There are several animal parks in Sydney, so finding a place to meet the local native Australian animals is pretty easy. Getting up close to kangaroos and koalas is on the top of most visitors’ lists when planning their trip to Australia, so where are the best animal experiences in Sydney? Read our reviews and decide which one will suit your visit best.

This post contains affiliate links. Our full disclosure policy is here.

Where to see Australian animals in Sydney

The zoos and wildlife parks in Sydney that we list below provide quite a few opportunities to see our Aussie wildlife, including wombats, kangaroos, koalas and platypus up close. 

You cannot hold a koala in NSW, you can stand right next to it and pat it, but not physically hold it. This is because being held is distressing for the animal. We encourage you to consider this and think about why you feel you need to hold one yourself. If you decide it’s a must, it is legal in Queensland with opportunities in both Cairns and Brisbane.

Do you want to

  • Have your photo taken with a Koala?
  • Hand-feed a kangaroo?
  • See animals in the wild?
  • Sleep in a zoo, and wake up and help feed the animals?
  • Choose the best experience for small kids?
  • Best options for budget travellers?
  • Trying to choose between Wildlife Zoo Sydney vs Taronga Zoo vs Sydney Zoo?

Well, let’s work out the best choice for you.

There are three zoos in Sydney, each offers a different experience and after reading through our reviews we hope you can choose the best one for your day out.

Taronga Zoo – The zoo with a view

Animals Parks in Sydney - Taronga Zoo in Sydney
The view from the bird show arena is spectacular

Taronga is an indigenous word that means beautiful view, and the zoo certainly offers that, with superb views of the city, well-designed enclosures and a broad range of animals to see. Opened in 1916, it has seen plenty of renovation in the last few years, with the new tiger trek being the most recent addition.

The zoo sits on a hill overlooking the city and is home to over 4000 animals and 350 different species. You can easily spend a whole day here, and there are some beautiful picnic spots but if your time is limited 3-4 hours would get you around, possibly less if you stick with just the Australian animal zones.

Daily shows at Taronga include:

  • The Bird Show – one favourite is the bird show, it’s got the best location overlooking Sydney Harbour, and it’s an entertaining show.
  • The Seal show – A relatively standard seal performance but lots of fun if you have not seen one before. It’s popular, so arrive at the area early if you want a seat.
  • Koala Encounters – These cost extra, but they give you the opportunity to get up close to the koalas and spend 15 mins observing them and snapping away with your camera. You are in a small group, so if getting the perfect koala photo is important to you I would get to the zoo early to book your spot as these are limited and book out early each day. These can only be reserved in person.

Check the current schedule and plan your day around these shows

They also have unique offerings like the Autism Services where they open the zoo early and provide extra support for kids with Autism to enjoy their Taronga experience.

The zoo also offers several behind-the-scenes tours and VIP tours. Including the Wild Australia Tour. This two-hour zoo keeper tour will get you up close to many of our countries’ cutest creatures, including wombats, bilbies, sugar gliders, and of course Kangaroos and Koalas. You also get to tour areas that are not open to the public. I highly recommend this tour to anyone who wants to learn more about Australian animals.

If you want to try something special you can spend the night glamping Roar and Snore program.

The Roar and Store package allows you to help with the morning feeding and have the zoo to yourself before it opens to the public. These packages sell for between $300-335 for adults depending on the season.

For anyone travelling with children, this free Taronga Zoo app is worth downloading.

There is also a Wild Ropes climbing experience and a brand new tiger trek. While it can seem an expensive day out with entry about $46 for adults and $26 for kids, there is a lot to see and do, and you can easily spend a full day here.

Local tips

  • BYO food, what’s on offer is pricey and not that interesting.
  • Register on the website for your free birthday ticket if you would like to spend your birthday at the zoo.
  • Buy your ticket in advance so you can use the gondola ride from the wharf. You cannot buy tickets on arrival and must go to the top entry via bus or entry via the bottom and walk uphill to the main zoo area.

When: Every day except Xmas Day from 9.30am-4pm (winter) or 5pm (summer)
Where: Bradley’s Head in Mosman
How: Ferry from Circular Quay – every 30 mins.

Fellow writer LC from Birdgehls has written an excellent post on How to have a ripper day at Taronga Zoo and gives lots of great advice.

Wildlife Zoo Sydney

I recently visited Wildlife Zoo Sydney in Darling Harbour for the first time in years, and I was pretty impressed. While it’s not as extensive as the previous two zoos, it does a fabulous job with its space and collection of animals.

