Kids: we love 'em, but travelling with them makes for a logistical nightmare. When you have small children, you are limited to how far (and fast) you can go, and if you have a pram, then it puts a few limitations on where (and how) you can go.
Here are some child- and pram-friendly day trips for families travelling to Sydney, assuming you are staying in the city.
Sydney - one of the most beautiful cities on earth, but how child-friendly is it?
Bondi Junction Not to be confused with Bondi Beach (which is at least a 45 minute walk away), Bondi Junction is an easy 11 minute train ride out of the city. All city stations (except Museum) have lifts and all the trains have adequate space for prams (assuming you aren't travelling in the middle of peak hour).
On the train home from Bondi Junction with new friends from the BuildABear Workshop
The Bondi Junction train station has both ramp and lift access, and takes you out into the heart of the Junction, which – let's be blunt – is pretty much limited to shopping. But oh so much shopping. In addition to the massive Westfield, there are also smaller shops crammed into the malls and streets surrounding the station.
One of the many sculptures at Westfield Bondi Junction
The Westfield is one of the largest shopping complexes in the Sydney metropolitan area, and comes with an entire 'precinct' dedicated to kids including the Build-A-Bear-Workshop and some pretty awesome parents' rooms – with views like this.
The view from one of the parents rooms at Westfield
With some serious sculpture, funky lounge areas and one of the best food courts in the country with probably the best view in the world you will find that time easily slips away. Kids are tired, let them sleep it off in an oversized armchair. Sugar craving? Try one of these awesome cupcakes.
If you come on a Sunday you will be lucky enough to visit the Bondi Junction Markets, which take place in the pedestrian mall (Oxford Street Mall) from 9am-5pm. And don't let rain deter you, because it is a quick sprint from the station to the shops, and once inside, the weather becomes the least of your problems.
My tip: if you go to the Build-A-Bear Workshop check to see if they have any mystery bags. When we went there was the choice of girls and boys bags, either $25 or $45. We went for the big one thinking there might be some clothes for the toys we just bought, but were surprised to find a bear, dress, sound, watch, mobile phone and toy (all of which would retail for about $100).
500 Oxford Street, Bondi Junction
(02) 9947 8000
Open daily 9.30am – 6pm (10am-6pm on Sunday, and until 9pm on Thursday)
Chinese Garden of Friendship and Chinatown
This extraordinary garden may be in the heart of the city, but as soon as you step foot inside you are transported into another time and place. Admittedly, it is not entirely pram-friendly, there are only certain pavilions and paths where a pram will go, but if you have someone willing sit with the baby under a shady tree while you and the older kids explore the garden, it is worth the trip.
For $6 adults and $3 children five and older, it is relatively inexpensive to get inside. But the real value lies in the costume hire shop. Head straight there, and for $5 ($10 for adults) your children can be dressed up to be an Imperial Princess or Warrior, with swords, fans, detailed costumes and elaborate head-dresses. You can stay dressed-up for as long as you are in the garden, and with photo opportunities like this, you will think it is the best $5 you ever spent.
Getting dressed up at the Chinese Garden of Friendship
Although the garden is open from 10am to 5pm daily, the costume hire is only open from midday to 5pm, so before you head to the garden you might like to take a leisurely walk into Chinatown and Haymarket first.
Haymarket is an enormous, multi-storied shopping complex with a food court on the first floor, and the higher you go, the cheaper the shops become. If you can't figure out how to get into Haymarket look for these signs:
Inside you will find everything from a $2 shop to shoe shops, opals to Hello Kitty, electronics to men's ties and more women's fashions that you can possibly stuff into your suitcase. From Wednesday to Sunday Paddy's Markets operate under the building, but it gets pretty busy on weekends making negotiating with a pram a bit more tricky. The ground floor markets also close at 5pm which locks the central elevators, so unless you are warned (which you are now) you spend half an hour riding up and down in the lift wondering why you can't get off on the ground floor (hint: change elevators).
Tumbalong Park and the Darling Quarter
In the heart of Darling Harbour lies an extraordinary playground for children. It is extraordinary not only because it has a mind-boggling array of equipment and features for little people, but because it is free.
Pants are optional at the Darling Quarter Playground
If you have little ones and the sun is shining (or even if it's not) chances are it's the water play that will be the strongest drawcard for your children. Don't make the mistake we did though. 'There's not that much water,' said my husband. 'They won't need bathers. It's not like there is a pool.'
There IS that much water and they probably WILL need bathers. At the very least bring a towel and a change of clothes, because even if you have the best of intentions and just let them 'paddle their feet', they will end up sitting in the water, let the water jets spray up their skirt or fall over in the excitement. With 26 water jets, pumping stations, water channels, wheels and scoops your child will be happy as a clam.
Other awesome equipment includes diggers for those truck boys, an 18m balance rope, and a 3D swing. If that is all too awesome for you, there are also good old fashioned swings.
