Australia’s national capital, Canberra is filled to the brim with fun things to do with kids. Read our pick of the ACT’s top things to do with kids.
40 family-friendly things to do in Canberra
Australia’s national capital, Canberra is filled to the brim with fun things to do with kids. Read our pick of the ACT’s top things to do with kids.
Canberra may be the home of Australian politics, diplomatic negotiations and a never-ending supply of embassies. But our cool capital is also home to a treasure trove of family fun. Here is our guide to discovering the capital’s joys in winter and beyond.
The National Science and Technology Centre is so good that, once home, you’ll suspect your kids have been implanted with magnets to draw them back. Interactive exhibits invite visitors to touch, see and learn about the role of science in everyday life, and there’s tonnes of fun thrown in too! Where else in the world can you experience an earthquake, get close to a lightning bolt or freefall six metres down a vertical slide? At Questacon, you can do all this and see vibrant ever-changing exhibits.
Make sure to check out the exciting workshops that the Ian Potter Foundation Technology Learning Centre has to offer during the school holidays. Book early so you don’t miss the opportunity to unleash your child’s inner inventor.
If your family has always wanted to see a sabre-toothed tiger, woolly mammoth or velociraptor, be sure to make your first stop at Gold Creek the National Dinosaur Museum. The museum has Australia’s largest permanent collection of dinosaurs and prehistoric animals. With over 25 complete skeletons and fleshed-out models, and hundreds of individual items, it is more than worth a visit. In the last year alone, there have been two new murals finished, one of them nearly 50 feet long and depicting life-size prehistoric mammals. 2005 sees the hundredth anniversary of Tyrannosaurus Rex and the museum will be running special programmes and talks to celebrate.
A visit to the National Zoo and Aquarium is also a must for any family visiting Canberra. Located just five minutes from the city centre, it is one of Australia’s largest private zoos and is the only place you can see exotic and native animals along with sharks and fish, and Australia’s only tigons – a cross between a tiger and a lion. The whole family can book a memorable Zooventure Tour, a range of unique up-close encounters with the animals. A special tour for under ten year olds means that young children spend some time with the adults, then meet some of the zoo’s ‘cuddlier’ animals. At the National Zoo and Aquarium, the animals are housed in large open environments, with viewing generally across moats or low level fences so that even pint-sized visitors can get a good view.
4. Sleep with a beast
Exhausted? Pack your bags for the quirkiest sleepover ever, a wild overnight safari at Jamala Wildlife Lodge at the National Zoo and Aquarium.
There is a family room overlooking a meerkat enclosure, one massive aquarium, one with sun bears staring into your lounge, others where your bed is a glass wall away from a tiger or lion. Or you could be up a treehouse feeding giraffes. (depending on your kid’s age and availability.)
There’s an African-style dinner included. Children’s meals are served alongside the adult entrees, so they can leave for a guided night tour of the aquarium while you enjoy mains. Jamala is best for children over six years of age, though children aged four to six can also stay on specified family days.
For more fun, head over to the National Museum of Australia on Acton Peninsula. The fun starts at KSpace for a blast to the past. Using a touchscreen, kids can build their own time-travelling robot, then blast off to explore a mystery location in Australia’s past.
Another highlight is Our Place, a discovery display with four different cubbies for kids to play in. The Story Place is another popular attraction for kids. Set inside a Boab Tree, the kids can enjoy the storytelling, puppets, videos and events related to the museum’s exhibitions. The museum also has an exciting line-up of activities and events specially designed for children throughout school holidays. There’s more fun to be had just out of town at Gold Creek Village. A 20-minute drive from the city centre, it is full of family-friendly attractions, craft shops and eateries.
Return to the city and head for Old Parliament House where politics and history are not just for the adults. Home of the Federal Parliament from 1927 to 1988, this gorgeous heritage building offers exhibitions, tours and events that bring our history to life, as well as fun-filled activities for kids.
Kids can follow clues around the House to find the answers to some of the secrets of the building on the Super Sleuth Clue Hunt; dress up as the Duke and Duchess of York as they were when they opened the building in 1927; see the peep hole into the Prime Minister’s office and experience the sound and light show Order! Order! in the House of Representatives Chamber. At Old Parliament House, there are always extra special activities for kids during school holidays.
