Sydney is the jewel in Australia’s tourist crown, and a fantastic destination for families on a cruise vacation. With its iconic landmarks, shimmering harbour, and lively, vibrant atmosphere, it is a superb place to explore and frankly one of my favourite cities in the world. If you are stopping off for hours, days, or weeks, there are plenty fantastic outdoor activities in Sydney to keep the whole family enthralled.

Sydney is also an awesome place for lovers of the great outdoors, which is the lifestyle in Australia where you are just missing out staying indoors. It may have shorter evenings but there is so much to do and memories to make. And there is plenty of adventures to be had beyond the most famous attractions. From coastal walks and wildlife encounters to parks, nature reserves, and gardens, there’s a whole lot of wilderness packed into this fantastic city.

There are a few other family-friendly activities in Sydney we’ve not listed in detail, including the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, Luna Park (amusement park located in Milsons Point) and Sydney Tower Eye with observation deck and SKYWALK guided walk 268 meters above the city, but even just chilling at Darling Harbour, Royal Botanical Garden and Hyde Park is a dream in all honesty.

So if you are embarking on one of the many cruises that sail from Sydney or arriving at the Circular Quays in the city with your family, here are some of our favourite outdoor adventures that showcase the very best of this Australian gem.

Sydney View from Bradleys Head Mosman
Sydney View from Bradleys Head Mosman

Coastal Walks in Sydney Harbour National Park

One of the best ways to experience Sydney in all its glory and natural beauty is by heading to Sydney Harbour National Park and exploring the various trails that run along the harbour foreshore. Despite the dramatic coastline and gorgeous landscapes, the walks are gentle to moderate, and accessible to most families. The views of the city and the harbour are breath-taking, and there are even a few opportunities along the way for whale watching!

If you need to mix this up for a more family-friendly adventure, Taronga Zoo is here too, with an opportunity to get up close to Australia’s indigenous animals.

Manly Beach in Northern Sydney
Manly Beach in Northern Sydney is accessible by ferry

Manly Beach

Sydney is full of gorgeous beaches (over 40, in fact!) and it can be hard to choose between them. Everyone has their favourite, from the lively vibe and surf of Bondi to the glorious views of Milk Beach, but for me, Manly Beach is right up there with the very best. Just a short ferry ride from Circular Quay, it is a great spot for families, with its warm, inviting waters, golden sands, and a huge variety of kid-friendly activities.

Whether you cycle the dedicated bike paths, take a leisurely coastal walk to Shelly Beach for a spot of snorkelling, or just lie back and relax on the sand, Manly is an excellent spot for beach lovers.

Kayaking in the Harbour

Almost everything in Sydney revolves around the harbour, so one of the best things to do for adventurous-minded travellers is to get out on the water and see the city from a different perspective. Renting kayaks and paddling past Sydney Opera House and under the Harbour Bridge is a fantastic way to take in the iconic sights of the city in one go, as well as being fun activities for kids and adults alike.

Paddington Reservoir Gardens
Paddington Reservoir Gardens

Sydney’s Gorgeous Gardens

Of course, getting outdoors doesn’t have to mean rugged adventure. Sydney boasts some of the most exquisite and beautiful gardens around, and a few days of peace and tranquillity exploring these delightful oases of calm and floral perfection is time well spent. Auburn Botanic Garden is famous for its winter cherry blossoms, while the Joseph Banks Reserve is a wonderful spot for exploring native Australian plants.

But you can easily while away the hours just sitting in the Royal Botanical Gardens overlooking the postcard view and marvel at the Australian wildlife. When I lived there I’d often just wander down and stroll over to Mrs Macquarie’s chair and enjoy the scenery until the fruit bats would wake up.

Finally, if grand eccentricity and peculiar beauty is your thing, take a look at Paddington Reservoir Gardens. This weird and wonderful oasis, described by Sydney City Council as ‘a blend of the ancient Baths of Caracalla in Rome and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon’, is actually an ex-water reservoir, garbage dump, and petrol station!

Hanging Rock Lookout Blue Mountains Australia
Hanging Rock Lookout, Blue Mountains, NSW

The Blue Mountains

A day trip to the Blue Mountains in New South Wales is an absolute must for any adventurous visitors to Sydney. This extraordinary wilderness is around 60km outside of the city and is a perfect destination to explore for a day, or a longer trip if you have the time. The reserve spreads out over a vast area, 11,400 square kilometres, and is home to an extraordinary array of animals, including 40 rare and protected species.

Despite its name, it is actually a prehistoric valley, formed over 50 million years ago, and its distinctive blue tinge comes from the oil of the eucalyptus trees that cover the valley slopes.

Featherdale Wildlife Park
Feeding Kangaroo’s is an unforgettable experience

Featherdale Wildlife Park

Another spot outside of the city itself, Featherdale Wildlife Park is well worth the short drive. It is a great place to take children, with kangaroos and wallabies roaming free and able to be fed. The park also offers the chance to get acquainted with other native Australian furry critters in their natural habitat, like koalas and wombats, as well as a wide variety of bird species.

Whale Watching in Sydney
November is the best time for whale watching in Sydney Harbour

Whale Watching

Seeing whales up close in the wild is one of the most extraordinary wildlife experiences it is possible to have. The majesty and magnificence of these vast mammals is almost indescribable, and animal lovers should take any opportunity to catch a glimpse of these amazing creatures.

Sydney is a prime location for whale watching, particularly from May to November when humpback whales undertake their annual migration. Whether you are watching from the beach or the coastline or prefer to take a whale-watching cruise from Circular Quay or Darling Harbour, this is one of the best ways to spend your time in Sydney.

Sydney Olympic Park

Located in Western Sydney, the Olympic Park is one of the best legacies of Sydney’s hosting of the 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games. For sporting families, the park is a dream, packed full of amazing facilities from bike paths to swimming pools, as well as significant adventure playground facilities for kids. It is also a great place to relax by the lake, with picnic areas perfect for an al fresco lunch.

It’s also nice and easy to get the ferry up the Parramatta River.

Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon

Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of the most iconic landmarks of the city, and the famous bridge climb is an amazing experience that delivers a serious adrenaline rush. However, it is something of a challenge, and not really suitable for younger kids.

Don’t panic though, the Pylon Lookout offers a more family-friendly alternative to the main bridge climb, while still offering incredible views of the harbour from a vantage point high in the sky.

Aerial view of Cockatoo Island on the Parramatta river Sydney Australia
Cockatoo Island on the Parramatta river

Cockatoo Island

This former penal colony and shipyard is UNESCO World Heritage-listed and makes for an excellent day out. The largest island in Sydney Harbour, it is a great spot to explore, with plenty of history to explore and exciting old buildings to discover. It is also a wonderful spot for a camping excursion, and a night under the stars in Sydney Harbour is an outdoor adventure not to be missed!

So, there is my list of best outdoor activities for families on an Australian cruise, and Sydney offers an incredible variety of outdoor adventures. Whether you’re interested in wildlife encounters, beach outings, or cultural experiences, Sydney really has something to offer every member of the family.