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10 of the best Sydney day trips for children
The kids are all right at these amazing attractions right on the city's doorstep
Sure, Sydney may be a cosmopolitan place known for its smart eateries, pubs and colorful nightlife, but don’t be totally fooled. By day, this family-friendly city also offers loads to do to keep its most-demanding residents happy too.
Here’s our pick of the top 10 things to do with the kids. And even if you don’t have children, many are still worth a visit.
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1. Splash the dugongs at Sydney Aquarium
Set in the heart of Sydney on Darling Harbour, Sydney Aquarium showcases more than 12,000 marine animals from 650 species in habitat displays, including platypuses, seahorses, giant turtles, jellyfish and thousands of tropical fish.
But the main drawcard is a series of underwater, see-through tunnels, where sharks and giant stingrays glide overhead and alongside visitors.
Also on top of the must-see list -- a pair of native dugongs, or sea cows, called Pig and Wuru, who were taken into captivity after being found washed up on different beaches in Queensland.
Tickets start at $20 per child and $35 per adult. Children under three are free.
Sydney Aquarium, Aquarium Pier, Darling Harbour. Open daily from 9 a.m.-8 p.m., +61 (0) 2 8251 7800.
2. Go native at Taronga Zoo
Set on a sloping hillside above the harbor, and boasting panoramic views of the city to go with the animal displays, Taronga Zoo is an iconic Sydney landmark.
Officially opened in 1916, the zoo is currently undergoing a massive overhaul, with some areas closed for renovation.
Still, some mega-exhibits have already opened, including the jungle-themed Rainforest Trail and a new Tasmanian Devil display.
Wildlife tours, around-the-clock bird and seal shows and keeper talks are also on offer.
Fancy something a bit more adventurous? Camp overnight at the zoo in safari tents and wake up to the sound of lions as part of the zoo’s “Roar and Snore” stay.
Children, $22; adults $44; under fours free.
Taronga Zoo, 1 Bradley’s Head, Mosman. Open daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., +61 (0) 2 9969 2777.
3. Ride the rollercoasters at Luna Park
It’s hard to miss the iconic Luna Park, with its 9-meter-wide smiling clown face entrance staring out over the Harbour.
Tucked behind Coney Island, the recently restored 1930s amusement park now includes a Big Top auditorium, along with popular rides such as the Tumble Bug and Flying Saucer.
Entry is free and tickets are sold for single rides, which suits a family with kids under five. For the older ones, it’s probably worth buying an unlimited pass, which lets them on all the rides all day. Day passes start at $24.95 during peak season.
Luna Park, Olympic Drive, Milsons Point 2061. Opening hours vary, +61 (0) 2 9922 6644.
4. Mount a pony in Centennial Park
Nothing puts a smile on a kid’s face faster than the chance to go on a pony ride -- and there are many opportunities to do so at Centennial Park.
On the first weekend of every month, the park offers hand-led, 10-minute pony rides for children aged two-11 from the corner of Parkes Drive and Grand Drive in the park.
Tickets ($13 per ride) are sold at the nearby visitor counter, next to the kiosk. Another option is to book through one of Centennial Parklands Equestrian Centre’s five riding schools.
Finally, the My Little Ponies program, an ongoing initiative specially designed for two-five year olds, teaches kids where the horses live, what they eat and how to care for them.
Don’t worry -- a hand-led ride is also included. Bookings are essential.
Centennial Park Equestrian Centre, 114-120 Lang Road, Centennial Park. Opening hours vary, +61 (0) 2 9339 6699.
5. Get a charge at the Powerhouse Museum
Chase fish in a digital pond as part of an interactive Magic Garden or experience the illusion of weightlessness in the Zero Gravity Space Lab. All this and more is in store at the Powerhouse Museum.
The former power station was converted into a buzzing museum in 1988 and now houses 250 interactive exhibits, many of which are geared specially for under-eights.
Recent highlights included a high-tech Wiggles exhibition to mark the kids' song-and-dance group's 20th anniversary. It featured photographs and memorabilia, along with a Big Red Car for kids to ride.
Harry Potter fans also won’t be disappointed with an exhibition showcasing hundreds of props, sets and costumes from the movie until March 18.
