Exploring Sydney can be a costly exercise when travelling with the kids, but there is a wealth of free treasure to be found for families in the many museums, galleries, islands, parks, playgrounds and beaches in and around the city. Here are a few of our favourite fun-filled Sydney secrets that are easy to reach and won’t cost you a thing.
Culture vultures can get the fix for free at the incredible Art Gallery of NSW with free entry into all but major exhibitions, free downloadable audio tours for kids and free children’s trails filled with activities designed to engage children available online or as free printed booklets at the Gallery.
Entry to see the wonderfully curated permanent collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, overlooking Circular Quay is also free, with charges applying only to special exhibitions.
If it’s history that floats your boat, entry to most of the permanent exhibitions at the Australian National Maritime Museum comes at no cost, though if you want to board and explore the ships or visiting exhibitions there’s an entry cost.
Take the ferry to Cockatoo Island, a World Heritage-listed former imperial prison, reformatory and shipyard. Kids can explore spooky convict prisons, giant cranes and historic shipbuilding machinery for nix. If you want to splash a little cash, it’s also the only island in Sydney where you can camp overnight.
Back in The Rocks, step back in time to explore Sydney’s oldest neighbourhood, and its indigenous history, at the free interactive Rocks Discovery Museum.
A Walk in the Park
Experience the tranquility and stunning harbour views at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, an oasis in the city. Enjoy the green space and fountains, or stop for a game at the giant chessboard in Hyde Park.
Darling Harbour is just a 10-minute walk from the Sydney CBD with lots of free, family friendly live events and the awesome Darling Quarter Playground with water play areas, sandpits, climbing ropes, slides, swings and flying foxes.
The city’s newest foreshore park is Barangaroo Reserve, where you’ll find stunning lookouts, grassed areas, cycleways and tidal rock pools for the kids to potter and play.
For great views of the city without spending a cent, take a stroll along the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge and take in the view. On the northern side of the bridge in Kirribilli, Bradfield Park has plenty of green space to catch your breath in addition to great views and a playground for the kids.
Just a few minutes east of the city is Paddington Reservoir Gardens. Something of a Sydney secret, it has been described as Sydney’s own Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The accessible sunken water garden, surrounded by historic columns, is a gorgeous spot for families to explore.
Nearby Centennial Parklands provides a sprawling escape from the suburban jungle with playgrounds, kiosks, walking, horse riding and cycling tracks.
Sydney is nothing if not blessed in the sea and sand department with more than 100 beaches and dozens of free—or extremely cheap—ocean and harbour swimming pools dotting the coast.
Catch a ferry to Watsons Bay and take the short, wheelchair-accessible walk to Camp Cove, a delightful beach that’s great for families with calm waters perfect for swimming and snorkelling. Watsons Bay Baths is an Olympic-size pool that offers views of the harbour, two floating sunbathing pontoons and deep-water wheelchair access with no entry fee.
In the east you’ll find iconic Bondi Beach, its golden sand, great surf and close proximity to the CBD making it popular, if you can handle the hordes. For a little more space, take the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk, a stunning coastal cliff walk that leads to pretty Bronte Beach where you’ll find a sheltered natural pool, plus an ocean pool and playground.
Another not to be missed trip on the Harbour’s iconic ferries is to Manly in Sydney’s north. Here you’ll find a popular surf beach, tranquil coves perfect for snorkelling, plus the gentle waves of Manly Cove.
For those who prefer swimming in an enclosed area, Manly’s pretty Fairy Bower Pool is an idyllic small ocean pool nestled between Manly Beach and Shelly Beach. And if you promise to keep a local secret, Maccallum Pool in Cremorne is a free harbourside pool not far from Cremorne Point Ferry Wharf with a timber sundeck and breathtaking views of Sydney’s skyline.