What to do in Canberra – our family holiday guide

As autumn descends upon us you are looking for somewhere to spend a few days, why not head to Canberra. Our nation’s capital is not just about politics. If anything, you’ll find there is more to do than you can squeeze in on a family holiday. In fact, it is a perfect Easter escape.

I think of Canberra as an educational experience for families – but one that is both interesting and fun. And in a bonus for those on a budget, there are a number of places that offer free entry. The only problem you will have is that with so many places to visit, you will have to work out which activities appeal more.


National Museum of Australia: As well as learning about Australian history, including our rich indigenous heritage, there are hands on experiences for younger visitors. There are guided tours (fee) but general admission is free, making it a great place to visit for those on a budget. Visit the Discovery Space program during the school holidays and work with renowned puppet maker and puppeteer Marianna Mettes from PuppetOOdle to help her bring some of the Toy Theatre stories alive on a bigger stage.

Australian War Memorial:  Learn about our military involvement in conflicts throughout the ages. The Discovery Zone, which is the memorial’s educational space for school groups, is also open to the public from 12.30-1.30pm on weekdays and on weekends and school holidays. Admission is free and free guided tours are also available.

This autumn, you can explore art and personal stories in the Memorial’s Commemorative Area before creating your own poppy mosaic to take home as part of Mosaics at the Memorial. Join a curator to take a closer look at the paintings by well-known official war artist George Lambert. Learn about the history of animation and war and watch some much loved cartoons from the collection – including Donald Duck – during Moving Battle Lines: Animation And War.

Visit the Australian War Memorial.

Parliament House: Visit the home of Australian democracy. Free guided tours are available and when Parliament is sitting, more politically enthusiastic families can sit in on question time.

CSIRO Discovery Centre: The CSIRO Discovery Centre offers an interactive journey through CSIRO and Australian science history. Science is presented in an entertaining way to demystify it, and educate people of all ages about the world of research and innovation. Only $20 for family of up to 5.

Questacon: The National Science and Technology Centre makes science fun. Home to a range of interactive exhibitions like Awesome Earth, Wonderworks, Q Lab and Excite@Q, Questacon is a favourite with the young and the young-at-heart. Surprise your senses and challenge your mind in Perception Deception with more than 60 hands-on and multimedia exhibits featuring perception tests and illusions.

The whole family will love visiting Questacon

Australian Institute of Sport: Go behind the scenes at Australia’s premier elite sporting precinct. You might catch some of Australia’s top athletes in training, and because every tour is guided by an elite athlete, you’ll get to ask plenty of questions.

National Dinosaur Museum: The National Dinosaur Museum was started in 1993 and has grown from a small collection to the largest permanent display of dinosaur and other prehistoric fossil material in Australia. With 23 complete skeletons, and over 300 displays of individual fossils, the museum continues to grow.

National Zoo and Aquarium: If your children love animals, check out the Canberra Zoo. The zoo offers a number of animal encounters (fee and bookings required) as well as a ‘Zoocation’ school holiday program. The aquarium is being renovated and will have major construction works throughout September (2013)

Cockington Green Gardens: A fascinating display of miniature buildings set within beautifully landscaped gardens. Cockington Green Gardens first opened in 1979. The park is constantly growing, with work currently underway on Canberra House, the first building constructed in the Australian Houses Project.

The Great Outdoors: Canberra is not just about being indoors. In addition to Lake Burley Griffin and its surrounding parklands, you can also visit the Australian National Botanic Gardens (check out their after dark scavenger hunt), see aboriginal rock at in the Namadgi National Park, spot rare rock wallabies and take part in guided walks and activities and special school holiday activities at Tidbinbilla Sanctuary and visit the national arboretum  with its nature themed pod playground.

The Pod Playground at the National Arboretum.


September/October: Floriade

October: Canberra Nara Candle Festival

March: Canberra Balloon Spectacular

Where to stay: See Family Friendly Accommodation

More information: Visit CanberraEvents ACT

2 thoughts on “What to do in Canberra – our family holiday guide”

  1. There is so much more to do than this! Why do we need to limit activities to the ‘touristy’ or ‘institutional’ bulidings? We have some of the best cool region wineries, delicacy meat smokers and chocolate makers. Lots of outdoor activities – hire a bike and ride around the lake, rock climbing, dragon boating, chocolate cruises, hikes up mountains with great views. We have brilliant indi/folk music scene, and comedians, with live gigs, and amazing arts movements with start-up exhibitions, markets, displays…. the list goes on and on. I loath a list that only has the big touristy cliche bulidings!

  2. Thanks for taking the time to reply Sarah. I agree there is much more to Canberra than what is on my list. But as you can see, my blog is aimed solely at the family holiday market, so my focus is on things children will enjoy (and learn from) rather than the many other things you can do if you did not have kids in tow. A lot of things you have mentioned would not be practical to do when holidaying with babies or children. However, I did include links to family friendly outdoor pursuits because, as you said, there is more to Canberra than buildings. I also provided links to the local tourist & events websites so people can do their own research to find out what is on when they plan to travel, such as events, exhibitions etc. Amanda

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