If you’re not afraid to fly and travel with kids, then you’ll probably love Sydney. There’s only a two or three hour time difference, and China Airlines flies direct from Taipei. (Just ignore the fact that it’s nine-hour overnight flights both ways.)

As usual, we went to visit friends so we stayed with them in the suburbs for 10 days. However, I made sure we got our Sydney fix with two days and one night in the city. I booked the Marriott at Circular Quay because it’s walking distance to most of the places on my list, and there’s a tram stop right outside just in case.

Here are some highlights from our trip and also some can’t-miss activities if it’s your first time in Sydney…

Due to seagulls we didn’t sit out here at the Opera Kitchen.

Eat Outdoors Whenever Possible

If the weather’s great, there’s nothing better than eating outside in the fresh Sydney air and (sometimes harsh and damaging) sun. But watch out for the pigeons and seagulls.

I loved starting our day with breakfast at the Opera Kitchen on the lower floor of the Opera House. They’re open daily from 7:30am. Nearby, the Museum of Contemporary Art has a casual restaurant called MCA Cafe with amazing views from the terrace. For coffee and afternoon snacks, I suggest wandering the newly developed Streets of Barangaroo. It’s a prime people-watching spot where you see the Sydney workforce in all its suited-up glory.

Fish’n’chips from the kids menu. (The chips were too hot.)

Surrender to the Babyccino

Most cafes in Sydney have a babyccino on the menu for A$2 or A$2.50. It’s simply frothed up warm milk with cocoa powder on top served in a teensy little cup. No added sugar. The kids love having their own little drink while parents have their coffees. My daughter was pretty much obsessed.

She loves a good babyccino.

Explore the Parks & Playgrounds

Sydney is a very green city with lots of kid-friendly parks and playgrounds downtown. The best part is people-watching and snacking on local eats while the kids do their thing.

There’s Hyde Park which is Australia’s oldest park, Darling Quarter near Darling Harbour, Royal Botanic Gardens east of Circular Quay, Pirrama Park over in Pyrmont by the casino, and Barangaroo Reserve up near the bridge.

If you want to settle in and pack some food, you can’t go wrong with the famous watermelon and rose cakes from Black Star Bakery. Or try your luck browsing the David Jones Food Hall (which is probably going to be pretty pricey, let’s be honest). Or The Canteen food court at Barangaroo is full of classic Sydney take-out options like fish’n’chips and kebabs.

Browsing the shelves at Kinokuniya.
Amazing play installations at Harbourside mall.

Go Shopping!

Harbourside mall at Darling Harbour is ideal for some shade or shelter from the rain. The entire stretch of the mall has little play areas for kids to keep them excited about, well, walking through a mall. There’s a Cotton On Kids inside if you feel like shopping for clothes.

Otherwise, dedicate a few hours to shopping at the pedestrian-only Pitt Street Mall. For baby and kids clothes, browse Australian brands like Seed Heritage, Country Road and Bonds for zip-up onesies. For toys, there’s Kidstuff and Smiggle.

We must have gone into a dozen Kidstuff toy shops.

Nearby the Kinokuniya bookstore inside The Galeries Mall on George Street has a fantastic kids section that you don’t have to worry about your kids messing up. Because hallelujah, that area is already pretty messy.

Look out for classic Australian children’s books like Possum Magic, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, The Magic Pudding, and Edward the Emu. This trip I bought two very cute hardcover books: Koalas Eat Gum Leaves and Another Book About Bears. On a previous trip we bought the very well-loved ABC Kids series of books about Seasons, Food and Feelings. They’re not bulky so they don’t take up a lot of room in the suitcase.

Ready for a day at the zoo, minus her hat.

Head to the Zoo

Go to Taronga Zoo for the animals, but be surprised by the incredible view of the Sydney skyline. If you’re going from the city, take the ferry over from Circular Quay, which is an experience in itself. Buy zoo tickets online first to save 10% on adult tickets and 20% on family tickets. Kids under four are free. Yay.

At Taronga, there’s a farm area, a kids’ trail and a few playground areas if parents need a break. For bigger kids, there’s also a ropes course. If you need to rent a stroller, you can do so at the entrance for A$15. They’re BabyJogger City Selects, if I remember correctly.

If you’ve already been to Taronga and want to branch out, there’s the very new Sydney Zoo on the west side of the city, and also the Koala Park Sanctuary.

Looking for seals at Taronga Zoo.
Sand life at Balmoral Beach.

Hit the Beach

I’m not a beach person at all (like, at all) but in Sydney you have to go to the beach at least once. The kids really seem to enjoy getting sand all over themselves and inside everything they’re wearing. But luckily beach life in Sydney isn’t just about getting in the water.

We went to with a group of friends to Balmoral Beach and set up a big picnic on the grass with boxes of fish and chips. Balmoral Beach is great for kids because there’s an action-packed playground, plenty of shady areas in the grass, and not so many tourists.

Other good beach options are the super popular Manly Beach (you can take a ferry there from the city) and the cosy Bronte Beach which gives you the chance to do the local favorite Bronte to Bondi hike. The views are incredible but the sun is crazy harsh. Everyone needs to wear a hat, take a big bottle of water and put lots of sunscreen on.

She was excited about the sand. Wasn’t too sure about the water.

Eat Dinner at Casual, Noisy Pubs

Don’t try to eat anywhere nice. The noisier the better, really. First check on Google Maps if the place has a kids’ menu. If it does, then all bets are off.

In the city, check out Opera Bar, The Squire’s Landing, All Hands Brewing House, The Glenmore Hotel and Mercantile Hotel. They all have kids’ menus. Or if you’re driving or have a ride, try the Woolwich Pier Hotel for great views from the other side of the harbour.

Now, some practical stuff…

  • Pick up a prepaid SIM card from Vodafone or Optus at the arrivals area before you leave the airport.
  • Get an Opal card and you can take the bus, train, ferry and the new light rail tram that runs through the city. Kids under 4 years old ride for free. You can pick one up at convenience stores and train stations.
  • There are Woolworths Metro supermarkets throughout the city for groceries, snacks or other necessities. There’s also a Coles at World Square.