The ultimate guide of things to do in Canberra with kids
All Aussie families should seriously consider a trip to Canberra with the kids. Whilst most people think it’s best for families with younger kids (you know, those under 10), we’ve also found plenty of activities and fun things to do in Canberra with pre-teens and teenagers.
Our ultimate guide will help you choose the best experiences for your family.
A bit of background on Canberra for kids
It is believed that the name ‘Canberra’ comes from the Ngunnawal word for ‘meeting place.’ The description is indeed a great one. In Canberra, art, history, sport, food and nature combine to welcome uni students, public servants, families and tourists alike.
Most Aussie kids head to the Australian capital city for a field trip to learn about democracy and the Australian parliament. But for those who are now parents and visited more than 10 years ago, we suggest you forget what you remember of your primary school excursion because Canberra is well on its way to becoming a foodie’s and culture vulture’s seventh heaven.
Did you know Canberra has more restaurants and cafes per capita than any other Aussie city? Or that it is home to a museum of trees?
Swap parliament for parks, playgrounds and cycle paths aplenty as you discover the weekend markets, museum collections, animal encounters and foodie hubs that make the city special. You might even have to take a vote if you want to fit something in for everyone on a family weekend to Canberra.
Getting to/from Canberra
Canberra is 3 hours’ drive from Sydney, and 7 hours from Melbourne, via many a roadside fruit stall. In fact, it makes a great pit stop en route to the snowfields if you are a family of skiers.
If you can, it is worth driving to Canberra, as having a car is handy (as long as you can brave the sometimes-baffling roundabouts). However, without a vehicle of your own, you can make use of the ACTION public bus service as well.
If driving isn’t your thing, you can also fly or catch the train or bus to Canberra.
There are daily domestic flights from Canberra to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. You can also fly direct from Canberra to Perth, Darwin, Adelaide, and Newcastle with connecting flights to Ballina Byron, Port Macquarie, Hobart and the Gold Coast.
Canberra Airport is serviced by Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar, Rex Airlines, Fly Pelican and Link Airways.
Top 10 things to do in Canberra with kids
- Pay your respects and discover interactive history at the Australian War Memorial
- Let loose in the kid-friendly spaces indoors and outdoors at the National Museum
- See the sharks circle in Australia’s largest inland saltwater tank at the National Zoo and Aquarium
- Visit the latest exhibitions from around the world at the National Gallery
- Get hands-on and experiment with science at Questacon
- Walk around Lake Burley-Griffin
- Witness politics unfold at Parliament House and Old Parliament House
- Take a kite and a picnic to the playground at the National Arboretum
- Enjoy bookshops and cafes in the suburbs such as Manuka
- Bring your ski gear and head to the slopes at Corin Forest
Things to do in Canberra with…
Go wild alongside the animals at the National Zoo and Aquarium. Walk past the tigers, meerkats, snakes and more on a self-guided trip. You can also join a special animal encounter including a big cat encounter or a savannah safari.
For a different wildlife experience, head out to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. This is a lovely way to spend a late afternoon or picnic lunch running around with tiny tots. Spot a platypus in the ponds or wallabies wandering by. Many of the trails are suitable for wheelchairs or Trail Riders. Tidbinbilla is about 45 minutes from central Canberra.
Try on this miniature attraction for size – it will be a perfect fit for your littlies! Cockington Green Gardens is located in Nicholls, just outside Canberra. The displays feature tiny versions of international locations and monuments, complete with little figurines. You can also jump aboard a miniature steam train for a ride. You must make a booking in advance.
Canberra hosts some awesome kid-friendly museums, and it doesn’t get more hands-on than Questacon. Officially known as the National Science and Technology Centre, the venue is all about experimenting with the weird and wacky up close. Step inside a simulator to experience what an earthquake feels like, then free fall down a 6-metre slide. There is also Mini Q, which is a custom-designed section created for mad scientists aged 6 and under.
Next stop on the museum trail is the National Dinosaur Museum at Gold Creek. It houses the largest permanent collection of prehistory in the country, such as a whopping 25 complete skeletons.
The Australian War Memorial also has brilliant interactive exhibitions designed for children. Pay your respects by placing a poppy beside the name of a service man or woman, then learn about military history up close by donning khaki and stepping inside a Vietnam War-era helicopter.
In the winter season, leave Canberra for a ski trip out at Corin Forest. Canberra locals might also consider a weekend out at the Snowy Mountains snowfields, a short road trip away. One of our Families of Australia tested out Corin Forest; watch their experience below.
