A week in Sydney with kids – 6 entertaining family activities and places to visit

Sydney was our first stop in our six week Australia itinerary (check it out here) . We spent a couple of days recovering from jet lag and celebrated the New Year 2017 ahead of all our family and friends, overlooking the Opera House and worldwide famous fireworks.

As a sidenote, if you are planing to participate in the New Year festivities in Sydney, go to your chosen area early. The local administration organises several public viewing areas but the best ones will get filled up at about lunchtime. We even saw peple setting up tent in the morning. The good thing is that once they are filled, they will be marked as complete in interractive maps around the city so you do not need to head in that direction. We prepared for a long wait, packed some food, water and diapers in the stroller and arrived at about 8PM in the area located in front of the Museum for Modern Art. The area closed soon after we entered. At about 10 PM there was already a short firework program for ‘families’ but most people stayed for the big event at midnight.

After the fireworks are over, if you are with a stroller, you will need to wait until most of the area clears before you can head to the exit. It did get very crowded once everybody headed for the exits and hurried home. The amount of people on the streets can be overwhellming, as tens of thousands are trying to reach the metros and busses. Luckly our aparthotel was within a decent walking distance (about 40 min) from the Opera House. The LO happilly fell asleep in the stroller immediatelly after the fireworks ended. Side note ended.

Back to our favourite child friendly attractions in Sidney here is the top 6 (one for evey day of the week):

1. Taraonga Zoo – entertainment for whole family on this purposely built zoo island. We bought the tickets online to avoid the queues. You also get a small saving from the price ( aprox 20%). The quickest and easiest way to get to Taronga Zoo is by public transport. The Zoo is located 12 minutes from Circular Quay by ferry or a short bus/train trip from the city or North Sydney. With over 4000 animals to see and 20 Keeper Talks and Shows a day, you’ll need some prior organisation to get the most out of your day at Taronga. They do provide an app that will make navigation easier and show all the updated info on the events taking place. Elevators and ramps are located around the site, allowing those with limited mobility and strollers to traverse the Zoo. The Sky Safari cable car can accommodate stroller and you should definetely do the ride as it offers a different perspective. We loved the picnic tables scattered around and brought our own snacks and water.

2. Sea Life Aquarium in Darling Harbour – is one of the world’s largest aquariums – with over 700 different species and 13,000 animals in an impressive six million litres of water. It is also home to the world’s largest variety of sharks and rays, as well as Australia’s most famed marine animals, including dugongs and tropical reef fish. Only recently they have included a penguin microclimate where you have access via a  raft. Temperatures are sub-zero as they try to re- create Arctic atmosphere.  They also have a handy stroller parking before you board the train. Penguin colony aside, the underwater world of Shark Valley, an ocean tunnel walk-through is impressive for both kids and adults.

3. Stroller-friendly walk through the royal botanical gardens
It’s a botanical and cultural oasis that’s perfect for a picnic and an afternoon of imaginative play amongst the plants, flowers and bushes. A great way to get around is to take a ride on the Choo Choo Express mini train service. You also get a different perspective of the Opera House.

4. The Beach – Sydney has access to a number of great beaches. With a toddler, head for calm waters and shade. Little Manly Cove (Stuart Street, Manly 2095) has a shark net and changing facilities. Another nice beach in Manly is Shelly Beach (Bower Street Manly 2095). This is an excellent beach for families, being quite sheltered, small and at a safe distance from the road. There is even some shade on the beach itself. With older children, you can head to Bondi where they can also take surf lessons. No shade on Bondi Beach and can get pretty crowded at week- ends.  We hauled a shade tent from Europe that came in handy to protect the baby under the hot Summer Sun. Appropriate sun screen is a must. We also bought a full UV protection swimsuit for the baby. See our pre-trip preparation tips here.

5. The Chinese Garden – A visit to the Chinese Gardens in Darling Harbour is a wonderful option for young kids. Parents will love it too as it provides an escape from the busy city and traffic noise. It’s a magical oasis of waterfalls, lakes and exotic plants. Don’t miss the chance to feed the beautiful Koi fish at 11.30am daily! Then enjoy some treats and tea at the tea house.  Some of the pathways are rocky and steep and therefore not pram-friendly so take a carrier instead if possible.

6. Powerhouse Museum ( suitable for 5 years + and grownups that want to play)-Located in the old Ultimo Power Station building adjacent to Darling Harbour, the Powerhouse Museum is the flagship venue of Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS). Its unique and diverse collection spans science, technology, design and decorative arts, engineering, architecture, health and medicine, fashion and contemporary culture. It is a dream come true for every little explorer. They have regular educational events and workshops for kids and it is worth checking the program if you plan a visit.

These were our favourite places in Sydney to visit with a toddler but they were definitely enjoyed by the adults as well.

Anything we missed? Make a mention in the comments.

Happy travels!

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A Sunday with wild animals and cava in Antwerp, Belgium

As we are based in Brussels, Antwerp is often our ‘go to’ short getaway. I like how compact and cosy the city center is. You can reach the Central Market in about 20 min walk from the train station. There are  nice restaurants and a great coffee culture. Even if the weather is less great (what we call the Belgian microclimate ) there are great places to spend a few hours indoors as well.

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Fun activities for kids and parents alike: a busy day in Berlin Charlottenburg

Charlottenburg neighbourhood houses several famous Berlin landmarks: the KuDamm shopping street, KaDeWe -Berlin’s fanciest department store, the Memorial Church and another cool store housing many local design brands: Bikini Berlin. That enough will put it on many people’s list when visiting Germany’s capital. But what about the kids you may ask…what is in it for the kids? As we all know, kids and hours long shopping sprees have very little in common. Unless it’s a toy shop.

