8 budget-friendly school holiday activities
You don’t always need to spend big to entertain kids in the city – for a small investment, these ideas deliver big dividends in family thrills.
Explore an all-ages playground in the city
Run, climb, splash, fly, whizz – choose any verb and put it into action at this Darling Harbour playground. Slip down a giant slide, hurtle along the 21-metre flying fox, scramble along webbed ropes, and pop those rashies on the kids because they’re about to get thoroughly soaked (and so are you) exploring the many pumps, fountains, and waterways.
Cost: It’s totally free.
The best part: The sheer delight on faces from six-months old to sixteen.
Good to know: While you’re there, check out Hello Kitty Town at Darling Square. A celebration of pink-hued cuteness spanning food, art and fun until 29 April 2022.
Discover history on a submarine
Hone your sonar into maritime history as you board the HMAS Onslow, a close-to but, thankfully, not-operational submarine that was decommissioned in 1999 and is now permanently docked at the Australian National Maritime Museum. Should your first mates stand at least 90cm tall, they can explore this truly absorbing piece of naval technology.
Cost: $15 per child or $70 per family.
The best part: Dad’s Sean Connery impressions from The Hunt for Red October.
Good to know: Enjoy Action Stations, an immersive exhibition about naval life.
Learn how to be a ranger
If your child is always collecting twigs, leaves and rocks on your morning stroll, book into a Junior Park Ranger program at Sydney Olympic Park. Perfect for next-gen nature-lovers, they’ll learn how to nurture the environment, as well as how to identify creatures who call it home. This autumn, it’s all about spiders, so swap the binoculars for a magnifying glass and head to Homebush.
Cost: $15 per child, adults are free.
The best part: Would-be rangers learn from actual real-life ones.
Good to know: Programs run during school holidays, check the website for dates.
Try food from all over the world
If you don’t have an overseas holiday on the horizon, you can still ignite the kids’ fascination for other cultures through life-enhancing food experiences. Host your own culinary tour at the Chatswood Mall Market, where a veritable smorgasbord of flavours collide, from crunchy-bottomed paella to sizzling gozleme and slippery noodles.
Cost: Bites start from just a few dollars.
The best part: Watching the synapses spark as your child tastes their first pork bun.
Good to know: Graze all day from 9am to 9pm on Thursdays and Fridays.
Practice mountain biking at every level
Check the weather, oil the bike chains, and firmly attach helmets to small heads. With a slight crispness making outdoor exertion entirely pleasant, autumn is one of the best times to encourage the kids to get biking. Tyres crunch over the well-worn paths at Manly Dam as you cycle through the sun-dappled bush in convoy.
Cost: It’s free to ride.
The best part: Being active in nature with their favourite people (you).
Good to know: The Manly Dam Mountain Bike Trail is perfect for all levels, from beginners to advanced. Check the track status on the website before going.
Do an online cooking class
If your kids love to bake, but you’d rather not get covered in flour yourself, leave them to it (supervised, of course) with an online Easter workshop by Kids Love to Cook. Joining via Zoom, your mini Masterchef-in-the-making can learn how to whip egg whites into a meringue wreath and all manner of Easter treats.
Cost: Easter classes cost $14.95.
The best part: They might share the goods with you.
Good to know: You’ll be emailed the shopping list and equipment requirements when you register.
Meander around a peaceful garden
Framed by the towering buildings of Chinatown, the Chinese Garden of Friendship is an inner-city sanctum that has been providing a tranquil retreat for more than 30 years. Designed following the guidelines of Taoism, you’re sure to find the yin to your family’s yang under a willow tree, spotting koi in the pond, or sipping oolong in the teahouse.
Cost: $4 for children under 12, $20 per family.
The best part: Add the gardens to a Chinatown itinerary for a full-day adventure.
Good to know: Open daily from 10am to 5pm.
Take a day trip to the Blue Mountains
Think beyond the city limits for a day trip that takes in the majesty of the Blue Mountains. Even Sydneysiders can forget the beauty in our own backyard but remind yourself and school the kids with a refresher course aboard the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus.
Cost: Kids ride free, $29 for adults
The best part: Riding high on the double-decker bus.
Good to know: You can upgrade your pass mid-trip to a hop-on, hop-off tour.