Family travel guide to Sydney on a budget with kids. Sydney is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live but you shouldn’t let that fact put you off visiting the stunning harbour city with your family. There are so many fabulous and free activities to do with kids of all ages. From walking across the coat hanger (a.k.a. the Sydney Harbour Bridge) to visiting one of Sydney’s brilliant museums, you can easily fill in your days without causing too much damage to your wallet! Here’s the suitcases&strollers city guide to Sydney with kids on a budget.
Catch the Free City Shuttle Bus
Many cities have a hop-on, hop-off city explorer bus for new visitors to familiarise themselves with the city that they are visiting – whilst these are fun, they normally cost an arm and leg to buy tickets for the whole family. Sydney, however, has a free CBD shuttle bus that does a loop every ten minutes from Central Station to Circular Quay along George and Elizabeth Streets. Just look out for the bright green bus (route number 555) and you can flag it down at any bus stop that has the green shuttle bus sign. Once you are aboard, you can hop on and off as many times as you like, every day of your holiday. This service is perfect for weary little legs and overwrought parents sick of pounding the pavement – and they are stroller accessible buses so you can push your stroller straight on.
Build Sandcastles on Sydney’s Family Friendly Beaches
Did you know that Sydney has well over 100 beaches? Make sure you keep at least one day of your holiday to visit one of the 100, as Sydney has some of the best beaches in the world and it doesn’t cost a cent to visit them. Some are famous and big (like Bondi) and others are little secret spots that only locals know about.
Some of the best family friendly beaches for visitors are Coogee, Bronte and Clovelly beaches in the east and Greenwich, Balmoral, Clontarf and Shelley beaches in the north. A day at the beach is a must do on any visitors' itinerary when they come to Sydney with kids.
Walk Across the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Yes, you can climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge but this is quite an expensive activity and children under the age of 10 are not allowed to do it. However you can walk across the bridge for free and then retrace your steps or catch a train back from Milsons Point. From the city side you can access the bridge from the corner of Cumberland and Gloucester Streets in The Rocks (just look for the sign that says Bridge Stairs). It is a nice flat walk that will take about 30 minutes, depending on how many times you stop to take photos of the glorious view.
Little train spotters will also be in awe as the city trains zoom past on the other side of the Bridge. There are stairs on either side of the bridge to be negotiated so you may have to carry your stroller up the stairs or leave it in your hotel and use a baby carrier for your little ones. Once you reach the other side you can jump on a train at Milsons Point and head back to the CBD or have a wander around Milsons Point and Kirribilli before you tackle the return journey.
Visit the Australian Museum and Powerhouse Museum
These are two of the best museums in Sydney and entry for children aged 16 years and under is absolutely free all year round. (Note: special event exhibitions are still ticketed.) The Australian Museum, located in the heart of Sydney, has an excellent collection of dinosaurs that all little budding palaeontologists will adore, as well as an excellent space for mini explorers that includes a play area and weekday activities.
The Powerhouse Museum is home to fascinating science, technology, popular culture and creative arts collections – with The Wiggles exhibition being a major draw card for families with young kids.
There is even a playground here for kids to muck around on whilst parents can sit back and relax with a coffee. The museum is adjacent to Darling Harbour and easy to access via foot or on public transport.
Have A Picnic and Wander the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens
With its picture perfect location overlooking Sydney Harbour, kids of all ages will love a visit to the Botanic Gardens. The views over the harbour and the Sydney Opera House are stunning and there is also so much space for them to run wild in and chase the local birdlife. There are ample spots to have a leisurely picnic and you can even pick up a coffee from one of the cafes or kiosks located throughout the garden.
A fun and free idea is to download the map of all the art and sculpture in the gardens and see if the kids can find every single one! If you want to learn more about the plants and animals of the gardens, free guided tours are held at 10.30am each day or 1pm during the week – the tours last for approximately 1 hour and are more suitable for families with older children.
View the Creativity at Art Gallery of NSW
If you have any little culture vultures in your clan, a visit to the Art Gallery of NSW is a must. Besides being absolutely free to visit there are loads of activities for kids to do. Located on the other side of the Botanic Gardens, you can walk there from the CBD. Upon arrival at the gallery, pick up a Gallery Kids Trail booklet from the front desk. Then wander around some of the gallery’s fabulous permanent exhibitions and help the kids fill in the booklet.
The art gallery is very pram friendly and also has toilets with baby change facilities. At certain times of the year the gallery has paid exhibitions, such as the famous Archibald exhibition – these exhibitions are free for kids under 5 years and there are discounted family tickets also available.
Run Wild at Darling Quarter Playground
This is one seriously cool free playground in Sydney that is full of kids having loads of fun from dawn til dusk every day. Every imaginable piece of play equipment can be found in this spacious playground that is located right next to Darling Harbour. There are jumbo swings, sandpits with sand diggers, water wheels, climbing frames, a big slide, super novas and lots of waters squirts for kids to get wet with.
Run Around at Pirrama Park
This free playground in Sydney is not as well known as the bigger and flashier Darling Quarter playground, so it’s a great option to visit when you want to get away from the hordes of other tourists. The playground occupies a spectacular spot right on the water and can be easily accessed by foot from Darling Harbour if little legs are up to it (otherwise you can catch a bus number 443).
The playground has awesome climbing frames, swings, a massive sandpit and best of all, a great water splash area – so take the swimmers! There is also a cool spinning wheel for kids who are in wheelchairs. Toilets facilities with baby change tables and a café are also on site, so you can spend many an hour here.
By Rebecca O’Farrell of Little Munch; Images: Destination NSW, Andrew Gregory, James Horan, Sally Mayman, Phillip Quirk, Ethan Rohloff, Mikala Wilbow