Well, for one, the Berlin Zoo.

 

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New Year family skiing holiday that doesn’t break the bank – Rila Mountains, Bulgaria

Skiing over Christmas and or New Year can be an expensive endeavour. These are peak periods for taking to the slopes, as Europe and many other parts of the World are on holidays. If you add one/two children to the mix, a short week on the slopes can take you back a few thousand Euros if you count accomodation, meals, ski schools, equipment  and passes. Especially if you think at popular destinations like Switzerland or Austria.

Together with Mr, we have been skiing in Austria (Kitzbuhel) in our pre-kid days. I have also been with friends in France (La Plaine). Clearly they are both perfect winter sport destinations, with great infrastructure and plenty of slopes to keep you busy for days. Of course, on both instrances we stayed well clear of Christmas/NYE as well as the February week when European schools take their intersemester break and half of Europe travels to France or Austria. This year however, as we are planning longer holidays in March and May, we decided to book our ski break sooner, already after Cristmas and over New Year. By the time we decided, in late Summer, many popular places in Austria were already booked (especially families travelling from Germany book about one year in advance)  and the remaing spots as well as flights to Vienna were crazy expensive. Asking around in our friends’ circle, we got good feed-back on a destination that was not high on every skiier’s radar but had all the facilites for a snow filled family getaway: the Rila Mountains in Bulgaria.

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Five days in Chianti, Italy – medieval cities hopping with the baby in tow

Italy is always a sure bet with me. If you read my earlier posts, you already know that I have a love-love relationship with this country that started back in 2004, when I did my Erasmus studies there. Now, fast forward to July 2016, when our LO was 8 months and I was in search of a trip to celebrate my husband’s birthday. I looked in particular for a place outside the city, that has its own vineyard in the midst of green scenery. We had a great experience in Apulia with the masseria stays. (you can read about it here) so I was looking for a similar feel in the North of the country. After a few searches on Tripadvisor and local blogs, I found Salvadonica in San Casciano in Val di Pesa. I then booked our flights to Florence.

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Solo travel in Western Balkans – 24h in and around Tirana, Albania

I travelled to Tirana in December 2017 to participate in a work-related conference. The presentations finished already Friday mid -day and I was left with about 24 h to explore a bit of the city and surroundings before my flight back on Saturday PM.

Tirana itself is nothing too spectacular and similar in look with other former communist capitals from the European Eastern block. The architecture is mainly greyish appartment buildings with falling facades. The only notable exception are a few streets surrounding  Skanderbeg Square, now turned a pedestrian zone. In December, a small Christmas market and several carrousels were occupying the square.

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A roadtrip showcasing great wineries, medieval fortresses and the Caucasus

On our third day in Georgia, we had our Guide/driver ( see here how we found him) waiting for us at the hotel and started our tour of the Eastern part of the country.

First on the list was a visit to the David Gareji monastery. It is located in a semi-desert area in the South East of the country and close to the border with Azerbaijan 🇦🇿. The drive from Tiblisi will take about 2h30. We stopped in the way at Telliani Valley (an important exporter of Georgian wines) for a quick tour of their factory and some wine sampling.

We followed the concrete road for about 50 km East of Tiblisi and an unpaved road after that, all the way South. If you self drive, you should get a good map and clear indications as there are not many signs once you leave the main road. Do pack water and some snaks as this is going to be a long day hiking in the border area and other than a toilet, there is limited access to food or water once you get there. It was only us and a National Geographic vehicle when we arrived but in Summer it should be quite popular.

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If you enjoy nature and good wine, you will fall in love with Georgia – first impressions

In Summer 2017, we were looking for a destination that was not yet firmly on the travel radar of Western Europeans to satisfy our thirst for off-the-beaten-track adventure. It was a trip for me and Mr only, so we were ready to step up the physical activites, be less picky about hotel  accomodation as well as cover more ground in a shorter time. As we only had a week of holiday available, we focused the search on the Middle East and Central Asia. Georgia seemed to tick all the right boxes. So, even before we saw Lonely Planet’s list with the top countries to visit in 2018, we had bought plane tickets to Tbilisi.

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A long week-end in the Sun in October: try Montenegro

This was the second long week-end in 2017 spent on a girls trip. The first girls trip of 2017 was in June in Malaga and I loved having the opportunity to visit the Picasso Museum, eat great food and generally have adult conversations with my friends. I hope to share my impressions of Malaga in a future post.

After my return from Malaga, I had a quick look at potential low cost flights from either Brussels or Paris towards another sunny destination that many of my friends recommended: Montenegro. I found Transavia taking off from Paris Orly. I was aiming for an escape in the end September, to avoid the crowds. If you are thinking about going in the same period, keep in mind they only fly directly till Ocotber to Tivat ( part of the Summer schedule). I found a flight for less than 200 Euro and convinced two friends to join in.

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Back in Portugal – 3 days at the beach and a taste of Lisbon

I have been to Portugal a few times already. First, about 8 years ago, I travelled with my best friend to Porto and Lisbon. I have then spend a couple of week- ends in Lisbon with friends. And of course, the Azores in 2011.  But in the August of 2017, looking for possible destinations for a sort jaunt from Brussels, I stumbled on the coastal town of Sesimbra. It is then that Mr happened to mention he was never to Portugal. The decision was made. He received a trip to Portugal as his birthday present.

As Lisbon was my husband’s treat, I kept it for the end. Upon arrival we rented a car and drove down to Sesimbra, about one hour south of Lisbon. Potuguese colleagues recommended it for the nice, wide beach, fresh seafood and being popular with locals mostly. As we were travelling mid-August, there were bound to be people on holidays, so any tips to less travelled places were well appreciated.

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