OMG – I’ve gone on about 2,000 adventures with my little ones! All thanks to looking after them full-time and us all being a lot happier when out and about.
When we first moved to the Parramatta area about 5 years ago, I struggled to find things to do with my two boys. Now I struggle to choose between all the fab outings available to us. And the best bit is that most of them are FREE!!
As I get ready to send my youngest off to school, and ParraParents celebrates it’s 3rd birthday, I’m so very excited to share with you my ‘catalogue’ of wonderful outings to do with kids under 5 years! I hope it makes it a whole lot easier to get out and about with your little ones and create some beautiful, fond memories.
This ultimate guide is basically a table of contents to our website! It has my top 25 categories of things to do with little ones. And within each, there are at least a handful of options – and in some cases a lot more! So that means there are literally hundreds of possible outings just waiting for you to enjoy with your family. How many can you tick off already?
Keep in mind that what babies, toddlers and preschoolers enjoy doing can be very different. And some outings will be better suited to little ones of a certain age and interest. Plus some can only really be enjoyed in the warmer months.
There is one BIG category missing – paid weekly indoor classes, like kindergym, swimming, sports, music and craft classes. But we’ve only done a handful of these and there are so many that it deserves an article of its own.
We are very fortunate to have hundreds of free pockets of outdoor fun just waiting for us to enjoy with our little ones in and around the City of Parramatta. My boys and I have played at about 300 playgrounds, a fair few more than once! You’ll find reviews with lots of photos and handy info on the ParraParents website.
Now playgrounds come in all shapes and sizes and which ones your kids like will change with time. To help you find the ‘right’ one for your family, we have a great find a playground search tool. Some of our favourite playgrounds are Strathfield Park, Ollie Webb Reserve, Bungarribee Park, Paperbark Playground, Kissing Point Park, Lions Park and Northmead Reserve.
We also like to combine a play at a playground with a BBQ lunch or dinner during day light saving. And regularly take a kite to fly or ball to kick around. There is a lot of FREE fun waiting to be had at our local parks!
Libraries are not just free bookstores. They are also a wonderful place where books come alive through storytime and a great spot to meet other parents. There are over 30 local libraries and it’s free to join any of them! They all run weekly reading programs for little ones during school term, which are generally known as rhyme time for under 2s and story time for preschoolers. These sessions last anywhere between 15mins to an hour, depending on the age group and location.
Most libraries also have a kids space, where they can spread out. Plus, some even have a few toys to play with.
Playgroups can be such a wonderful way to connect with other families. Plus give kids a chance to interact, play with different toys and learn new things. They’re also a rather cheap way to spend a few hours each week and a great wet/ hot weather option. Most run on a term basis and are indoors. But there are also some drop-in and outdoor ones.
Going to playgroup has been one of our favourite weekly activities. Our playgroup helped us a lot with settling into the area and keeping me (mostly) sane when I had two under two. But like playgrounds, they are all different and which one suits your family will likely change over time. So look around and give it time to settle in to one you like.
I find being in nature is great for the soul and my kids love exploring in the bush. And after a fair bit of research, we now have a great list of bushwalks that we regularly enjoy. I’ve written reviews for most of our favourite walks with lots of photos and details so you can also confidentially go on them. But if you’re still a bit unsure or prefer some company, then you can also join the Parramatta Little Bushwalkers group and come on a bushwalk me and other families.
Now some of you may cringe at the thought of taking your little one to the beach – if they are in the ‘put everything in their mouth’ stage or you may just don’t like the thought of cleaning sand out of everything afterwards! But the kids are bound to love it… just remember to take a few sand toys!
Now you don’t have to go east all the way to the ocean to find some sand and water to splash in. Actually heading west may be quicker and easier depending on where you live and when you are going. We especially like going to Cabarita Beach, Yarramundi Reserve, Northbridge Baths, Dunlop Reserve and Greenwich Baths. Heading to an ocean beach does have the added bonus though of being nearly 10 degrees cooler than Parramatta in summer!
I do a lot more of my shopping online now – late at night when the kids are in bed! And found getting my groceries delivered a real sanity saver when I had two under two. But I still enjoy wandering around the shops occasionally. So we make an outing out of it – usually picking a shopping centre based on the kids play area! Thankfully we are spoilt for choice – there are over 20 shopping centres nearby with a kids play space. And most of them run activities during the school holidays and some also do during school term, like Westpoint and Winston Hills Mall.
Learning to ride is a big thing for most kids. And a great way for them to burn off some energy! While lots of parks have paths for kids to ride on, some have extra special tracks with road signs, markings and even mini roundabouts. They let kids have fun pretending to ride on the road, in the safety of a park! My boys love them and we’re fortunate to now have over 20 dinky tracks in the area to zoom around.
