Immerse yourself in the relaxed life of a Sydneysider on this 5 day Sydney itinerary. Experience the spectacular Sydney Harbour from every angle, squish the sand between your toes on a vast, golden beach and snuggle up to some native animals.
- Why visit Sydney?
- Map of Sydney
- Getting around
- Where to stay in Sydney with kids
- 5 day Sydney itinerary
- Day 1 – Hop on hop off bus
- Day 2 – Sydney Opera House and Royal Botanic Gardens
- Day 3 – Taronga Zoo
- Day 4 – Sydney Harbour Bridge and The Rocks
- Day 5 – Ferry to Manly Beach
- Unique Australian experiences
- Short trips from Sydney
Why visit Sydney?
Sydney is a show-off of a city. The elegant beauty of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge never ceases to impress. Experiencing the harbour from the shore, from an elevated lookout or from the water is a joy and the beaches are incredible. Sydney wears its assets proudly on display and dares all comers to find fault.
Sydney is hard to resist as it has one of the best lifestyles of any major city in the world. Here you can have a high-flying corporate job and still go surfing before work.
Sydney kids tend to spend their weekends playing sport (soccer, Australian Rules football and netball are huge), doing nippers (surf training), riding bikes or swimming at the beach or local pool. It’s an active, vibrant life that attracts people from around Australia and the world.
We moved to Sydney from Melbourne 15 years ago and, although we still miss Melbourne’s art and food-focussed culture, our careers flourished here and we have found much to love about this city.
Map of Sydney
Sydney airport to Sydney city
If you are arriving at Sydney airport and staying in the city, then catching the train can be the most convenient form of transport as you avoid the traffic, but it may not be the cheapest.
Sydney airport is located about 15km south of Sydney city. Taxi cost is approximately A$50. Train cost is approximately A$19 per adult and A$15 per child (4-15 years), under 4 years is free. So, for example, a family of 2 adults and 2 kids would cost A$68.
Buy an Opal card each at the train station for use on all public transport (ferries, trains, buses) during your stay in Sydney.
Sydney airport to Manly Beach
Manly Beach is my favourite area to stay if you’re keen to live the beachside life of a Sydneysider, but it is on the other side of the city (and harbour) from the airport – approximately 30km. Taxi cost approximately A$100.
Taking the train to Manly Beach is not recommended as it requires multiple changes and is therefore very time consuming. You could take a shuttle, but for a family it would work out around the same cost as a taxi and not as convenient. Staying in Manly is ideal if you are hiring a car.
Where to stay in Sydney with kids
Circular Quay is the heart of sightseeing in Sydney, so this is definitely the most central area to stay. The Rocks is the most village-like atmosphere in this area.
Head to Manly for a gorgeous beach, surf, cafes and a relaxing ferry ride to the city.
5 day Sydney itinerary
Day 1 – Hop on hop off bus
Starting your visit to Sydney with a ride on the Hop On Hop Off Bus is a great way to get an overview of the city and not wear out your legs!
There are two routes, one around the main part of the city past the Opera House, Bridge, Hyde Park and The Rocks, as far east as Kings Cross, and a loop around Darling Harbour and Pyrmont to the west of the city, hitting the Powerhouse Museum, Maritime Museum and the Sydney Fish Market.
The second route takes you down to Bondi. While it does take you through some lovely, desirable eastern suburbs filled with Victorian terrace houses and the harbour beach, park and playground at Rose Bay, the main goal is getting to Bondi Beach.
I suggest staying on board for much of the trip and getting off at those destinations further afield that are perhaps a bit harder to get to on your own, like Bondi Beach, the Powerhouse Museum and Sydney Fish Market.
Buy your tickets here.
A fun alternative for the active family is a bike tour of Sydney. This 4 hour ride around all the main Sydney city sights is suitable for all ages with kids bikes, baby seats and tag-along attachments. Get all the details here.
Extend your day – Explore the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk
Get off the Hop On Hop Off Bus at Bondi Beach and do some of the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk. This is a clifftop walk with some stairs and uneven ground, but the views are gorgeous.
It’s about 2 km from Bondi Beach to Bronte Beach and will take about 1 hour (one way). Tamarama Beach (known as “Glamourama” because of all the beautiful people there) is just over half way along the route for a shorter turnaround point.
Please remember to stay safe at the beach. Only swim between the flags, ie the short stretch patrolled by surf lifesavers, as denoted by the red and yellow flags in the sand.
Day 2 – Sydney Opera House and Royal Botanic Gardens
Today is the day to get up close and personal with the Sydney Opera House.
There’s no need to spend any money to enjoy the magnificent architecture from the outside –
- Make sure you get close enough to check out all the tiles that give it its white appearance.
- The Monumental Steps on the city side are great for the kids to have a run up and down, but also perfect for sitting down and having a rest.
- You can usually walk all the way around the building, so give that a go and find out which is her best angle.
