ellaslist Reviews Kids Go Free at Darling Harbour

  • Preschoolers
    Mums & Bubs

By: Heather Gow, ellaslist explorer

With the November “Kids Go Free” Darling Harbour promotion just around the corner, one of our roving ellaslist explorers, Heather, along with her family set off for Darling Harbour to check out all the super fun, kid-friendly things on offer.

Curious To Revisit

Darling Harbour. It’s had a chequered history, as far as Sydney tourist attractions go. When I was a kid growing up in country NSW, Darling Harbour was the place to go when we were in Sydney and needed a kebab (exotic!), a dizzying selection of ice cream flavours and a ride on the Monorail (the transport of the future!) After I moved to Sydney, Darling Harbour became an infrequent destination, primarily for the bars and boozy lunches.

Since the kids arrived, and the sad, sad demise of the Monorail, other than the odd visit to the amazing Tumbalong Park playground after a Chinatown yum cha, I must admit that Darling Harbour has become relegated in my mind as a spot that’s largely “for the tourists” and rarely occurs to me as a potential destination for a family day out. So it was with a good degree of curiosity that I ventured out with my ever loving partner and our four children to check out what’s on offer for Darling Harbour’s “Kids Go Free” promotion, running for the month of November.

Carefully Planned

We decided to make a day of it on Sunday, after the first Nippers session of the season, so we had an early start to a massive day. Knowing that the kids (aged 12, 6, 5, and 1) would have some serious energy dips during the day and wanting to avoid tantrums/uncontrollable crying/maniacal laughter/emergence of concerning OCD behaviours, we gave some thought to the order of events, planned pitstops and packed a bag full of emergency snacks.

We decided on the following order of events; the Chinese Garden of Friendship, Madame Tussauds, Lunch, Wildlife Sydney Zoo, home for a Bex and a good lie down.

girl chinese headdress

Our Highlight Of The Day

I’d never been to the Chinese Garden of Friendship, (free child pass with every adult pass in November) and to be honest, my hopes were not high. It appears to occupy such a small parcel of land, tucked away behind its walls between Tumbalong Park and the city, that I’d ignorantly assumed it to consist of a koi pond, a bonsai and a pagoda. I chose to go there first because I thought it would be a low-energy option, allowing the kids to regroup a little after Nippers.

I don’t mind telling you I was completely misguided – it was absolutely terrific and the highlight of our day. The kids were well catered for by a Chinese Zodiac treasure trail that kept them engaged throughout and we arrived just in time for the koi feeding which was a chance to spot eels and turtles amongst the masses of writhing koi. The garden itself is surprisingly large and packed with fascinating garden design features.

But the crowning glory was the costume hire shop, where, for five bucks, your kids (and you, if you want, for a slightly larger fee) can dress up in traditional Chinese costume, with their ornate headdresses, embroidered gowns and associated accoutrements. They can wear the costume for the entirety of their exploration of the garden – but beware. If you have three daughters, you’re going to end up with an earworm from The Mikado in your head for the foreseeable future.
garden strip

Next Up, Play & Heroes

We moved from there onto Madame Tussauds, (free child pass with every adult pass in November) narrowly avoiding the first tantrum of the day precipitated by our bypass of the Tumbalong Park playground. It’s a completely amazing park, and we love it, but we’d spent far longer than predicted in the garden and had to hustle. Madame Tussauds’ appeal was more to the older children, being our 12 year old and my 45 year old partner. Many of their movie, music and sporting heroes were immortalised, from Max Rockatansky, Hawkey and Barnesy for the bloke to Pink, Leonardo and Bieber for Ms 12. (Actually, not Bieber. Don’t tell her I said that. She has far better taste than that!)

There was plenty to keep the younger girls entertained too, with Miss 5 surprised to learn that Wolverine was not actually a beautiful name for a fairy princess but a scary muscly dude with knife hands, and our six year old happy to pose being rescued by Spiderman. It was very crowded, and we might have been better off to make this our number one stop, however, it was great fun and we ended up with some hilarious photo mementoes.

madame t strip

Break For Lunch

After Madame Tussauds, we broke for lunch. We sat in a sunny beer garden at Helm Bar, where I had a salad, the bloke had a burger, and the kids shared a pizza, whilst a talented musician sang easy listening classics to the small crowd. The food was great and very reasonably priced – I could easily have spent a lazy afternoon there, however, our next attraction beckoned. Oh yes, that, and long lazy afternoons in beer gardens are sadly but a distant memory!

Captivated By Rex

Sydney Wildlife Zoo (free child pass with every adult pass in November) was the last stop on our tour. Our one year old was awake, energised, and heartily sick of being in the pram by this stage, and once given his freedom, he found every single thing in the zoo totally amazing. For me, the energetic Tasmanian Devil, the Cassowary, and of course the ancient and massive appeal of the five metre long crocodile, Rex, were the highlights.

We all spent a long time sitting in the underwater viewing area gazing at the massive creature and waiting for him to move – which he did, slowly, from the bottom of his pool to the surface, and back again, to take the occasional breath of air. Our five year old, who loves anything large and reptilian and still has occasional crying jags over a four dollar plastic crocodile that she lost six months ago, was appropriately entranced.

syd widlife zoo

Heading Home

By the time we came out of the zoo, it was after 4pm and time to go our separate ways – ever loving man and daughter number one went off to retrieve the car from the Wilson Parking station on Kent St (20% discount in November), and me to take the kids home via ferry. A couple of ice creams at Circular Quay kept the tantrums at bay and we arrived home exhausted but with a bunch of hilarious and picturesque memories of the digital as well as the traditional kind. And with Miss 5’s first request on Monday morning being for a return trip to the Chinese Gardens, I’m sure we’ll be heading to Darling Harbour more often from here on in!



Heather Gow is a mother of three and a step-mum of one. She’s on a break from her psychology career and is currently kid-wrangling full-time. She writes stories for children when hers are asleep. She blogs infrequently and tweets lefty political rants. She lives in the Eastern Suburbs and can generally be found somewhere on the endless loop between school, daycare, swimming lessons, gymnastics and Nippers.