Stepping into an air-raid shelter, feeding a tiger, minting a $1 coin, boating on the lake, and looking at a moon rock are just some of the activities that families can do in Canberra. The city might not immediately spring to mind as a place to spend the school holidays, but you will be pleasantly surprised at the number of things to do in Canberra. Seeing the city through a child’s eye will give you a completely different perspective on Australia’s National Capital.
Most of the major attractions have activities for kids, and better still, many are free. The National Museum of Australia has storytelling in a boab tree, great cubbies, and kSpace where kids can create a time-travelling robot. Old Parliament House has dress-ups and a Super Sleuth clue hunt, the National Gallery has a special children’s area, and the National Screen and Sound Archive has many interactive exhibits. At the Australian War Memorial, littlies can dress up in a nurse’s uniform, while the sound and light show themed around World War II Lancaster bomber, G for George, is so exciting that it has been known to stop teenagers from text-messaging. Questacon is a big magnet for kids with its interactive science exhibits, including an earthquake simulation.
At the Royal Australian Mint, kids never tire of minting their own $1 coin. It costs $2 but who cares when it’s the old folks’ money? Sports-mad families love the Australian Institute of Sport where elite athletes conduct behind-the-scenes tours. Its interactive Sportex exhibition simulates skiing, tests how you would fare as a wheelchair basketballer, and shows how you measure up to an elite athlete. If the AIS is home to sporting giants, Cockington Green miniature village is for those who appreciate things small-scale. Its ride-on steam train is loved by big and little kids alike, as is the old-fashioned carousel in City Walk.
Canberra is full of surprises and one that even a lot of locals don’t know about is Calthorpes’ House, built in 1927, the year Parliament House opened. It is furnished exactly as the Calthorpe family left it, right down to clothes in the wardrobes - it even has an air-raid shelter! The outstanding National Zoo and Aquarium has some great behind-the-scenes tours (check ahead for tours specially tailored for young children). The National Dinosaur Museum is fun for all ages, while at Tidbinbilla there is a nature reserve and the Deep Space Communication Complex with fascinating space-related objects.
Lake Burley Griffin and its foreshores are perfect for outdoor pursuits with free barbecues, picnic spots and parks where the kids can run around and feed the ducks. Rent a drive-yourself GoBoat to see Burley Griffin’s beautifully designed city from the water. The motorised boats seat eight and no licence is needed. Kayaks, paddleboats, and tandem and family bikes are also available for hire. Not only is Canberra home to the Australian story and a great place to educate kids about their heritage, it is a recreational paradise for big and little kids alike.
Dining options are equally plentiful. The Canberra Yacht Club is a great choice for families, as kids can run around on the grass and watch the activity on Lake Burley Griffin while enjoying fish and chips. There are plenty of excellent Asian eateries in Civic, Manuka and Kingston where children are welcome, including Sammy’s Kitchen, Abell’s Kopi Tiam, Timmy’s Kitchen, and the much-lauded Thai restaurant, Mork’s.
Check out Bicicletta or Pizza Gusto for pizzas, or keep the family entertained with board games at Guild while waiting for pizzas, pasta and schnitzels to arrive. Adults can quench their thirst at Capital Brewing Co., where there’s a huge playground for the kids and Brodburger’s very popular burgers and hot dogs. The elegant Chifley’s Bar & Grill at the Hotel Kurrajong welcomes families, for a dinner experience with a side of Australian history. The National Arboretum has an incredibly cool kids’ playground and a casual café as well as a lovely restaurant serving reasonably priced dishes.
For family accommodation in Canberra, the options are many and varied. Take a trip into yesteryear at the Hotel Kurrajong, where the kids can get a history lesson about early Australian politics (Ben Chifley lived here while he was Prime Minister). Relax in a comfortable home away from home at one of the Adina Serviced Apartments in Dickson, James Court or Kingston, all conveniently located for visiting Canberra’s major attractions. If you are arriving late or catching an early flight, the Vibe Hotel Canberra is steps from the terminal and a short drive from the city.