The politics behind it may be of minimal interest to kiddies, but there’s few better ways to boost excitement in a budding public speaker than a trip to Parliament House. Take some happy snaps in front of the unique facade (angling the camera as though you’re holding the Aussie flag is always a laugh), then make your way through security and into the world of Australian Parliament! Stop in at the Senate, the House of Representatives and see how many politicians older kids can recognise amongst the portrait collection. Top it off with a trip to the “roof” and roll around on the grass before stopping for a drink and educational debrief at the cafe.
ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day are introduced to kids early in their schooling, and a trip to the War Memorial can help bring war history to life. The beautiful building, statues and exhibitions are worth going for alone, and a number of free, guided tours operate daily. On top of this, the Discovery Zone lets kids interact with replica WWI trenches, the Australian home front, a helicopter, a submarine and peacekeeping strategies used in war-torn communities. It’s open all weekend and 12.30-1.30pm on weekdays. If you’re still around at 4.55pm, a trumpeter plays The Last Post to farewell lingering visitors.
Look the people in the face who have shaped Australia politically, culturally and socially, at the National Portrait Gallery. Featuring famous and non-famous faces from throughout history to the present day, the Gallery’s exhibits will interest budding artists and photographers of all ages. As well as spending the day with people like Paul Kelly and Elvis, the Gallery runs a variety of child- and family-friendly programs. General admission to the gallery is free along with some of the family activities.
Inspire the budding athlete in your family with a visit to the training facility where Australia’s sporting stars spend their days in pursuit of excellence. An elite athlete will serve as your family’s guide through this world-class sporting precinct – you might see gymnasts in training or some of our esteemed swimmers doing their laps. The AIS facilities are open to everyone, so if your children need to burn up some energy swimming laps or hitting a ball around, there are 25- and 50-metre swimming pools and tennis courts that will make them feel like a pro. Tours take 90 minutes and depart at 10am, 11:30am, 1pm and 2.30pm. Adult tickets cost $20, children, $12. Tours leave from the Sports Visitor Centre, which showcases Australia’s sporting heroes.
This ACT attraction is of great appeal to children, especially if they are into trains or dolls. Miniature trains make their way through meticulously crafted miniature buildings set within beautiful gardens. A mini steam train ride is a good way for kids to see the village without getting tired legs – and is big enough for parents to go along for the ride. The Rose Room indoor exhibition features a 34-room Georgian-style doll house, as well as a doll’s house that replicates the house in the classic novel The Seven Little Australians. A playground, free gas barbecues and picnic tables are available for use during opening hours: 9.30am to 5pm. Cost: from $11.50 per child and $19.50 for adults.
The CSIRO Discovery Centre provides the perfect means to demystify scientific concepts in young minds. Their aim is to show real science in an entertaining and educational setting. Here you can see scientists working in proper laboratories – but it’s definitely not just white coats behind glass. Kids will experiment for themselves in the hands-on DiscoverLab, and learn new things in the OptIPortal theatre and 3D@Discovery experiences. They’ll grow insight into issues like green energy, climate change, biodiversity and gene diversity – all in a way they can actually understand (and impress their teachers with later). Entry is $10 for adults and $7 for children.
For families who are interested in movies, television, CDs and radio, ScreenSound Australia, the National Film and Sound Archive, is a cool place to visit. Housed in a beautiful art-deco building, which is one of the oldest in Canberra, it is full of atmosphere and is said to be haunted. Free exhibitions include Sights and Sounds of a Nation which looks at more than one hundred years of Australian screen and sound with hundreds of movie, television, music and radio items. Interactive touch screens allow you to choose what you want to see or listen to, and there are more than two hundred photographs, historic items and fun activities for kids such as making their own sound-effects.
Have you ever wondered about the coins in your wallet? A visit to The Royal Australian Mint in Canberra where all your questions about coinage and currency are answered in style. The Mint is the place to learn about everything from how to make Australia’s change to the old action to minting your own $1 coin.
Makre sure you say hi to Titan. He’s the strongest robot at the Mint and can lift 1,000 kilograms. Admission and parking are free.
15. Cycle around Lake Burley Griffin
Sometimes the best days spent together as a family are the simplest. A day spent riding bikes around iconic Lake Burley Griffin is guaranteed to be a hit. Peddle past the Captain Cook Memorial Jet and perhaps finish up with a play on the fantastic ‘Castle Playground’ (complete with stone towers and tunnels).
The closure of long-running Mr Spokes bike hire was disappointing for locals and visitors alike, but plenty of other bike hire options have sprung up as a result including Cycle Canberra.
