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Sydney with Kids: 11 Top Things to Do

One of the world's most beautiful cities, Sydney is crammed with kid-friendly cultural attractions and outdoor adventures. Near the city center, the waterfront pedestrian precinct of Darling Harbour features a dizzying array of family attractions, including an aquarium, IMAX theaters, and harbor jet boat rides. You can also take the kids to see the city's architectural icons from a fun new perspective. Hop aboard a ferry to view the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Better still, older kids can climb to the top of the bridge for spectacular harbor views, while kids of all ages can zoom to the top of Sydney Tower, the city's tallest building. A short ferry ride from the CBD, kids can commune with a friendly cast of animals at Taronga Zoo, explore interactive exhibits at world-class museums, and ride a Ferris wheel at a 1930s-style amusement park. Horseback riding, trapeze lessons, "Rapid River" pools, and beaches round out all the fun.

Depending on the timing of your visit, the city hosts a fun calendar of festivals and events; favorites are the Royal Easter Show in March and the Festival of Sydney in January. Finally, if you plan to explore the city on a Sunday with the kids, check out the good-value Family Funday Sunday fares, which offer unlimited travel on most public transport routes throughout the city.

1 Spend a day at Darling Harbour

View from Darling Harbor
View from Darling Harbor
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For a one-stop wonderland of kid-friendly fun, it's hard to beat Darling Harbour. In addition to its shops, restaurants, exhibitions, and entertainment venues, this waterfront pedestrian precinct, about a 10-minute walk from the city center, is packed with family-friendly attractions. Highlights include the WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo, which takes you on a journey through Australia's different ecosystems; SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium, with the world's largest collection of Australian marine creatures, including the platypus and dugong; Madame Tussaud's; and the Australian National Maritime Museum, where kids can learn about Australia's seafaring history and board a replica of Captain Cook's ship, the Endeavor. Other highlights are the 9D theater and IMAX theater with the world's largest cinema screen, as well as Laser Skirmish, bowling, harbor jet boat rides, simulated flights, and racing car adventures. Little ones will love the playground with swings, slides, sandpits, and zip-lines, as well as the water park and carousel. After all the excitement, you can take the kids for a peaceful stroll through the Chinese Garden of Friendship, replete with willows and koi ponds. Also part of the complex, the Powerhouse Museum is another popular attraction here, with interactive exhibits on science, technology, design, and history.

2 Commune with Kangaroos at Taronga Zoo

Commune with Kangaroos at Taronga Zoo
Commune with Kangaroos at Taronga Zoo
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Overlooking Sydney Harbour, Taronga is a zoo with a spectacular view. Kids love the collection of more than 4,000 animals here, including native Aussie wildlife such as kangaroos, emus, bilbies, and koalas, as well as exotic species like lions, tigers, black rhinos, lemurs, Asian elephants, and western lowland gorillas. When little legs get tired from wandering around all the exhibits, you can relax and enjoy some of the live shows, including the popular free-flight bird show and seal show. For a bird's eye view of the animals, hop aboard the Sky Safari, Sydney's only cable car, or tire the kids out at the Wild Ropes climbing course with suspension bridges and zip lines. Another kid-focused exhibit is Backyard to Bush with a playground and water-play area, interactive displays, a farmyard barn, and a garden filled with fragrant plants. For an extra fee, budding zoologists can also enjoy close-up encounters with some of the animals, such as reptiles and giraffes, which you can book upon arrival. Buses to the zoo depart from Wynyard in the city center. Even better, kids will love catching a ferry from Circular Quay (about 12 minutes).

