Sydney offers a diverse range of activities for the visitor, but what’s suitable for a short trip with young kids? Here are our tried and tested suggestions for 3 days in Sydney that the whole family will love.
3 Days in Sydney: Day 1 – The Rocks and Beyond
Capitalize on the excitement and enthusiasm that comes with the first day in a new city, and set out for this walking day! Start with a family jaunt through the Rocks for a quintessential taste of Sydney’s history, architecture, and food.
Climb the Bridge
Ascending the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a must regardless of age. You can climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge three ways:
- The once-in-a-lifetime Bridge Climb, facilitates a secure summit of the bridge, 134 meters above the water. Unfortunately, the climb does not accommodate children under 8 years old, so you may need to wait or split up the group for this experience.
- Scale the Pylon Lookout for uninterrupted Harbour Views. The Pylon offers a more affordable, less time consuming way to capture a bird’s eye perspective of Sydney Harbour. Trek up the 200 steps for amazing photo opportunities.
- Stroll the pedestrian walkway across the bridge. Follow the signs in the Rocks and climb to the pedestrian entrance of the bridge via Harrington St. Soak in the views of Circular Quay and the Opera House down below. You can walk all the way to the end and catch the train at Milson’s Point back to Circular Quay for an easy round trip.
Lunch in the Rocks
After your morning walk, grab lunch in the Rocks. While options abound, here are a few of our picks:
My parents frequented The Rocks Cafe during their visit. The European and modern Australian food offered lots of variety, for us and kids menu for CZ. Plus, the soaring cakes are certainly worth a vacation splurge.
Playfair Cafe sandwiches rank among our favourite in Sydney (also, budget friendly). This is our go-to picnic lunch option; we gravitate towards a combination of the spicy cured meats and pickled vegetables. For best results, cede control to the sandwich chef.
For a classic Australian experience, dine at the Australian Heritage Hotel . The bar has serviced the thirsty and hungry of Sydney for centuries and boasts kangaroo, emu, and crocodile pizzas for the adventurous – JZ is a big fan.
Royal Botanic Gardens
After lunch, take a stroll around Circular Quay towards the Opera House. You can admire it from the outside, or enquire about the kid’s shows (ages 3+). The one hour tour is interesting to adults, but not tailored for children. We have heard outstanding reviews of the children’s performances – check current shows here. From the East side of the Opera house, you will reach the Queen Elizabeth II Gate of the Botanic Gardens.
The Royal Botanic Gardens are beautiful and worth exploring anytime of year, if nothing else for the views! Kids will love to hop aboard the Choo Choo Express for an engaging tour of the gardens. Travel through the gardens, popping out at one of the four stops.
If you are feeling hungry, stop off for a quick snack at the Wooloomooloo gate and walk down the steps to Cowper Wharf Rd. Past the ornate Ovolo hotel is a quaint, historical establishment, Harry’s Cafe de Wheels. Pop in for a traditional Aussie meat pie. My choice is the Tiger with a chicken curry pie, piled high with mashed potatoes, mushy peas, and a drizzle of gravy. With several pie selections, it should not be difficult to find something that appeals to everyone.
From the wharf, walk back to gardens and get back on the train – keep in mind the last tour time. If you can’t get enough of the harbour views, jump out at Victoria Lodge and follow the signs to Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair for even more amazing city views.
In the evening, return to your hotel for an early night in to adjust to the time difference and prepare for another epic day in Sydney.
Sydney Travel Itinerary Day 2 – Coastal Walks
You can’t come to Sydney without a trip to the beach! Sydney is blessed with an array of amazing beaches, but if you are only going to visit one, it should be Bondi.
Morning in Bondi
Bondi offers a long, wide beach with crashing waves perfect for surfing. A morning in Bondi is not complete without an Aussie breakfast from a nearby cafe. Check out Trio or Sonoma Cafe Bondi for toast, flat whites, and perfectly poached eggs. Dip your toes in the cool water and relax in the sea breeze while the kids play in the sand.
The waves can be rough at Bondi for the young ones, if you fancy a swim, head to the glamorous, glistening Bondi Icebergs ocean pool. It has a shallow area perfect for kids, and they’ll relish the excitement from the lapping waves cresting over the lap pool. Plus, you can’t beat the view from the restaurant patio!
Bondi to Bronte walk
For the adventurous, pack up the kids and walk along the sun drenched boardwalks of the Bondi to Bronte walk. You will stroll between soaring walls of sandstone, admire breathtaking coastal views, and gaze across a hauntingly beautiful graveyard. The boardwalk is mostly enclosed, if the little ones need to run off some energy along the way. On the way, you will pass Tamarama and Bronte beaches. Tamarama has a chic, fresh cafe and fun playground; however, the water rends to be quite rough. Bronte is better suited for a family swim and time in the sand and sun.
Bronte provides another ocean pool on the southern side which is perfect for young kids. The beach also has ample shaded areas in the park to lie down and take a rest, or for a quick break in between playing at the beach.
For lunch, pop out to Bronte road for a host of tasty options. You can’t go wrong with Fish and Chips, and we enjoyed a casual lunch at Cafe La Plage.
Catch an uber or taxi back to your accommodations. If you are looking for a bit more adventure in the evening, head back to Circular Quay and catch the ferry to Manly.
Evening in Manly
Breathe in the cooler evening air sitting outside on the Manly ferry. When you arrive in Manly, you can stop for a quick play at the Manly Wharf beach. If the timing is right, face the wharf to admire a spectacular sunset. Otherwise, cross the street to stroll along the Curso.