- You can go into the foyer and enquire about what shows are on or use the toilets if needed.
- Enjoy the fab view of the Harbour Bridge from here.
If you’re keen for further exploration, then either book tickets for a show in one of the Opera House’s theatres or do a tour. There’s all sorts of tours available, from 1-2 hours in duration. Check out the range here. Kid-friendly shows are often available and there’s even a Junior Adventure Tour, which is highly entertaining.
Afterwards, head east from the Opera House (away from the Bridge) and take a walk around Farm Cove, through the Royal Botanic Gardens to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. This sandstone bench carved by convicts is a peaceful and shady spot with heavenly views over Sydney Harbour. Have a picnic on the grass and let the kids have a run around.
Extend your day – Decode Aboriginal Art
Check out the Aboriginal Art at the Museum of Contemporary Art. This stylish Art Deco building is conveniently located at Circular Quay on the west, or Harbour Bridge, side. It is a spacious, family-friendly gallery with free, guided tours and a wonderful collection of traditional and contemporary Aboriginal Art.
The dot paintings really capture the kids’ imaginations once they understand the sorts of things they represent.
Day 3 – Taronga Zoo
Sydney’s Taronga Zoo is a must see for families, animal lovers or fans of Australian native animals. It’s a beautiful, green, leafy zoo with tremendous views over Sydney Harbour.
Take a ferry from Circular Quay to Taronga Zoo. The zoo is set on quite a steep hill, so jump on the Sky Safari cable car up to the top main entrance and work your way back down the hill.
You could easily spend the whole day here and not see everything, especially if you catch the seal and bird shows. These shows are well worth doing, very entertaining for all ages and a great opportunity to sit down, rest your legs and have a snack. Make sure you get there early for a good seat. Show times are listed on the park map available for free at the main entrance.
The new Tiger Trek and the Wild Squad kids’ conservation movie and missions are particularly fun. And the Australian Walkabout area is perfect for seeing kangaroos, koalas, echidnas and wombats.
Don’t miss snapping the perfect photo looking over the giraffes’ heads towards the Harbour and city. It’s one of my favourite views in Sydney.
Get your skip the line tickets here.
Extend your day – Glamping at the Zoo
The kids will love this! The Roar and Snore package has you sleeping in comfortable tents overlooking the harbour, having intimate animal encounters, with meals and everything else you need provided. Just be warned that it is VERY expensive. A once in a lifetime experience. More information here.
Day 4 – Sydney Harbour Bridge and The Rocks
There’s a number of ways to experience the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The best is to climb it. This is an absolutely epic adventure, best approached cautiously if you have a fear of heights.
I’ve only done it once, but I loved it so much that I can’t wait to do it with the kids one day. It is physically challenging as there are a lot of steps involved and you are VERY high. But I felt completely safe, you are attached to the Bridge with ropes at all times and the sense of exhilaration and achievement makes any nervousness worth battling through.
Kids must be 8 years old and the full climb takes 3.5 hours with no chance of a bathroom break along the way. Find out all the details and options here.
Climbing the 200 stairs to the Bridge Pylon Lookout in The Rocks is a much easier and cheaper alternative. The pylons are the support towers of the Bridge at each end. The lookout is in the city-side pylon. It is almost as high as the Bridge itself, so the views are fabulous.
If you don’t fancy doing any climbing then you can walk across the Bridge. It takes about 20 min each way and while on the other side you can lunch in Kirribilli, play under the Bridge at Bradfield Park or ride the Ferris Wheel at Luna Park (get your skip the line tickets here).
The Rocks historic precinct was first established in 1788, not long after Captain Cook first arrived in 1770. Wandering around this character-filled area you will find beautiful buildings built from the local sandstone, cobblestone streets, historic houses like Cadman’s Cottage and the Susannah Place terraces (some of the original buildings), and the free, family-friendly Rocks Discovery Museum.
There’s an arts and crafts market here on the weekends and The Tea Cosy does an adorable kids’ Devonshire tea. Last time we went my daughter had a play on their piano and I taught the kids to finger knit with the wool and knitting needles on every table. One of our favourite quirky spots in Sydney.
Extend your day – Visit Darling Harbour entertainment precinct
Experience the Harbour Bridge from every angle by taking a ferry from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour, going under the Bridge along the way. Get off at the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium and explore this wonderful aquarium with incredible walk-through exhibits. You will have sharks and sting rays swimming all around you.
This ticket is great value if you think you might visit another attraction like Sydney Tower Eye (observation tower in the centre of the city), WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo (an alternative to Taronga Zoo in Darling Harbour) or Madame Tussauds (also in Darling Harbour) during your stay.
If you’ve managed to see enough of the Bridge and The Rocks during your wanders near your hotel, then you could easily spend the whole day in Darling Harbour. After you’ve visited the Aquarium, head down to the enormous Darling Quarter playground and water play. The kids will love it!
