May 18, 2010
Weekend in Sydney
I have a major soft spot for our rival city. Not only is it spectacularly beautiful, it has a show pony personality that makes it exciting to visit. However, having only ever visited Sydney for work or boozy weekenders before we had kids, I was unsure on what to expect with two kids under 3 and one on the way. There was certainly a moment when, having been up since 5am to catch cheap flights, we were sitting at Darling Harbour in the midst of a family meltdown and I thought perhaps I had made a bad decision - my husband certainly agreed. But once we discovered what Sydney had to offer the under fives we found that it is definitely worth the effort. These are our picks.
If I lived in Sydney I would come here all the time. As a science and design museum, it holds a lot of interest for adults and they offer a great range of exhibitions. For the kids, it has something for every age group. However, unlike most museums, the kids sections are incorporated into the overall design so that you get to see what you want to see but the kids remain entertained. There are four areas that are of particular interest to the under-five age group.
Zoe’s House is an interactive playspace designed specifically for 3 to 6 year olds. It encourages collaborative and creative play by allowing children to work together in completing an unfinished house. Donning their bright yellow safety vests, the kids choose from a range of tools including a crane, conveyer belt, rubble chute, rail network, wheelbarrows and lifts to transport the foam bricks to and from the work-site and build the house. Our daughter took great pride in her role as boom gate operator, collecting the imaginary tokens from the builders and raising the gate to let them through. If only play centres had this kind of set-up.
The Magic Garden is an interactive playspace for 2 to 8 year olds that is designed to help kids learn about healthy eating and activity. Using some impressive new technology, kids can chase fish in the digital pond, play among pumpkins and mushrooms and move items around the virtual picnic table.
There are three Kids Interactive Discovery Spaces (KIDS) in the museum - KIDS music, KIDS at home and KIDS on screen. Each of these are related to themes in the Museum’s exhibitions and are designed to involve under 8’s in the museum experience by giving them hands-on activities that appeal to their interests and needs. The music one is particularly fun with an oversized floor piano and activity stations that play different games and songs.
Cogs Playground is located in the courtyard of the museum next to the café and, whilst designed for children aged 5 to 12, it can accommodate toddlers under close supervision. We didn’t eat at the café but it looked very appealing with pre-packaged sandwiches, wrap and salads as well as a range of wholefood snacks. You can also bring your own food from home and eat it at the tables provided. For those with older kids in need of less supervision, the free wi-fi internet would make this a great spot to get some work done or surf the net whilst your children play.
The Powerhouse Museum is located next to Darling Harbour and near Paddy’s Markets and Chinatown. There is a ramp leading to the museum from Paddy’s Market Monorail Station. General Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children 4 years and older (under 4’s are free). The museum is open every day from 10am to 5pm.
Taronga Zoo is surely one of the world's most impressive zoos. With spectacular views of Sydney Harbour, it is beautifully sited and only a short ferry ride from Circular Quay. In the old tradition of zoo entertainment, Taronga has birds of flight displays, seal acrobat shows and elephants doing tricks – all of which the kids will love. It is also home to the adorable baby elephant Mr Shuffles. Taronga is a steep zoo with lots of animals to see, so prepare yourself for a pretty exhausting day. Admission is rather expensive at $43 per adult and $21 for children (under 4’s free), however you get free entry if you have a Melbourne Zoo membership so join up before you go.
The best day to visit the zoo is Sunday as for $2.50 per adult and kids over 4 (under 4’s free) you can get a Family Fun Day pass that gives you unlimited travel on Sydney’s trains, buses and ferries. This usually costs $20 per adult and $10 per child over 4 so it’s a great saving.
National Gallery of NSW
Once you work out how to get into the Gallery with a pram (around the back through the handicapped entrance and buzz the intercom for security to let you in), it is actually a lovely place to take the kids for some quiet afternoon time. The gallery has an impressive collection of work from well-known Australian artists as well as some big-note Europeans. It also offers a pleasant café with highchairs and the Domain Gardens opposite are perfect for a pre or post gallery play. The purpose for our visit was to see the Archibald exhibition which was fantastic and definitely worth a look. The winning portrait of Tim Minchin is extraordinary and I also really liked the scratchy portrait of Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Robert Doyle.
The Gallery runs a workshop for 3 to 5 year olds a few times a year, check the website for details.
Balmoral Beach is the perfect spot to spend a play day with a friend. Not only is it beautiful, it is extremely well set-up for kids – as indicated by the hoards of young children in the kiosk, beach and playground. After a play at the playground, I would recommend walking further down the beach towards The Beach Pavilion for a quieter picnic spot either on the grass or beach. Make sure you take a ball and a bucket and spade. Both the main kiosk and the pavilion kiosk have plenty of lunch options and The Beach Pavilion restaurant would be lovely with older children.
Fish’n chips on Bondi Beach is a great way to finish off the day. Bondi, however, is not the easiest of places to get to. Whilst the train will take you to Bondi Junction, you still need to take a bus from there to the beach as it’s a long and steep walk otherwise. The best option would be to take a bus straight from the city, just make sure you get one of the wide door ones with the handicapped seating area so that the kids can remain in the pram.
We booked a two bedroom apartment in George Street for the same cost as a hotel room. Whilst it wasn’t as luxurious as a hotel, the apartment offered two separate bedrooms, a living area and a kitchenette so we were able to watch a movie once the kids were in bed and fix them a cheap and easy brekkie in the morning. The location was great as it was an easy walk to Circular Quay, across from Wyndham train station and within walking distance of a Coles supermarket, The Strand and the Queen Victoria Building. For cheap rates, visit the Departure Lounge website and use the code found in the current entertainment book.
Other ideas for things to do in Sydney with under-fives include;
- Concerts for 2 to 5 year olds at Sydney Opera House
- A swim and play at Bronte Park
- Visit Nemo and friends at Sydney Aquarium
- Night time viewing of the Smart Life Sculptures as part of the Vivid Festival
- Dandy Lions Activity Group for under fives in the Royal Botanical Gardens
- Petting Zoo at the Entertainment Quarter every Wednesday and Saturday
- Games, craft and storytime at National Maritime Museum every Tuesday
- Visit the adventure playground at Wentworth Common
- Activities for under fives at the Australian Museum
- Visit Centennial Park
- Paddling in one of Sydney's harbour pools