With boundless natural attractions and relaxed, outdoor living, Sydney is great for kids. Families can easily show their little ones a good time without suffering for it themselves, with many great options that don’t cost a cent: swim, wander and play all across the city.

Attitudes

Australians are generally tolerant of children. Most restaurants welcome well-supervised children and many have high chairs and kids menus, though avoid little hole-in-the-wall cafes in the inner city (no space). The only place you may come across a blanket ban on children is in some of the quieter B&Bs and boutique hotels. Larger pubs serving food usually have a child-friendly area up to a certain time of night. Many pubs and eateries, especially in the Inner West, specifically set themselves up to be family-friendly, with play areas, changing facilities and even farm animals. The Henson, Petersham Bowling Club, Grounds of Alexandria and Camperdown Commons are great examples.

Beaches

The calm waters of Sydney's harbour beaches are great for kids. If you're particularly paranoid about sharks, head to the netted areas at Murray Rose Pool, Nielsen Park, Chowder Bay, Balmoral and Manly Cove. Most of Sydney's surf beaches have saltwater ocean pools, such as the spectacular Bondi Icebergs and McIvers Baths. Dee Why has a pool for younger children and Narrabeen has a shallow paddling beach at the mouth of the lagoon.

There are also some excellent indoor public pools complete with slides and other watery attractions. Cook & Phillip Park Aquatic Centre in the centre of town is a lot of fun and the Australian Museum is right across the road, or try the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre next door to the Powerhouse. West of the centre, Wet'n'Wild is a full-blown water park.

Parks & Wildlife

Sydney's not short on places to let the kids off the leash. Most beaches have superb playgrounds and right in the middle of the city at Darling Harbour there's an incredible adventure park with water games, swings, slides and flying foxes. Once you're done you can stroll up to Wild Life Sydney Zoo and the Sydney Sea Life Aquarium or pop into the fascinating Australian National Maritime Museum.

Better still is the ferry ride to the excellent Taronga Zoo; for a less hectic wildlife experience, Featherdale Wildlife Park is great for meeting koalas.

Active Pursuits

Bondi's Let's Go Surfing offers lessons for kids aged seven to 16 – but watch out, you may find that your offspring are suddenly much cooler than you are. Most other surf schools also cater for kids, and special school-holiday packages are standard during January.

Bike tours are another good way to expend excess energy; try Bike Buffs, Bonza Bike Tours or Manly Bike Tours. Otherwise you can hire bikes (kids' bikes are widely available) and lead your own pack around Centennial Park or Sydney Olympic Park, which also has an impressive high ropes adventure park for kids eight years and up. Taronga Zoo has the impressive Wild Ropes also.

Sydney Harbour Kayaks welcomes 12-year-olds to its tours, as long as they're accompanied by an adult. It also rents kayaks to families with kids as young as three.

Wet-weather Options

Kids adore Ultimo's science- and technology-focused Powerhouse Museum, which has plenty of hands-on experiments, big chunks of machinery for budding engineers plus an interactive Wiggles exhibition. Close by at Darling Harbour, the tween set are likely to be quite distracted by Rihanna, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga at Madame Tussauds. Across town, the Australian Museum is a real hit with the younger crowd, especially its excellent dinosaur exhibition.

If the thought of dragging the kids around a gallery fills you with dread, you'll be surprised by the child-friendly Art Gallery of NSW. The dynamic program includes free shows most Sundays, tailored discovery trails and self-guided, child-focused audio tours. There are also regular art safaris and creative workshops at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

The delights of the Sydney Opera House aren't restricted to adults. Catch the best in international children's theatre, school-holiday shows and free Creative Play sessions. There's also a junior version of the popular Opera House Tour.

Little astronomers might want to do some stargazing or see the Time Ball drop at the very kid-focused Sydney Observatory.

Concessions

Most sights, entertainment venues and transport providers offer a discount of up to 50% off the full adult rate for children, although the upper age limit can vary widely (anything from 12 to 18 years of age). Many places also let under fives or under threes in for free. Family tickets are common at big attractions, generally covering two adults and two children.

There are Child/Youth Opal cards for four to 15 year olds (plus NSW/ACT high school students 16 or over) that mean you pay half fare on public transport. Under fours travel free.

Need to Know

  • For an extra cost, car-hire companies will supply and fit child safety seats (compulsory for children under seven).
  • Most accommodation providers can provide cots, but try to arrange in advance.
  • Mothers have a legal right to breastfeed in public.

Highlights For Kids

Theme Parks

If the kids are hounding you for some gut-churning highs visit Luna Park, which has enough old-fashioned kitsch to impress the oldies. If it's a hot day consider combining your visit with the adjacent harbourside North Sydney pool. During summer the sprawling Wet'n'Wild water park in Sydney's west will impress the kids and clean out your wallet.

Resources

For an exhaustive list of events and activities for babies up to school age kids visit www.ellaslist.com.au or look out for the free Child newspaper.