Visiting Sea Life Sydney Aquarium with Kids

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Sea Life Sydney Aquarium is a public aquarium located in Darling Harbour, an inner-city precinct of Sydney, Australia. It features a huge variety of Australian marine and fresh water aquatic creatures from various Australian water habitats, including the world’s largest Great Barrier Reef display, outside of the reef itself, of course! There are lots of sharks, sting rays, dugongs (awesome!), and much more.

Visiting Sea Life Sydney Aquarium with Kids - fun and education outing for the whole family

Sea Life Sydney Aquarium

Open: Open 9.30am – 6.00pm (last entry 5.00pm) daily, 365 days a year. Weekends and school holidays often stay open a little later. It looks like they close certain exhibits from time to time (see here for more details), so make sure to check so you don’t miss out on seeing the dugongs. I’d highly recommend going outside of peak periods as it can become very crowded.

Cost: Adults $40, Children (under 4 years) FREE, Children (4-15 years) $28, Family $136. You can save 10-30% off these prices if you buy tickets online beforehand, and you might be able to get a midweek special or discounted combo deal for several Sydney attractions.

Location: The aquarium is located on the city side of Darling Harbour, near King Street Wharf. Click here for map. There are train, bus, ferry and light rail options, or you can park in a parking station nearby. Click here for public transport and parking station information.

Suitable for: 3-100 year olds!

The best bits: The aquarium is HUGE. The variety of marine and fresh water creatures is ah-maz-ing, especially the dugongs.

The worst bits:  Tickets are expensive. There’s no onsite parking. It can be very crowded, especially over holiday periods. It’s easy for little kids to get lost inside.

 

Our Review

You might have seen our review of Manly Sea Life Sanctuary yesterday? Well, good news, Sydney has another amazing aquarium that you can check out with your kids!

But I’ll be honest that we visited the Manly aquarium a few times before daring to come into the city. It’s smaller, cheaper, and more manageable, especially if you happen to have two little kids like me, both of whom happen to be very fast runners. This is why I’ve given a recommended age of 3+.  (But if your toddler is better at staying with you than mine were, then by all means give it a try…)

One thing that is distinctly different between Sea Life Sydney Aquarium (or just Sydney Aquarium at Darling Harbour, as it’s better known), and Manly Sea Life Sanctuary (or just Manly Aquarium, lol) is that the Sydney Aquarium isn’t focused on just the marine life in Sydney Harbour. It covers all the major Australian aquatic life from all over Australia.

The aquarium is split up into a bunch of “habitat zones” including Sydney Harbour, Rocky Shores, South Coast Shipwreck, Jurassic Seas, Shark Walk and Shark Valley, Great Barrier Reef, and more. As you walk through the aquarium, you follow a dark windy corridor that leads you through each zone.

Girl at Sydney Aquarium

Watching the sawfish at Sydney AquariumFish at Sydney Aquarium

I let the kids set the pace, so we tended to zoom through the first few zones really fast, and then when they found something that interested them, we stopped and watched for a while.Studying a sawfish at Sydney Aquarium

As a side note: we actually visited this particular spot twice – the first time when we visited as a family, and the second time when we were invited back for a PR event in the lead up to Finding Dory. (Have you seen it yet? It’s super sweet, even if they did make a few mistakes…)

We actually got a chance to preview some of the merchandise – seventh heaven for this little lass!

Finding Dory toys

(Note: this isn’t a paid review. All opinions are my (or my kids’) own. We bought tickets to Sydney Aquarium for our family for our first visit, and were treated to no obligation complimentary tickets the second time, as part of a PR event with my youngest daughter Bee.)

 

But back to the aquarium… Around half way through there is a cute hands-on rock pool area, where kids can learn about and touch some of the sea creatures. I found this was a great sensory break for the kids, as looking up at all those tanks can be quite overwhelming.Exploring the hands-on rockpoolsHermit CrabThere are two walk through tanks in Sydney Aquarium, where you can see amazing sharks, sting rays and turtles swimming overhead. It’s such a fascinating way to see all sides of the animals, and we had lots of discussions about what the gills were for, and how sharks move differently than dolphins and other sea mammals.

But the dugongs were the star of the show, at least for my eldest daughter Jewel anyway. She’s read so much about them, and was so keen to see one up close. I was too actually!

Seeing a dugong at Sydney Aquarium

For such a large animal, they are amazingly graceful.

You can go up to the top of the tank and see them from above too. My kids were absolutely gob-smacked by these amazing creatures.

Watching the dugongs

Dugong statue at Sydney Aquarium

We definitely need to come back when the aquarium is quieter, so we can explore all the parts that we skipped.

