One of our Sassy Mama contributors gives you the scoop on how to do Sydney with a family!
Living in Hong Kong means we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to exploring new cultures and countries, but once you’ve done the requisite rounds around Southeast Asia, you may be looking slightly further down south for your next great adventure.
With its mild and sunny climate, exotic wildlife and host of kid-friendly activities, Australia is the perfect place to spend a fun-filled family holiday far away from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. We recently packed up our bags for a 4-day trip in Sydney and discovered these family-friendly tips for your next holiday down under:
WHERE TO STAY:
For the most convenient area to stay in Sydney, look no further than Circular Quay – the hub of Sydney Harbour and a central transport centre for the city’s interconnecting web of ferries, trains, buses and even cruise ships. With easy access to major tourist destinations, we found the Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel at Circular Quay to be the perfect home base to explore as much of the city as possible in just a few short days.
The Sydney Harbour Marriott provides comfortable and affordable accommodation in the heart of the city, with the iconic Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge literally at your doorstep. Surrounded by the serene waters of Sydney Harbour, guests are treated to great views of the city and 5-star comfort catering to both business travelers and families with little ones in tow.
Aside from the convenient location, one of the best parts of staying at Sydney Harbour Marriott was the exceptional service – possibly one of the best concierge staff I’ve ever encountered in a bustling, urban city hotel. The staff was friendly and efficient, and went the extra mile to be helpful without being meddling (very important when you’re traveling with little ones!). While I’m one of those nit-picky travelers who will plan my holiday itinerary to the tee, I always count on the hotel concierge to give last-minute recommendations and tips, and the Marriott went noticeably above and beyond to help and accommodate our requests.
With Sydney being the bustling urban centre that it is, don’t expect the same luxury you’d be getting for an equivalent price point in say Koh Samui, for exa
mple, but expect the Marriott’s consistently high level of service and quality of comfort at a reasonable cost. The hotel also comes fully equipped to handle the short attention spans of little ones, with in-room movies, a heated pool and plenty of dining options. Grab a world-class buffet breakfast at Icons Brasserie, and load up the troupe into the caravan for an action-packed day in Sydney…
WHAT TO DO:
Sydney has a pretty decent public transportation system, but if you’re able to rent a car I would highly recommend it, especially if travelling with kiddos (a GPS is essential!). We rented a car from , and it saved hours of our day that would have been spent figuring out logistics and public transportation, freeing up our time to explore the city’s many attractions:
- If you’re staying at Circular Quay, the first thing you can easily check off your list is Sydney Harbour Bridge and the iconic Sydney Opera House. The harbour is particularly stunning at dusk; take a relaxing stroll along the waterfront and the adjoining park grounds and watch the sun set behind the Sydney Harbour Bridge. If you look close enough, you can make out a line of adventurous tourists scaling the bridge (give it a go yourself if you’re not scared of heights!).
- Taronga Park Zoo – In addition to offering panoramic views of Sydney Harbour, Taronga Park Zoo is one of the best I’ve been to, housing all sorts of native Australian animals your kids will be dying to see. Pay AUD$25 for an “Koala Encounter”, where you’ll be able to get up close and personal with these cute and cuddly creatures and have your photo taken as a family for a memorable keepsake. The zoo holds different animal talks and shows throughout the day, so make sure to reserve a good chunk of the day for exploring the park to its fullest. The first ferry jets off from Circular Quay at 9:10am, which gets you to the park just a few minutes after the gates swing open!
- Bondi Beach is a must-visit for those who love sand, sun and surf. The beach is absolutely gorgeous, stretching for 1-kilometer along the coastline with white, powdery sand and plenty of idyllic spots to set up a picnic or take an afternoon snooze as the kids go for a swim. Bondi Beach is also known for its food, so make sure to pick up some fish and chips or a healthy salad while you’re there!
- Located in The Rocks historic urban precinct, the Sydney Observatory is a great family-friendly activity, especially if you’ve got budding junior astronauts and stargazers in the family. Explore the exhibitions before ascending to the telescope domes where you’ll be able to navigate the stars and planets with the help of experienced guides.
- For a thrilling cinematic experience, take the family to the largest IMAX Theatre in the world (free for kids under 3), with a range of films on offer from blockbusters to documentaries. Little ones will go gaga at the giant screen accompanied by a 15,000-watt sound system. Movies are rated on the website so it’s easy to plan ahead for films that are suitable for the kids.
- Another great place for kids to engage their senses is at the Justice and Police Museum, an intriguing museum outfitted with heavy sandstone blocks, spiked gates and narrow, winding corridors. The museum houses a magistrates court and recreated cell rooms where kids can play cop for a day while learning all about law and order.
- Walk the red carpet for a day at Madame Tussauds, always a good idea for family-friendly entertainment if you run out of ideas! The Sydney museum houses A-list celebrities such as Brad Pitt, Yao Ming and Barack Obama, complete with the oval office desk. Snap a few pics and boast of your celebrity encounters to friends back home.
