If you're dreaming of an out of this world experience right here in Canberra, the big, dark sky surrounding the city provides the perfect opportunity to get out, look up and be amazed. Because the bush capital's urban areas are fairly small and confined making for a lower level of light pollution than other big cities, you only need to drive thirty minutes from the CBD to find opportunities aplenty for spotting stars, planets and more. The area's crisp lack of humidity helps keep conditions clear, ideal for taking sharp images of the sky and, amazingly, even the aurora australis (southern lights) when the conditions are right.
Werriwa (Lake George)
Possibly the easiest place to access is the rest area at Werriwa (Lake George). The road from the city is easy to navigate and the drive comes in at around half an hour. Be warned, the ease of access is also Lake George's biggest downfall. While you might have the place to yourself on a quiet night, it can get very busy on weekends, when there is holiday traffic or when there are interesting events happening skyward.
Dairy Farmers Hill
This landmark of the National Arboretum in Canberra is an ideal place to see the stars if you don't want to leave the city limits. While light pollution is an issue, if you time your visit after 11pm, the lights are noticeably dimmer making for better viewing conditions. Just remember the Arboretum is closed to traffic overnight so pack some walking shoes for the short but steep walk up the hill.
Namadgi National Park
Namadgi National Park is ideal for stargazing and if you are looking for some earthside features to add perspective, Legoland (near the Honeysuckle Creek campground) is a good option. The granite tors and sweeping views over the Orroral Valley make for ideal astrophotography conditions.
The Orroral Valley, in particular, the Orroral Homestead, is another favourite location because the homestead provides an interesting foreground for photographs of the night sky. The 9.6km hike to the homestead isn't for inexperienced walkers, especially by night, so you can always set up at the Orroral Campground instead - the experience will be minus the homestead but still magnificent.
Tharwa is the perfect combination of remote and accessible - easy to access from Canberra but small enough and far enough from the city that the light pollution is low enough to provide magnificent views of the night sky. Because Tharwa offers dark sky to the south, this is also your best bet if you're hoping to see the aurora australis. While the chances of seeing the aurora from Canberra is very slim, there is an aurora forecast available here so you can maximise your chance of witnessing this amazing phenomenon. And if the aurora doesn't get your memo and fails to show, there is plenty of beauty and wonder still visible from Tharwa including sweeping views of the Milky Way.
If you really want to delve into galaxies far, far away, Mount Stromlo offers both public astronomy nights and private tours. If you take the private tour, you'll have an astronomy expert and a very, very impressive telescope as your companions for the night. Information about the public tours can be found here. Details about how to make a private booking are here.
The Canberra Astronomical Society
The Canberra Astronomical Society welcomes astronomers of all levels and cooperation between amateur and professional astronomers. The Society offers regular events including Deep Sky Nights on both the north and south side as well as Observatory Nights and meetings and is a great source of information on all things astronomy in Canberra.
The places listed are relatively accessible and proven to provide great views but there are almost limitless opportunities to stop and look up around Canberra if you have a car and some time to drive the backroads. You may need some patience with the weather and, depending on the time of year, there may be less going on in the sky but if you are willing to take the time, the reward will be an awe-inspiring glimpse into the magnificence of nature.