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As we start to see light at the end of the coronavirus-tunnel, many are starting to think more optimistically about a big trip in 2022. And one place that fits the bill: Australia. With it being a significant distance for most travelers, it is beneficial to stay a few weeks and enjoy a few spots. Read on for tips for planning your own post-pandemic 3 week vacation to Australia with kids.
When we went: July 2019
Ages of kids at time of travel: 6, 4 and 1
Starting with Sydney…
As you plan your vacation to Australia with kids, you will most likely find that Sydney will be the best starting and ending point from a flight perspective. You can, however, also consider Melbourne as an option from the United States. By beginning your journey in Sydney, you can take some time to get acclimated to the time zone and settle in before beginning your adventures. My recommendation to another traveler would be to bookend Sydney on either side of your trip and either do:
- A stay in a more residential area the first week to get settled in and just enjoy life. Then do a more touristy area at the end of your trip. Can also do the reverse.
- A stay in more touristy areas on both sides if you want to be closer to all the sights.
On our trip, we stayed in the Paddington neighborhood which we really enjoyed. After getting settled in at a local vacation rental, we spent our first few days walking around town, stopping in cafes for coffee and banana bread and finding the local playgrounds. On my list for next time? Rose Bay and Double Bay. On the latter half of our time in Sydney, we opted for a high rise apartment in Darling Harbour literally steps from the actual harbour. While it was great to have so much at our doorstep, it was much busier and you definitely felt the tourist vibe.
What to add to your Sydney itinerary?
Sydney offers a plethora of activities, sights and dining and it can be quite overwhelming to plan your itinerary, especially when you need to consider kids coming along. My family actually loves to start our holidays in a new place with the hop-on hop-off buses. In Sydney, we used the Big Bus Deluxe Plus Ticket to get a one-day ticket plus admission to several other attractions in town. We did the whole loop on our second day and it really helped us get our bearings in town.
The must-do list in Sydney:
- Sydney Opera House – while they do offer tours inside, simply sitting outside and taking in this landmark is great. An ideal location for a family photo shoot through Flytographer.
- The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney – a sprawling botanical garden with harbour views and lots of open space for the kids to run around. Grab some food and find the perfect picnic spot.
- Bondi Beach – while this is a very touristy spot, it is worth a look. You can do the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk or take a look at the oceanfront swimming pool at Bondi Icebergs.
- Darling Harbour Playground (Darling Quarter) – a fantastic playground surrounded by restaurants and cafes. There are water features so plan accordingly.
- Chinese Garden of Friendship – a beautiful garden that everyone enjoyed. We had tea in the cafe after we walked the grounds.
- Ferry – don’t laugh but we did take the ferry just for the sake of taking the ferry. Not only were the views spectacular but the kids thought it was the greatest thing.
- Australia Museum – a multi-story museum with something for everyone.
- Taronga Zoo – we didn’t end up going but, bonus points, you can take the ferry to the Taronga Zoo Wharf to visit.
- Sydney Bridge Climb – we did this trip with the five of us so my husband and I weren’t able to do this (kids must be at least 8 years old) but would definitely consider in the future!
- Australian National Maritime Museum – this was actually something we did to fill time and it was pretty cool! Would definitely recommend proactively planning this into your itinerary. They have several vessels you can go in and a great interactive area for kids.
On the maybe list:
- Sydney Tower Eye – this was included with our Big Bus package. It was definitely cool to see Sydney from this vantage point but it is one of those places where you get shuffled from room to room first to watch a film before going in the elevator.
- SEA Life Sydney Aquarium – another included item that was jam-packed when we went. It was a horrible experience – a one-way wall-to-wall people path and the exhibits were nothing special. We would have left 5 minutes in if it wasn’t for the one-way line.
- WILD Life Sydney Zoo – next door to the aquarium (and Madame Tussaud’s). Had no line so, after the aquarium experience, we thought it would be horrible and, actually, it was decent. The kids enjoyed it partially because we could go at our own pace.
Exploring other areas:
Since a vacation to Australia with kids is quite an investment in both money and time, seeing a few spots definitely helps justify everything. While you could easily stay put in Sydney for weeks, venturing out can show you so much more. Some of the common places people visit alongside Sydney are:
- Melbourne (1 hr, 30 min flight)
- Hobart, Tasmania (1 hour, 55 min flight)
- Whitsunday Islands (2 hr, 30 min flight)
- Cairns (3 hour flight)
- Uluru (3 hr, 30 min flight)
- Perth (4 hr, 55 min flight)
We opted to visit Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef as our secondary destination.
