Andrea lives with her husband and their two children in central Sydney. She was born in Siebenbuergen in Romania, grew up in Germany, then lived with her husband in London before they moved to Australia together. They love taking short trips with their children to explore the area around Sydney, discovering many beautiful places in the very varied environment. Soon Andrea and her family will be moving to Adelaide for work-related reasons, so we are very pleased that Andrea is going to share all her wonderful City Tips for Sydney before she goes…
Most café’s and restaurants, that open during the day as well in Sydney are very considerate towards children. They are all equipped with paper, colouring in books, crayons or pencils to keep the little ones busy. Some have dedicated play areas as well or provide little board games or books that can be taken to your table. Most restaurants also have a kids menu.
One place that we like to eat at on a regular basis, may it be breakfast, lunch or dinner is called Our Place in Balmain. This restaurant is categorised as modern Australian cuisine. What I like about it is the quality of the food and that each dish so far had a home cooked feel to it. Their signature dish for meat lovers is their Portuguese Espedata; they also prepare their fish dishes very well. Their menu keeps changing, depending on what is available at the time of the year.
We rarely go out in the evening for dinner, but if we go then we do treat ourselves. The place I personally enjoyed the most is called Flying Fish in Pyrmont. As a seafood lover, I thought the food was delicious and we sat at a table next to the window with front on views onto the Harbour Bridge.
Another restaurant that I highly recommend is Longrain in Surry Hills, with Australian-Thai fusion dishes that make your mouth water as soon as you see them.
Known as Australia’s best gelataria, Gelato Messina is the place to visit. There is no shop in our area, but when I tried their gelato for the first time, I could fully agree as to why they are called Australia’s best Ice Cream and why people travel from everywhere to have a treat.
Australia takes huge pride in their coffee culture and as a result there are Café’s popping up in every corner of the country. Sydney is full of great artisan Café’s (which is why Starbucks did not take off and there are only 7 shops across a nearly 5 million people city) and most of them serve beautiful coffee. What I personally love about each café in Australia and Sydney is that the Baristas are happy to make your coffee according to your own taste. If you prefer a weaker coffee or coffee with alternative milks like soy, almond, macadamia, etc., they happily work with you just to make the experience more enjoyable.
When I think about Cafés to recommend, there are a lot of them coming to my mind and I have to admit, I find it hard to narrow down the recommendations. As there are many local roasters, I would recommend to skip Cafés that serve the big brands. Here are a few:
The Warren (formerly known as The Little Marionette) in Balmain is a small café across Gladstone Park with three small round tables. The coffee is brilliant and the tiny place is cosy, making it easy to chat to the staff and the owner. The beauty of this place is that you can grab a blanket from their shop and set yourself up in the park opposite the shop after ordering and your coffee and food will be served on your blanket. My children love going there because they are allowed to help staff when it is not too busy and they provide chalks to draw on a provided blackboard or on the footpath in front of the Café.
My personal favourite Café in Sydney is Gertrud & Alice in Bondi. This is not just a place that serves excellent coffee, but it is also a book shop. There is not too much space for the many visitors, but if you are lucky to get a seat in their “library” you are not going to leave very soon. My children love going through their books while sipping their babyccino and I enjoy either reading a book myself, taking in the atmosphere or observing other children being delved into their stories. It is indeed a unique place.
Expensive but located at a breathtaking spot is The Boathouse in Palm Beach. Palm Beach is a peninsula whereby one side faces the open and wild Pacific and the other the calm waters of Pittwater Bay. “The Boathouse” is located on the Pittwater side and despite of its high prices, it is a magic place. It is the whole package that makes it special: the set-up, the atmosphere, the pier leading into the water where boats dock on and water planes land, the food and the coffee. We very often combine our visit with walking up to Barrenjoey Head to visit the lighthouse and to enjoy the view from the top of the hill. If you are lucky you are able to see wales from above as well and if the weather permits, we go for a swim on the Palm Beach side.
Further Cafés that come to my mind are:
Adora in Earlwood or the City. Every coffee comes with a complementary handmade chocolate. And their chocolates are divine.
Coogee Pavilion is not good for coffee only, but for any time of the day with or without kids. It’s situated right next to Coogee beach and serves great food and good coffee. There is also an area where children can play.
The Grounds in Alexandria.
Charlotte’s Café in Birchgrove or Manly.
Coffee Alchemy a coffee roaster in Marrickville.
Since having had children I pretty much stopped going out. Many places that I used to go to prior to children have closed down because of the lock-out laws that came into effect in Sydney in 2014 and I am not sure how good the remaining places still are, due to the changes, but one place that never loses its appeal and that has a wonderful atmosphere despite of many tourists in the area is The Opera Bar right underneath The Opera House facing The Harbour Bridge.
