Sydney, which had an excellent breakfast, coin operated washing machines, and a fantastic view of the Opera House (request the fifth floor or above, harbour view.) We couldn’t have picked a better location.

 

What to see:

Take some walks:

Bondi-Coogee Beach walkTake the bus across the peninsula to Bondi Beach and stretch your legs on the ocean front walk between Bondi and Coogee beaches. You’ll walk through several boroughs of  Sydney and you’ll be treated to some fantastic views. We saw dolphins! Be sure to treat yourself to ice cream when you get to Coogee! 

The Rocks district begs to be walked. The old streets with gas lamps that are lit in the evenings are lined with galleries and upscale shops as well as the usual tourist haunts. You’ll find everything from five star cuisine to $10 pub meals and live music virtually every night in one venue or another. 

Manly Beach is another great district to wander. You’ll catch the ferry from Circle Quay and enjoy some of the best views of the harbour on your way across. The wide promenade that crosses the spit between the ferry terminal and Manly Beach is made for a leisurely wander. It’s a great place to have ice cream. Step into the old church, if it’s open, and listen to the music. Manly NSW 2095

The Royal Botanic Gardens are perfect for walking and a lovely escape from the bustle of the city. Take time to wander slowly, catch your breath and enjoy the best green space in the city. This is a great (and free) place for kids to burn off steam after museum visits or being cooped up in a hotel room! 

Take some ferries:

You could pay for a river or harbour cruise, with dinner and dancing, if that’s your thing, but you could also just hop on and off the ferries that zip back and forth and up and down the waterways connecting the neighbourhoods of Sydney with the downtown area. You’ll get some of the best views of the harbour for no more than what you’re already paying for public transportation! If you have a lot of kids, like we do, this is an even better deal!!

Taronga Zoo

Taronga ZooThis zoo is far from being a hidden gem, but it’s a gem, nonetheless. We’ve been to lots of zoos over the years, but this one has become one of our favourites. It’s got some great exhibits of uniquely Australian animals: echidnas, platypus, tasmanian devils, several kinds of kangaroos, and of course koala. You can take the ferry across. The gondola you see overhead is included in your zoo ticket, and if you get the wristband when you exit you can come and go all day. 

BridgeClimb Sydney 

BridgeClimb SydneyThe Sydney Harbour Bridge is an iconic landmark. It’s the largest single span bridge in the world and was an engineering marvel at the time of its construction. If you have kids over ten years old and you want to splurge on something that is truly unforgettable, take the BridgeClimb. It takes about three hours, including suiting up and safety briefing, but you’ll never have another chance to clip yourself to the exterior of a bridge and walk all the way up to the very top, on the outside!! It’s breathtaking!

The Rocks Discovery Museum  

This museum is a fascinating journey into the history of Sydney, from the first settlement and forward. The price is right for families: it’s free!! Our kids really enjoyed the little fortune teller finger puzzles that are handed out at the door that turn the museum into a treasure hunt and inform your visit. If you have come to Sydney hoping to learn, don’t miss this museum. It’s down a back alley, but it isn’t hard to find!

Museum of Contemporary Art   

Sydney is home to more than a few great museums. This one is free, and right on Circle Quay, which makes it very convenient to have a wander through when you feel the need to retreat from the bustle of the city for a while. Our family was mixed, half of us liked it, half did not, but some of us are pretty picky art critics! At this price, you can afford to stop in and decide for yourself!

Sydney Opera House Sydney Opera House

How can you come to Sydney and not see the Opera House? If you take a ferry, you’ll get the best possible view from every side. Of course you can walk up to it, and into it. For our family, it has long been a “bucket list” item to see a real opera in the Sydney Opera House, and so we did! To say it was magical would be to sell it short. La Traviata, by Verdi, is the most performed opera in the world for a reason. It was our kids’ first live, in person opera, and it was a memory that will last a lifetime. If you are going to splurge on one thing in Sydney, I recommend making it this!

Gallery: 
BridgeClimb Sydney
Bondi-Coogee Beach walk
Bondi Beach
Bondi-Coogee Beach Walk
Dinner in The Rocks: Ezra eats kangaroo!
Holiday Inn Old Sydney Room detail
Sunrise over the Opera House
Sydney Opera House
Manly Beach
Taronga Zoo
Taronga Zoo
Taronga Zoo
Places: 
Article Type: 
In-Person Impressions

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