While the general consensus on Australia’s Capital Territory is that it is built on round abouts and there is little to do, neither is true! In fact, if you have some little tackers on board, you will find there are some great things to do with your family – and away from the crowds of Sydney or Melbourne.
You can still go to a park and only find a handful of kids on the slide, mums are happily chatting to each other and the coffee is just a few paces away. There are lots of fantastic educational and recreational activities and plenty of cheap parking around. It is easy to get to places, especially if you have a car and there are also some great walks, runs and bike rides. Not to mention its natural bushland setting where you are never far from a paddock of kangaroos or a reserve.
One of the downfalls of Canberra is the lack of beach, but you will still find some water to look at and even sail and paddle on. Lake Burley Griffin sits in the centre of the city with many small lakes dotted throughout the newer suburbs. Beach aside, there is plenty to do if you are fit and active and have kids.
Here are five top things to do with kids in Canberra.
1. Spend a morning at Questacon
You only need a morning to explore Questacon – the National Science and Technology Museum, unless of course you are a mad keen scientist and need to know why and how everything spins and turns. Once you buy your tickets, you head to the top of 6 floors and start exploring optical illusions, weather phenomena complete with a simulated earthquake, mechanical ball mazes, the cause and effect of push and pull, light and sound shows and a favourite among my kids, the drop down slide. After donning on a pair of overalls and climbing two flights of stairs, children hand from a rail and free fall a couple of metres before being caught by the slide below. If your child is under 6, Mini Q is worth a visit – if you are there in the school holidays, it is best to book. We spent many days here when the children were small playing in water, climbing slides and ropes and serving pretend food from the kitchen. It is enclosed and safe for little ones to run riot. There are also shows that run every hour. The facilities are clean, although the café is overpriced and nothing to write home about. Tickets for a family of 2 adults and up to 3 children cost $70. More information here.
2. Visit the Arboretum & Pod Playground
Situated on 250 hectares, the Arboretum was created after the forest area was burned out in the 2001 and 2003 bushfires. A competition was held to create the Arboretum and the result is 100 forests and 100 gardens including threatened, rare and symbolic trees from around the world. The Village Centre is located in the heart of the Arboretum that has views over Lake Burley Griffin and the heart of Canberra. There is a gift shop, café and restaurant and fantastic walking tracks up and down the hills of the Arboretum with a couple of artistic sculptures around. There is also a BBQ and picnic area. But the highlight for the little ones is the brilliantly designed, Pod Playground. Intricately designed, larger than life seed pods house slippery dips, climbing frames, cubby houses and more. There is also a larger climbing frame and toddler area with a smaller cubby house and swings. Best to go outside of school holidays and weekends as it can get overcrowded. Entry to the Arboretum and Pod Playground is free. More information here.
3. Time your visit with Floriade
Floriade is a month long flower festival celebrating Spring so generally held mid September to mid October. Hundreds of flower beds are planted well in advance all situated on the picturesque Lake Burley Griffin and a stone throw to the city. The allure of the flowers don’t really do it for the kids, but the ferris wheel and other amusements are good fun. There is also generally a kids area set up with a huge petting zoo and circus tent. Children can roam free in the circus tent and use all the tools real acrobats use, under the guidance of trained circus professionals. One year there was even a snake pit and reptile show, I don’t know about it because I was far off in the other direction! The facilities are good and food is abundant but pricey. Best to pack a picnic and find a spot by the lake watching the ducks swimming around. There is a little market area with stall that is generally worth a look at. Entry is free, but food, rides and shopping are expensive. Arrive early and park on the city side with just a little walk over the footbridge. 2014 Floriade runs from 13 September to 12 October. More information here.
4. Go to the National Zoo & Aquarium
The National Zoo & Aquarium is worth a look. It is not comparable to Taronga Zoo in Sydney, but still a pleasant family day out to see some rare animals. It is small enough to walk around and pram friendly. The highlights are the white lions and the Sun Bears who always seem to be active. If you’re brave and want to fork out some money, you can have a personal meeting with a cheetah. And all the usual animals are about, mostly in large, natural environments including tigers, giraffes, zebras, red pandas, kangaroos, dingoes, cougar, snow leopard, brown bear, meerkats, monkeys and reptiles. There is also a small Aquarium with a token shark and baby crocodile, but don’t worry if you miss it. Ticket prices for 2 adults and up to 3 children are $105. Opening hours are 10am-5pm. More information here.
5. Get active
If you are up for exploring nature and using up some energy, hire a kayak or paddle boat and explore Lake Burley Griffin. Or hire some bikes and ride around the well mapped out, kid friendly bike paths. The bike paths in Canberra are fantastic. They are dedicated just to bikes with no cars, while you have to cross roads from time to time; there is no danger of sharing the track with a car. There are two tracks around the lake and a whole host more the further out your venture. For example, in Gungahlin there are bike paths around its man made lake and beyond. If biking or boating are not your thing, go for a walk in the many reserves and forests to spot a kangaroo or two.
Some other great things to do with kids;
- Soak up Australia’s war history at the Australian War Memorial
- Get to know the history of Canberra at the National Capital Exhibition
- Run some steam off in the National Museum of Australia and learn more about Australia
- Take a trip out to Corin Forest
- Explore Tidbinbilla Nature Park and while you’re there drop into Australia’s closest thing to NASA – Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex
- Become cultured at the National Art Gallery of Australia (and if you really want to see it, leave the kids at home!)
- Go up Telstra’s Black Mountain Tower to have a bird’s eye view of Canberra
- Walk through the natural Australian National Botanical Gardens, then get a coffee or lunch at the kid friendly cafe set in the bush
- If you want a good walk, go to the Yarralumla Nursery walking track and stop for a relaxing coffee under the trees while the kids play hide and seek in the natural setting
- Take a train ride at Weston Park, take a picnic to have near the lake and right next to a great kids playground
- If you are there on Sunday, be sure to check out Kingston Foreshore Old Bus Depot Markets for hand crafted homewares, clothes and home made goodies
- Get to know the Prime Minister at Parliament House or visit Old Parliament House
Our Family Favourites
Favourite Park – My kids love Chifley Park. It has a good coffee shop next door, a good cafe for breakfast or lunch, 3 separate play areas for different age groups, an exercise park and plenty of space to kick the footy. More information here.
Favourite place for lunch – We love Frankies at Forde, Forde Shops for lunch or coffee. It is kid friendly with an outdoors seating area. There is a great park nearby and a good bike track in both directions. More information here.
Favourite place for dinner – My kids favourite place for dinner is Green Bamboo Vietnamese, Swinger Hill Shops Mawson. Quick service, tasty food and kid friendly.
Do you have a favourite Canberra place to take kids?