Occupying young’ins during the school holidays isn’t always an easy task. While video games and Netflix have certainly eased the school holiday boredom factor, sometimes it’s still nice to get out and about.  But once you’ve taken your kids to every zoo, museum, beach and park, what else is there to do?

We’ve come up with some ideas for you – some not-so-obvious school holiday activities. We’ve found activities for Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Adelaide. Some are free, some can get a bit pricey, but most are very affordable.

Luna Park Sydney

Sydney school holiday activities

1. Be a tourist for a day

Sydney is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and sometimes, living here, you take that for granted. Why not take a day and hit all the attractions around the CBD that you haven’t even thought of for ages?

Did you know you can walk across the harbour bridge, and even up into one of the pylons? While you’re there, go exploring around the Opera House and the Botanical gardens. Or, hop on a ferry across the beautiful harbour to visit Luna Park, Manly Beach, Barangaroo, or Cockatoo Island. And don’t forget the great kids play areas in Darling Harbour!

2. Explore Sydney’s Beach Pools

You might know a few of these already, but have a quick search around – there are more than you realise! Most are free, all offer a gorgeous view of the water, and they’re a great way to cool off in summer or dip your toes in winter. They’re great for little ones too, as they offer a way to swim at the beach without the stress of waves and rips.

Plus, if the beach is closed, the pools are normally open! So here are our picks, with links to more information.

3. Skyline Drive-In Cinema

While temporary outdoor cinemas do pop up in Sydney over summer, there’s only one year-round, old-school drive in left. If you’ve never been to a drive in, it’s a very cool experience, and the Skyline Drive-In in Blacktown is really worth a visit, especially with kids.

The drive-in’s been running for over 50 years, but it’s been revamped fairly recently. There’s also a 50’s style diner, which serves good food at reasonable prices.

They don’t charge by the car anymore, but from $12.50 a head, tickets are more reasonable than most cinemas. They don’t run year-round, or have shows every night, so make sure you check out the website for dates and times – plan ahead and avoid disappointment!

4. Some Seriously Cool Playgrounds

If there are excitable kids in your family, then you know how nice it can be when they have lots to occupy them. Luckily, Sydney’s playground game has gone up in recent years, and they don’t cost a cent!

Here are a few of the really big, really fun, or really interesting playgrounds to take your kids to these school holidays. They’re all popular enough that the kids can make new friends and find their own fun, leaving you to sit back and relax!

  • Fairfield Adventure Park: This has to be one of Sydney’s greatest playgrounds! Best for slightly older children (5-12), the park boasts an 11 metre climbing frame, three giant slides, and a 33 metre long flying fox! There’s still lots for little kids though, with sandpits, small climbing frames, and swings.
  • Birriwa Reserve, Mount Annan (Campbelltown): Another one for older children, apparently designed especially for teenagers, but still little-kid-friendly. There are some really interesting, exciting looking equipment at this one – words can hardly describe them! Click the link to check out some photos.
  • Wulaba Park in Waterloo: As well as being heaps of fun, this playground looks just incredible! The super colourful playground is home to a three story high slide, which kids will love!
  • Pirrama Park Pyrmont: This one is great, and has an amazing view! A former water police base, The City of Sydney turned this into a 1.8 hectare harbourside space. Kids will love the killer playground (bring cossies for kids that want to play in the water jets!) and there’s space to throw a ball around for older kids.

5. Paintball 

This school holiday activity is best for groups of young adults or families with teenagers. If you’re keen to have a novel family experience the kids won’t forget anytime soon, this is a great option! There’re lots of places around, so we won’t go through them all, just have a search on Google maps.

Note: the initial cost of paintball places might be cheap, but they’ll get you on the price of the paintballs themselves – it can add up! Try to find a promo code or voucher before you book, they issue a lot of them. Doing a search for ‘paintball’ on Groupon normally brings something up. Then, set a limit on how much you’ll spend on extra paintballs, and let the kids know what that limit is to keep their expectations in check.

Finally, when they give you overalls to wear, pick ones that are a size too big – it’ll make the paintballs hurt less!