And if that’s not enough to keep your kiddies amused, check out the museum’s new outdoor playground. Entry starts at $6 per child and $12 per adult.
Powerhouse Museum, 500 Harris St., near Carling Harbour. Open daily from 9.30 a.m.-5 p.m., +61 (0) 2 9217 0111.
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6. Walk on air at Sydney Tower Eye
As the city’s tallest freestanding structure, Sydney Tower Eye offers some of the best views around, from the Pacific Ocean to the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west.
Just make sure the kids are all right with the dizzying heights.
First opened in 1981, the tower boasts an observation deck and a new “4D” cinema, which transports viewers through the city’s landmarks and includes such special effects as a vibrating floor and spray mists.
But the star attraction is the recently launched Skywalk. Venture across the glass-floor viewing platform -- harnessed to safety rails, of course -- and walk on air 268 meters above the city, more than double the height of the Harbour Bridge.
Mind you, this is not for the fainthearted and children must be more than 10 years old and accompanied by an adult. Adults from $25, children from $15; for Skywalk add $40.
Sydney Eye Tower, 100 Market St., Podium level. Open daily from 9 a.m.-10.30 p.m., +61 (0) 2 9333 9222.
7. Spy a flying fox in the Royal Botanic Gardens
From watching flying foxes leap from the trees, to taking a scenic tour on the Trackless Train, the Royal Botanic Gardens have a lot to offer young children.
There’s also the recently launched Dandy Lions program for under-sixes. Held every Tuesday and Thursday, children get to explore a new garden-related theme through activities such as gardening, craft, storytelling and play.
During school holidays, kids over five can also get their hands dirty in the garden with a rotating education-based program.
On the lineup for this spring -- the Party Plants School Holiday Program, which teaches kids how different cultures on the Pacific Rim use tropical plants for music, food and fun. Cost is $15 per child.
Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens, Mrs. Macquaries Road. Opening hours vary, +61 (0) 2 9231 8111.
8. Catch the theatre bug at the Opera House
For our little culture lovers out there, the Sydney Opera House offers a yearlong program of theater, music, multimedia, dance and creative play for children aged two-15.
Among this year’s highlights are “White,” a production designed as an introduction to theatre for two-four-year-olds, and an exciting choose-your-own-adventure show called “Escape from Peligro Island,” where audience members are given handheld controllers that can steer the narrative of the play.
That’ll guarantee no two shows are the same.
Entry starts at $29 for theater shows and $23 for Baby Proms.
Sydney Opera House, Macquarie Street. Bookings: +61 (0) 2 9250 7777.
9. Salute Rex the crocodile at WILD LIFE Sydney
Meet Rex, the 1,200-kilo, six-meter-long crocodile in Kakadu Gorge. Or step into the Butterfly Tropics, where you’ll spot multicolored beauties flitting through lush ferns and palms.
It’s all part of the Australian animal adventure served up at the newly revamped WILD LIFE Sydney located at Aquarium Wharf on Darling Harbour.
From interactive displays and walk-through habitats to daily keeper talks, this enclosed wildlife world will inspire kids to release their outdoor adventurer.
Keep your eye out for the new Bugs Garden exhibit, which offers visitors a chance to uncover all sorts of unique creepy-crawlies. Adults from $35, kids from $20.
WILD LIFE Sydney, Aquarium Pier, Darling Harbour. Open daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., +61 (0) 2 9333 9288.
10. Bike through Sydney Olympic Park
Once an industrial wasteland, this precinct was transformed to become the site of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Now, more than a decade on, the multi-purpose Sydney Olympic Park is still brimming with life, offering activities for the entire family to enjoy.
Take a bike ride through the parkland’s 35 kilometers of cycleways (free entry, by the way) and discover wildlife refuges, mangrove boardwalks and outdoor art. Or go swimming and soak the kids at Splasher’s Water Playground in the Aquatic Centre.
Maybe you’d rather take your skateboard or scooter for wicked tricks at Monster Skate Park? The old cliché about there being something for everyone really does apply this time.
For something more sedate, picnic on the grass and take advantage of the free barbecue and picnic shelters. Oh, and don’t forget to check out the Olympic Cauldron, now converted into a water fountain.
Sydney Olympic Park, Corner Herb Elliot Avenue and Showground Road, +61 (0) 2 9714 7545.
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