Call me strange but I love the summer school holidays. Its long and warm and perfect for fun days at the beach, splashing at a pool and exploring outdoors and then resting at home. But I don’t have school age kids yet and know that it can be a challenging, expensive and stressful time for a lot of families. So we have tried to make it a bit easier for you by searching high and low for all the cool, cheap and cheery things to do. This ParraParents Summer School Holidays Guide has our top 20 picks, covering a range of free and affordable activities for different ages.

1Run Away to the Circus | Prince Alfred Square, Parramatta

Sydney Festival is bringing the circus back to Parramatta this January. From 11th to 21st, Circus City will come alive every day and evening with FREE entertainment. There will be performances by Legs On The Wall, circus workshops, live music, Flying Trapeze workshops and more. Plus, the Circus Oz Big Top, starring their latest production – Model Citizens – will run in Prince Alfred Square from 2nd to 28th January. Note: we understand all the free workshops are now booked out.

  • When: 2nd to 28th January, free activities are 11th to 21st.
  • Where: Prince Alfred Square and Riverside Theatres, Parramatta
  • More Info

2Splash at Dundas Park Water Playground | Dundas Valley

Water playgrounds are a fantastic way to cool down – no swimming skills need, great for a range of ages, including us parents, and they are free to use! There are eight water playgrounds in and around the City of Parramatta. The one at Dundas Park is one of our favourites as the playground is also shaded and The Container Cafe is a short walk away (note: the cafe is re-opening on 15th Jan). We also really enjoy the shaded toddler pools at Putney Park.

  • When: 9am to 8pm daily
  • Where: Corner of Quarry Road and Yates Ave, Dundas Valley
  • More Info

3Swim and Paddle at Lake Parramatta Reserve | North Parramatta

Lake Parramatta Reserve is such a hidden gem in our own ‘backyard’. There is a special swimming area at the Lake with beautiful clear water, with surf life savers on duty every day during the school holidays. Plus you can hire paddle boats, go for a kid friendly bushwalk, have a BBQ or play in the playground.

And another little known natural swimming spot is Windsor Beach, in Macquarie Park opposite Windsor Town Centre.

  • When: 9am to 6pm daily
  • Where: Entry is via the corner of Bourke and Lackey Streets in North Parramatta
  • More Info

4Jump Down the Rabbit Hole at Sand Sculpting Australia’s Alice in Wonderland Exhibit | Blacktown Showground

See ‘Alice in Wonderland‘ come to life in SAND at the Blacktown Showground. From more than 250 tonnes of sand, all your favourites have been created, including Cheshire Cat, The Queen of Hearts, the Caterpillar, The Mad Hatter, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. Plus there are hands on activities for the kids from sand art, sand bottles, sand sculpting workshops and the family game zone. And remember to pack the kids swimmers as there is a great water playground in the Blacktown Showground precinct to cool off at. Plus the Grounds Keeper Cafe is just there.

  • When: 13th to 28th January
  • Where: Showground Plaza at the Blacktown Showground
  • More Info

5Get Active at a Local Park with the Active Parramatta Van

Enjoy some great local parks and meet other families, while getting active with your kids, at the FREE Active Parramatta pop-up sessions. Run by City of Parramatta Council. the Active Parramatta van has sporting equipment and games for all ages, including soccer, tennis, cricket, skipping ropes, hula hoops and foam frisbees. For upcoming sessions these summer holidays, see our Active Parramatta calendar listing.

Using 100% reclaimed materials, kids aged 7 to 12 can create a range of scrapyard musical instruments or a masterful mosaic piece at The Bower in Parramatta. The workshops are running on Wednesday 17th and 24th and only cost $5 for City of Parramatta residents. Bookings essential. And for another way to transform an every item into art, join the painted rock hide and seek craze. It is such a great way to get creative and outdoors while spreading some kindness and fun.

  • When: 17th and 24th January, 10:30am to 12:30pm
  • Where: The Bower Parramatta, 10 Hunter Street.
  • More Info

7Slide at Aquatopia Water Park | Prairiewood Leisure Centre

Want some of the thrills and spills of Wet n Wild without the price tag? Well for less then the price of one admission to Wet n Wild, your family can spend the day at the Aquatopia Water Park in Prairiewood, about 20min south-west of Parramatta. There are three 10m high giant slides, an adventure aqua tower with 79 water elements and toddler pool with water jets and fountains.  Plus the new Stingray Surf Rider and Fishpipe ride.