The Telstra Tower, visible from most locations around Canberra, will have the kids intrigued. One of Canberra’s most popular attractions, the working telecommunication tower rises 195 metres above the summit of Black Mountain and has the city’s highest cafe. At the top you can take in stunning 360-degree views over the city and surrounding areas and enjoy spotting all of Canberra’s iconic buildings from the observation deck and outdoor viewing platforms.
Filled with rich history, Canberra Glassworks offers a peek inside the exquisitely colourful world of glass art, craft and design. Offering a dynamic exhibition program and a workshop space, kids will be awestruck by artists’ handiwork as they wander through one of the largest open-access glassmaking facilities in the Southern Hemisphere.
Since its official opening in 1982, the National Gallery of Australia has become an integral part of Australian cultural life and the international art world. It initiates and hosts major exhibitions sourced internationally on a regular basis and lends works of art to exhibitions both in Australia and around the world. The permanent collection spans some 5,000 years of international art and more than 30,000 years of indigenous Australian culture.
The Children’s Gallery is called the Tim Fairfax Learning Gallery. It has regular programs for children of all ages; there is a Mobile Studio that pops up all over the gallery and free collectible drawing sheets, designed by guest artists.
The Canberra Space Centre is your gateway to the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex. One of only three stations in NASA’s Deep Space Network (with a huge antenna dish spanning 70 metres in diameter and weighing 7.5 million kilograms), it is responsible for providing two-way radio communication with dozens of robotic spacecraft exploring the Solar System and beyond.
The fantastic view, fun interactive and static displays and wide range of archive and new video footage create a visit that you won’t forget.
Located 45 minutes from the heart of Canberra in the Tidbinbilla Mountain Range is Corin Forest. It is Canberra’s only winter snow recreation area. For families that don’t have much experience out on the slopes, this is the perfect spot to learn the basics with a lesson or two, or, for younger kids, snow play offers snowman building, tobogganing and snowball fights. Afterwards, warm up with the cafe’s selection of gourmet burgers and woodfired pizzas. During summer visit the forest for cycling, camping and a 1.2 km slide that winds through the forest.
22. Power Kart Raceway
Budding rev-heads will love darting through obstacles and zipping around corners on Power Kart’s track. One race includes 14 rip-roaring laps. Kids six-12 years and over 124cm are allowed to race the Junior Karts. If you’re over 12 years old and over 148cm, you can race in an Adult Kart.
23. Canberra Theatre Centre
Despite its transparent façade, you’re venturing into the exciting unknown when entering the capital’s wonderful theatre centre. Located in the heart of the city, it’s a hub for all things that little ones love and school holidays are filled with entertaining shows and activities.
24. Yarralumla Play Station at Weston Park
This play station has been home to all things fun since 1973. The park believes that education through play is the key to happy and stimulated kids. With the Weston Park Miniature Railway, Lake Water Mini Golf and Petite Park Petting Zoo to explore, your little ones will never want to leave.
25. Tidbinbilla Nature Discovery Playground at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve
Set within a picturesque nature reserve, play at Tidbinbilla Nature Discovery Playground can be either active or calming. Families can bring their bikes and cycle around the reserve on the sealed road and fire trails, or simply sit back and relax with the local wildlife.
Home of the Freakshake, Patissez has taken the world by storm. Don’t just take our word for it – ask its 46,000 Instagram followers! Its colourful and tasty creations are sure to make the little ones laugh, especially when looking at one of the more intriguing creations, inspired by the poop-emoji.
27. The National Arboretum
Canberra’s National Arboretum – a botanical garden dedicated to conservation, scientific research and educational purposes – features 94 forests of rare, endangered and symbolic trees from around the world. It also features a rocking playground, The Pod, with giant acorn cubbies, nest swings and banksia pods that encourage children to climb and explore.
28. Frugii Dessert Laboratory
Frugii takes pride in creating superb-tasting desserts “the proper way”. Through using all natural ingredients and making its own bases, extracts and pastes, this dessert mecca has developed a huge following. If somebody in your family has a food intolerance, Frugii is the place. Its natural approach to food creation means everyone can enjoy a sweet treat – with no guilt or discomfort!
29. Old Bus Depot Markets
Truly a sensory experience, Canberra’s fantastic Old Bus Depot Markets are open every Sunday from 10am to 4pm. Wander through the bustling crowd as you taste, smell, look, touch and listen to all the colourful creations that the clever local craftspeople have to offer.