Telstra Tower sticks out 195 metres from Black Mountain. Fully operational, it also offers panoramic views worth the climb. For communications of a different type, visit the Deep Space Communication Complex. Little space geeks will love the centre, which is one third of the NASA Deep Space Network.
Step into the running shoes of an Olympian at the Australian Institute of Sport. Visits are by guided tour, which will take you past the training complexes for the most elite athletes in the country. There is also an interactive centre where you can try your hand at wheelchair basketball and other sports simulators.
Looking for somewhere to stay? For a night you won’t forget, splurge on Jamala Wildlife Lodge and sleep among the animals. Eat dinner alongside the giraffes, or hear a tiger snore!
Pigeon-holed as a quiet ‘country town’ capital for many years, Canberra has well and truly woken up with plenty of bars, coffee shops and markets for older families. For starters, try street food or fine dining in café-dense suburbs like Manuka, or window shop in boutique precincts like Braddon.
Open on a Sunday, stop by the Old Bus Depot Markets for some vintage clothes, knick knacks, artisanal cheeses or fresh breads. With different stalls each week, this Kingston location is great for wandering. The Glassworks next door is a real find. You can watch the experts blow and fashion glass in the workshop.
At time of writing, Old Bus Depot Markets were temporarily closed to adhere to COVID safety measures. Be sure to visit the website before you go!
Artsy teens shouldn’t stop at the National Gallery, although its collections are nothing to scoff at. Continue on next door to the Portrait Gallery to walk among the famous faces. The National Film and Sound Archives (ScreenSound) is definitely worth swinging by if you’re a family of movie buffs.
If your teens are interested in history and politics, they’ll love the varied exhibitions of Old Parliament House, which houses the Museum of Australian Democracy. It covers important eras and key personalities in Australia’s political history and is free to enter, although you must book.
Best time for families to visit Canberra
Canberra is one of those rare destinations that you genuinely could visit at any time of the year, although try to time your visit for one of the city’s frequent festivals or special exhibitions.
Expect to rug up in winter because Canberra is known to receive the odd (rare) spot of snow. Even if you don’t have any snow, you’ll still need a parka to combat the slicing winds.
Things heat up big time in summer, too. In both those seasons, make the most of the many indoor attractions.
We love Canberra in autumn. The tree-lined streets and parks look their best as the foliage turns a brilliant red.
Canberra’s family-friendly places to eat
Whether you’re a Canberra local or just a frequent visitor, you’ve likely heard of Brodburger. Its reputation precedes its burgers, which are flame grilled, scrumptious and come in all shapes and sizes (including vegan and vegetarian). Add a side of onion rings, a milkshake and a run-around on their playground and you’re set! Brodburger has a venue in Kingston, near the Glassworks and in Capital Brewing Co. in Fyshwick.
Follow up your burger with something sweet from Frugii. Ever heard of a ‘dessert laboratory’? Sounds pretty cool, right? Open seven days a week in Braddon, this sugar heaven produces a weird and wacky and frequently changing menu of ice cream, gelato and sorbet, as well as cheesecakes and pastries. Try more unusual ice cream flavours such as ‘Vegemite on Sourdough,’ ‘Beetroot and paprika,’ or ‘Butter Chicken.’ Grease Monkey and Milky Lane are two more great Braddon picks.
In this story, we hear straight from kids and teens in Canberra about more top picks of places to eat.
Free fun in Canberra for families
- So is the National Arboretum – which is effectively a museum of trees. Bring a picnic to enjoy their wide grassy spaces, then let loose on the acorn-themed playground. The curious can also enter the bonsai room, containing various types of the fairy-sized trees.
- Bring a bike and a whole range of activities opens up to you. Just 15 minutes from the city centre lies 50-kilometres worth of maintained mountain-biking trails in Stromlo Forest Park. Majura Pines also has great beginners’ tracks.
- You can also pedal around Lake Burley Griffin, which is flat and easy to navigate. Whether on foot or on wheels, try different sections of the route to pass some of Canberra’s most famous monuments. Wander past international flags, Australian of the Year plaques and prominent buildings.
The best Canberra annual events for families
Enlighten Festival – March
From the light installations and Night Noodle Markets to the Lights!Canberra!Action! film festival and the hot-air balloon Spectacular, everyone in the family will be glowing after these festivities.
Floriade – September/October
You’ll have a bloomin’ good time thanks to live music concerts, food tents, NightFest events after dark and over 1 million flowers on display. Read more about Floriade Festival in a previous year.
Read more about Floriade Festival in a previous year.
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