Sydney is home to many animals, from koalas and kangaroos to dolphins and sharks. This blog post will go over some of the best places in Sydney where you can see these animals up close.
We hope this article will help you find a great place to visit while you’re exploring Australia’s most populous city!
Australia is famous for its unique wildlife. While the cities are not typically considered wildlife-watching destinations, you can see some of Australia’s most iconic animals in and Sydney with a bit of luck and effort.
Sydney is a bustling urban metropolis, but if you think our concrete jungle has little to offer in the way of animal inhabitants, you’d be wrong. There’s many stables, sanctuary, zoo and harbour beach where wildlife from around the globe thrives.
Aside from native fauna roaming free in their natural habitats, there are plenty of more exotic creatures you can encounter at one of Sydney’s fine animal attractions, from those critters you can meet in the flesh to those you’re better off with admiring from afar.
Sydney – Australia’s largest city, managed to retain a fraction of its former biodiversity throughout centuries of development. Birds can be easily seen in the city parks and leafy suburbs, while finding mammals in Sydney requires patience and knowing where to look.
Here are some places where you can get up-close and personal with some of Sydney’s most popular critters.
1. Taronga Zoo
It’s beautifully laid out, the paths are wide and meandering, and – most importantly – the place is full of animals. Fascinating ones too: along with the lions and tigers and bears (oh my!), there are impossibly cute new young elephants, chimps and giraffes, as well as Taronga classics (pygmy hippos, the komodo dragon, koalas, platypi, Andean condors) and many exotic creatures you may not be immediately familiar with.
We don’t want to play favourites, but if Malaysia’s noble bear-cat is binturong, we don’t want to be binturight.
Taronga is also the most fun way possible to have your conscience pricked about the parlous state of the planet for many of our co-inhabitants. For an example of a sobering statistic: right this minute, you almost certainly have more Facebook friends than there are wild Sumatran Tigers.
As that little fact let suggests, the zoo is also making a song and dance about its conservation work as well as its education, research and breeding programmes, so you can spend freely on site knowing that your money is going towards funding worthwhile causes.
That stuffed penguin you bought for your nephew might be making the difference between the survival or the extinction of the Corroboree frog.
Make a day of it and take in the shows (especially the bird and seal performances) as well as the feeding times, which are available on the website, to see the beasts at their most lively.
It’s worthwhile getting a combined ferry/skyway/zoo ticket if you’re coming from south of the bridge: the trip across the Harbour is an always-welcome reminder of just how beautiful our city is, and you get to arrive at the zoo entrance via the Sky Safari cable car – looking down on the elephants and chimps as you go.
2. Sydney Zoo
Sydney’s first new zoo offers a winning mix of ancient knowledge, cutting-edge design, and awe-inspiring wildlife in more than a century.
You’ve taken in the stunning skyline views at Taronga and said ‘G’day!’ to native critters at Wild Life Sydney Zoo, both conveniently within striking distance of the CBD. So what possible reason could you trek 35km on the Great Western Highway to visit the animal park at Bungarribee?
Well, quite a few, as it turns out.
Fascinating fauna can indeed be found in abundance on Sydney’s doorstep. Still, the state-of-the-art enclosures, carefully considered park design and sheer range of wildlife – including quite a few cute AF baby baboons, hyenas and meerkats – make Sydney Zoo not only a welcome addition to NSW’s animal attractions but possibly even the new alpha of the pack.
One distinct advantage over its inner-city counterparts is the absence of awkward topography or urban limitations on its overall footprint, which has opened up opportunities for blue-sky thinking regarding its layout.
Whisking visitors on a round-the-world journey, an intuitive circuit of paths leads you through the familiar outback of Australia via the waters of the world’s rivers, deltas and shallow seas before heading on to explore the jungles of Southeast Asia, and finally, the great plains of Africa.
Within each geographical precinct, you’ll meet the most iconic animals of the region (plus a few exotic interlopers – South American capybaras and Himalayan red pandas don’t quite fit the regional logic, but we won’t hold that against them).
The roster of wild residents is impressive, including lions and tigers, and… well, no bears (oh my), but cheetahs, African painted dogs, Asian elephants, zebras, giraffes, hyenas, penguins, a 3-metre croc and even a shark.