And if this isn’t your thing, there are a few other aquatic centres with fun outdoor water play areas, like Birrong Leisure Centre, Auburn Ruth Everuss Aquatic Centre and Fairfield Leisure Centre.

  • When: 10:30am to 5pm daily
  • Where: Prairie Vale Rd & Moonlight Road, Prairiewood
  • More info

8Play at Bicentennial Park | Sydney Olympic Park

Bicentennial Park has so much to enjoy and for all ages. From two shaded playgrounds (Village Green and Concord West), bushwalks and a lake with ducks to open fields, bike/ scooter pathways, plenty of picnic tables and bbqs, water fountains, a bike hire shop and cafe. And if this park doesn’t tickle your fancy, then check out our top 20 summer playgrounds.

  • When: Daily from sunrise to sunset
  • Where: Australia Avenue, Sydney Olympic Park (near the large round underneath Homebush Bay Drive)
  • More Info

The Northbridge Baths is a free tidal, netted swimming area within the stunning Sydney Harbour foreshore and bushland of Middle Harbour. There is plenty of shallow water for little ones to splash in. And at low tide there is also a beach to build sand castles on. With shade on the grassed area, dual BBQ, picnic area, change rooms, toilets, hot showers and free parking, this is one of our favourite places to swim at the ‘beach’.

For other kid friendly beaches, see our closest beaches to Parramatta list.

10Pick Strawberries at Berrylicious Strawberries | Thirlmere

Well this is a special experience! Aside from learning something about where our food comes from and eating yummy strawberries, the hanging strawberry plants is a gorgeous sight. Berrylicious Strawberries is in Thirlmere, near Picton and the NSW Rail Museum, and took us about an hour from Rydalmere. The staff are extremely friendly and helpful and we spent about an hour picking 4.5kgs, and eating another kilo. Entry is $10 per person 10yrs+ and kids 4-10 are $5 and you can eat all the strawberries you want. It is then $10 per kilo for what you pick to take home. Check out their Facebook page for upcoming picking sessions.

After another pick your own experience? There is some stone fruit still available for picking at Bilpin, about an hour north-west of Parramatta, at Pine Crest Orchard (Friday – Sunday) and Bilpin Fruit Bowl (weekends).

  • When: Open once or twice a week from 9am to 4pm for pick your own (usually Tuesdays, Thursdays or Sundays)
  • Where: 200 West Parade, Thirlmere
  • More Info

11Play and Read at Parramatta Library

Whatever the weather, holiday play at Parramatta Library is a nice way to spend the morning with little ones. Plus a great way to fill the gap of no story time sessions during the school holidays. There are puzzles, foam shapes, large dominoes and large lego. Plus of course lots and lots of books. And while you are there, enjoy a few books and borrow some for home.

You can also head to one of the many other local libraries to pick up some books and join in their summer reading challenge. Or head to a local toy library to bring home some different toys.

  • When: Tuesday to Friday, 10am to 12pm
  • Where: Parramatta Library, 1-3 Fitzwilliam Street in Parramatta
  • More Info

12Become a Sports or Dance Star | Sydney Olympic Park

Learn new skills, play games, get involved, be a star! Sports Star and Dance Star is one of the many amazing free and affordable activities on offer as part of the Kids in the Park school holiday program run by Sydney Olympic Park. Sports Star and Dance Star is for kids 4-10yrs and to book, email [email protected] or call 0447 827 788.

  • When: 8th to 12th January, 9am to 11am
  • Where: Cathy Freeman Park, Sydney Olympic Park
  • More Info

13Cool Off and Bounce at Epping Aquatic Centre | Dence Park, Epping

Epping Aquatic and Leisure Centre has lovely outdoor pools in a tranquil bush setting. There are three outdoor pools for general use – a shaded toddler pool, kids pool and 50m pool. Plus, every Wednesday and Saturday in January, a giant inflatable obstacle course will be up between 11am and 2pm. And if you are looking for another swimming pool to visit, we highly recommend Wentworthville Swimming Centre. Or you can check out our kid friendly local swimming pools list for more inspiration.

14Farewell Manly Sea Life Sanctuary | Manly Aquarium

After 50 years, it’s time to say farewell, with Manly Aquarium sadly closing at the end of January. It is a great, less crowded alternative to Sydney Aquarium and the perfect size for young kids. Apart from getting up close and hands on with some interesting sea creatures, there is a fun wet and dry play area. The seating around the penguin enclosure also makes for a lovely spot to have a picnic lunch. Just mind the stairs – it isn’t pram friendly.