Tropical North Queensland & the Great Barrier Reef
While Sydney stole our hearts, Cairns also produced magical family memories. We found an amazing apartment rental right in the center of town above the Cairns Night Market and in front of the vast Cairns Esplanade. We spent our days casually strolling up and down the main drag discovering so many cool parks (including one with a beach entry sand-bottom pool) and enjoying delicious treats from local restaurants. Plan on spending at least 3 or 4 days here to explore:
- Cairns Esplanade Lagoon – the BEST public park/pool I have ever seen. My kids could have spent several days here. The sand bottom allowed for a nice space for my son who was just turning 1 and my girls had shallow, warm water to splash around in. If you don’t have any beach toys, there is a small shop adjacent to the lagoon that sells items.
- Muddy’s Playground – with both a playground and several water features, another great place for kids to splash around.
- Fig Tree Playground – a basic playground built around a huge tree with Wharf ONE coffee next door for the parents to grab a cup. Hemingway’s Brewery is just a few steps away, too, and had delicious food and drinks.
- Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome – a cool spot where you can hug a koala, zip line through a dome and also meet lots more animal friends.
- Skyrail Rainforest Cableway – check out the world’s oldest tropical rainforest via cableway and several platforms. This is a short drive from Cairns so need to consider transport if you’re staying in Cairns proper without a vehicle.
- Cairns Botanic Gardens – learn more about the tropical plant life in North Queensland.
Green Island Resort (Great Barrier Reef)
To amplify our already amazing time in Tropical North Queensland, we decided to also spend a few nights at Green Island Resort to see the Great Barrier Reef front and center. By being an overnight guest (versus a day visitor), we got to experience the tranquility of this beautiful place.
We booked two adjoining rooms which suited a family of 5 perfectly. Our days consisted of leisurely mornings strolling on paths that navigate around the island followed by swimming, beach time and a visit to the resident crocodiles (not to worry, they are not running free!). They also offer daily glass bottom boat rides which my kids thoroughly enjoyed since snorkeling and scuba diving were not options for us on this trip.
Once the day guests left in the later afternoon, the island felt like our own private paradise. We took part in the daily sunset drinks and fish feeding and then would return to the jetty after dinner for star gazing and looking for sea creatures (sharks and turtles were quite easy to find).
There is so much to do on this island but, if you have very small kids like we did at the time, it was tough to fully enjoy the more adventurous things. The island is fine for young families but, for a true reef experience, having older kids or having one parent stay back with the kids while the other goes and does something would allow for an even more incredible time. We did end up coming back one day sooner than planned and stayed at the Hilton Cairns as it was right by the dock.
Sample Overall Itinerary for Australia with Kids
Day 1: arrival and settle in (TIP: our flight arrived at 6am so we booked our vacation rental for the night before so we would be able to go straight to the house – BEST DECISION EVER!). If you need a power nap, do it but set an alarm so you can get some daylight in the afternoon hours.
Day 2: book a ticket through Big Bus Sydney and explore the city. We used a combo of the red line and blue line to get around with Bondi Beach being the focus of the day. We spent a few hours exploring and having lunch. Since we didn’t have a car and Bondi Beach is a long walk, we thought using the bus for this was a good decision.
Days 3-7: as jet lag begins to wear off, try to pick one or two focus items per day and, if possible, try to stay within a particular neighborhood so it doesn’t feel like you’re trekking across town each day. Also a great idea to do your family photo shoot early in the trip (highly recommend Flytographer) and, heck, even splurge on getting your hair done at a local salon.
Days 8-15: use one of the suggestions above to add in some time in another location.
Days 16-21: head back to Sydney and consider staying in a different neighborhood. Continue to explore new spots and maybe even re-visit some of the highlights from your first week in town.
All in all, our trip was absolutely fantastic – we would go back again in a heartbeat. Based on our trip, some tips we would share with other travelers would be:
- To make arrival as stress-free as possible, book a transfer for your family and book your accommodation for the night before if you have an early arrival. We used Sydney Baby Taxi and they provided a clean, safe seat for each of my children along with a professional, helpful driver. We found a similar company in Cairns to shuttle us back and forth to the airport with provided car seats.
- I mainly used Google Pay / credit card for everything (they had the tap to pay almost everywhere). I did get some cash out for smaller purchases.
- We did need to do a visa form online before our trip. Be sure to check here for the most up-to-date requirements based on the passport you hold.
- Going in the Northern hemisphere summer actually worked out beautifully for us – in Sydney, we had mild temperatures with cool breezes and in the north, where it can be hot and humid in their summer months, it was absolutely perfect.
- Need some tips for flying with kids? Check out one of my past blog post with plenty of tips.
Ready to plan a trip to Australia with kids? I hope so! Be sure to save this post to your Pinterest board using one of the pins below and do feel free to ask any questions in the comments or on my Instagram page.