I love being in the water and wanted my kids to get used to the water from early on. So we’ve spent a fair amount of time in toddler pools over the years! I find it a great all weather activity – we just change which pool we go to depending on the weather and how many pairs of adults hands we have. Thankfully there are 18 kid friendly local swimming pools to choose from!
When taking my little ones to the pool on my own, I prefer somewhere with a toddler pool that has a consistent depth, like Cabarita Swimming Centre, Epping Aquatic Centre or Hornsby Aquatic Centre. And when I have an extra set of hands, the kids also love Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre, Ruth Everuss Aquatic Centre and Wentworthville Swimming Centre (currently closed for renovations).
My boys have always been happiest outdoors playing together. So for the first few years, we were out EVERY SINGLE DAY! But we found that playgrounds aren’t always a hive of activity and a lot of other things to do outdoors don’t lend themselves to meeting other families. But that’s where going along to an organised regular outdoor activity is great – we’re outdoors and get to hang out with other families. And thankfully the list has grown a lot recently – there’s even now a mobile play van that visits 5 parks each week in the City of Parramatta. But our favourite activity is still Mini Park Rangers at Sydney Olympic Park on a Tuesday!
Water playgrounds are a great way to cool down on a warm day. And are a perfect (free) alternative to the pool and beach. They normally have fountains, tipping buckets, water jets and sprays, plus other interactive water features. And the awesome bit is that they are splash areas so little ones don’t need to know how to swim!
There are now 17 FREE water playgrounds across Western Sydney. Five are within fully fenced playgrounds (yay!) and 10 are within 15kms of Parramatta CBD.
Animals are fascinating, particularly to kids. So going somewhere where you can get up close to them is usually a sure winner as a fun outing! Fortunately we have some great spots for animal experiences in Western Sydney, as well as nearby on the central coast and north/ central Sydney. And they aren’t all the stock standard zoo type ones either. Plus, you will be pleased to know that a number of them are FREE or cheap to visit, while others are nice as a special treat.
We particularly enjoy visiting the free native animal exhibits at Central Gardens in Merrylands, Auburn Botanic Gardens and Blackbutt Reserve near Newcastle. Plus like popping out to Kellyville Pets – which is definitely not your average pet store.
For the paid animal experiences, we’ve made great use of our annual passes to Taronga Zoo and Wild Life Sydney Zoo (which has a lovely daily storytime). Plus keep an eye out for special deals to Calmsley City Farm and Golden Ridge Animal Farm.
The rise of play areas at clubs, hotels and cafes is a fantastic thing for families. The fact that kids can happily play while parents can enjoy a meal and drink in peace = winning!
They’re obviously popular and can get very busy on weekends. However during school hours and early evening, they are a lot more pleasant for little ones. Most are open for lunch and some are even open for breakfast. Here are our lists of cafes with kids play spaces and clubs with play areas.
There is something so very Sydney and wonderful about travelling by ferry. It’s also a great way to travel with kids – they can wander around, enjoy the sights and nature spot. We are fortunate to have many wonderful ferry stops along Parramatta River, with lots of great parks, playgrounds, swimming spots and picnic facilities nearby. Most are perfect for family gatherings and all are great places to enjoy being outdoors. Two of our favourites stops are Cabarita and Kissing Point.
I’m a whole lot in love with pick your own fruit outings. There’s the hour drive to the countryside, fresh air, kids learning about where their food comes from, being outdoors, wearing gumboots and supporting local farmers. And let’s not forget, eating all the yummy fresh fruit! I mean what’s not to love?
Over the last few years, we’ve picked mandarins, nectarines, peaches, apples, oranges, strawberries, tomatoes, eggplants, chestnuts, walnuts, plums, pears, sunflowers and peas. And we usually make a day trip of visiting a local farm, stopping at fun playgrounds and yummy cafes along the way. Here is our handy month by month fruit picking calendar.
15Visit a Museum
Until the Powerhouse Museum moves to Parramatta, exploring a museum with little ones does mean a trip to the city – or Casula or Penrith. But we make an adventure of it, and sometimes go by train or ferry.
Our hands down favourite was the Australian Museum. But it’s currently closed until mid 2020 for renovations. We also have enjoyed visiting the Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour. There’s a free to use mini mariners play space and they usually have an interesting exhibition on. They also run a fantastic kids on deck activity area on Sundays and during school holidays and a great mini mariners program.
16Ride the Rails
All aboard from some train fun! My kids love going on a train adventure – either catching a train to where we are going or going somewhere to check out trains. We’ve even stayed in a train carriage at Madisons Mountain Retreat!
And lovers of Thomas the Tank Engine should definitely take a trip to Thirlmere and for the Day Out with Thomas and Friends at the NSW Rail Museum.