- If the weather’s blue skies and sun, head outdoors to Sydney Olympic Park, a large sporting and entertainment complex with plenty of activities and events to keep busy for the day. The options here are endless, from archery to trapeze lessons to mini golf and a children’s water playground in the Aquatic Centre (home of the 2000 Olympic games). Love bird-watching? Head to the Birds Australia Discovery Centre, where you can see a variety of birds in their natural habitat and learn about biodiversity.
- Close animal encounters is undoubtedly one of the best parts of visiting Australia, and a great place to do this is at Calmsley Hill City Farm. Kids are bound to have a fantastic experience here with plenty to see and do, from tractor rides to sheep herding to fun animal shows. The farm houses kangaroos, wallabies, horses, pigs, reptiles, sheep, goats and more, and brings in new cuddly creatures all the time. You can even bring your own picnic lunch or use the free electric BBQs in the family-friendly picnic zone.
WHAT TO EAT:
While Sydney is teeming with fun activities to do and sights to see, one aspect you absolutely can’t miss out on is exploring all the amazing restaurants and cafes in the city, brimming with fresh produce and ingredients with world-class chefs at the helm. Australians take their food (and coffee!) seriously, and you’ll see why once you’ve taken a big bite out of Sydney:
- Bitton is a great little French café and bistro that has a great selling point for mamas: a children’s room out back complete with toys, drawing boards and a kids menu serving up finger favourites like fish and chips. The chefs here make the most of fresh, Australian produce, and it’s great value for money, especially as you can savour your meal without having to worry about keeping the kiddos entertained!
- With outposts in Sydney and Melbourne, Gelato Messina is hands down the number one gelato place that locals will recommend if you’re looking for an icy cold sweet treat. Don’t miss the signature Salted Caramel gelato – I recommend getting multiple scoops or you’ll be fighting over the last spoonful.
- Movida is another restaurant that has locations in both Sydney and Melbourne (the Sydney outpost was born out of the popularity of the original) and is widely heralded as the best Spanish food in the city. We were able to snag a reservation for a Sunday night and feasted on a selection of creative tapas and raciones, all washed down with bright, fruity sangria.
- Enjoy beautiful bay views and fresh seafood at the Sydney Fish Market, where there a number of restaurants serving up the catch of the day. Kids will love running around and experiencing the sights and sounds of one of Sydney’s best open-air markets, while adults can catch up with a cocktail or two over a few plates of calamari or fresh fish.
- If you’re looking for great views and quality food in a kid-friendly venue, pencil in a visit to Plonk! Beach Café in your itinerary. Boasting beautiful views of Sydney Harbour and the crystal clear waters, Plonk! Beach Café serves simple feel-good food, including some fabulous breakfast options. The best part? The munchkins can run amok on the beach while you chomp down on fresh seaside fare.
- The Grounds Keeper Café is another family-friendly spot to relax and enjoy a hot cup o’ Joe made with Sydney’s award-winning Di Gabriel coffee. The café is hidden inside a suburban park, and is the ideal spot to wile away the afternoon while kids enjoy some outdoor exercise on the adjoining playground. Favourites on the Middle Eastern-inspired menu include the Lamb Kafta Tagine with Pita and Labna and the Shakshouka – baked eggs with tomato and sausage ragu.
- This may be the hottest dessert item that’s taking over Sydney at the moment, and you can have a taste at Foodcraft Espresso in Erskenville. The Tella Ball Shake is every chocolate-lover’s (and kid’s!) dream – a thick Nutella milkshake served in a rustic jar with a fat nutella-infused doughnut on top. It tastes as delicious as it sounds, although we could only manage 4-5 bites before throwing in the towel. Go early, or be prepared to queue!
- Black Star Pastry is another must-visit spot in town, made famous for their Strawberry Watermelon Cake with Rose Scented Cream. This delightful cake is sweet and tart, and makes for an Instagram-worthy picture to boast to all your insta followers. Paired with a strong coffee, it hits the spot for the perfect breakfast before tackling the rest of the day’s itinerary. Grab a couple fresh-baked croissants while you’re there, too!
This is of course far from a comprehensive list as Sydney is chock full of amazing restaurants to visit and places to see, but I found websites such as The Urban List and Good Food Australia highly useful in planning my itinerary (check out this 50 Meals post for the ultimate foodie list!), in addition to the standards like Trip Advisor and Zomato.
As far as getting to Sydney, Cathay Pacific offers round-trip flights for approximately $7,000 and the flight time takes roughly 9 hours to reach Sydney. While you may have to suffer through a longer flight with restless toddlers on the plane, the destination down under is well worth it, mama, once you experience everything Sydney has to offer!
Bon voyage, and enjoy your trip to Sydney!