While you may be able to find many of these fantastic beasts at other wildlife attractions, the innovative designs of Sydney Zoo create a visitor experience that would be hard to better. One of the most striking examples is its African zone, which features a soaring, elevated boardwalk.
This breezy walkway allows visitors to look down on the large enclosures, avoiding the annoying overcrowding common with the more typical glass-walled pens and providing more great views of the animals.
Throughout the zoo, accessibility is central to its design ethos. Every corner of this ‘zero steps attraction is built on a single level, meaning baby strollers and wheelchairs can reach all enclosures and visitor facilities with total ease of movement.
But if you were searching for some fundamental points of difference, at the heart of the park are Sydney Zoo’s two most distinctive assets. Firstly, there’s Primate Boulevard, a wide promenade flanked by elaborate habitats for chimpanzees, spider monkeys, orangutans and baboons, connecting the entry pavilion with the zoo’s spacious dining hall (where you can purchase a range of hot and cold drinks and snacks).
Here, you can sit on a bench and watch the complex behaviours of these fully formed primate social groups in fascinating detail.
Next, there’s the largest reptile and nocturnal animal house in Australia, which houses 60 different species in carefully controlled conditions.
Accessed via the Australian wildlife zone, here you’ll find a curious juxtaposition of the adorable (potteroos, wombats, possums and bilbies) and the downright deadly, including the world’s most venomous snake, the inland taipan.
The front of the house is a slick operation, with friendly, well-informed staff on hand and visitor facilities maintained to immaculate cleanliness levels. But behind the scenes, Sydney Zoo is setting equally sky-high standards with its approach to sustainability, conservation and Indigenous engagement.
It all comes down to the three Cs: choose, change and contribute – the mantra that guides the approach to every level of Sydney Zoo’s operation. For example, it’s aiming to change the status quo by eventually becoming the world’s first energy-independent zoo, thanks to the ongoing deployment of a sophisticated solar power network.
It’s contributing to drought relief efforts by irrigating its various moats and garden areas using stormwater run-off, decreasing its reliance on public water sources. It also has ambitions of eventually becoming a zero-waste attraction by choosing to compost all animal and food waste while ensuring other zoo-created refuse is made of recyclable or biodegradable materials.
The zoo’s conservation and curation teams also work closely with the local First Nations community, the Darug people, to ensure the Aboriginal history and ancient cultural knowledge about wildlife and the land are an integral part of the zoo’s philosophy.
Visitors can explore this rich Indigenous heritage via the Bungarribee Dreaming experience, led by Aboriginal tour guides within the Australian wildlife precinct, which shares the ancient lore about where Australia’s critters came from and their significance within First Nations life.
3. Featherdale Wildlife Park
Featherdale Wildlife Park is located deep within Sydney’s sprawling west, where once it was possible to see native beasties running in the wild.
Modern expansion over farmland and bush means catching a glimpse of local fauna isn’t as easy as it used to be. But, happily, Featherdale now has one of Australia’s largest private collections of native animals and birds.
The park is geared for a convenient family-themed romp around local wildlife: a leisurely walk around a host of raucous bird enclosures, dimly lit huts (preserving the nighttime world of the bilby and ghost bat) and open-themed areas where you will see the likes of scurrying Tasmanian devils, reclining swamp wallabies and slumbering koalas.
The emphasis here is on the tactile experience – close up encounters with (generally) cute mammals. For example, buy an ice-cream cone packed with pellets and seeds so that your children can gingerly feed the animals (and hopefully shriek with laughter when the cone is inevitably snatched away by a greedy marsupial).
One word of caution: the goats in the farm-themed area take proactive food-begging to a whole new level. Only bigger kids and adults should be openly packing food here. You have been warned!
The large overflow car park across the road all but guarantees a brief walk to the entrance, and the café-cum-kiosk serves the usual menu of chips, hot dogs and fruit juices – supercharge your kids for the day or bring your own sugar-free snacks.
A series of stamps located around the park allows kids to mark their own ‘passport’ as they complete their Featherdale journey. You might also check the boards for daily feeding schedules.
Children aged three years and above must pay for entry. A family with up to four kids should expect to pay around $99 for admission (before visiting the gift shop stocked with pens, pads, hats, stuffed toys and more).