Location: Bradleys Head Road, Mosman

3 Pretend to be an Astronaut at the Powerhouse Museum

Pretend to be an Astronaut at the Powerhouse Museum
Pretend to be an Astronaut at the Powerhouse Museum sv1ambo / photo modified
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If you want to inspire your children to change the world, the Powerhouse Museum, behind Darling Harbour, is a great place to start. Targeting kids of all ages, the interactive exhibits here focus on ideas and technologies that have made a difference in our world, spanning diverse disciplines such as science, design, decorative arts, architecture, engineering, health, and fashion. Kid-friendly favorites here include the Zero Gravity Space Lab, where you can experience the illusion of weightlessness; the transportation exhibition with planes, trains, and automobiles; and the fun science experiments; while young fashionistas will appreciate the design exhibits. Young children under the age of five usually make a beeline for the Wiggles exhibition, where they can sing, dance, and learn more about these famous Aussie performers. Temporary exhibitions and workshops keep the experience fresh and fun. After touring all the exhibits, head to Cogs' Playground, where kids can play while Mom and Dad rest their weary feet at the adjacent café.

Address: 500 Harris Street, Ultimo

4 Ride a Roller Coaster at Luna Park Sydney

Ride a Roller Coaster at Luna Park Sydney
Ride a Roller Coaster at Luna Park Sydney
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"Just for fun" is the tagline of this iconic 1930s amusement park, which sits on the north shore of Sydney Harbour, and it delivers on this promise for kids of all ages. Overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House, the park reopened in 2004 after a rocky history, with revamped rides and new additions, and some of its buildings now sit on the State Heritage Register. Little ones will love attractions like the restored Ferris wheel, the carousel, the Space Shuttle, and the Mirror Maze. Older kids love the Wild Mouse rollercoaster, the Rotor, Devil's Drop, and Tango Train, and Coney Island is always a favorite. Sideshow games, dodgem cars, and cotton candy add to the festive old-time atmosphere. Ticket prices are based on the height of your child, as this will determine the appropriate rides, but entry to the park is free if you plan to sit out; a bonus for vertigo-challenged parents.

Address: 1 Olympic Drive, Milsons Point

5 Build a Sand Castle at Balmoral Beach

Build a Sand Castle at Balmoral Beach
Build a Sand Castle at Balmoral Beach
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Sydney is famous for its beautiful beaches, and Balmoral, on the north side of the city, is one of the most kid-friendly of all the city's golden shores. Since this is a harbor beach, the water is calm and perfect for pint-sized paddlers, and netted pools provide peace of mind. Kids can snorkel, learn to sail, dig in the sand, or kayak in the calm waters. If you want to explore the area with older kids, you can follow the easy walking trail from Balmoral Beach to Chowder Bay with beautiful views of Sydney Harbour and the headlands, or you can walk the footbridge to Rocky Point. Take a picnic lunch or relax at one of the cafés along the Esplanade. Parking can be a challenge here, so it's a good idea to arrive earlier in the day.

6 Zoom to the top of the Sydney Tower Eye

Zoom to the top of the Sydney Tower Eye
Zoom to the top of the Sydney Tower Eye
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At Sydney Tower Eye, kids can zoom up to the top of the city's tallest building and see spectacular 360-degree views of the city. At 309-meters high, this distinctive spire-topped tower in the city center above the Centrepoint shopping mall offers panoramic views all the way to the Blue Mountains National Park. Tickets include a 4D cinematic tour of the city, with special effects, as well as access to the observation deck, with high-powered binoculars and interactive touch-screen panels, so kids can learn all about the Sydney landmarks visible from the tower. For an extra fee, kids aged eight years and older can try the exhilarating SKYWALK, an outdoor glass platform perched 260 meters above the city (more than twice the height of the harbor bridge), but they must don a special suit and harness and be accompanied by an adult. After your adventure, you can refuel at one of the tower's revolving restaurants or the café.

Address: 100 Market Street, Sydney

7 Climb or Cruise by the Sydney Harbor Bridge

Climb or Cruise by the Sydney Harbor Bridge
Climb or Cruise by the Sydney Harbor Bridge
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A trip to Sydney isn't complete without a close-up view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, one of the city's icons. A great way to see this 134-meter-high engineering feat with young kids is to hop aboard a ferry from Circular Quay to Manly, Mosman, or Taronga Zoo and view the bridge from the harbor. Catching a ferry from Luna Park or McMahons Point takes you directly beneath the bridge, and for a more historical experience, you can also hop aboard an 1850s-style tall ship. Children eight years and older and taller than 120 centimeters have another exciting option: They can climb the bridge on a guided ascent. Included in the climb is a prep talk, safety gear, a photo at the summit, and fascinating stories about the history of the bridge during the climb. Standing at the top overlooking the sparkling harbor is an experience kids will remember forever.

