There’s no getting around it – travel is expensive, and with kids along for the ride, the price can quickly skyrocket out of control. In Sydney though, there are plenty of fantastic, kid-friendly things to do that are entirely free. With an irrepressible love of the outdoors and the natural world, Sydney is a great place to run around in the sunshine with your kids, and for the rainy days, there are lots of free museums and cultural spaces to enjoy as well.

A parent and toddler are silhouetted as they walk on the edge of the sea away from the camera
Taking a stroll with the little one along a Sydney beach © Julian Tatang / EyeEm / Getty

Beaches and rockpools

One of Sydney’s greatest blessings is its coastline, and in summer parents need do little more than slop some sunscreen on the kids then sit back and relax while they make their own (free!) fun for hours on end. While the surf at beaches like Bondi, Maroubra and most of the north shore are fantastic for older kids learning to surf, bodysurf or boogie-board, the sandcastling set might prefer the gentler waves at Shelly Beach, or the shark-netted harbour beach at Nielsen Park.

Another must-do is to take the kids to one of Sydney’s 35 or so ocean pools. Carved into rocky headlands between beaches, these pools offer a barricade against the rips and rough surf of the wild ocean, while still being washed by occasional waves and visited by fish, anemones and fishing birds. They are ideal places to make the transition from tentative pool swimmer to ocean-going surf-lover. You’ll find free ocean pools all along Sydney’s coast, with some great ones at Coogee (north and south ends), Bronte, Fairy Bower and Mahon Pool at Maroubra.

Greenery and bushes of the Secret Garden give way to a glimpse of the Harbour Bridge and some boats in the distance
View from the top of Wendy Whiteley's Secret Garden towards the Sydney Harbour Bridge © Simon McGill / Getty Images


Right in the middle of the city, the free Royal Botanic Garden has snagged a sweet spot enjoying views over the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, while also playing host to the likes of an Aboriginal storytelling garden, a rainforest garden and a grove of huge, buttressed Moreton Bay figs, perfect for climbing and hide and seek.

On the other side of the harbour Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden is a wonderful tumbling, terraced, guerrilla garden, reclaimed from derelict land by local resident Wendy Whiteley, whose late husband Brett Whiteley was one of Australia’s most important visual artists. The maze of snaking trails, offering peeping views of yachts bobbing in the harbour, feels like a treasure hunt. While you’re in the neighbourhood, walk around the foreshore to Luna Park, Sydney’s gorgeous 1930s-era fun park. Entry is free (though you have to pay for rides) and there’s often roving costumed entertainers, as well as crazy mirrors and the big attraction – the massive, slightly-spooky, clown face entry which literally overlooks the harbour with its beady eyes.

Several jets of water are illuminated pink in the darkness as three children play in the fountain
Children playing in the free fountains at Darling Quarter, Tumbalong Park © EAGiven / iStock Editorial / Getty Images Plus


A special feature of many Sydney playgrounds are water-play areas, where kids have a chance to cool off in the heat of summer, when temperatures can top 40°C (98°F). It’s worth packing swimmers on any outing in case you come across a water-play area. Or make a special trip to Darling Quarter Kids Playground at Tumbalong Park, which boasts squirting jets, a stepping-stone pool, spiderweb climbers, giant slides and an Archimedes water screw. More great free playgrounds can be found at Blaxland Riverside Park at Sydney Olympic Park, with Sydney’s largest water-play area, a flying fox, mega swing and multi-level tree house, and Wild Play at Centennial Park, with 10m scrub tunnels, rope bridges, teepees and a swamp.

A small child with a backpack walks along holding the hands of an adult, with another adult ahead. The harbour and Harbour Bridge are in the background
A family strolling the Sydney Harbour foreshore © maydays / Getty Images

Bush bashing

Sometimes Wild Play isn’t quite wild enough and it’s time to experience some real native bushland. While Sydney is encircled by incredible wilderness areas, you can also access the bush for free without leaving town. The Sydney Harbour National Park protects large sections of the harbour foreshore in a natural state, including bushwalks linking secluded harbour beaches, islands and headlands overlooking the winter migration routes of whales. Lane Cove National Park is threaded with froggy creeks, ferny bushwalks and plenty of spots to get muddy.

Museums and galleries

On chilly or rainy days, it’s time to expand the mind. Entry is free at the Art Gallery of NSW, the state’s landmark repository of Australian and international art, which has a great kids programme of workshops, events and tours, much of it free. There’s also free entry at the Museum of Contemporary Art, with its ground-breaking programme of international artists and free family-friendly tours. More amazing free art can be found at White Rabbit, showcasing contemporary Chinese art, which pops with colour and edgy ideas. There’s Aboriginal and convict history to explore for free at the Rocks Discovery Museum, or go see the Egyptian mummy at Sydney University’s free Nicholson Museum. Many Sydney councils have also recently upgraded their public libraries and these community hubs are great places to chill out, enjoy free storytime readings or investigate the toy library. Wonderful new spaces include Woollahra, with its hanging garden, skylights and tree installations, and light-filled Surry Hills with its sandpit play centre. Two of Sydney’s other premier cultural spaces, the Powerhouse Museum and Australian Museum, are free for kids, though adults pay $15 for entry.

For more inspiration, check out these free things to do in SydneySubscribe to our Lonely Planet Kids newsletter and get 30% off your first Lonely Planet Kids book purchase.

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