Sydney, Australia Local Tips on the Best Accessible Attractions
I should probably declare from the outset that I am biased because Sydney is my home town and I love it! I have travelled the world, both as a child of parents who embraced travelling and as a travel consultant. When I travel there is always one sight that I love no matter how many times I see it and that is Sydney Harbour, the hub of this vibrant city. On a sunny day there is simply no better place to be.
Having a son who has Cerebral Palsy and uses a wheelchair I’m on the hunt for level paths, ramps and accessible restrooms all the time all over Sydney-I look at everywhere with accessibility in mind. There is plenty to do in Sydney but I’m going to share a few of my favourite wheelchair accessible attractions and activities.
Ferry Ride to Manly Beach
A visit to Sydney would not be complete without a trip on the Harbour. There are tourist cruises but a ferry ride to the beach suburb of Manly will give you wonderful views of the city. From Circular Quay where the ferry departs the ride takes a short thirty minutes.* There will be ample opportunities to take photos of Sydney’s iconic attractions, the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Once you get to Manly there is a fantastic range of restaurants, cafes or you can make like a local and buy fish and chips to have while watching the surf.
A beach wheelchair is available for loan, at no cost, from the Surf Lifesaving Club if you fancy getting down on the sand and possibly in the water on a warm day.
If sand between your toes doesn’t appeal you may like to do the walk from the Manly Surf Lifesaving Club along the coast to Shelley Beach. It is a pedestrian only walkway and is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. There is a bit of a steep incline that starts the walk but the rest of it is easy. The round trip takes around an hour at a leisurely pace with time to stop and take photos of the water dragons sunning themselves on the rocks. There are cafes at the half way mark and at the end of the walk for a refreshment stop or well earnt ice cream.
*Restrooms are available at both the Circular Quay and Manly Beach ports. Accessible restrooms on board the ferry is still to be determined.
The Royal Botanical Gardens
The Royal Botanical Gardens is fortunate to have the harbour skirt around its edges and a walk from the Opera House through the gardens following the waterline is beautiful and level. There are areas of the gardens which are steep but there is plenty to see without tackling the hills. Many areas are easy pushing. Here you will find Australian plants and local birdlife such as Cockatoos, who are very inquisitive of the Garden’s visitors. Even as a local I don’t tire of walking through this area. Multiple wheelchair accessible bathrooms are located in the gardens, one of which is a single or separate restroom.
Wild Life Sydney and Sea Life Sydney
Australian wildlife has a reputation of being a combination of cute and cuddly (Kangaroos and Koalas certainly look harmless) and deadly with our sharks, venomous snakes and spiders. At Cockle Bay you can check them all out in two attractions that sit side by side. Sea Life Sydney Aquarium houses our famous residents of the ocean plus some rare Dugongs which are fascinating to watch. The Aquarium is accessible but there is considerable ramping within the Aquarium to get to and from the underwater walkways, which can be tiring for some so assistance may be needed.
Wild Life Sydney is next door to the Aquarium and houses all kinds of Australian reptiles, Koalas, Kangaroos and Wombats. It is a fantastic overview of our wild life. This is accessible but does have ramping at the very beginning to the buttery exhibit and the end of the attraction towards the exit but everything in between is real level.
These attractions are in a very popular area for dining. Cockle Bay, King Street Wharf and Darling Harbour have a huge array of restaurants and bars. It is accessible by ferry or walking down from the centre of the city.
Historic Queen Victoria Building and Strand Arcade
The Historic Queen Victoria Building and Strand Arcade are admired for their captivating architecture and also house two of the most popular shopping areas, so for shoppers these stops are a must. From their mosaic tiles, stained glass windows and mechanical clocks it is really a step back in time. I’m usually only window shopping but there is a wonderful atmosphere in both of these arcades.
The Queen Victoria Building has more wheelchair accessible shops and cafes of the two. The building itself is historic but is joined by modern shopping areas and malls with wheelchair friendly restrooms. Fewer shops and eateries will be accessible inside the Stand Arcade but there are some. Plus, it is located at the heart of the city where many other eateries and shops can be found. Even if you are not shopping a visit to this area is worth it.
Sunset Dining or Brunch at the Opera Bar
Sydney has a great range of dining options but if you are looking for a good vantage point to enjoy sunset then The Opera Bar is it. Sydney Harbour is buzzing just before sunset and the Opera Bar just beneath the Opera House is a great spot to indulge in a glass of wine while taking in the view. It is equally good for brunch if you are too worn out to make it there for dinner. Plus, it has a great sized wheelchair accessible restroom.
Blue Mountains (Day Trip)
Australia is well known for its beaches and Harbour but in my mind no visit to Sydney would be complete without a trip to the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains is an easy day trip from Sydney but an overnight stay makes for a more relaxing trip to this beautiful National Parks area. The air is fresh and the mountains just reinvigorate the soul. Whether you are young or old you are sure to be blown away by the beauty of this region. The Blue Mountains is one of my favourite places to go for a day trip. I never tire of it. There are some lovely wheelchair accessible accommodations here as well.
Govetts Leap Lookout and Fairfax Heritage Trail at Blackheath
One reason why I love the Blue Mountains is because it’s a popular bushwalking destination. Bushwalking and wheelchairs don’t often go together because of the rugged terrain, but I have found one trail that is wheelchair accessible. The Fairfax Heritage Track is perfect for our family. The trail winds its way through the bush from the Govetts Leap Lookout and is fully sealed and easy wheeling. There is a National Park’s Centre at the end of the trail which contains informative displays, restroom facilities and a gift shop. Govett’s Leap Lookout has spectacular views of the valley and a waterfall in the distance and it’s one of my favourite views in the Mountains.