8 Join a Junior Tour of the Opera House

Join a Junior Tour of the Opera House
Join a Junior Tour of the Opera House
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When children think of Sydney, no doubt the Opera House comes to mind, but a visit here doesn't have to be all about the adults. The venue hosts a fantastic kids program with performances such as Storytime Ballet, children's musicals, and toddler-friendly shows.

During Australian school holidays, kids can join a Junior Tour of this architectural wonder, which was designed by the Danish architect Jørn Utzon. During the tour, kids become "Opera House experts" and enjoy interactive activities and games, dressing up in some of the performers costumes, and learning about special features of the building. Family packages are also available during school holidays and include a junior tour, discounted show tickets, and lunch at one of the family-friendly restaurants here.

Location: Bennelong Point, Sydney

9 Soar on a Trapeze at Sydney Olympic Park

Soar on a Trapeze at Sydney Olympic Park
Soar on a Trapeze at Sydney Olympic Park Mark Setchell / photo modified
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Home of the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Sydney Olympic Park, about 16 kilometers from the city center, is now a fantastic family-friendly venue. Aspiring acrobats can swing on a trapeze at the Circus Arts Flying Trapeze workshop and somersault through the air with expert instructors. The Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre here is also excellent, with four indoor heated pools, a giant water slide, and Rapid River ride. Little ones will love Splasher's Water Playground with its dumping buckets, water slides, and water cannons. Also here is an Archery Centre with courses for kids aged 10 years and older.

Another popular activity is biking on the 35 kilometers of cycling pathways. Kids can tour the Olympic venues on their bikes as well as ride through parklands and mangroves along the Parramatta River. Three Bike Safari Circuits cater to kids ages five years and older, and more adventurous cyclists can try the BMX track and Mountain X Tracks. Bike rentals are available on-site, including dragsters, mountain bikes, tandems, and trikes. During the Australian school holidays, Kids in the Park is a fun-filled school vacation program with everything from pizza and pasta making classes to sand art and writing workshops. Check the website for current activities and events.

Address: 8 Australia Avenue, Sydney Olympic Park

10 Horseback Ride at Centennial Parklands

Horseback Ride at Centennial Parklands
Horseback Ride at Centennial Parklands
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One of the world's only urban parklands with riding facilities, Centennial Park, about 10 minutes from the city center, is a fun venue for young equestrians. The park is home to 210 stables and five riding schools, with lessons customized for your children's age and skill level. All the equipment is provided. The park is also home to well-maintained cycling paths for kids who prefer to ride a bike rather than a horse. After trotting or biking around the park, you can relax with a picnic here under the large trees or head to the café.

11 Discover Dinosaurs at the Australian Museum

Discover Dinosaurs at the Australian Museum
Discover Dinosaurs at the Australian Museum Newtown grafitti / photo modified
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Adjacent to Hyde Park in the city center, in an elegant old Sydney sandstone building, The Australian Museum is a great rainy day hangout for kids. If dinosaurs delight your child, they will love the permanent exhibition here, which delves into how dinosaurs lived and died and other fascinating facts about these extinct creatures. Kids can also see art and artifacts created by Australia's indigenous people in the First Australians galleries, complemented by audio-visual displays of aboriginal people sharing their stories. Other highlights for children include a gem and mineral display and natural history exhibits, including displays of Australian fauna. Interactive exhibits keep little hands busy. In the Long Gallery, kids can hold the bones of different animals and learn how human bones work. Another favorite is the Surviving Australia section, which unveils facts about the country's deadly creatures, and even hosts some live reptiles. The museum's excellent temporary exhibitions lure return visitors. Best of all, kids under 16 score free general admission, though special events may incur a fee.

Address: 1 William Street, Sydney

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