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6 Free activities for families in Sydney

By Rebecca Greg

Can you take your family out for a day in Sydney and not spend a cent? Pack your lunch and your comfortable shoes and make your way to Circular Quay. From there, the world is your oyster. You won't believe how much fun you can have without spending money.

1. Circular Quay

Since first European settlement, the Quay has been at the centre of Sydney's maritime life and its heart of transportation. Circular Quay is situated around Sydney Cove and is the hub of Sydney Harbour. It is a stepping-off point and booking area for most attractions based around the harbour. Every few minutes, ferries leave for destinations on the harbour including Taronga Park Zoo, Manly, Watsons Bay and Mosman.

Along the ferry terminals are a number of small outdoor cafes. It is a busy pedestrian precinct and a magnet for buskers of every description. Follow the walkways to the Opera House and Royal Botanic Gardens to the east or the historic Rocks area and Sydney Harbour Bridge to the west. On the east side of Circular Quay are its many restaurants and stylish boutiques, along with the large Dendy Cinema. On the western side of Circular Quay is the historic Rocks area with a number of quaint shopping arcades and pretty restaurants.

Circular Quay is at the foot of the central business district and the older, historic end of the city. Buses depart here for Bondi and the eastern suburbs.

A 10 minute walk from Circular Quay is Government House...

2. Government House

Macquarie Street

Sydney, NSW 2000

t. 02 9931 5222

f. 02 9931 5208

Free guided tours of Government House are conducted every - hour from 10:30am-3pm from Friday to Sunday. The grounds are open daily from 10am-4pm. If you are traveling in a group, bookings are advised.

Government House, located in the Domain and overlooking the Royal Botanic Gardens and Sydney Opera House, was constructed between 1837 and 1845 and is the most sophisticated example of a Gothic Revival building in New South Wales. Don't miss the outstanding collection of 19th and 20th century furnishings and decorations in the dining room, drawing room and ballroom. The upstairs rooms have been used as the private quarters for the Governor, Queen Elizabeth and other members of the Royal family and visiting heads of State.

Government House is within the Botanic Gardens...

3. The Royal Botanic Gardens

Mrs Macquaries Road

Sydney NSW 2000

t 02 6231 8111

The Royal Botanic gardens is open every day of the year (not including any areas assigned for private or ticketed events). Admission is free.

November-February: 7 am"8 pm

March & October: 7 am"6.30 pm

April & September: 7 am"6 pm

May & August: 7 am"5.30 pm

June & July: 7 am"5 pm

The Royal Botanic Gardens in the domain represent a 30 hectare oasis of "greenspace in the centre of the city. Just a short walk around the harbour's edge from the Sydney Opera House, the gardens occupy one of Sydney's most spectacular positions. It is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful settings you will see anywhere. Enjoy a picnic lunch sitting on the grass, looking over the harbour, smell the roses, listen to the birds, get back to nature and view the outstanding collection of plants from Australia and overseas.

Enjoy a themed self-guided walk at your own pace or take advantage of the free guided walks. There is a free lunchtime tour departing at 1pm from the Palm Grove Centre every Monday-Friday (March to November). There are also free daily guided walks around the Botanic Gardens departing from the Visitor Information area at 10:30am. Enjoy the knowledge offered by the volunteer guides and gain an insight into the history and plants of these magnificent gardens.

While you are in the Domain, don't miss the Art Gallery of NSW...

4. The Art Gallery of NSW

Art Gallery Road

The Domain, Sydney, NSW 2000

t 02 9225 1700

f 02 9221 6226

What's On? Line 02 9225 1790

Australia-wide toll-free number 1800-NSW-ART (1800 679 278)

The Art Gallery of NSW is open every day from 10am-5pm with late closing every Wednesday - 9pm. Admission is free. (Charges apply to some exhibitions)

The Art Gallery is well over 100 years old and is the leading museum of art in New South Wales. It holds significant collections of Australian, European and Asian art, and presents nearly forty exhibitions annually.

Walk back to Circular Quay and follow your nose until you reach the Rocks...

5. The Rocks

Nestled between the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House, The Rocks is Sydney's most historic precinct. It is traditionally the home of the Aboriginal Cadigal people and is the site of the first British settlement in Australia. It was first settled as a penal colony in 1788. Convicts were put to work under the harshest conditions to erect public buildings and homes for government officials and free settlers. Cadmans Cottage is the oldest remaining building in Sydney and is a relic of this era. The Rocks eventually grew from an open-air gaol into a vibrant port community.

Call in to the Sydney Visitor Centre on the corner of Argyle and Playfair Streets and pick up the book "The Rocks Self-Guided Walking Tour for just $1. The booklet lists 31 historic buildings and points of interest throughout The Rocks and guides you along a fascinating heritage walk. It provides one of the best morning (or afternoon) diversions you will get anywhere. Encounter a maze of narrow streets, laneways and interconnected sandstone cottages and terraces filled with shops, stalls, cafes, pubs and restaurants. Soak up the atmosphere and the tales of the days and characters of bygone eras - tales of shanghai"ed sailors, tough gangs and colourful lives.

There are approximately 33 galleries, museums and art institutions in the Rocks, many with free entry, including the Museum of Contemporary Art.

On weekends there is plenty of free entertainment with outdoor concerts and street theatre and great live bands in many of the pubs. The Rocks Markets are held every Saturday and Sunday at the northern end of George Street and as with any good markets, the enjoyment is as much in the atmosphere as the shopping.

There is a walkway from Cumberland in the Rocks leading to the Sydney Harbour Bridge...

6. The Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of Australia's most well known and photographed landmarks. The general design for the Sydney Harbour Bridge were prepared by Dr JJC Bradfield after the end of World War 1 and the tender for an arch bridge was accepted. Construction started in 1924 from both sides of the harbour with cable support for the arches. The two arches met in 1930. It took 1400 men eight years to build the bridge at a cost of 4.2 million pounds. When it was opened in 1932, it was the longest single span steel arch bridge in the world. The main span is 503 metres, consisting of 52 800 tonnes of silicon based steel trusses. It is held together by approximately 6 million steel rivets.

Today it carries eight traffic lanes and two railroad lines. There is a pedestrian pathway on the eastern side of the bridge and a cycleway on the western side of the bridge.

Pylon Lookout, on the south side of the bridge, is well worth the small admission fee. Climb 200 steps to the very top of the Pylon, where you will be rewarded with spectacular panoramic views of the city of Sydney. Find out how they constructed the world's greatest arch bridge, relive the magic of the opening celebration and all the history or the bridge through three levels of exhibits. The Pylon Lookout is accessible via the Bridge road deck pedestrian pathway.

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