Excited to discover a different side to Sydney with your kids? Escape to Cockatoo Island for a fun day trip or overnight stay! 

Located in the heart of Sydney Harbour, Cockatoo Island is a source of adventure for parents and children due to its historic landmarks and award-winning accommodation. As families explore the beloved destination, they’ll encounter cranes, docks and other incredible objects from the celebrated shipyard years (1857-1991) as well as sandstone buildings associated with the former convict gaol (1839-69). 

Guess what? Cockatoo Island is just a short ferry ride from Sydney’s CBD, meaning it’s easy for Eastern Suburbs families to get to. Here are five of the best experiences families can have at the largest island on the harbour. 

  1. Camping

Dreaming of an island vacation? Check into Cockatoo Island’s waterfront campground to unwind in a spectacular outdoor setting and watch the sun set and rise on Sydney Harbour. The ‘BYO tent’ option is ideal for families on a budget. For a hassle-free stay, choose the basic Camping Package – it includes a pre-erected tent for two adults and two small children. Plus: Campers have access to the fire pit, showers and a sheltered kitchen. Camping available from $50 per night. 

  1. Live music   

Seeking a cruisy Saturday evening? Book tickets for Sunset Sessions and enjoy live music on the upper island. As talented musicians take to the stage at Biloela Lawn, you’ll get to enjoy breathtaking views with food and refreshments, including picnic-style grazing boxes. The family-friendly series runs Saturday evenings (5-8pm) until 1 April and tickets are only $35. Plus:  Kids (12 and under) are free. 


  1. Free activities 

Let your little explorers tap into their creativity with the island’s ‘Ship Shape’ activity book. Available from the visitor centre, this free souvenir encourages outdoor exercise and learning. Kids will also enjoy talking with the island’s historic landmarks. That’s right, a crane, the docks and other iconic objects have been brought to life… and they’re eager to chat! Look for the turquoise “Hello” signs to engage in a lively text message conversation. 

  1. Guided tours 

Want a crash course in the island’s history? Book an all-ages tour to travel with your kids to the island’s past and discover historic landmarks! Kids (12 and under) are $16, adults are $25. Plus: A knowledgeable guide will share fun anecdotes and be on hand to answer history questions. 


  1. Harbourside cafés    

The island features two family-friendly cafés, each with their own flair. Marina Café & Bar is a harbour-side hangout that exudes country-style pub charm. Meanwhile, Cockatoo Overboard is a short stroll from the ferry wharf and is an opportunity for kids to refuel in a scenic setting. Both venues offer kids specials and are licensed to serve alcohol. 

Bonus: Macquarie Lightstation

Looking for a family activity closer to home? Visit Macquarie Lightstation with your young lighthouse lovers. Located in Vaucluse, the grounds are free to explore. Plus: Look for the light blue “hello” signs and use your mobile phone to awaken the site of Australia’s oldest lighthouse!  Cockatoo Island and Macquarie Lightstation are both protected by the Harbour Trust