The Three Sisters at Echo point are one of the most famous rock formations in Australia and I never fail to be impressed as I look out at the Three Sisters and the vast valley as far as the eye can see. There are two lookouts here, one above the other with ramp access to the lower level.
Although there is a paved walkway as far as the Giant Staircase to the Three Sisters I feel it is too steep for what you see. It starts off deceptively easy but gets steeper as you head to the Giant Staircase. I think the view at Echo Point is fantastic and doesn’t take much effort to access so it is my pick.
Parking at Echo Point as it challenges. It is busy at Echo Point nearly any time of the day you visit. Busloads of tourists arrive from Sydney every day. There is disabled parking in a car park, on the street and there are three 1 hour parking spaces beside the information centre (these are the most level and most convenient if available). There are very good disabled restrooms near the information centre. They are large facilities allowing for a companion to assist the person in a wheelchair if necessary.
Scenic World houses 3 rides that each gives a unique Blue Mountains experience, the Scenic Railway, Cableway and Skyway.
Railway: The steepest incline railway in the world. It has recently been upgraded but due to the nature of this ride you cannot remain in a wheelchair.
Cableway: My favourite but there isn’t the same thrill value as there is with the railway. The Cableway is the steepest aerial cable car in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s a beautiful ride and fully wheelchair accessible. When you enter the cabin the wheelchair section is at the front giving you the most spectacular view of the valley as you descend. My son likes sitting right in front for the full experience and this ensures people don’t block his view. When riding up and down the hill I recommend being on the left side of the cableway to get the best photos of the Three Sisters. When you reach the base of the valley there is a wheelchair accessible boardwalk around to the railway. It’s a lovely walk and takes you past a display on the mines and information boards about what’s in the rainforest you are walking through. It ends at the base of the Scenic Railway. You’ll hear the squeals of those on it before you get there. It is also a great photo opportunity spot with the Three Sisters in the background.
Skyway: When I was a kid I used to go on the original version of this and it would swing in the wind and was open–all a bit hairy. Now, this is a very tame ride but does have a unique glass floor in the middle of it which is frosted until you are over the valley and with a flick of a switch the valley below comes into view. The glass floor is up a step so it is not accessible but the ride is. It goes across the valley and gives you a very good view of a beautiful waterfall if you stay on the left side of the carriage. Try and ride one side on the way over and the other on the return. There is a short accessible walk on the other side or you can get off and wait in line for the return journey.
Disabled toilet facilities are located behind the ticket sales counters in a walkway. These are dedicated disabled toilets and have enough room for a companion. There is also a large multi-storey parking lot to the left as you enter the driveway to Scenic World but if you continue up the hill there are disabled parking spaces (4 or 5) opposite the entrance.
If you want to get 360 degree views and a good feel for the lay-out of the city then head to Sydney Tower. The views are spectacular! After you buy your tickets you will enter a theatre for a short 4D movie presentation on Sydney (about 5 minutes long). You then enter a lift which takes you to the top of the tower, a total of 309 meters to the top.
The observation deck is fully accessible and the windows are very tall and the ledges are low enough for someone in a wheelchair or small children to see out without anything obscuring their view. There are large binoculars set at two heights. One set is up taller for people standing up and some lower for anyone using a wheelchair or for small children. There are touch information screens set at a good height to learn more about the buildings you can see in the distance. Along the ledge dotted around the tower are posters with fun facts, which make the attraction more engaging for children.
There is the opportunity to participate in a Skywalk experience (at an additional charge) where you go outside the tower to enjoy the view without the comfort of the windows. This can be organised for a person using a wheelchair but it must be booked ahead of time as these tours are run prior to other tours. It is what I would call a ‘personalised’ experience with just the guide, person using a wheelchair and whoever else is accompanying him or her. Please contact Sydney Tower directly to setup in advance.
There is a disabled toilet facility which doubles as a child change facility. It is a good size and would fit a companion for those needing assistance. There is a gift shop and at the Skywalk check in counter and there are cold drinks, snacks and basic tea and coffee available
The residents at Taronga Zoo live in some of the best real estate in the city with the Giraffes enjoying fabulous harbour views. The Zoo is a gorgeous spot to spend the day because as you wander and admire the animals you will have a picturesque back drop. Arrive as early as you can because there is a full day’s worth of entertainment and time flies when you get mesmerized by watching the animals at play. The Zoo has many wonderful animals but two highlights I’d highly recommend are the bird and seal show. Arriving 15 minutes prior to show time should secure you seating. There is wheelchair seating at the back of each of these shows.
The Zoo has put in place excellent standalone restroom facilities as well as gentle ramping and elevators in some areas to ease the access issues but the zoo itself is on a hill so steep areas still exist. There is one hill that always leaves me quiet breathless when I push my eighteen-year-old son who uses a manual wheelchair, but I manage. If traveling with a companion that is willing to push then I would put the Taronga Zoo on the Sydney ‘must-see’ list. Furthermore, there is a sky rail that can take manual wheelchairs (dependent on width) but cannot take electric wheelchairs due to the weight restrictions. The sky rail runs from the top of the zoo to the base and back again. If you are staying in the city the Taronga Zoo can be accessed by ferry from Circular Quay.
Additional Tourist Information
More wheelchair accessible tourist ideas can be explored on Sydney for All.