How to combine fun and accessibility in Sydney, a guide by Julie Jones.
Our family feels spoilt living in Sydney. It’s an accessible city with a range of attractions, outdoor experiences and annual festivals that provide inclusive experiences for all abilities.
Each weekend and school holidays we have plenty to explore right in our own backyard. Although we live close to the city centre, we’ve indulged in many stay-cations.
We’ve road tested a variety of accommodation options including a youth hostel, luxurious city hotels and beachside getaway. Here are our thoughts on each.
The Hostel Experience
You can find Sydney Harbour YHA in the heart of the Rocks, near the city’s archaeological remnants. When I booked the Sydney Harbour YHA I had no idea it would be such a novelty in our kids’ eyes.
I find it fascinating seeing what appeals to them and at the YHA they loved meeting guests from around the world and cooking in a communal kitchen. It’s a shame cooking at home isn’t as novel to them.
The rooftop terrace looking across to the Sydney Opera House is its standout feature. It’s the perfect spot to perch for an evening barbecue while the sun goes down. If the kids need more entertainment than watching the water traffic, the TV room is close-by.
Not content with only seeing the Sydney Opera House from afar, we booked the accessible Opera House tour. There we learnt the design and construction history of Australia’s most recognisable landmark. As a Sydney-sider who’s proud of this beautiful building, it saddens me to think of the controversy around the design and the exclusion of architect Jorn Utzon on its completion.
Now the building houses everything from a Playschool concert to world acclaimed performers. At the Opera House, we always stop by the northern VIP steps to see if ‘Benny’ the seal, named after Bennelong Point, is in residence. He loves sunning himself on the steps after his swim.
The Hotel Experience
A short ferry ride across the harbour is another family favourite: the Novotel Sydney ManlyPacific.
The hotel embraces its seaside location with a casual playful vibe; table tennis in the foyer and buckets and spades available to borrow for epic sandcastle building.
Cafes and restaurants are within a short walk and Manly Beach is opposite, ensuring it’s a winner with kids aged toddler to teen.
A plethora of accessible pathways makes it easy for guests of all abilities to explore the area. Our personal favourite is the coastal walk between Manly and Shelly Beach. It skirts the coast with spectacular ocean views along the way.
Although it’s only 20 minutes in length, bribery options, by way of ice cream stores, are available at either end of the walk and spotting the water dragons is always fun.
It’s fantastic that you can always find a beach that’s accessible in Sydney.
Darling Harbour is a hive of family fun with so many attractions nearby making it an ideal base for a stay. Walking into the Hyatt Regency Sydney we were immediately won over by the luxury and accessibility at every turn.
Sea Life Aquarium is always a hit with our kids. Recently we spent time learning more about the resident Dugongs, Pig and Wuru, while doing the Dugong Keeper Experience. The 30-minute guided tour took us behind-the-scenes to see what it takes to be a keeper.
Like people, the Dugongs have individual quirks and their enrichment programs reflect this, with a variety of toys and stimulation provided to ensure they never get bored. Dugongs consume tonnes of lettuce every day. This replaces the seagrass they would graze on in the wild. The preparation and feeding of these two keep staff busy 12 hours a day.
Each week 200 kg of lettuce is delivered to the aquarium. My daughter soon learnt it is quite a skill threading the leaves through the trays that are launched for their meals. The kids were keen to get to the hands-on part of the day; delivering a lettuce tray to one of the Dugongs.
My son can manage a few stairs with assistance, so could stand on the feeding platform to take part. This portion of the experience does require some mobility.
In stark contrast to the wonders of the ocean, our kids love heading right next door for a Hollywood fix at Madame Tussauds.
We’ve visited many times, but with wax figures updated to reflect the current popular celebrities and performers, there’s always someone new to meet.
Over the years Madame Tussauds has evolved to be an interactive attraction. Visitors can head into the recording booth, dress up for the catwalk or sing alongside their favourite pop star.
At Madame Tussauds adults are just as inclined to take part; My husband particularly enjoyed his snap with Elle McPherson.
We love all the city’s attractions but we also enjoy exploring some of the offerings further afield. Featherdale Wildlife Park has been a popular wildlife park since it opened in 1972. We love it for its excellent wheelchair access, easy viewing enclosures and knowledgeable keepers.
Each time we visit we learn more about the individual animals. Visitors to Featherdale can choose a Reptile or Mammal Encounter. Both are wheelchair accessible. The private Mammal experience is our favourite.
The encounter occurred in a wheelchair accessible, escape-proof room. Cecilia, the zookeeper, arrived carrying three pouches.
It didn’t take long before we met Merlin, a rock wallaby joey, who had loads of spunk and was keen to meet us. Merlin allowed us to cuddle and coo at him as we would a baby.
When it was my turn for a snuggle I found myself reverting to when the kids were babies, gently rocking and patting his bottom. Merlin did his best to steal the show, but Owen the Ringtail possum was also cute.
We were also smitten by Squeak the Sugar Glider. Squeak sat on my daughter’s hand, delicately munching on the tiniest pieces of corn. Cecilia shared the animal’s backstories and many fascinating facts. We were all amused to hear a Sugar Glider wiggles its bottom like a boat rudder before flying, and astonished when we learned Squeak’s little body runs at 300 heartbeats per minute.
These interactions are priceless and a wonderful way of ensuring children and adults are aware of the threats to our wildlife.