The playground is not gated and since there is plenty of water in and around it, you do need to keep an eye on your kids. There are plenty of shade sails around, but some of the concrete and wooden surfaces (not to mention the metal slides) do get hot in the sun.
While there are public toilets in the playground itself, the entire Tumbalong Park area (which incorporates 5 hectares of open space, the amphitheatre, Chinese Gardens and the Darling Quarter playground, is also well serviced by plenty of public toilets.
Forgot your picnic? There is a McDonalds a few steps away, or perhaps the Guylian Chocolate Café if that's more your style (good luck with the wet, sandy kids though).
The Monorail and Powerhouse Museum
If you are threatened with a wet or hot day then this is the perfect day-trip to stay indoors and under cover. While the monorail is still functioning (apparently it will be pulled down in 2013) it proves to be a relatively inexpensive and fun way to get around at least part of the city.
With a single loop taking about ten minutes it doesn't take long to get from place to place, although many of the really useful places such as Circular Quay and Central Station aren't serviced by the Monorail. However you can use the World Square stop for the cinemas, the Darling Quarter Playground and the Chinese Gardens, and the Paddys Market stop for Chinatown, the markets and Powerhouse.
With kids five and under free, and an adult full day pass less than $10 you can hop on and off as many times as you like. The downside is that the stations are sometimes a little hard to find but it is air-conditioned and all stations are serviced by ramps and lifts so it is very pram friendly (avoid during peak hour though). The last carriage of each train is slightly larger to fit prams, but you are allowed in any carriage.
A short stroll from the Paddys Market station (turn left and walk up the covered walkway) is the Powerhouse Museum. This multi-storied museum is full of exhibits that will fascinate every member of the family from the littlies (the Wiggles exhibit and magical garden), older kids (space exhibit, full-sized train), dads (bikes through the ages) and mums (Australian Dress Registry). Sorry about the stereotypes.
If you have come in on the Monorail day pass, you will find a 20% discount voucher for entry to the Powerhouse Museum (plus a range of other cool places such as the Sydney Aquarium, IMAX, Australian National Maritime Museum and Sydney Tower Eye). This brings adult entry to $9.60 and a child over 4 to $4.80.
Exhibits at the Powerhouse constantly change as well as having faithful old favourites. When we visited the Wiggles display proved a favourite for my girls with movies to watch, a big red car to sit in, a pirate ship to explore, craft to make and a really cool interactive colouring-in display that caused a few tears the following day when I explained we couldn't go back (we were on a flight home to Perth).
Well serviced by a spacious glass elevator as well as ramps, the Museum is very pram and child friendly. There is an outdoor play area (not brilliant for the teeny tiny kids) and café if you forget to bring your sandwiches.
The Ferry and Luna Park
Almost as iconic as the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, Luna Park has been grinning at Sydneysiders for almost 80 years. Unless you are staying north of the bridge, the best way to get there is by ferry, and it is a short trip from either Circular Quay or Darling Harbour (or you can walk over the bridge which is a really pleasant stroll once you figure out how to get up there).
Kids love the ferry and parents love photo opportunities so a trip to Luna Park via the ferry is a win-win situation. You have to be careful though, because even though Luna Park is free to enter they don't tend to tell you in all the tourist brochures how expensive it is when you get in. And it's a bit difficult to drag a kid all the way across the water and then tell them they can't go on any rides. A single ride – for an adult or child – is $10. Yup, you read that correctly.
However, if you want to make a day of it, you can buy daily unlimited passes starting at $24.95 for people between 85-105cm up to $44.95 for people over 130cm. Yeah. They sell by height. Too bad if you have a giant five year old like me, but awesome if you are a shorty yourself. Prices vary depending on the time of year, so if you're on a budget you might want to check online how much it will cost before you mention it to the kids.
Entry prices are calculated depending on how tall you are
There are some side-show games such as shooting cans and the clowns that you pay for separately (the clowns are $5 a game or three for $12. You are guaranteed a prize for each game). There are also funny mirror and other 'amusements' that are free. Good luck if you can get away with that.
There is a pretty impressive number of rides considering that it is crammed onto a relatively small piece of land: roller coaster, carousel, Ferris wheel, dodgems and a number of rides that will probably make your child bring up breakfast. For something a bit more economical and stomach-friendly, Coney Island ($10pp) is an authentic 1930s fun house that includes slides, spinning barrels, slippery wheels, mirror maze and bouncy walkways. There is also a 'kids corner' with mini-rides for mini-thrillsters.
The ferris wheel at Luna Park, can't bring a pram on this one
The times and days Luna Park is open is dependent on peak versus low season, what month it is, whether it is school holidays, the phase of the moon and what the Prime Minister had for breakfast. Seriously, check the website, it's too hard to explain, but generally in high season it is open every day from about 10 or 11am and closes any time between 4pm and 11pm. In low season it is closed Tuesday to Thursday. Check the website – you don't want to pack the kids up only to find it is closed (although that would save you a lot of money).