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When planning a memorable family holiday, many of us can be quick to jump on a plane and enjoy a cheap and cheerful south-east asian break. But have you fully explored your own backyard?

There’s no doubting that international travel has become affordable and accessible for modern families, especially compared to the generations before us. My children have more stamps in their passports than an excited Brisbane school kid at Expo ’88 (ahh, the memories!). So it came as a bit of a surprise to me that they would include the Sydney Opera House and Taronga Zoo in their travel bucket-lists during a recent conversation about family holidays. “Sydney?” I asked. “Really?” In my blinkers-on mindset about giving my young family the educational opportunities to explore crazy new lands and experience different international cultures, I kinda forgot that we have a pretty cool ‘land’ and ‘culture’ right here, down under. With flights to Sydney booked and four nights’ accommodation organised for Rydges in the very central location of Pitt Street, we headed to the airport, leaving our passports behind.

My attitude to international travel is generally to steer clear of the cliché tourist attractions and, instead, do as the locals do and eat where the locals eat. However, that rule flew out the window with Sydney. It was going to be a tourist attraction bonanza for this family trip! Being based just minutes’ walk from Darling Harbour was the first best decision. To ensure everyone had their Converse boots packed was the second. We walked and walked and walked during our Sydney break (I’m talking up to 19,000 steps in one day alone, as recorded by one pedometer!). Walking gave us the opportunity to really explore the harbourside streets and not be too tied to any public transport schedule. We could veer off for icecream here or stop by an enticing boutique there – and who wouldn’t want to do either of those things while on holidays?! So, as bona fide tourists in Sydney for a weekend, here’s our tourist bucket list to help you plan a passport-free interstate family escape.

The big white house
No trip to Sydney is complete without seeing the Opera House in all its tiled glory. My kids thought it was “bigger and prettier” in real life than the photos they’d seen. Fun fact: There are more than 1 million Swedish-made roof tiles on this beast of a structure that took 14 years and $102 million to build.

The big bridge
We passed under the impressive Sydney Harbour Bridge several times during our stay – night and day – and it made for some fun ferry selfies, especially if you can capture the Opera House in the frame too! While you can climb the bridge, it is expensive. A ferry selfie is all you really need to do to tick this tourist box.

The big smiley face
Luna Park was high on the to-do list for our visit and it proved a highlight. Old-school fun abounds. Tip: Head to Luna Park after 6pm for unlimited ride tickets at almost half price and, in our opinion, loads more ambience. What kid doesn’t love pretty lights at night, both at Luna Park and on your cruise across the harbour? The Wild Mouse rollercoaster (pictured right) and Devil’s Drop slide (which dates back to 1938!) will give you authentic Luna Park experiences. And don’t forget the Instagram opportunity at the front gate.

The big wet
I knew Sydney Aquarium would be good, but it was really good. So many cool things to see, but the chilly ride through the penguin enclosure was a personal favourite. Our aquarium visit took way longer than we planned as there were just so many things to see.
Tip: Buy your entry tickets ahead of time, cheaper, via one of the many discount experience websites. This will also save you standing in a long queue. And remember to give yourselves ample time to get through this tourist attraction.

The big hill
Another delightful cruise across the harbour and you’ll come to the base of a big hill. And that big hill is home to Taronga Zoo. You’ll catch a three- minute Sky Safari cable car ride up to the top of this hill and then spend hours and hours working your way down, exploring an amazing array of animal enclosures. And throughout your entire day, you’ll enjoy the most amazing views (ever!) of the harbour. Those animals really do enjoy some prime real estate!

Don’t forget to research your transport options ahead of time. Captain Cook Cruises’ Hop On Hop Off Harbour Explorer pass is the easy way to explore Sydney over two days, visiting up to eight famous harbour precincts including Darling Harbour, Barangaroo, Circular Quay (The Rocks & Opera House), Taronga Zoo, Manly, Watsons Bay, Luna Park and Shark Island all with commentary that’ll make your trips educational to boot. Alternatively, an Opal smartcard is your South-East Queensland go card equivalent. And, of course, the Uber app will be your other transport best friend. If you haven’t taken the kids to Sydney before now, definitely do it. Even if only for a long weekend. If you can snare some cheap flights and base yourself in walking distance of the harbour, you’ve set yourself up for some long-lasting family memories.

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haven is all about family, life and style in Brisbane's inner city suburbs, the Gold Coast, south to Byron Bay. We have been keeping parents in the know for over eight years, with fun, fresh and helpful stories that they can take tips from or treasure in their own library.