The Land of Oz has many magical offerings for families. Natural and cultural marvels blend together on Australian city streets, where young historians, budding artists, eager foodies and wannabe sports-stars will all be in their element. Perfect for explorers of all ages, we recommend you follow the yellow brick road to Australia’s top five family-friendly cities.
For Sydney-siders, there truly is no place like home. The jewel of Australia’s east coast, this sparkling Emerald City boasts farm more than its fair share of scenic vistas, historic landmarks and perfect picnic spots.
For a spectacular view of Sydney Harbour, walk (or if you’re older than eight, climb!) across the world-famous Harbour Bridge. On weekends, meander through the nearby Rocks markets, where souvenirs and spray-painting demonstrations mix with the echoes of a bygone convict era on the cobblestone streets.
Wander a little further and you’ll land at Circular Quay, your gateway to a host of Sydney’s top attractions. Artsy types will love the free entry into Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, sweet tooths will enjoy grabbing an ice-cream and watching the buskers, and of course, a photo on the Sydney Opera House stairs is a must for any visitor. Rumour has it that the legendary landmark’s Danish architect designed the majestic white sails based on the segments of an orange!
From Circular Quay you can board a ferry for easy (not to mention picturesque) access to Manly Beach or Taronga Zoo. Or find a shady spot for lunch in the Royal Botanic Gardens, before heading into town to explore the skeleton collection at the Australian Museum, the fountains in Hyde Park and the Christmas windows of iconic Australian retailer, David Jones.
Greater Sydney also covers a lot of ground, so it’s worth going slightly further afield for a tranquil bushwalk in Royal National Park or Mt. Kuring-Gai National Park, and a refreshing swim on the Northern Beaches or Central Coast. Even the famous Blue Mountains, home of the Three Sisters and Scenic World, is a short drive or train ride away.
The plot thickens as you continue south to Melbourne, a cultural hub jam-packed with gallery after gallery and markets galore. The driving force behind Australia’s hipster movement, Melbourne’s urban vibe proudly brings laneway cafes, food trucks, street art and great coffee to the table.
In fact, for your own little slice of Sydney’s well-loved arty cousin, grab your bikes and ride through the CBD. Whizz from Flinders Street station, past colourful Hosier Lane (with murals by the likes of Ha-Ha) and along the Yarra River. If you don’t have your own two-wheeled transport on hand, the recent council bike-share initiative makes it easy to grab public bicycles from multiple hire points.
With little munchkins who aren’t up for a day of pedaling, hitch a ride on a city tram which is a novelty in itself. For some interactive exhibits, check out ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) at Federation Square. For a taste of history, try the spooky Old Melbourne Gaol, and for a brush with amazing architecture, tour the stunning churches and grand cathedrals. And for some fast-paced action, wear your team colours to a cricket match or AFL game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
If you love fashion, food, or a good bit of fun, your family should explore the nooks and crannies of Melbourne’s markets. The atmospheric Queen Victoria Market and South Melbourne Market are the most popular – there is a huge range of fresh produce on show, as well as artisanal wares and specialty crafts.
South Australia’s humble capital is too often forgotten when it comes to tourist attractions – yet there’s a wealth of diverse experiences to be found just over the rainbow. Avoiding this beautiful city is a big mistake.
Adelaide’s family-friendly calling card is the Adelaide Zoo, home of the Southern Hemisphere’s only breeding pair of Giant Pandas. You can also encounter 1800 other feathery, furry and finned friends including lions, tigers and bears. Another favourite is the South Australian Museum where you can immerse yourself in natural history. Braver lions who’ve found their courage can also walk the haunted halls of the Victorian-era Adelaide Gaol.
If you time your visit right (we recommend you come in March), you can partake in the numerous large-scale celebrations of art, music and performance that regularly take over Adelaide. The Adelaide Festival is one huge arty party, the Adelaide Fringe is one of the biggest of its kind worldwide, the Adelaide Film Festival shows off local and international silver screens at their finest, and WOMADelaide has hundreds of musos flocking to perform under the majestic Botanic Gardens fig trees. Check out their programs – each year there is more to explore, and the tailor-made, family-oriented event schedules have all ages and interests covered.
Queensland isn’t called the Sunshine State for nothing. In summer you’ll melt like the Wicked Witch in this tropical paradise, so it’s a good thing there are plenty of water activities to keep you occupied.
Brisbane and the nearby Gold Coast are typically given the Theme Park label, and Movie World, Dreamworld, Wet ‘n’ Wild and Sea World are perfect adrenaline inducing hubs for thrill-seeking families of all ages, but don’t forget everything else this riverside city has to offer.
Clamber aboard the City Hopper, to float peacefully along to pit-stops such as South Bank, the Regatta and New Farm. For some more river action, try a moonlit kayak tour, join a cruise, or a bike ride along the riverfront.
At South Bank, you can hit the patrolled Streets Beach, an inner city, artificial haven with a lagoon perfect for splashing and sandy shores ideal for castle-building. Otherwise, test out Boat Pool or Aquativity for a cool-down. Then pick and choose from the delectable buffet presented by the Queensland Cultural Precinct: there’s the Art Gallery, Museum, Performing Arts Centre and the Gallery of Modern Art! What a day!
If Brisbane isn’t summery enough for you, venture off the coast to Moreton Island, Fraser Island or North Stradbroke Island. Great for families, you can camp or stay in a resort and make the most of the fantastic beaches on your doorstep.
As the crow flies, Perth is nearly 3300 kilometres from Sydney and 3600 kilometres from Brisbane. When you arrive, it’ll be clear that you aren’t in Kansas anymore – all the more reason to make the most of this unique Western Australian gem.
Like Brisbane, Perth’s beaches are a star attraction for families. Cottesloe Beach, home to the annual Sculptures by the Sea exhibition, is a great snorkeling spot, as are North Beach and Leighton. There are even locations where you can swim with dolphins, including the Aquarium of Western Australia and the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park, where you’re sure to find the odd penguin, starfish and a colony of rare sea lions.
If you prefer wide open greenery, then Perth’s parks and botanic gardens should be high on your list. The expansive Kings Park graces the inner city, and is even bigger than Central Park in New York City! Right beside the lovely Swan River, the native bushland, playgrounds and picnic facilities make Kings Park perfect for a barbeque lunch.
History fans of all ages should wander through Fremantle, a historic port town where amazing stories of the region’s colonial past can be discovered. The Fremantle Prison and Museum are mere minutes away from the CBD. If food is what tickles your fancy, delve into the Swan Valley, which is sure to be a hit among the mums and dads due to its vineyards, breweries, and coffee houses. While the grown-ups kick back, kids can make like Willy Wonka and check out the scrumptious chocolate factory!
Australia’s diversity – present in its multi-cultural cuisine, varied landscapes, rich history and love of sports and the arts – is perfectly suited to holidaying families. These five cities are a great start for any families looking to explore the Great Southern Land with all its unique quirks. But we urge you not to end your adventures here. Keep exploring the seemingly endless beaches, bushland and cities top to toe for fairytale family getaways in the wonderful Land of Oz.