30. Boundless Canberra at Kings Park
Boundless is an exciting initiative allowing children of all abilities to play together. The innovative playground incorporates ideas from around the world to promote inclusive play, with equipment that can be easily accessed by all without being readily identifiable as ‘disabled access’ equipment, and zoned spaces for different ages and abilites.
31. Museum of Australian Democracy
Located at Heritage-listed Old Parliament House, this intriguing museum is a living archive of Australia’s most engaging social and political history. A must for families is ‘Play Up’, where little ones can dress up and think up their rights, and the rights of children around the globe.
32. Red Hill
Soak up the scintillating views at Red Hill, a lookout located to the south of the city centre. In autumn and winter, the brilliant red and orange hues of the treetops are especially breathtaking. Explore the enticing eucalypt hollows before stopping to enjoy the delicious treats on offer at the resident eateries.
33. Stripey Sundae
Head to Stripey Sundae for a unique treat; these homemade ice-creams are not only delicious, but surprising. The flavours change regularly, so one day you may have a salted caramel sundae, and the next, wattle seed.
34. Secret wizard’s business
Quizzic Alley is the most magical shop in Australia: it’s Harry Potter heaven and like Platform 9¾ itself, it’s almost as tricky to find among the car yards and warehouses of Fyshwick. But wave your wand and mutter something that starts with “expecto” and this fanciful shop appears.
Floor to ceiling, there is more official merchandise than you can wave your wands at, but Quizzic Alley is an experience as much as a store. Pile into a replica of the Weasley’s flying Ford Anglia, sip on a creamy butterscotchy QBrew (a delicious take on Butterbeer), pop on the sorting hat and talk all things magical and muggley with owner ‘Nearly Legless Mick’. It’s the perfect nickname and you’ll find out why when you meet him.
35. Jet Flight Simulator
Based on the Boeing 737-800NG flown by professional pilots, and perfect for ages six and up, this unforgettable jet flight simulator is one of a kind. Let the kids become a virtual jet captain as an experienced instructor guides them from take-off to landing, on a flight that doesn’t feel virtual at all.
36. Ski or snowboard in summer
What could be stranger than skiing or snowboarding in Canberra on a 30-degree summer day? Vertikal Indoor Snow Sports is an alpine-style chalet in Fyshwick where old racing skis have been repurposed as a ceiling fan that spins overhead, old chairlifts dangle and roughsawn Oregon timbers clad a bar serving hot chocolate, mulled wine and schnapps from nearby Wildbrumby Distillery.
Kids will love carving up the specialised rolling nylon fibre mats and getting tips on technique from Austrian ski coach, Paolo Bellini. Paolo says, nothing can replace real mountain slopes, but how good is it to be able to train year round, improve your skills and retain muscle memory all on a never-ending run? .
37. Twilight adventures
With every tiny bounce of the Eastern Bettong, your heart will leap to see this cute marsupial back on home ground after being hunted to extinction on mainland Australia.
At Mulligans Flat Woodlands Sanctuary there are now hundreds of bettongs bouncing around. The 485-hectare fenced sanctuary keeps the bettongs protected from predators. The bettong is nocturnal, so a twilight tour offers the best chance to see them. Expect lots of whispered “ooohs” and “ahhs” on this tour and keep a lookout for the bettong’s roomies: eastern quolls, bandicoots, sugar gliders and night birds such as the bush stone-curlew.
A short stroll from the National Dinosaur Museum takes you to The Canberra Walk-in Aviary – a walk-in aviary where feeding the birds is always lots of fun. This large, planted aviary allows birds to fly free. The Bird Walk houses over five hundred brightly-coloured birds – around three hundred and fifty finches and two hundred parrots. The birds breed in the aviary and some of the young parrots are hand-reared and will sit on your hand while feeding. The Bird Walk is open everyday unless very hot or very wet.
39. See nature’s Lego blocks
Just say Legoland and you’ll have them in the car. But ‘Legoland’ Namadgi National Park has no coloured plastic blocks – it’s even better! Massive granite boulders, in nature’s primary colours, have tumbled over each other in beautiful bushland and are so much fun to explore. From Canberra, it’s a 45-minute drive to Tharwa, where you must stop at Namadgi Visitors Centre to get a map of the bush track to the site – don’t try to find it alone, people do get lost. It’s a short 15-minute walk and easy enough for most kids to manage though you may need to toss in an occasional piggy back for little ones.
40. Take a picture at Commonwealth Place
Commonwealth Place is on the southern shore of Lake Burley Griffin in the Parliamentary Zone. Snap a photo of the kids rolling down the walkway to remember your holiday.
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