And for other animal adventures, we recommend Calmsley Hill City Farm, Central Gardens, Auburn Botanic Gardens and Wild Life Sydney Zoo (with an annual Merlin pass)

  • When: Daily from 9am to 5pm, until the end of January
  • Where: West Esplanade, Manly
  • More Info

15Get Creative at Free and Affordable Craft Activities

Photo credit: Parramatta Artist Studio

Let the kids get creative at a number of free or affordable school holiday activities, where you don’t have to clean up!

  • Winston Hills Mall: Make & Create sessions are running from 15th to 19th. Each day your child can make something different to take home – there will be Hawaiian Leis, Design a Beach Bag, Sand Bucket Fun, Designer Sea Shells and Design Your Own Surf Board!
  • Parramatta Artist Studio: During a 2hr workshop, for just $10, your kids can take an idea from a drawing to a sculpture. Or create a matching backdrop and costume using recycled materials.
  • Bunnings: Every Tuesday and Thursday, there are free craft sessions at Bunnings Rydalmere (12pm to 2pm) and Seven Hills (11am to 1pm).
  • North Rocks Shopping Centre: From the 15th to 19th, kids can make spider food craft for free from 11am to 2pm. And in the final week of the school holidays, kids can customise bag tags in the shape of a T-shirt or your favourite person.

16Eat, Play and be Entertained at NBC Sports Club | Northmead

NBC Sports Club opened their new kids backyard just before the last school holidays. And these summer holidays they are providing some great free entertainment for families, with a school holidays extravaganza, disco and carnival. Plus, there are also lots of other clubs and hotels around with great, free play areas and a yummy bistro, like Greystanes Hotel and Castle Hill RSL.

  • When: Kids Backyard open daily from 11am to 9pm
  • Where: 166 Windsor Road, Northmead
  • More Info

Take your picnic rug down to Cathy Freeman Park and enjoy watching a family movie under the stars for free. Movies include Despicable Me, The Lego Batman Movie and Boss Baby and start at 8:30pm, with food and drinks available for purchase from 6pm. Plus when kids movies are playing, there are free kids activities, such as craft activities, Thunder Bus and Cricket Clinic, from 6pm.

  • When: Nightly between 12-14th, 17-21st, 24th-26th and 28th January
  • Where: Cathy Freeman Park, Olympic Blvd
  • More Info

18Take a Road or Ferry Trip

View of Cabarita Park from Ferry

Going on a little road trip can be an adventure in itself, made all the more fun when arriving at a great family-friendly destination. Our top road trip suggestion these summer school holidays is to head to Wyong to attempt the mazes at the Amazement Farm and Fun Park (review). Then visit the great Wyong Milk Factory for a bite to eat, shop and another play at the fenced playground. Or head to the Entrance and feed the pelicans and splash in the water playground.

Other mini trip suggestions for the summer school holidays are:

  1. Driving to Windsor to swim at Windsor beach, play at Macquarie Park playground, ride along the Hawkesbury River and have lunch at one of the many nice cafes.
  2. Catching the ferry to Cabarita and collecting shells, swimming, having a BBQ and playing. Read our Ferry Adventures with Kids Guide for more ideas for the Parramatta River Cat.
  3. Driving to Hunter Valley Gardens to see the dazzling Christmas lights show plus enjoy some rides.
  4. Driving Mt Annan to explore the Australian Botanic Gardens and join in one of their many science, nature and creative school holiday activities.

19Get Hands-on with Technology | Museums Discovery Centre, Castle Hill

Kids can construct moving creations, design their own games, and get hands-on with technology these school holidays at the Museums Discovery Centre in Castle Hill. At the free mini mechanics drop-in zone, kids can build their ideal cars for the future using a variety of materials, including Lego and Meccano.

There are also a number of other Museums with great exhibits and activities for kids these school holidays. Like Alphabetical Sydney at the Museum of Sydney, Future Park at Powerhouse Museum and Pipilotti Rist: Sip my Ocean at MCA Sydney.

  • When: 8th to 29th January
  • Where: 172 Showground Rd, Castle Hill
  • More Info

20Take Advantage of a School Holidays Special Deal

Here are three family special deals for these summer school holidays that will help save you some money:

  1. From 2nd to 14th January, kids get to enjoy one of six nutritious and fun dishes for free when you order a main meal or pasta dish at Jamie’s Italian Parramatta.
  2. The new Basket Brothers Cafe in North Parramatta also have a kids eat free deal.
  3. Lollipops Playland have a special $10 entry deal for the summer school holidays.