9 things to do when the parents visit Sydney

Parents visiting Sydney, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney, Australia

Anyone who has lived in a different country or state from their parents will understand the pressure when Mum and Dad inevitably come to visit. You want to show them a beyond memorable time in your new place of residence so they can go home with a small appreciation for why you’ve chosen some foreign city over them.

Having lived away from Adelaide (my place of birth) for several years, I thought I’d mastered my list of go-to activities for when Mum and Dad visited. Then I decided to move state and had to throw my Melbourne list out with the bath water (you can find its soggy remains here).

So when Chris and John announced an impromptu visit to see their daughter in Sydney, I panicked, removed all the take-away menus off the fridge and madly went about the task of pulling together a list of things to do that would impress.

Here’s where I landed:

1. Tick off the touristy stuff

Firstly, if your parents haven’t been to Sydney before then there’s a whole cheese board of activities you have access to. You can entertain them with all the reliable tourist stuff that Sydney first-timers have to tick off before they can pass go. They are of course: Taronga Zoo, Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, Wild Life Sydney, Darling Harbour, Sydney Tower Eye, the Queen Victoria Building and Captain Cook Cruises of Sydney Harbour.

Study up here on some tips I’ve shared for visiting Taronga Zoo.

Parents visiting Sydney, Entrance, Taronga Zoo, Sydney, Australia

2. Catch the ferry to Manly

To be honest, we didn’t actually do this one. Mum whimped out having it in her head that we were taking a dingy through the Drake Passage.

However, it’s quintessential Sydney, so I’ll keep it up my sleeve for next time, when there is near-perfect weather and I can convince her that the ferry from Circular Quay has been re-routed away from The Heads.

At the top of my list for planned lunch layovers in Manly are Hugos, Papi Chulos and the Manly Wharf Hotel. But, of course, you can’t have any pizza and pinot until you’ve done the obligatory lap around the harbour, down the Corso and along Manly Beach so the parents can get their bearings.

Parents visiting Sydney, Manly Wharf, Sydney

3. Eat out at a restaurant with water views

The water! There’s nothing like enjoying a lovely meal overlooking the ocean or harbour to convince your parents that Sydney’s beautiful bodies of water make the choked-up traffic, eye-watering house prices and general hustle all worth it.

My favourite waterside restaurants for this are: Icebergs Dining Room & Bar, China Doll, Catalina Rose Bay, Flying Fish Pyrmont and Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel. The latter is particularly special if you catch a ferry here, squeezing the last bit of juice out of the water lemon. That’s if your Mum doesn’t believe ferries are as dangerous as Funnel Web Spiders.

Parents visiting Sydney, Watsons Bay Beach Club, Sydney

4. Enjoy any of Sydney’s beautiful walks

When it comes to walking trails Sydney has some real heart breakers. So, if your parents aren’t allergic to exercise, lace up the walking shoes, grab a backpack, and get ready to feel some lung burn and heart ache. Bondi to Coogee (6 kilometres), Spit Bridge to Manly (10 kilometres) and the Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach (6.5 kilometres) walking trails are all temptresses of seduction.

(Read about the seven Sydney walking trails that are heart stealers here).

Alternatively, let someone else act as tour guide and join a free walking tour of Sydney. There’s some great options that take in the history of the city centre and The Rocks.

Unfortunately, in their seventies, my parents aren’t up for any kind of walking. If fact, I nearly killed them when I made them walk from Circular Quay to the Royal Botanic Garden. Worst daughter ever!

Parents visiting Sydney, Sydney Harbour, Spit Bridge to Manly walking trail

5. Explore the Royal Botanic Garden of Sydney

If the Manly ferry wasn’t going to kill her, or the walk from Circular Quay, then some oversized Sydney spiders lurking in the Royal Botanic Garden definitely were, according to Mum.

Fortunately, for all of us, we didn’t see any eight-legged species the size of eagles. But we did see plenty of species of tropical plants, along with many birds, fruit bats and water dragons.

Given the walk to the garden’s gates had been a struggle, we eagerly jumped aboard the Royal Botanic Garden’s scenic train service (The Cho Cho Express, $10pp) and was chauffeured around with accompanying commentary.

Parents visiting Sydney, Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney

Image credit: Destination NSW/Hamilton Lund

6. Spend the day at Palm Beach

A 90-minute drive from Sydney, Palm Beach is the perfect day trip destination. It’s Sydney’s most northern suburb, home of Summer Bay and a downright stunner. Well, normally…

When I bundled up my parents into my very impractical Volkswagen EOS convertible and trundled out to Palm Beach with them, this is what I had in my head would be waiting for us…

Parents visiting Sydney, Palm Beach jetty on the Pittwater side, Sydney

Image credit: Destination NSW/Andrew Gregory

When in reality it was a little closer to this…

Parents visiting Sydney, The Boathouse, Palm Beach, Sydney

Yes, instead of enjoying the always-sunny home of Alf Stewart, we were greeted with a misty scene from Lord of the Rings. Nonetheless, we huddled together in The Boathouse enjoying a lunch of prawns, oysters and some more water views.

7. Catch the train to the Blue Mountains

Another hearty day trip is catching a train to the Blue Mountains, which takes about two hours one-way. With its dramatic cliff tops, cute little towns and nature generally at its most beautiful, any person with a pulse can’t help but be suitably wowed. My lunch options are Station Bar in Katoomba (pizza), The Carrington in Katoomba (seasonal menu and high tea) and The Grand View Hotel in Wentworth Falls (bistro fare).

Parents visiting Sydney, Katoomba, Blue Mountains

Image credit: Destination NSW/Hamilton Lund

Unfortunately, this is another activity that I’m also keeping up my skirt for next time. Trains weren’t running on the Sunday we were planning to visit (which I hear is common) and rather than take the replacement bus, which is about as fun as toilet training a puppy, we caught the train to Wollongong instead. Not as picturesque but according to Mum and Dad was the highlight of their Sydney trip – blow me away with a feather! And being a Sunday it only cost us a total of $2.50pp – boom!

Parents visiting Sydney, Beach, Wollongong, New South Wales2

8. High tea in Sydney

Who can devour a tower of egg sandwiches and cakes the fastest is always a reliable game to play with your parents. Some of Sydney’s best high tea options are the historic Vaucluse House Tearooms, The Tea Room QVB, Burnt Orange in Mosman and the Gunners Barracks.

Parents visiting Sydney, High Tea, Gunners Barracks, Sydney

Image credit: Concrete Playground

9. Royal National Park

And if the hustle of Sydney becomes all too much for Mum and Dad, the beautiful AF Royal National Park is a perfect place to escape to. An hour south of Sydney, the world’s second oldest national park has it all. There’s plants, birds, walking trails, secluded beaches, picnic spots and rock pools in the figure eight.

The 16,000 hectares of natural beauty might even convince them that Sydney isn’t so bad.

Parents visiting Sydney, Wattamolla, Royal National Park, Sydney

Image credit: Destination NSW/Filippo Rivetti

If you have any other parent-friendly activities to do in Sydney, please share below!




1 Comment

  1. 21 March 2017 / 2:35 pm

    Thanks Kim, your writing is so comical! I’ll keep this article in mind for when Mum comes back out to visit, even though she’s a seasoned visitor to Sydney there are some new ones in there I didn’t do.