There is such a great range of things to do with toddlers in Sydney. We currently live just over two hours up the coast from Sydney, and tend to take our son there every few weeks. We’ve found that for toddler activities Sydney is one of the best cities we have visited. Many of the best things to do in Sydney with kids are outdoors, taking advantage of the great sunny climate. But there are also many great indoor Sydney tourist attractions to visit.
We started taking our son to Sydney as a five-month-old baby, and have done so many times in his three-and-a-bit years.
In this time we’ve learned a great deal about visiting Sydney with a toddler. Our suggestions on things to do in Sydney with toddlers are a mixture of sightseeing, burning off excess energy, discovery, learning and creativity. They have garnered us a host of wonderfully rich memories with our little man.
- 1 Things to do with Toddlers in Sydney Outdoors: the Royal Botanic Garden
- 2 Foundation Park, The Rocks
- 3 Barangaroo Reserve
- 4 Darling Harbour Playground
- 5 Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, Darling Harbour
- 6 Museum of Contemporary Art
- 7 Australian Museum
- 8 Sydney Beaches
- 9 Manly Ferry
- 10 Taronga Zoo
- 11 Pylon Lookout
- 12 Luna Park
Things to do with Toddlers in Sydney Outdoors: the Royal Botanic Garden
The Royal Botanic Garden is a magnificent green space between the skyscrapers of Sydney’s Central Business District and the Harbour waterfront.
The Bennelong Precinct overlooks Farm Cove, with the Opera House on one side and Mrs Macquarie’s Chair viewpoint on the other.
The Garden is a great place to burn off a toddler’s energy, full of wonderful open spaces. It’s one of our favourite free Sydney attractions, with so much amazing plant life to see. Some of the flower beds are gorgeous, but there are other fascinating things to see including the ‘dinosaur tree’, the Wollemi pine.
We were also pleasantly surprised to satisfy Sam’s interest in things historical while we were there. On a day when it was open for free self-guided tours, we passed near the entrance to Government House, and he caught sight of it. “I want to go to the castle!” he exclaimed. I took him inside for a look around while his Mama had a rest on the verandah. One of the guides kindly gave him a personal tour which lasted all of three minutes, as he ran from one end of the route to the other. He also loved the gardens outside.
Foundation Park, The Rocks
From Sydney’s most obvious park to its most secret, and one of the most original I’ve seen anywhere. For me, this is the one place in all of the historic Rocks district where I felt I was stepping back in time. Visiting Foundation Park is one of the most unusual things to do in Sydney simply because it’s so well hidden.
The park is located on hilly ground, squeezed between Gloucester Walk (above) and Playfair Street (below). You get more of a sense of stepping out of the modern world to earlier times if you can locate the unmarked door on Playfair Street. It’s hidden in plain sight between two other doors.
What is unique about this park is that it consists of the foundations of several different houses at different levels. The dividing walls are about a metre high, and give you an idea of the tiny, confined spaces in which the residents lived. There are some sparse steel furnishings – large chairs, a table, an empty oval mirror frame, and a faceless grandfather clock. They give a sense of scale, but above all poignancy and humanity. The trees that have grown there over the last century provide a lovely cool shade in the summer.
For little explorers, it’s a fascinating place, a mini-labyrinth. It’s full of steps to climb, corners to explore, places to hide and stories to trigger the imagination. Little Man absolutely adored it. It’s one of the best parks in Sydney for kids, especially the inquisitive types. The best place to leave the stroller is at the bottom.
Sydney’s newest parkland and viewing area, Barangaroo Reserve, is a much bigger space for young explorer to investigate.
The area was originally part of the city’s industrial port, and has changed beyond all recognition. The development extends down the foreshore to include three new towers, and additional work is going to take some time yet. It is named after Barangaroo, a woman prominent in the local Aboriginal community at the time the British settled in 1788.
The Reserve is, however, complete. An artificial hill has been built on the site, and at ground level there is a striking sandstone foreshore. There is also a vast indoor space, The Cutaway, an exhibition and performance venue. Lifts, steps and sloping pathways connect you with the higher levels of the Reserve. Part of the garden area is planted with species native to the area prior to the arrival of the British.