4. Shelly Beach
Shelly Beach feels like a secluded island compared to the vast stretch of sand that is Manly Beach. Here, the waves are calmer, the sunbakers are quieter, and the mood is more chilled.
It’s a nature reserve, so the whole area is protected – you’ll likely spot equally protected water dragons along the walk, basking in the sun.
Shelly Beach is a popular place to snorkel or learn to dive. So take a dip and have a lookout for the famous Blue Gropers in this area. On dry land, you might encounter a brush turkey plodding along the sand.
If you need shade for your beach trip, it’s best to bring an umbrella, or at the very least, a wide-brimmed hat. Unfortunately, there’s not much cover from the palm trees that line the edge of the beach. There are plenty of benches, a few picnic tables, showers and water fountains, though, which are all helpful to note when you’re planning your first trip to this beach.
There’s only one beach kiosk at Shelly Beach, and it’s a pretty fancy one. The Boathouse Shelly Beach is a triple threat: a kiosk, café and restaurant in one.
The Boathouse duo Pip and Andrew Goldsmith added this spot to their existing trio of eateries in Palm Beach, Balmoral and Whale Beach. The venue is open all day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the kiosk is where you’ll find takeaway coffees, bacon and egg rolls and other snackable treats.
If you want to keep your legs moving, you can walk to North Head from Shelly Beach. From here, you’ll walk into Sydney Harbour National Park. It’s a steep climb, but you’ll be rewarded with panoramic harbour and city views.
5. Koala Park Sanctuary
The Koala Park Sanctuary offers visitors the opportunity to see and photograph Australian wildlife up close in natural surroundings.
Who do you meet? Koalas, of course, but also some of their bush mates and barnyard friends.
Located north of Sydney in the West Pennant Hills, The Koala Park Sanctuary is a family-run sanctuary first created in the 1920s.
The sanctuary was created out of the concern of Noel Burnet that the Koala Bear may become extinct if it continued to be hunted by the fur trade in such large numbers. It officially opened to the public in October of 1930.
There’s no denying that koalas are Australia’s cutest animal, and what child wouldn’t want to cuddle one? The main attractions are joined here by their compatriots – emus, kangaroos, echidnas, dingoes and wombats – plus there are ten acres of lush rainforest, eucalyptus groves and native gardens to explore.
When they’re not napping, you’ll be able to see Blinky Bill look-alikes at koala shows throughout the day. While these gum leaf-loving floofs are clearly the stars, the sanctuary also houses echidnas, emus and other native birds, plus a mob of roos who are happy to have you join their ranks.
Still being operated by Noel’s daughter, this sanctuary is one of only a few places in the world where you can see Koalas living in their natural surroundings. Today, however, you can also see Peacocks, Cockatoos, Emus, Kangaroos, Wombats, Echidna, Rainbow Lorikeet, Wedge-Tailed Eagles, Dingoes, etc. more here.
To mix it up, there’s also visiting lambs to cuddle and even a sheep-shearing show. You can see the ten acres of lush Pennant Hills rainforest on partially guided tours or stroll down the leafy paths solo.
The Koala Park Sanctuary has a kiosk serving a selection of snacks and beverages and a restaurant serving BBQ lunches.
6. Sea Life Sydney Aquarium
Looking for something exciting to do with the kids in Darling Harbour? You’ve just found it! Sea Life Sydney Aquarium is one of Australia’s premier attractions, featuring hundreds of species of marine life and exhibits that are both entertaining and educational.
Who do you meet? The cast of Finding Nemo.
If you reckon it’s better where it’s wetter, the obvious choice is the aquarium.
Sea Life Sydney Aquarium is the world’s most extensive indoor system of Australian marine life, with 60 tanks and three oceanaria filled with more than 13,000 animals from 700 different species. Highlights include Shark Valley, the Day and Night on the Reef Zone inspired by the Great Barrier Reef, and the Bay of Rays.
The tunnels of this Darling Harbour wet-weather excursion favourite transport you under the waves, where you’ll meet colourful aquatic fish, not-so-scary-after-all sharks, curios cephalopods, wise turtles and even a placid dugong.
The colony of fairy penguins are charming, and you can learn more about them and other residents at the feeding time talks, plus different specialised experiences like the shark dive and the penguin expedition boat ride.