One thing that Sydney can do very well is to provide options with children. If you are the playground type of parent, the options are endless and very different from any playground I have seen anywhere else in the world. Here are some of them:
Extremely crowded, no matter what time of the year, is the playground in Darling Harbour, but the set-up is diverse and each child of any age group can find something to entertain themselves with. For hot days there is a water area as well, but most children don’t seem to care what the temperatures are like, you always see at least a couple splashing in the fountains.
Livvi’s Place in Timbrell Park / Five Dock: Over the last years more and more all-ability playgrounds were established in and around Sydney. While we don’t often visit a playground, whenever we end up going to Livvi’s place, we always see a group of disabled children or disabled adults playing along. Many toys are accessible by wheelchair as well and I think that gives this playground such a special feature too, in addition to the musical instruments and the ever so popular Mary-go-round.
Livvi’s Place in Yamble Reserve / Ryde.
Blaxland Riverside Park Play Space: This must be the biggest playground I have ever seen. It is spread over 3 hectares and provides the traditional equipment, but also giant swings, climbing walls and for hot days the water play area.
Sydney has also parks situated everywhere, which are great for cycling, running around, picnicking, doing nothing but soaking in the day. Most parks have dedicated barbecue areas set up with provided gas sources. Some parks that come to my mind are:
Centennial Parklands: The beauty of this park is that it offers options for everybody. It has the traditional park set-up with flowers and manicured grass and planted flowers but also untouched wild growing areas, Cafes, designated areas for horse riders, cyclists and walkers.
The Royal Botanic Gardens: This is a spot that we always take first time visitors to. Situated right next to The Opera House, it provides stunning views of Sydney’s iconic building. The park goes along the shore of what many people believe (including me) to be the world’s most beautiful harbour. As its name speaks, there are many different plants growing in the area and if you are keen to meet cockatoos, then this place will certainly not disappoint you.
Bronte Park at Bronte Beach: This park has a playground, barbecue facilities and is right next to stunning Bronte Beach.
I am not a shopping type of person at all. If I can, I avoid any shop when possible, which is why online shopping is the best invention in my opinion. Having said that, there are a few mainstream and little boutique shops, that I like popping into occasionally, as they do have higher quality products:
Infancy in Rozelle or Newtown for children.
Witchery and Maple Store for myself.
This is the question that I probably could write a whole book about. Australia has large and endless national parks. These can be situated in the heart of a city, outside the city or in the middle of nowhere. Each park is different and showcases Australia’s unique landscape, flora and fauna. We do visit national parks very often, mainly because my feet get itchy to get away from city life. What I love about the Australian national parks is that they are (or at least seem to me) in its original state, with exception of the paths of course. They are wild and can be dangerous as well (no water or mobile reception), but worth to explore.
If we don’t have much time, but want to get out for a little bit away from the buzz of Sydney we visit Lane Cove National Park, which is a ten minute drive from our house. My children love visiting the mangroves and watching the birdlife. It is a fascinating national park as it is in the middle of the city, but as soon as you are away from the streets untouched strips of nature lie ahead of you. We access the park from Buffallo Creek Reserve and enter the mangroves following signs towards the walk to Newcastle.
On weekends we do drive further to explore more remote places. My absolute favourite is the Royal National Park. This place is so diverse with the Australian bush, rainforests, lagoons, waterfalls and secluded beaches. We are still discovering new spots every time we go there. To me, the most fascinating walk has been the walk to the Figure Eight Pools. Even though we were not able to go to the pools themselves, as the sea was too rough and it was too dangerous to climb along the cliffs with children, the walk to the entrance from the parking area is magical.
My latest discovery is Bouddi National Park and I cannot recommend visiting this place enough.
I have been so mesmerized with Australia’s nature that I have not dedicated much time to museums and theatres. We usually catch up on museum visits when we’re back in Europe. However, I do keep an eye out for special events at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and at the Australian Museum.
Oh yes, I do have a favourite place. From the moment this place got introduced to me, I fell in love with it. Palm Beach is Sydney’s most northern beach, 40km from the city centre. I do not get bored of that spot and nor do my children.
Don’t book a cruise in Sydney Harbour. Sunday’s you can travel for $2.50 per person (all day) with an Opal card with any Sydney transport. Take any Ferry from Circular Quay and cruise around. You will see the same spots (if not more) as on an expensive cruise. Take the Ferry to Watsons Bay, Manly, Mossman and Cockatoo Island. This will take the whole day I assume, but which other city has Ferries in such a picturesque harbour as public transport? Not many!
Plan a day-trip to Palm Beach. Catch a Ferry to Ettalong. This is about the Ferry ride, not about the destination. The trip is just divine and breathtakingly beautiful. Stroll around Ettalong for an hour or so and then catch the Ferry back to Palm Beach, to spend the rest of the day there.
If you want to visit a city beach that is not as crowded as Bondi or Manly, then go to Little Bay Beach in Little Bay. It’s a beautiful little beach with shallow rock pools (low tide) for kids to play in.
Thank you so much for all these City Tips Andrea! All our best wishes for you and your family!
You can follow Andrea on Instagram to see some glimpses of her family life.