The highlight for me was the keeper’s talks. I listened to several of these and the keepers were all knowledgeable and passionate.

Koala at Wild Life Sydney
Have breakfast with the Koalas at Wild Life Sydney Zoo

I think it is best suited to people who don’t have time for a visit to half or full-day visit to Taronga or Featherdale. Being centrally located if you are short on time and don’t want to miss seeing some Australian animals up close, it is a reasonable choice.

On the weekends they offer breakfast with the koalas, which is limited to 30 people so really gives you a chance for some great photos. I watched this happening during my visit and it looked great.

Verdict: A visit here might not be my first choice, however, if you have limited time in Sydney or mobility problems it might be your best bet. It’s also great in bad weather.

When: open daily from 9.30am to 5 pm
Where: Darling Harbour – right next to the aquarium.
How: Right in the middle of Darling Harbour – You can’t miss it

Tip: Get a combined ticket with one of the other Darling Harbour attractions for the best value. Don’t miss the platypus or cassowary, as it is hard to see these two in the wild.

Wildlife Parks in Sydney

Along with the three zoos above, there are a few wildlife parks in Sydney’s outer suburbs that offer an excellent day out.

Featherdale Wildlife Park

I love Featherdale it’s a wonderful spot for getting up close to our native wildlife. If you are not looking for a full zoo experience and are just keen to see Australian animals, it is hard to beat. While compact, there are over 1700 animals here from 250 species, including the most extensive collection of koalas in NSW.

Featherdale wildlife park albino kangaroo
Featherdale has a large collection of friendly kangaroos

All the big names Aussie favourites are here, kangaroos, koalas, quokkas, quolls, bilbies, wombats, crocodiles and even the less known but unique frilled neck lizards.

Emus, wallabies and kangaroos roam free in 3 walk-in enclosures, allowing you to interact however the animals have zones they can go return to if they start to feel threatened or just tire of attention.

Featherdale is also one of the few places in Sydney where you can get your photo taken with a koala using your camera free of charge.

If you feel the need to pat a koala, you can pay extra for a one-on-one koala encounter that will allow you to pet the lower part of the animal, but you cannot touch the face or head. This is a statewide rule in NSW and one I fully support. It is kinder to the animals as being held can make them feel very stressed.

The 45-minute trip to Sydney’s western suburbs, home to Featherdale, is hardly a scenic one, but the park itself is fantastic.

Many tours to the Blue Mountains stop here, so check that option if you are planning to take Blue Mountains day tour.

Local Tip: While this park is small you can easily spend half a day here as there are plenty of talks and activities throughout the day. Check the event list when you arrive and plan your day around the events that most appeal.

Read this detailed review of a day at Featherdale for more great photos and details on planning your visit. We believe it’s the best option for close encounters with native Australian animals. It is also wheelchair and pram friendly.

Featherdale Emu
A friendly emu at Featherdale

When: 9am-5pm every day except Christmas Day (Summer 8am-6pm)
Where: 217-229 Kildare Road, Doonside
How: Take the train from Central or Town Hall to Blacktown, then either jump in a taxi or catch the Busway 725 bus No.725 from the station. It’s about a 10 minute trip from the station to the park.

Sea Life Aquarium Sydney

Sea Life is home to 13000 marine animals, including two dugongs, Pig and Wuru, who were rescued off the coast of Queensland; there are only five in captivity in the world, and they are fantastic to see. The aquarium has an excellent dugong website you can check out if you want to learn more about them.

Sydney Aquarium roof
Be surrounded at Sea Life Sydney

Another highlight is the glass viewing tunnels where the water – and the fish – are all around you. The stingrays are my favourite, so graceful as they glide above you.

The newest attraction, which I have not seen yet, is the Penguin expedition ride that allows you to get up close to King and Gentoo Penguins.

I also really like the fairy penguins. There are regular talks, including a shark feeding at 11 am every day.

If you are travelling with young kids or are hit with some wet days, this is a good option.

Keep an eye on tourist brochures in your accommodation as there are often discount vouchers available for entry.

You might also like to consider the Merlin combo passes that provide admission to Wildlife Zoo and Sydney Tower as well. If you just want to visit Sea Life, you can purchase a single ticket here.