Day 5 – Ferry to Manly Beach
Getting onto the water is absolutely essential during your Sydney visit and the cheapest and easiest way to do it is on a ferry. Take the slow ferry to Manly and you’ll enjoy a leisurely half hour trip through the harbour, past the Heads (the entrance to the harbour) and north to Manly Wharf.
These ferries are public transport in Sydney (some people are lucky enough to catch one to work every day), so use your Opal card as your ticket.
The Corso shopping and restaurant strip stretches from Manly Wharf to Manly Beach. The landscape is flat and spacious so is easy to navigate with a stroller. There’s a playground here and another once you get to the beach.
You can hire scooters and rollerblades from Skater HQ if you want to join the locals racing up and down the beachside walking and cycle paths. Or get some takeaway fish and chips for lunch (an Australian favourite) from the Manly Fish Market and eat it by the beach.
At the beach you can take a surfing lesson at Manly Surf School, play in the water or eat ice cream and build sandcastles.
Extend your day – Soak up the beach life
Explore further by taking the leisurely Manly to Shelly Beach coastal walk. This level 15 minute walk from the Manly Surf Club will take you past the historic Fairy Bower baths and various sculptures before arriving at the compact Shelly Beach. The full distance from the north end of Manly Beach (called Queenscliff Beach) all the way south to Shelly Beach is about 2.5km.
Stop off for a coffee or lunch at the home of beach house chic, The Boathouse Shelly Beach.
Heading to the closest beach to play in and around the water or have a meal at a cool cafe is the core of many a Sydneysider’s weekend. We’ve all got our favourites, but Manly is definitely mine.
Unique Australian experiences
See if you can fit one of these truly Australian experiences into your Sydney visit.
Pat an Australian animal
Despite their appearance koalas are not like teddy bears and holding one is a very rare thing indeed. They don’t particularly like being held and have sharp claws. In fact it is prohibited by law for anyone to hold a koala in NSW (the state Sydney is in) unless you are a trained zoo keeper. The only state in Australia that still allows the holding of koalas is Queensland.
So the best experience of a koala is to look at them asleep in a gum tree. They sleep for 20 hours a day, so you’re very lucky if you see one awake. We occasionally see wild ones in national parks, but a zoo is your best bet.
At Taronga Zoo you cannot touch a koala, but you can get right up next to them and have a professional photo taken. This requires booking in advance and is an additional cost. WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo has a similar experience available.
At Featherdale Wildlife Park, 45 min west of the city, and the Australian Reptile Park, an hour north of the city, you can pat a koala for an additional cost.
Kangaroos (and wallabies, the kangaroo’s smaller cousin) are generally fairly safe to be around in zoos and don’t mind being patted. Taronga Zoo has them roaming free in the Australian Walkabout area. However how close you get is entirely up to the kangaroos. You will need to stay to the paths, but they may come close to you.
Featherdale Wildlife Park and the Australian Reptile Park have much more freedom of kangaroos and people interacting. You may feed the kangaroos here, but only using the provided feed.
Watch Australian Rules football (AFL)
Melbourne is the heartland of Australian Rules football, where crowds at a regular non-finals match can exceed 80,000 people. But Sydney has two AFL teams with plenty of fans and spending a weekend afternoon at the footy is a uniquely Australian experience. My kids love it!
The Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) is where the Sydney Swans play their home matches and is only 15 min south east of the city. Footy season goes from March to September.
Short trips from Sydney
If you fancy getting out of the city and the sprawling Sydney suburbs, then there are some fabulous options to take one or more short trips from Sydney during your stay. For a 5 day stay you could easily fit enough city sightseeing into 4 days and take off to explore further afield on the other day.
The beaches around Sydney are amazing, so I wouldn’t bother driving hours to a beach during a 5 day Sydney itinerary. Instead, my top two recommendations are for abundant natural beauty of a different kind – the Blue Mountains and the Hunter Valley.
The Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains lies about 100km due west (inland) of Sydney. These craggy peaks are home to The Three Sisters rock formation, some picturesque country villages and Scenic World, where the kids will love taking the Skyway, Cableway or super steep Scenic Railway down into the valley for a bushwalk on the valley floor.
It will take 1.5-2 hours to drive there from the city (traffic dependant) or you could take an organised tour like this one, or avoid the traffic on a train and join this tour at Katoomba station. Find out all you need to know about a Blue Mountains day trip in my guide here.
The adults in your group might get more out of this trip, but the magnificent wineries of the Hunter Valley are completely kid-friendly. There’s generally plenty of space for running around, the Hunter Valley Gardens has an adorable Storybook Garden that my kids still love (see our pics here), and there’s often a chocolate or ice cream shop at the wineries to complement the wine.
At about 165km and 2-2.5 hours drive from Sydney it is a full day trip, but so relaxing once you get there. Take an organised tour out of Sydney like this one, so you can try all the local wines without having to drive back to the hotel. Read my guide to the Hunter Valley with kids here.