Sydney’s bustling metropolis is surprisingly child friendly! Here are my favourite boredom busting activities and sites for nippers big and small.
When you think of urban hubs such as London, New York and Sydney, child-proof isn’t normally the first phrase that springs to mind. As you may or may not know, I have been working as an au pair in North Sydney since August 2013 and have loved every second (almost). I was surprised, and very relieved, to find that Australia’s biggest city is a fantastic place for kids to play, learn and socialise and it’s pretty fun for their doting caregivers too.
If there’s one thing I learned about Sydney pretty quickly, it’s that there is always something to do. As a fresh-faced nanny arriving from the other side of the world, I was thrilled to find that this wasn’t limited to adults.
Here’s my Scribble Map to give you some perspective on where exactly I’m recommending!
(note: my list may seem North Sydney-centric but as my host-family lived here, I had the most experience here! Time Out Sydney have some great ideas across the region)
1. Darling Quarter
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9240 8500
You’ll hear my talking about this little gem a lot, and with good reason. You could spend a whole day here, kids or no, and have plenty to do! The main attraction for the kiddies is the huge playground with so many climbing frames, slides and rides to have them exhausted by snack time. There there are the fountains and a water play area that’s great for the little ones to enjoy and cool off when the weather starts hotting up.
For the older kids not content with a whole day splashing and climbing, there’s the IMAX cinema around the corner, a whole load of restaurants and cafes from cheap to chic. SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo and Madam Tussauds also sit side by side five minutes walk away in Cockle Bay Wharf.
Tickets can be pre-booked (generally cheaper) or bought at the ticket desk and are available as single attraction tickets or a multi-pass offer which lets you into multiple Sydney tourist spots, saving you money per visit.
Well worth every penny. The zoo, opened in 1916, has a very different feel than the ones I’ve been in before. It seems much more open, airy and authentic (as fake habitat can be). You have family favourites – lions, tigers and bears, oh my! – as well as an Australian Outback area where you can learn about the Indigenous animals Oz is famous for. Throw in a petting zoo, play area and free sky safari and you’re onto a winner for all ages.
Make sure you head there early so to avoid tears and tantrums over missing the giraffes/elephants/koalas and there are plenty of spaces for a picnic or cafes to buy hot and cold food. There are sensational views across the zoo which jump out at you unexpectedly. Take advantage of the photo opportunity with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge in the background which look wonderful from the elevated height. The Sky Safari takes little more than ten minutes for a round trip, displays views over the zoo and Sydney Harbour and is all included in your entry fee. For those travelling by ferry, you can catch the Sky Safari as a pretty means of getting to the main entrance of the zoo and working your way back down or, if you’re doing it in reverse, you can pop back down on a one-way trip to get back to your awaiting sea vessel.
Coincidentally, I took my beau on our second date in a bid to impress (it worked) and we travelled via ferry from circular quay. We were there for six hours and had to rush near the end in order to fit in a round trip on the sky safari. Prices are $44 for an adult, $22 for kids 4-15 and children under 4 can get in free.
3. Balmoral Beach
Mosman NSW 2088
I may be a little biased towads Balmoral because it was so easy to get to from my host-family’s house, but its a lovely beach for kids regardless of location.
Although this place can get busy on weekends there’s never trouble finding a spot to get settled for the day. Head to the end of the beach that curves around to the right for a playground, shaded areas on the sand and grass and a convenient cafe and toilets.
The beach is clean, friendly and fun and there are always loads of kids around with families. If you’re heading in the week, as I was, there are often other parents/nannys/grandparents to sit with and it’s all very open so keeping an eye on them while they play and make friends is easy.
If Balmoral is a little out of your way but you’re looking for a beach that isn’t a backpacker hub like Bondi, then check out my article Beyond Bondi, which I’ll be uploading soon.