The Curso is lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes – if you are in need of surfing paraphernalia or souvenirs, it’s a fun place to browse. Make your way all the way to Manly beach – a long, white sand beach bookended by rocky cliffs. If you want to extend your stroll, turn right to follow the pedestrian path to Shelly beach.
For dinner, we have a few recommendations:
Chica Bonita – causal, fresh Mexican
4 Pines Brewing – great burgers and fries, we’ve never been for dinner so I don’t know how different the vibe is, but we found it accepting of loud toddlers during lunch
Papi Chulo – upscale but still family friendly, luscious slow cooked meat, highly recommend the tasting menus although they are loong – bookings recommended
Sydney Travel Itinerary Day 3 – Say G’day to Aussie Animals
Today you are walking amid the animals – and maybe even giving them a pet!
But first, a decision. Do you want a full-on, immersive zoo experience or an Aussie animal highlights tour and time for a playground?
Option 1 – Iconic, Expansive Taronga Zoo
For the most ‘Sydney’ experience, head to the amazing Taronga zoo. You will encounter animals from around the globe, with numerous opportunities to get close to those Aussie natives. It can be difficult to enjoy everything at the expansive zoo in one day, so pull up the map and decide on some of your family’s must-see animals, shows, or talks.
The best way to get to Taronga is by ferry, so make sure you’ve topped up your Opal card and bought tickets online before you leave. Enjoy sailing past the icons of the harbour: Opera house, Bridge, and catch a glimpse of leering grin of Luna Park. Arrive at the ferry wharf and head straight for the skyrail line (included in your ticket).
We have a whole list of tips, including where to sit on the ferry to ensure you get in line early for the sky rail (Read: Top Tips for Taronga Zoo). But here are a few of the essentials:
- Walk amid lazy kangaroos, startled emus, and grinning quokkas in the Backyard to Bush Kids trail
- Watch birds swoop, catch, and even steal a coin at the incredible QBE Bird Show
- Discover the secrets of Australia’s nights in the nocturnal exhibit (plus enjoy the air con)
- End with the tree kangaroos and koala feeding (3:30pm) for a cute ending to an exhilarating day
Note: This is going to a long day, and a hot one if it’s not winter. If you desire a laid back, strolling by koalas and kangaroos type experience, consider below.
Option 2 – Catch the highlights at Sydney Wildlife Zoo and Sydney Aquarium
If the weather looks iffy or you want to give your feet a break, buy tickets online and head to Darling Harbour for the Sydney Wildlife Zoo and Sydney Aquarium. Both experiences highlight Australian native animals in a compact, family-friendly venue.
Sydney Wildlife Zoo
Sydney Wildlife is a small, indoor zoo catering to tourists with an array of Australian native animals. Upon entering, follow the path winding past butterflies, Tasmanian devils, reptiles, out to the free range kangaroos, and up to the koala rooftop. You cannot feed the animals, so they seem most content lounging as far away from people as possible. But there are several opportunities to capture photos.
Be sure to attend a few keeper talks and Aussie Animal adventure show. The adventure show highlights a few different animals, some of which you can pat and pose with (we have seen a lizard, echnida, qoukka, and giant python). Outside of the tour times, sometimes staff wander around with various small reptiles and mammals.
Before you leave, venture up to the koala rooftop and see those fuzzy faces up close. You can also book an encounter for a small fee. Note that in New South Wales it is illegal to hold a koala, but you can pet them. If you are desperate for a cuddle, you will need to travel to Queensland.
After stopping for a snack at either the koala rooftop or aquarium cafe, continue on to the aquarium. I have visited the aquarium at multiple times/days and always find it packed. I recommend not bringing a pram for this adventure because of the crowds and maneuverability, but everything is accessible.
Journey through the exhibits and meet some of the natives: the Blue Ring Octopus, Fairy Penguin, and Dory. The mantra ray and shark tunnels invariably make me a bit jumpy, but I also appreciate the intimate view of animals rarely seen in person.
One of main attractions is the large pair of dugongs, a close relative of the elephant and matinee. The dugong is only found in small pocket within coast of Australia and South Pacific. Lastly, hop abroad the chilly penguin expedition to get up close to King and Gentoo penguins. CZ and I have a lot of fun with this ride, and it is included in the price of admission.
With the remainder of your day, Explore Darling Harbour and surrounds. From the aquarium, head back towards the Convention Center and past the IMAX (under construction until 2018). Visit Tumbalong park (across from McDonalds) for a run around and splash in the interactive water works area.
The restaurants in the area are a bit expensive since this is mainly a tourist area. We recommend Tokio Hotel, between the aquarium and IMAX, for lunch or an early dinner. We used to frequent this resturant/bar (in the evenings) for breakfast, as it was near JZ’s old work with American sized portions 😉
Right across the Liverpool st bridge is a great Korean restaurant, AriSun. I have been happy with the Bulgogi beef, a several of their hot pots. The restaurant has a large patio with outdoor seating and high chairs.
The Naked Duck cafe is good for fast takeaway and lunch sandwiches. However, it does cater to the business crowd so expect long lines from 1-2pm. It is closed on the weekends/public holidays.
Depending on the season, you can ride the carousel and possibly a ferris wheel on the wharf. Or if your family has interest in sailing and boats, swing by the Australian National Maritime Museum to survey the free collections and current kids events.
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