Your essential guide to the ACT with 12 of the BEST family travel experiences in Canberra and surrounds. With festivals, museums, zoos, nature parks, gardens and outdoor playgrounds, Canberra holidays have never been so much fun for families.
1. East Hotel, Kingston
With free lollies in the lobby, Xboxes in rooms and kids’ mini bars, East Hotel is THE place for families to stay in Australia’s capital. It’s rare to find accommodation with designated kids’ rooms outside a tropical island resort, but East’s two-bedroom apartments have cubbies with bunk beds, Xbox One consoles, games, reading nooks and dress-up clothes. The 140-room family-owned and operated hotel, located between the vibrant shopping and restaurant hubs of Kingston and Manuka, also offers free bikes of all sizes to explore the area. Its Italian restaurant, Agostinis, has a kids’ menu including pizza or pasta, gelato and a soft drink for $20.
2. Enlighten Festival, Canberra
Culture and creativity will shine bright at this year’s Enlighten Festival, which encompasses five events beginning on February 26. It kicks off with Enlighten Illuminations, which sees large-scale projections on iconic buildings including the National Portrait Gallery, National Library of Australia and Australian Parliament House. Wake up to the view of hot air balloons floating across the city during the Canberra Balloon Spectacular from March 6 to 14, and celebrate the city’s birthday with great food and tunes at Commonwealth Park on Canberra Day, which falls on March 8. Entry to events is free, but attendees must book in advance.
3. Questacon – The national science and technology centre, Parkes
Travel from the heart of a beehive all the way to outer space at this super fun science museum. Located in the Parliamentary Triangle, Questacon has eight themed galleries with many interactive exhibits. You can experience a simulated earthquake, freefall six metres down a vertical slide, watch live science demonstrations and take time out to gaze up at the 7m replica moon. The attraction is open for two-hour timed sessions. Tickets must be pre-booked online, including those for babies and children.
4. Pod playground at the National Arboretum, Molonglo Valley
Designed for children of all ages, the award-winning POD Playground is based on the idea of seeds as the beginning of life in the forest. With giant acorn cubbies, nest swings, banksia pods and music-making instruments, it encourages children to climb, explore, learn and have fun. It’s located at the National Arboretum, which was established by the ACT government after the devastating 2003 bushfires which burnt a significant portion of the territory, including residential areas and pine plantations.
5. Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, Paddys River
Spot wildlife including koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, emus and perhaps even an elusive platypus at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, just 45 minutes’ drive from the Canberra CBD. There are 22 marked trails, ranging from a 15-minute walk to full-day hikes. Just grab a map from the visitor’s centre, or download it online. Kids can play on the Nature Discovery Playground before enjoying a picnic or barbecue. Regular guided activities cover topics such as Australian plants, animals and habitats, wetlands and waterbirds. You can also learn about Indigenous culture and heritage at The Sanctuary. School holidays are a great time to visit, with lots of activities to keep the little ones busy.
6. Corin Forest
Billed as the most accessible and affordable alpine resort in Australia, and the closest to both Sydney and Canberra, Corin Forest offers a variety of activities to keep families entertained year-round. Through the wonders of technology, the resort aims to provide a cheap and fun first snow experience in winter with everything from snowball fights, building a snowman and tobogganing in the purpose-built snowplay area, to learning to ski on the Ski Slope, which has an easy-to-use magic carpet lift and gentle terrain. In summer, ride the Alpine Slide as it descends 1.2km through the mountain ash trees.
7. National Dinosaur Museum
Wander among life-like T-Rex replicas at this fun museum at Gold Creek Village, which is home to the largest permanent display of dinosaur and prehistoric fossil material in Australia. Visitors can marvel at dinosaur models, full skeletons, skulls and robotic dinosaurs, and learn about the fascinating creatures before perusing the gift shop, which sells a range of natural history books, dinosaur models, apparel, and toys.
8. National Zoo & Aquarium
The only combined zoo and aquarium in Australia is located on around 18ha of land at Yarralumla, just five minutes’ drive from the centre of Canberra. It has a wide variety of native and exotic animals and an open range section plus the AdventureLand playground, which features fibreglass animal sculptures for children to play on. It is also home to Jamala Wildlife Lodge, suitable for children six and over on standard nights. Children four and older can also stay on family nights, held once a month.
9. Playup at the Museum of Australian Democracy, Parkes
Kids can explore the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child (UNCRC) in a fun and playful way at this creative family play space at Old Parliament House. It offers everything from listening pods and a roleplay Kindness Café to a fuzzy felt wall and craft activities. Bookings are essential.
10. Cockington Green Gardens, Nicholls
Ride a miniature steam train among the beautifully landscaped gardens of this model village at Nicholls, which showcases meticulously handcrafted miniature buildings from around the world. You can also view the 34-room dolls house ‘Waverley’, have a barbecue or picnic near the playground or enjoy homemade scones in the Garden Cafe.
11. Yarralumla Play Station, Yarralumla
Play mini golf, pat farm animals and ride a miniature train around the grounds at this attraction in Weston Park. The mini farm has dozens of animals, including a miniature cow, alpacas, ponies, sheep, pigs, goats, turkeys, chickens and ducks, while the 36-hole Canberra-themed Lake Walter Mini Golf course is sure to delight. After riding the miniature train, Bluebell, through the original tunnel, stop and have a bite to eat at the Station Stop Café, perhaps followed by an ice-cream.
12. Australian War Memorial
Discover the stories of the men and women who have served — and continue to serve — our nation in conflict, peacekeeping and humanitarian operations around the world at this museum, shrine and research centre. The attraction shares experiences of military personnel through exhibitions, artworks, large technology objects and personal records, such as letters and diaries. Timed tickets to view galleries and special exhibitions, and to attend the daily Last Post Ceremony, must be booked in advance. Tickets may also be available at the Memorial entry, subject to capacity.