For the little man, one of the highlights was undoubtedly the Stargazer Lawn at the top, with plenty of space to roam and run. It also offers a great outlook over the Harbour, Walsh Bay and the Harbour Bridge. Sam also enjoyed climbing the big sandstone blocks lining the pathway and steps at the bottom of the Reserve. It’s a great addition to the city, and one of the best things to do in Sydney for free.
Darling Harbour Playground
This huge playground is only a few minutes’ walk from the Harbour, and sees a lot of toddler traffic, especially in the middle of the day.
We took Sam there to give him a chance to burn off some energy, and the first time, he seemed deterred by the busyness of the place. Instead he asked to go on the historic carousel, which he loved.
When we passed by late in the afternoon, the crowds had died down and he couldn’t wait to get going. It was early in his climbing career but he went straight for the ropes. He hauled himself up the big gaps, announcing, “I made it!” He also loved having almost unfettered access to the swings and slides. It’s definitely one of the best playgrounds in Sydney, and he asks to go there whenever we visit the city.
It’s also close to the Darling Harbour cafes, which has some of the best Sydney kids attractions.
Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, Darling Harbour
Most toddlers are fascinated by nature and wildlife, and Sam loves discovering creatures, putting names to them and incorporating them into his stories. So what better place to take this Octonauts fan than to an oceanarium where he can walk under sharks?
For me, this is one of the best Sydney attractions for kids.
There is so much other marine life to discover – sawfish, rays, and dugongs, to name a few out of hundreds. And a recent addition is the Penguin Expedition, a raft journey along a recreated sub-Antarctic habitat, allowing visitors to get close to a colony of these amazing birds.
It’s also one of the best things to do in Sydney on a rainy day – not that there are that many of them!
Museum of Contemporary Art
At the time of writing, a visit to an art gallery for our little fellow tends to bypass the exhibits pretty quickly. He’s far more interested in producing artworks of his own, something which comes in occasional prolific productive phases. We thought we would see what he thought of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), one of our favourite art galleries in Sydney.
He absolutely loved his couple of hours at the MCA one recent Sunday afternoon. The art class is held in a room on the third floor, and we arrived to be greeted by several kids walking around in koala masks. The little fellow immediately wanted to make his own, and ended up making three, as well as a collection of badges.
The MCA staff were wonderfully welcoming, even letting him explore a paid entry exhibition free of charge after he decided to go for a run.
We also spent a while in an interactive installation next door to the art room, and he loved dancing around the floor of a darkened room, his movements creating a light drawing on the screen above.
The Australian Museum, the oldest in the country, is hands down one of the best museums in Sydney.
For our little man, the main draw-card is the collection of dinosaurs. The skeletons and life-sized models give such an idea of scale to a young child, which inspires even more interest in them. You can even smell a dinosaur era – the Mesozoic period – something an older dinosaur aficionado like me found fascinating too.
The ‘mini-museum’, Kidspace, is a great interactive experience, giving the little one the chance to build a cubby house or look at insects through a magnifying glass. Sam also liked being able to touch some of the exhibits, including some stuffed animals and birds. This is a great idea, it satisfies their curiosity, and encourages them to learn more.
The Museum also run a number of age-based playgroups, with the tiny tots up to the age of three and the mini-explorers up to the age of 5.
You are blessed with so many different beaches in Sydney, both around the Harbour and along the coast.
The most popular – Bondi and Manly – can get crowded, and the coastal beaches can get pounded by some big surf. The more famous Sydney beaches are fine for toddlers. They’re very spacious, with plenty of room to roam and build sandcastles to their hearts’ content. You just have to keep them well back from the shoreline. As we like to give Sam the chance to explore and paddle, we veer towards some of the more sheltered beaches around the Harbour.