The Aquarium has a focus on conservation and education. One of its achievements is helping to rehabilitate the local population of the endangered White’s seahorse (or Sydney seahorse).
At Darling Harbour, a stroll from Town Hall Station in the city centre, the aquarium has two of only five dugongs on display in the world. So instead, you’ll see stingrays in the Tropical Bay of Rays.
Enjoy the ocean tunnel walk, Shark Valley and Shark Walk, among some of the themed areas. Marvel at turtles, jellyfish, platypus, penguins and thousands of tropical fish.
Many of the more giant creatures who live there are rescued animals who would not survive in the wild – like Plugga, an endangered Australian Green Sea Turtle.
Behind-the-scene tours are available, including a glass-bottom boat tour.
The Shark Reef Snorkel tour offers a thrilling underwater experience close to sharks. You’ll be submerged in a see-through enclosure where you can snorkel and watch sharks.
The experience is for 1.5 hours and includes a safety briefing, snorkel gear, wetsuit and showers. Novice divers are welcome on the Shark Reef Snorkel.
The exhibits, recreated habitats and animals on show are so incredible that even big kids (AKA adults) are guaranteed a good time! Tickets are available online to the Aquarium alone or with other fantastic attractions like Madame Tussauds and Wild Life Sydney Zoo.
The Aquarium is open Thursday to Monday from 10 am-4 pm. During the school holidays, the Aquarium is available for seven days.
7. Kamay Botany Bay National Park
Who do you meet? Whales on their annual migration.
Kamay Botany Bay National Park is located at La Perouse and Kurnell in Sydney. Discover its rich Aboriginal culture, explore Captain Cook’s Landing Place, spot native plants on a bushwalk or whales at Cape Solander.
The best time to spot these majestic creatures off Cape Solander, in Kamay Botany Bay National Park, is when they’re heading south with their new calves to feed in Antarctic waters from May to August.
Explore this historical national park to learn about Aboriginal history, the cultural significance of the land, and spot some whales
This popular whale watching haunt named after botanist Daniel Solander includes an unbeatable lookout and is a good starting point for walking through the park. Information on whales can be found near the attention, and you may glimpse a humpback just 200m from the coast.
Also, keep an eye out for rarer sea giants like orcas and minke whales.
Located in the Kurnell section of Kamay Botany Bay National Park, Cape Solander is one of Sydney’s best whale-watching spots.
Named after botanist Daniel Solander, the cape includes an unbeatable lookout, undoubtedly one of the best spots to whale watch in the city. June/July is your best chance to see humpbacks as they migrate to warmer waters to breed.
This day trip is best made when it is more relaxed, as there’s walking and not much shade. If you go on a hot day, take plenty of water, hats, sunscreen, and then cool down afterwards at Silver Beach.
8. Calmsley Hill City Farm
Who do you meet? Moos, baahs, oinks, neighs and quacks.
Calmsley Hill City Farm is an interactive farm close to the heart of Sydney, just off the M7 at Elizabeth Drive. Get up close to a range of native and farmyard animals; at the farm, you can feed the nursery animals and join in on our shows and demonstrations.
Become an expert farmhand at Western Sydney’s huge, family-friendly farm.
While it was once solely a working plantation, the Abbotsbury venue now showcases a rural lifestyle less than an hour’s drive from Sydney CBD.
You’ll be meeting the most adorable farmhands, from lambs to cattle dogs, peacocks, ponies and even the occasional koala. Daily shows demonstrate the uncanny ability to work dogs to bend sheep to their will, as well as the arts of shearing sheep, using a stockwhip and milking cows. Koalas appear at the 2 pm talks, and the animals are prepared for patting at 10.30 am and 3 pm.
It’s a slightly surreal experience to take a right turn on a suburban street and suddenly find yourself on a working farm. The former Fairfield City Farm, around which the suburb of Abbotsbury has sprung up, offers families hands-on access to cute farm animals as well as everyone’s favourite marsupials.
The animal nursery lets you enter an enclosure to interact with young sheep and goats; a bag of feed costs $2. There’s also a large kangaroo pen where you can mingle freely with the inhabitants.
There are native birds and poultry, snakes and lizards, and opportunities to ride on a tractor.
