New to Canberra, I love exploring this city and the secrets that it holds with my family.
Published November 12th 2015
You can't get better than free
School holidays are a great opportunity to spend some family time together, however by the end of the holidays it can sometimes be a struggle to find ways to entertain the kids - without breaking the bank. Here are some ideas to get you started with free activities you can do in Canberra, in every season.
Museums The most obvious first choice is Canberra's Museums, most of which have free entry and are a great source of entertainment in the school holidays.
Why not check out the Royal Australian Mint in Deakin, just a short drive from the CBD. Kids (and adults) of all ages love money and with a staircase full of 5c pieces, touchscreens to play with and robots to watch on the factory floor, the kids will have fun and also learn about where Australia's money is made. Free tours also available.
Titan the robot lifting a drum of coins, as seen from the factory viewing area.
If you are happy to drive further afield, the Canberra Deep Space Complex is free to get in and is a fascinating place to explore if your kids have an interest in space. The dishes are an impressive sight as you drive in and the small museum is packed with information and displays.
Canberra's Lakes Bike riding and scootering around Canberra's lakes is a fun way to get the kids outdoors and wear off some energy whilst seeing the sights. The paths are flat and you can take some bread in your backpacks to feed the ducks or swans along the way. With Tuggeranong Lake in the south and Lake Ginninderra and Gungahlin Lakes in the north, there are plenty of flat bike paths close to home to explore.
Our family enjoys riding around the Lake Burley Griffin in the CBD and we have a couple of favourite routes which involve a cold drink or icecream at the end to enjoy. Route 1: One idea is to park at Lennox Gardens and ride around the lake to the International Flag display, have a gelato at "Doms" coffee bar and gelato outlet and then return back...
Doms - a great place to pull up with your bike and stop for a gelato.
Route 2: Park at the National Carillon and ride along the lake edge to Commonwealth Park. There is the option of stopping for a play at the medieval playground, or continue along to Regatta Point for a cold drink at "The Deck" café. This is a good spot to rest overlooking the Lake, before riding back to the National Carillon carpark. If they have any energy left they can also play at the Boundless playground nearby - guaranteed to completely tire them out!
Boundless playground, near the National Carillon on the Lake.
Cotter Reserve Cotter Reserve is a popular recreation ground west of the city for swimming, free BBQ's, the 1km Discovery Trail walk to Cotter Dam and a large playground for all ages. If your kids are younger and like a sandpit, why not take your bucket and spade to a swimming area called Casurina Sands and have a play on the river's sandy "beach" before skimming some stones. In Summer time, "The Cotter" is one of the most popular places in Canberra to cool off with a river swim and a picnic in the shade. See here for an article on where to go.
Playgrounds Canberra has new playgrounds getting built each year, each one bigger and better than the last. Some of the local playgrounds also have skateboard ramps and basketball hoops for the older kids. In the city the most popular playgrounds are the Pod Playground at the Arboretum and Boundless, near the National Carillon. If you go further afield, some have huge flying foxes that the kids will love (eg. John Knight Memorial Playground in Belconnen, Yerrabi Ponds in Gungahlin and Kambah Playground in Tuggeranong) and the newer parks have added extras, such as table tennis at Franklin Playground in Gungahlin.
In Winter holidays, why not check out the free indoor playgrounds at Bunnings at Tuggeranong and Belconnen (with Tuggeranong the largest and most popular with all ages), shopping centres and Clubs.
Free table tennis at Franklin Recreational Park in Gungahlin, just take your own bat and ball.
With so much bushland around the Nations Capital, bushwalking is another popular free pastime if you have older kids who can walk further. Due to the hot weather and snakes, bushwalking with kids is generally best suited to the school holidays in cooler months.
For shorter walks, The National Arboretum has walking trails in the forests that you can explore and there are free guided tours available if your kids want to learn more. Walking trails are between 800m and 2.2kms long, so the kids can walk as little or far as their legs will carry them. There is also a scenic free BBQ area in the Himalayan Cedar Forest (see photos here) to enjoy before or after your walk. See their website for walking trail maps and tour info.
Walk from Himalyan Cedar Forest, National Arboretum.
For longer walks there are bush tracks in the suburbs that lead up to the many smaller hills in Canberra, which are all part of the Canberra Nature Park. If you decide to go further afield, check out the TAMS website for a list of Canberra's parks, walks and reserves. You could also hop onto Tourist Drive 5, west of the city, for a country drive and explore of the back roads of Canberra past farmland and the Murrumbidgee River.
Whilst exploring the countryside, why not check out Gibralter Falls - a beautiful location, with only a short walk down to the viewing platform.
Other free ideas include: free craft classes at Bunnings and ACT Libraries, enjoying a show at the local shopping centre, checking out the many skateboard ramps across the city, fly a kite or take a picnic to the local park, check out the local markets on the weekends (some with free face painting and kids activities), walk around the dinosaur statues outside the National Dinosaur Museum or attend a free festival happening around the city, such as Floriade or Christmas in the City.
Canberra is such an interesting and fun place to explore over the school holidays. Finding free things to do can be a challenge at times, however if you get your kids involved in scoping them out, they will enjoy them even more.
These are some ideas to start with - what will you discover these school holidays?
Eddison Skate park in Woden, a popular with teenagers in the school holidays.