A lamb nibbles at a wire fence next to another lamb digging around in the dirt. Sheep are just one of the many animals that live at Collingwood Children's Farm, a great school holiday activity for kids in Melbourne.

Melbourne school holiday activities

1. Collingwood Children’s Farm

This working farm, just 4km away from the CBD, is a rare find. Great for young kids, it’s also a way for them to understand how a real farm works, and where their food comes from. Now that many kids are spending most of their lives in the city, this is becoming more important than ever!

There’s twice daily cow milking, and thrice daily guinea pig cuddling! The farm is also home to horses, sheep, goats, geese, donkeys, and a whole lot of chickens. Generally, there’s open access to the paddocks for farm goers, though that’s sometimes restricted for animal welfare. They also host Melbourne’s oldest farmers market on the second Saturday of each month.

Entry is quite affordable, with family passes going for about $20. Nearby parking is metered, but not expensive – $9 will get you 4 hours. Check out the Collingwood Children’s Farm website for times and details.

2. Scienceworks Museum

If you haven’t had a chance to check out Scienceworks yet – you’ve been missing out! This one ticks all the boxes, being both entertaining AND educational for kids and teens (and adults for that matter!). Being indoors, this is a great option for Melbourne’s rainy days.

There’s always a range of attractions and exhibitions, so check out the Scienceworks website for information. Kids under 16 get into the museum for free, adults are $15. There are some additional ticket costs for some of the attractions (eg the Planetarium) but all in the single figures.

Speaking of museums, there’s always plenty going on in Melbourne’s museums and galleries. Here are some more Melbourne museums and art galleries that might be of interest to you.

3. Turpins Falls Day Trip

About 12km from Kyneton (1.5 hours drive from Melbourne), this billabong hosts twin falls that cascade over basalt rock into a deep pool below.

Swimming clubs at the falls date back to the 1930s, and the pool is larger than an Olympic swimming pool – so there’s plenty of space. Because access and signage isn’t great, it doesn’t get too busy, even through summer. But be careful not to jump from the rocks – billabong water is not clear, and hidden rocks and logs have caused some serious accidents here in the past.

There are no facilities at the swimming hole itself, so bring everything you need, and leave nothing but footprints! Nearby Kyneton is a charming town, and is a good spot for a quick lunch. More information here.

Brisbane Town Hall Clock Tower

Brisbane school holiday activities

1. Tour the City Hall Clock Tower 

You might have seen it from the outside, but did you know you can get up close and personal with the City Hall clock tower? The Museum of Brisbane lives on the ground floor of City Hall, and was reopened after a major refurbishment back in 2013. The museum itself has free entry, and always has great exhibitions going on.

Every 15 minutes they also run free tours of the clock tower. You’ll be lifted up to the top of the tower in a hand operated elevator, then enjoy an incredible, bird’s eye view of the city from the observation deck.

The tours are popular during school holidays, and tickets are issued on a first-come first-served basis. So, make sure to get to the museum early and avoid disappointment! There’s more information on the Museum of Brisbane tours page.

2. City Hopper ferry

So you know Brisbane, but how much time have you really spent exploring the river? Taking the free City Hopper ferry from stop to stop along the river is a great day out for kids, especially for those who don’t get to the city much. 

The ferry has 8 stops along the  two main bends of the Brisbane River, from New Farm to the Victoria Bridge. Several stops are worth jumping off at, including exploring Captain Burke Park (pack a picnic perhaps?) or checking out the Maritime Museum. The ferry also stops at Southbank, which is worth an article itself, and offers days worth of entertainment for kids and adults alike.

Check out the City Hopper route to start planning your city day out.

3. Turtle Hatching in Bagara

From Brisbane this is definitely not a day trip, but at just a 4 hour drive Bagara is a very worthwhile weekend. Just east of Bundaberg, Bagara is a small coastal town on the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. The town itself offers several family friendly beaches and bays, as well as some very accessible shore diving sites nearby.