4. North Sydney Olympic Pool & Milson’s Point Park
4 Alfred St S, Milsons Point NSW 2061
(02) 9955 2309
Although there are numerous pools across Sydney, including the famous sea water pool cornered off at Bondi Beach, North Sydney has something a little special. The indoor 25 pool is clean, friendly and has a good space for recreational swimming with the little ones with a maximum depth of 1.3 metres. Alongside this there is a narrow 25m pool which gets to little over two foot deep which is great for kids to get acquainted with the water as well as toddlers and pre-school kids who want to splash around on their own. Head outdoors for the 50m Olympic pool (tends to be more for serious swimmers or doing laps) as well as a smaller outdoor pool. It is partially shaded at the shallow end which measures around half a metre which is great for the kids to splash around in from around age 3, especially if they have floaties or arm bands which they’re comfortable with in the water.
The view of the Harbour Bridge is great from both indoor and outdoor pool but the best view comes from from the nearby park at Milsons Point. Completely enclosed, you can let the little ones run free and spend their energy or have a kickabout on the adjoining field. It’s also the perfect place for a post-swimming picnic as the park looks out over the harbour, the iconic Coathanger and Sydney Opera House.
There is a creche which runs in the week (though not every day and booking is advised) which costs just $4.20 for an hour if you fancy taking some time for yourself to swim or soak up the rays on the beautiful sun deck which is always drenched in sunlight.
5. Stanton Library
234 Miller Street, North Sydney NSW 2060
(02) 9936 8400
Again, there are countless libraries and community centres which offer services for children but Stanton Library in North Sydney is my local and favourite. Their kids activities include Storytime Tuesdays and Wednesdays 11-12 and Toddler Rhyme Time at 11.30am on a Thursday which lasts for 20 minutes. Both are free and the Storytime slot has a pre-determined theme each week and includes a short ‘movie’ after interactive storytelling and is followed by a craft session.
6. Powerhouse Museum
500 Harris St, Ultimo NSW 2007
(02) 9217 0111
The Powerhouse Museum lies a little behind the Darling Quarter playground near Paddy’s Markets. They have a permanent level downstairs for their kids exhibition as well as a long-standing Wiggles exhibition which is interactive, colourful and pretty impressive, even for grown ups! Head outside where there’s a large play area to burn off some extra energy climbing and running around whilst you enjoy a coffee and supervise. Adults pay $12 entry fee which includes the kids areas, kids aged 4-15 cost $6 while those under 4 are free.
7. Australian Museum
6 College Street, Sydney NSW 2010
(02) 9320 6000
The Australian Museum is probably one of my favourite places to take little ones. Although they do have sections prepared especially for children, such as the play area, full of learning tools and toys for curious kids, and the huge Tyrannosaurs area, pretty much the whole museum is suitable for children of all ages. Head to the insect and butterfly display to learn about Australia’s noisiest residents, Cicadas, or to the Indigenous Australia exhibition to learn about Aboriginal culture both past and present. Dinosaur fanatics will be thrilled to unearth some fossils like a real archaeologist, play spot the difference between rocks and bones and get up close and personal with skeletons large and small.
The best part? They have a Parents’ Survival Guide for advice on all the practical bits you need when visiting with little ones as well as a Kids At The Museum area of the website which gives more info on exhibitions as well as school holiday workshops and more.
Prices for an adult are $15 for general admission or $24 for the Tyrannosaurs area which includes entry to the rest of the museum, $8 or $14 for children 5-15 and kids under 5 go free.
There’s a cafe downstairs which sells hot meals, kids boxes, sweet and savoury snacks as well as drinks and warm and cold drinks. If you’ve brought your own packed lunch just head across the road once you’re done at the museum and sit in Hyde Park and people watch instead!
Being a nanny or au pair can be one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. Although I can’t tell you its my dream job, it’s a great way to discover a new country of city and with the beautiful weather we’re graced with in Sydney, it’s basically getting paid to play in the sunshine and eat picnic!*
(*note: it’s not that easy, obviously, but it can be that fun!)