Balmoral, on the North Shore, is lovely, with two beaches divided by a small headland. There’s also a small park behind, a swimming pool, the beautiful Bathers Pavilion, and a few restaurants and kiosks. The beaches, on Middle Harbour, are easily reached by bus from Mosman or Taronga.
Across the Harbour on the southern shore, we love Shark Bay in Nielsen Park, on the end of the Vaucluse peninsula. As its name suggests, sharks have frequented the spot at times, hence the shark net a short distance offshore to protect paddlers and swimmers. It’s one of the best Sydney beaches in a lovely scenic spot
The beach also marks the beginning of the Hermitage Foreshore Walk. It runs for about 2 kilometres to Rose Bay, taking you past several small, stunning beaches. We particularly recommend Milk Beach, one of the best secret Sydney beaches. It backs onto the grounds of historic Strickland House, and looks out directly to Sydney Harbour Bridge.
We think that the F1 Circular Quay to Manly ferry service is one of the best public transport journeys you can take anywhere in the world. It’s also one of the best cheap things to do in Sydney. It lasts 30 minutes in all, taking you past iconic landmarks including the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. You continue past the wealthy eastern suburbs of the city, passing bushland and remote beaches. You eventually glimpse the Pacific Ocean before pulling into the North Harbour and the gateway to the Northern Beaches, Manly.
The only question with toddlers is where to sit. Indoors is fine, provided you manage to get yourselves a window seat so you get a view outside. Otherwise, one of the seats on the outer deck should be safe, provided that if your little one has a tendency to run, they are suitably harnessed.
One of the best things to do in Manly is to take a walk along the Corso, pick up some fish and chips and eat al fresco on the beach. A perfect way to spend an afternoon.
Top of many parents’ lists of things to do with kids in Sydney, Taronga Zoo is the above-water wildlife option in town, It enjoys a spectacular setting on the North Shore, overlooking the Harbour and some of the city’s best-known landmarks. It also has its own ferry stop, a 12-minute ride from Circular Quay.
Taronga is a great place for first-time visitors to Australia to become acquainted with the continent’s wildlife. All the favourites are here, including the red kangaroos, koalas, emus, Tasmanian devils and platypuses.
The rest of the world is well represented too. The giraffes somehow always manage to crane their necks to get into photos with the Sydney Opera House. Taronga is also the place to see elephants, the rare black rhinoceros, the Sumatran tiger and around 390 more species. It’s a big day out for a toddler.
What’s more, if they’re especially keen, it’s possible to stay overnight in the zoo, in special safari-style tents sleeping up to four people. The sleepover package is called Roar and Snore, and you get to see some of the animals in the evening and have behind-the-scenes tours after breakfast. This might be a special treat for an occasion like a birthday.
Sydney is blessed with many amazing viewpoints, both at ground level and on high. The highest lookouts, such as the Sydney Tower Eye, are spectacular. We wanted to show him something a little lower down, that would still give him a sense of scale of everything around him. So we opted for the Pylon Lookout, on the south east pillar of the Harbour Bridge. The wall is also too high for him to try to climb over!
It gives you some of the best views in Sydney. It’s an excellent vantage point over the Harbour and city. You can stand and watch ferries passing the Opera House on their way in and out of Circular Quay. You also get a fantastic overview of the massive steel arch of the Bridge itself, and down over the Bradfield Highway that crosses it. And under 4s come in free.
No visit to Sydney with kids would be complete without a trip to Luna Park, the iconic amusement park at Milsons Point, in the shadow of the Harbour Bridge. It’s one of the best things to do in Sydney.
The excitement builds on the ferry across, as soon as the famous face at the entrance comes into view. The ferry wharf is right next to it, and you walk in under the grinning teeth of the face.
There are lots of rides suitable for toddlers. You can take them on traditional favourites such as the carousel and ferris wheel (adult and mini versions). Or they can go riding on board a dragon in the magic castle, or pilot their own rocket. It’s one of the best Sydney familyattractions, as there’s something for kids of all ages.
And try keeping them away from the candy floss too…
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times. His images are frequently used throughout the world by tourism bodies such as Visit Britain and Visit Wales.