Bring your picnic lunch, or use the free electric BBQ’s to cook your own lunch while you enjoy the beautiful grounds. Takeaway food can be purchased at the Farmhouse Kiosk. In addition, they have special packages to cater for Children’s birthday parties and special events. Parking is excellent, and there is wheelchair and pram access throughout the farm and facilities for people with special needs.
9. Wild Life Sydney Zoo
Who do you meet? Australia’s feathered and furred faves.
WILDLIFE Sydney Zoo is the ultimate Australian animal experience right in the heart of the city.
Get up close and cuddly with Australia’s feathered, furred and finned favourites.
Step into an animal adventure as you journey around Australia. Walkthrough iconic Australian habitats and encounter some of the most loved, feared, and unique animals.
Did you know Australia has a big five? Wild Life Sydney Zoo reckons we do: kangaroos, crocodiles, koalas, wombats and platypuses.
They may not be as ferocious as South Africa’s list, but they’re pretty adorbs (primarily), and you’ll meet them all at this harbourside zoo.
Nestled next to Sydney Sea Life Aquarium and Madame Tussauds on Darling Harbour, this smaller-scale zoo houses many actual blue native Australian animals across ten different exhibits.
There are talks and feeding sessions where you’ll become an expert in Tasmanian devils, cassowaries and lorikeets. If your little one is more into the wild side, visit the resident saltwater crocodile or go spying for nocturnal creatures.
Tourists, kids and city-slickers alike can snap a selfie with a koala and come eye-to-eye with Rocky, a saltwater crocodile weighing around 365kg and moved to Sydney from the Northern Territory after eating a couple of his girlfriends; true story.
You’ll also encounter various species of kangaroos, colourful birds, reptiles, a wombat, a platypus, an intimidating male southern cassowary called Princess, a quokka called Davey, who loves sweet potatoes, and Frankie the rescue numbat.
If cuddly koalas are what draws you in, you’ll undoubtedly get your fix for these dozy tree-dwellers. There are three separate koala enclosures, and new koala babies are born every year.
If you don’t have all day to linger, you can tick off the whole attraction is about an hour and a half.
WILDLIFE Sydney Zoo features interactive displays, entertaining keeper talks and enhanced walk-through habitats, including Koala Encounters, Kangaroo Walk-About and Butterfly Tropics.
WILDLIFE Sydney Zoo is open from 9.30 am and is located in the city’s heart, at Aquarium Wharf, Darling Harbour.
10. Golden Ridge Animal Farm
Who do you meet? The littlest, fluffiest farm animals.
Golden Ridge Animal Farm is in Dural, a short drive from the Sydney CBD, and they have over 250 animals onsite, including sheep, cows, and goats. At certain times of the year, Golden Ridge Animal Farm is open every day, including during school holidays, when you can ‘Be a farmer for a day.’ This is the perfect day out for any family!
Cuddlesome of Sydney’s littlest moos, baahs, oinks, woofs and quacks.
Golden Ridge Animal Farm Sydney is a family-friendly farm you can visit in the hills district of Sydney. Join in the tour to get up close and friendly with lots of baby animals.
Golden Ridge Animal Farm has been running as a children’s farm for 41 years, providing a fun and educational day out in the Hills District suburb of Dural, a short 45-minute drive from Sydney’s CBD.
There is every farm animal you can think of, ranging from small pet mice up to the big cows and everything in between and most was orphans that have been hand-raised on the farm.
A visit to the farm is an enjoyable experience for all families and groups – be it a school group, birthday parties, playgroups, preschools, child care centres or just the family.
Spend hours cooing over a barnyard of baby animals – chicks, lambs, calves, kids, ducklings and rabbits, you name it.
The almost adorable experiences at Golden Ridge Animal Farm are primarily aimed at human children wanting to learn about the 500 furry and feathered farm residents, but grown-ups can tag along too.
Feed the baby lambs and kid goats. Milk the cows, Hold baby chicks, ducklings and rabbits. Then, go for a walk to feed and pat all the friendly farm animals.
Stay for lunch and have a pony ride—all within a 40-minute drive from the harbour bridge.
You’ll be visiting in the morning (there’s sweatier farm work to be done after lunch) to cuddle the smaller members of the farm family, milk cows, meet the more enormous herds and bottle feed lambs and baby goats.
Open every day of the year (except Christmas day).
Bookings are required if you’d like to visit the farm.