When: open daily from 9 am to 6 pm
Where: Darling Harbour
Why: The kids will love it, penguins, sharks and dugongs – along with over 10 000 fish!
How: Right in the middle of Darling Harbour – You can’t miss it

Travelling beyond Sydney? Check out this article on the best zoos around Australia

Symbio Wildlife Park

Symbio is the southern suburbs version of Featherdale. It has an impressive collection of animals and is especially suitable for small children. Its location means it attracts fewer tourists and more local families, so it is often not as busy as Featherdale, which is popular with Blue Mountains tour groups. If you have access to a car, this could be an excellent choice. Public transport is possible but check the timetables as the services are infrequent.

Symbio Wildlife Park Helensburgh
Koala enclosure at Symbio Credit: Destination NSW

Guided tours that include the under the radar Royal National Park and Stanwell Tops and the stunning sea cliff bridge are also available

When: open daily from 9 am to 6 pm
Where: 7-11 Lawrence Hargrave Dr, Helensburgh
Why: Symbio is a great family day out – perfect size for exploring with kids.
How: It’s a 45 min drive from the centre of the city or a train from Central to Helensburgh and then a short bus ride (bus goes hourly)

Tip: While you are in the area make sure you visit Stanwell Tops for dramatic clifftop views of the South Coast.

Where to see animals in their natural habitat

While you won’t come across kangaroos jumping down the main street, there are opportunities to meet some of the local creatures not too far from the city centre.

Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Park

Shelly Beach snorkeling
The water is clear at Shelly Beach, and there are plenty of creatures to discover

A nice little walk from Manly Wharf, the cabbage Tree Aquatic reserve covers an area of approximately 20 hectares from the southern end of Manly Beach to the northern end of Shelly Beach Headland.

Make sure you check out this information brochure on the sculptures that line the path to Shelly beach.

The reserve usually attracts schools of small fish, and you can also spot gropers. The area is staffed by volunteers on the weekends who are happy to answer questions. It’s an excellent spot for snorkelling or underwater photography with over 150 different species of fish recorded here at various times.

If you don’t fancy snorkelling alone or have not tried it before, you could join a snorkelling tour.

Cabbage tree bay Australian animals in Sydney
Volunteers update signboards with details of water temp and fish seen.

When: Daylight hours but early morning is best
Where: Shelly Beach Manly
Why: Eco walk that is wheelchair and visually impaired friendly
How: Walk from Manly Beach around to Shelly Beach

Tip: Shelly Beach is a brilliant spot to watch the sunset being the only west-facing beach along the coast of NSW. It is also a really sheltered beach for kids.

Euroka Clearing

Kangaroos at Euroka Blue Mountains
Please obey all the rules you see here, they are for the animals best interests

Euroka Clearing is at Glenbrook, in the Lower Blue Mountains is a great place to get among the local wildlife. The area used to attract many eastern grey kangaroos, but lately, these have been appearing in much smaller numbers, and sometimes you don’t see any at all.

The best time to see them is at dawn and dusk – this applies whenever you are looking for roos. There are 40 campsites at the clearing, which is a very good idea as it’s easiest to observe the animals before anyone arrives.

Make a trip of it and do the walk to Red Hands Cave for some indigenous rock art.

These kangaroos are not like the ones in the zoo, you can not hand feed them, but they are used to people visiting the area so do not tend to scare too easily. Having said that stay away from the large males as they can get aggressive. The mothers are also very protective if there are small joeys in the group.

When: Early morning or dusk is best
Where: Blue Labyrinth NSW 2780 (part of the Blue Mountains National Park)
Why: Kookaburras, Cockatoos and Kangaroos in their natural habitat – and you can camp here too!
How: Best to drive to Euroka, it is approx 65km from the city. The nearest train station is Glenbrook, and from here, you would need to walk approx 5km.

So let’s answer those questions from the beginning:

The best place to see Australian animals in Sydney- in our opinion

  • Where to get your photo taken with a Koala? Featherdale.
  • Where to hand-feed a kangaroo? Featherdale
  • Where to see animals in the wild? Euroka Clearing.
  • Where to sleep in a zoo and wake up and help feed the animals? Taronga Zoo.
  • Which is the best animal experience for small kids? Symbio
  • What is the best way for budget travellers to see native animals in Sydney? Euroka, Shelly Beach or Featherdale
  • Where to see Australian animals in bad weather? Sealife Sydney or Wildlife World

Still trying to choose between Wildlife Sydney vs Taronga Zoo?

It depends on the time and age/ability of the visitors. Wild life Sydney is good for pram and wheelchair users or those with minimal time. For everyone else, the zoo would be my choice.

Got a question? Head over to our Australia Travel Tips Facebook Group and ask a local.

Leave a comment