 

 

Where’s the Science in visiting an aquarium?

Perhaps you’re wondering – why is a review of an aquarium on a science for girls website?

Going on mini-excursions to venues like this is a fantastic way to introduce natural science to all kids, especially little kids, in a fun way.

They are learning the huge variety of aquatic animals, the different characteristics that make up a species, the sort of habitat that different species live in, what they eat, what eats them, what their defenses are.

They’re learning that there are people who study these animals, who know how to rescue, care for and breed them. They’re learning about the life cycle of different species. They’re learning about endangered species, sustainability and what we, as a society, are doing to help.

The staff give talks at various points throughout the aquarium, which is a great opportunity to stop a while, learn and ask questions.

We learned some fascinating things about sharks on our visit – we now know that sharks are not the ferocious hunters that society leads us to believe. Sharks need to conserve energy, and so prefer not to chase their food. They prefer to target injured or old fish, which is why the sharks at Sydney Aquarium don’t eat up all the other fish in the tanks.

Sharks breed slowly and are slow growing, which means that taking sharks out of the ocean can have devastating effects on both their populations, and on the populations of the other fish, as it alters the balance of the food chain.

We learned how to make better choices in buying seafood so that we can keep our oceans sustainable. Instead of buying shark (flake), we could buy squid (calamari), or farmed fish, as these are much more sustainable seafood options.

In this way, kids are learning that the everyday choices they make, can have an impact on our greater world. When it all adds up, it can make a huge difference.

But most of all, they are learning to be absolutely fascinated with this amazing world that we live in.

Personally we go into as much detail as possible when we answer our kids questions. They are capable of understanding more than what you first think! I don’t know all the answers myself, but finding out the answers is all part of the process. We ponder, google, look at books, and ask experts. Gradually our knowledge, fascination and confidence grows. I find, the more detail that we go into, the more fascinating it all becomes.

Visiting Sea Life Sydney Aquarium with little kids - how to book, what to expect, how to make the most of your adventure - and the fun science you can experience on the way. A review by Go Science Kids.

 

Want more?

For another aquarium option, you might like to read our review of nearby Manly Sea Life Sanctuary.

You might also like our mini-expose on the 9 Sea-Life Mistakes in Finding Dory {you might have missed}.

You can find all our reviews of science museums and excursion venues here. (We’ve already reviewed Manly Sea Life Sanctuary, Australian Museum, and Questacon, and we’re hoping to write up reviews of Taronga Zoo, Melbourne Museum and Scienceworks shortly.)

If you’re after books that relate to the oceans, I recommend these: (These are affiliate links*. We have each of these books on our bookshelves at home and love them!)

  • Maria Explores the Ocean, by Giselle Shardlow and Vicky Bowes. This is an interactive picture book that teaches kids about the ocean, yoga and colours at the same time.
  • Mister Seahorse, by Eric Carle. This picture book teaches about male sea creatures who have an active role in caring for their young, and also covers camouflage and habitat with cool sea-through pages.
  • The Whale Shark Song, by Sadie James. This book talks about the differences between sea creatures, and learning to love who you are.
  • Dolphins at Daybreak, by Mary Pope Osborne. This is book 9 of the popular Magic Tree House series (which my eldest LOVES). Jack and Annie travel by submarine to a reef, and need to solve a riddle. They learn about a lot of marine sea creatures on the way.
  • Finding Nemo, (Disney Pixar). This book is a very simplistic retelling of the movie. I wouldn’t recommend it as a stand alone book, as it’s not that well written, but it’s fun to read after watching the movie. Kids enjoy searching for Nemo (clown fish) or Dory (blue tang) when they are visiting aquariums, and, if it’s what gets their interest….
  • A-Z of Sharks and Rays, by Nigel Marsh and Crabs & Crustaceans, by Nigel Marsh. These two non-fiction books are recent additions to our home library, and we’re still exploring them. They have beautiful illustrations and simple easy to understand text.


 

If you’re interested in science for little kids, you may wish to subscribe to the Go Science Kids newsletter. You’ll be the one of the first to hear about reviews like this one, as well as find out about some fun (and mostly free) science ideas you can try at home.

 

What’s your favourite science venue? Where should we go next?

 

* Disclosing that our second visit to Sydney Aquarium was complimentary as part of a non obligatory Finding Dory PR event. This was not a paid review and all opinions are my (or my kids’) own. This post contains affiliate links. An affiliate link means I may earn a referral fee if you make a purchase through my link, without any extra cost to you. It helps to keep this little website afloat. Thank you so much for your support, I really appreciate it.

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