Some days just call for being indoors – somewhere the kids can burn off energy and you can get a coffee. Thankfully we are now spoilt for choice when it comes to indoor play centres. And a lot of them have school day specials and sections just for little ones.
When my boys were toddlers, we much preferred the soft play centres, like Kids Playland in Castle Hill and Kids Zone at Blacktown. They have inflatables to jump on, ride in cars and other toys to play with (but no air-con!). As preschoolers, they shifted to really enjoying the purpose built indoor play centres, with large climbing structures, slides and air con. We particularly like Chipmunks @ Prospect ($5 on school days when you enter before 11am) and Crocs at Prospect.
Now if your kids are more into imaginative play, then you should definitely visit Wannabees Family Play Town at Hornsby.
18Smell the ‘Roses’ at a Nursery or Garden
We like flowers and nature, so enjoy visiting gardens and plant nurseries. While the Parramatta area doesn’t have a beautiful large public garden like the Royal Botanic Gardens, we do have the lovely Auburn Botanic Gardens nearby and Wisteria Gardens (though sadly it isn’t being properly maintained at the moment). Plus, there a number of plant nurseries with pretty garden displays, cafes and kids play areas. We particularly like visiting Eden Gardens in spring with their Unearthed Sculpture Exhibit, Flower Power Prospect (on Tuesdays they have craft activities for little ones at Two Bird Cafe), Flower Power Milperra and Flower Power Glenhaven. All Flower Power stores also offer free kids gardening classes during the school holidays.
WOW oh wow do we have a whole heap of great free annual local events run by Local Councils and other community organisations. Most take place on the weekend and nearly all are family friendly, with activities for young kids. We love so many of them, including Parramasala Welcome Parade, Parramatta Lanes, Burramatta, Australia Day and Foundation Day. Remember to check out our What’s On Calendar regularly to see what events are coming up.
20Escape on a Little Holiday
When life is feeling a little groundhog dayish, I’ve packed up the car and headed off on a mini holiday mid-week with my little ones. Plus, this makes going on holidays a lot cheaper (mid-week and outside of school holidays)! Our favourite destination has been Kookaburra Farmstay near Port Stephens and we have gone about twice a year for the last few years! They have a mid-week special deal and I found it very easy to take my two boys on my own – and they just absolutely LOVED visiting.
There are SO MANY other options for mini holidays that aren’t too far away by car/ train – like Woolongong, Jervis Bay, Blue Mountains and Canberra.
Who doesn’t like a little treasure hunt and getting creative?! We’ve painted hundreds of rocks over the last two years and had lots of fun ‘hiding’ them in local parks for other kids to find. And finding the odd one has put a MASSIVE smile on my kids faces!
Parramatta Rocks was created in 2017 off the back of The Kindness Rocks Project, with the hope of spreading positivity around the greater Parramatta area. And simply involves painting rocks with pictures or kind messages and placing them in public places for other people to find. Join the Parramatta Rocks Facebook group to find out where some painted rocks have just been hidden or to let others know where you’ve hidden some.
We LOVE to read and borrow excessively from a number of local libraries. This has also meant that I’ve made a good investment to these libraries over the last few years through overdue fines. Which is part of the reason why I LOVE street libraries – no overdue fine and you can borrow what you want, when you want. Street libraries are also a home for pre-loved books (rather than going to landfill) and part treasure hunting, as you never know what gems you will find!
There’s now an awesome local network of decorated mini libraries full of free books open 24/7 from Ryde to Blacktown – over 80 at last count!
23Go on a Mini Road Trip
My kids hated being in the car for longer than 10mins when they were babies. Slowly I got them up to 30mins and now they are happy to go for about 1.5hrs (without stopping). Which of course has made it possible to visit a whole lot of other places in a day. We particularly love going to the Early Start Discovery Centre at Wollongong University. Visiting Yarramundi Reserve and other spots in the Hawkesbury region. Heading to beaches on the Central Coast. Whale watching along the coast. And going bushwalking and exploring in the Blue Mountains.
There is something very fun about watching a favourite story or character live on stage! And we’re fortunate to have Riverside Theatres in Parramatta, which hosts on a large number of great shows for kids every year. We’ve enjoyed watching many shows, including Spot, Wiggles and the Gruffalo there.
For a simple little outing, stock up the pram (or backpack) and set off on a walk along Parramatta River, over a local bridge (like Bennelong Bridge in Rhodes/ Wentworth Point), to your local shops or around a local park. There are a great number of pram/ kid friendly walks around!
PHEW! That’s one long list of outings you can go on with your little ones. We hope it provides plenty of inspiration and fun times. Please let us know if we’ve missed one of your favourites!