But the big ticket attraction is the Mon Repos Turtle Centre. A ten minute drive from Bagara, Mon Repos supports the largest concentration of nesting marine turtles in eastern Australia. The Centre is worth visiting itself, but the Turtle encounter is what everyone raves about. From November to March, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Rangers run guided tours to watch the nesting (November to January) and hatching (January to March) of the turtles.

It’s a long, late night affair, with participants arriving at 7pm. There’s plenty of activities at the centre while you wait for the turtles to arrive – which sometimes doesn’t happen for several hours! Tickets are good value; adults are $12.40, kids under 15 are $6.45, with concession and family rates available too. There’s more information the QLD National Parks page about the centre.

The Big Rocking Horse at Gumeracha in South Australia. Standing 18 metres high, it's a great school holiday activity near adelaide

Adelaide school holiday activities

1. Visit the Big Rocking Horse at Gumeracha

Continuing Australia’s obsession with big things, the Big Rocking Horse towers 18 metres above the Adelaide Hills, just 40 minutes drive from Adelaide itself.

To make it a full day out for kids, there’s also an old-school toy factory on site! You can walk through the factory for free, or they run tours for school groups, so you can see how the wooden toys are made. There’s also a well-populated wildlife park, home to Big Red the Kangaroo, Keith the Emu, Sabu the goat, as well as Alpacas, peacocks, and wallabies.

Not everything is free, but the ticket prices are very reasonable. You can climb the Big Rocking Horse for $2.00, play in the animal park for $1.00, and get a bag of feed for the animals for $2.00. They’re open every day except Christmas. For more photos and information, head to the Big Rocking Horse website.

2. St Kilda Adventure Playground

This is a must do for all ages. A short drive north of Adelaide is the coastal town of St Kilda. As you walk over the hill at the end of the parking lot, you’ll see one of the biggest playgrounds in the southern hemisphere!

The playground has had a major renovation in recent years, and now offers something for all ages. Huge slides, great swings, and a very climbable castle await! It’s totally free, and is popular enough that the kids should be able to find new friends to play with quickly.

Bring a picnic rug, and you can make a spot for the kids to run back to. Just make sure you’ve got some sun protection, be it hats, umbrellas, or sunscreen. There’s not a lot of shade, and the SA summer sun can be rough! Make a day of it by grabbing lunch and jumping in the water at St Kilda beach. More information can be found on the Adventure Playground Facebook page.

3. West Beach Mega Adventure

For the more adventurous family, West Beach Mega Adventure is one of the best School Holiday Activities in Adelaide. Opened just a few years ago, the giant high ropes course has already become a favourite of locals and visitors alike.

It’s a multi-storey obstacle course that sees kids and adults challenged by rope crossings, tricky traverses, and big drops! We haven’t come across a single review where a bad time was had.

A couple of things to note. There’s no age limit, but there are weight and height restrictions for some activities, with a general minimum height of 120cm. While this is one of the coolest activities in Adelaide, it’s not cheap, with tickets averaging around $50 per person. However, you do get your money’s worth with 2 hours on the course, and it’ll be an unforgettable experience. Check out the Mega Adventure website for all the details.

4. Bounce off the walls!

Indoor trampoline parks are having a real moment lately, and luckily Adelaide has its fair share of options! Instead of having your little jumping beans going stir crazy at home, take them somewhere they can really bound around.

Bounce Inc run holiday programs and open sessions on their 3000 square meters of trampolines! Perfect for learning to bounce or mastering that first flip.

Something for the footy fanatics in your family – AFL Max develops footy skills in a crazy fun way, with trampolines, giant inflatables, and even a rock climbing wall!

Latitude doesn’t just have trampolines, it also has super cool climbing walls and structures, obstacle courses, even a zip line! There’s even a separate area for younger adventurers, under 5 years. They run birthday parties and hour long sessions, and while they’re not cheap, they’re sure to get rid of all that pent up energy!

About Tim Beau Bennett

Tim is an ex-journalist and radio presenter, and has been a professional writer for over a decade. He regularly writes about technology, lifestyle, and smart cities, and has written for news site including the ABC, SBS, and Australian Financial Review.