New to Canberra, I love exploring this city and the secrets that it holds with my family.
Published July 24th 2016
Update January 18th 2018
No. 5 on this list, Kingston Miniature Railway, is now called Canberra Miniature Railway and has changed locations to Hume (opening in early 2018).
Ideas & inspiration for this weekend
Canberra is a family friendly city, with a host of entertainment options that can be enjoyed all year around. In the heat of summer and chill of winter, Canberra has plenty of indoor attractions to enjoy as well as a range of outdoor recreation areas to take advantage of the beautiful weather. Following is a list of just 50 ideas of how to spend your weekend, holiday or school holidays in Canberra - however there are many more to discover. So grab a cuppa and get comfy before you attempt to read this long list of family friendly (and often free!) ideas. Which ones have you ticked off already?
Just for fun...
1/ Yarralumla Play Station (Weston Park, Yarralumla) is a popular area for families with a miniature train ride and mini golf, BBQ areas, wild kangaroos and bike paths. See here for details. Cost for mini golf and train.
2/ Cockington Green Gardens (Gold Creek Village, Nicholls) is a quaint miniature village that is suitable for all ages to walk around and marvel at the tiny figurines and scenes on display. There is also a little train to ride for an extra cost. See here for details. Cost to enter.
3/ Big Splash Waterpark (Macquarie) is open in Summer only and is Canberra's only waterpark with twisty slides and pools for all ages. See here for details. Cost to enter.
4/ The Historic Carousel (Civic) is located on City Walk and kids enjoy riding the horses or sitting on the elephant carriages whilst listening to the original organ music. See here for details. Cost is $3 per ride.
5/ Kingston Miniature Railway operates on the second and last Sunday of each month. It is is a fun place for smaller children to enjoy a ride on one of the miniature trains around the property. See here for details. Cost is $3 per ride.
6/ Mini Ball Paintball (Tuggeranong) is usually for adults, however this outdoor course has a kids version for children over 8 years old, wearing full protective suits. Get a group of family and friends together and have a full day of action. See here for details. Cost for day session.
7/ Segway Tours (Parkes) are an exciting way for families with older children (over 12) to explore the city in style. See here for details. Cost for tour.
9/ Swimming Pools in Canberra are a great way to cool off in Summer and fun for all ages. Popular outdoor ones close to the city are the historic Manuka Pool with toddler pool and playground and Dickson Aquatic Centre, also with toddler area. Both are open in Summer only. See here for a list of Canberra's swimming pools. Cost for entry.
10/ Canberra Reptile Zoo (Gold Creek Village, Nicholls) is a small inside zoo with a few rooms to walk around and meet the 50 types of species of reptiles on display. The highlight of this zoo is the interaction with the reptiles as staff members walk around with snakes and lizards so you can get up close and personal with the reptiles. See here for details. Cost for entry.
11/ Canberra Walk In Aviary (Gold Creek Village, Nicholls) is another up close and personal experience, with over 500 birds flying over the top of you or eating out of your hand. See here for details. Cost for entry.
12/ The National Zoo and Aquarium is a popular venue during school holidays, particularly for its Zoocation programs where kids can become zookeepers for the day. Although not as large or as modern as some of Australia's larger zoos (yet), this zoo is a fun day out for the whole family. You can also stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge to view lions right outside your window. See here for details. Cost for entry.
13/ Pod Playground is located at The National Arboretum and set high on a hill overlooking the city. There are forests of endangered trees to walk around as well as a scenic café at the top to enjoy a meal with a view. Pod Playground outside the café is arguably the best playground in Canberra, with climbing areas for all ages. Why not take an esky and have a BBQ at the Himalayan Cedar Forest BBQ area or go to Dairy Farmer's Lookout after your visit. See here for details. Free.
14/ Boundless Playground (Kings Park, Lake Burley Griffin) is an all abilities playground and another popular venue for families in Canberra. This large playground is hidden in the trees, a short walk from the musical bells of the National Carillon. See here for details. Free.
15/ Commonwealth Park Playground (Lake Burley Griffin) is located on the northern side of Lake Burley Griffin and is a medieval-style fortress playground with tunnels to explore. See here for details of this park and others close to the CBD. Free.
Explore the tunnels at Commonwealth Park Playground
16/ Questacon (Parkes) is Canberra's most popular tourist attraction for families and it is easy to see why. With split levels of interactive science experiments and activities it is a winner for all ages. See here for details. Cost for entry.
17/ Old Parliament House (Parkes) is a fascinating building to walk around for adults and for kids there is the Play Up space, with costumes to dress up in. See here for details. Gold coin donation entry.
18/ The Royal Australian Mint (Deakin) is an interesting place to visit for all ages where kids enjoy watching the three robots in the factory, including Titan the strongest robot. For the best viewing, visit on a weekday when the factory is in operation. See here for details. Free entry.
19/ The National Museum of Australia (Acton) has a dedicated kids area called KSpace which is open daily - ideal for primary school aged children. See here for details. Free entry.
20/ The Australian Institute of Sport hold tours by athletes to see behind the scenes and learn about what happens at the institute. Designed for families, these are popular tours with older children in particular. See here for details. Cost for tour.
21/ The National Portrait Gallery always has a host of school holiday craft and drawing activities each school holidays, either free or $5 per session. See here for details. Free entry.
22/ The National Gallery of Australia has school holiday programs and family activities held throughout the year. See here for details. Free entry.
23/ The Australian War Memorial galleries may be confronting for younger children, however they have a children's area called Discovery Zone where they can sit in a helicopter and walk through a submarine. During school holidays they also hold popular craft activities and programs. See here for details. Free entry.
24/ The National Dinosaur Museum (Gold Creek Village, Nicholls) is ideal for older primary school aged children as there is a lot of information to read upstairs in the museum and exciting facts to learn. Out the front of the museum, there are large scale dinosaur statues to run around which is fun for all ages. See here for details. Cost for entry.
25/ Stromlo Forest Bike Park (Weston Creek) is an exciting area for older kids to ride their BMXs on the downhill tracks and it also has a flat cycle path (the Criterium Circuit) which is popular with families on weekends. There is also a small track and playground area for younger kids. See here for details. Free.
26/ Bike Riding around Lake Burley Griffin is ideal for kids bikes and scooters as it has flat bike paths for easy riding. A popular way to begin is to park your car at the National Library and ride along Queen Elizabeth Terrace. See here for maps of the lake. Free.
27/ Australian National Botanical Gardens has plenty of space for kids to run around and explore the many paths through rainforests and other landscapes. There are also family friendly night tours during most school holidays. See here for details. Free entry - however it is paid parking which donates to the gardens.
28/ Cruises on Lake Burley Griffin are a great way to see the sights and the kids enjoy getting out on the water. There are two cruise companies who tour the lake - Southern Cross Cruises are the large boats and Lake Burley Griffin Cruises is the smaller, historical boat - both have commentary. Cost for tours.
Personalised commentary on Lake Burley Griffin Cruises
29/ Skate Parks in Canberra are a great way for kids to practice their skateboarding or scooter skills and watch the older kids in action. See here for locations. Free.
30/ BBQ areas around Lake Burley Griffin are a good opportunity to take a soccer ball and some snags and have an afternoon outdoors by the lake. See here for locations of free BBQs around the city. Free.
31/ Jerrabomberra Wetlands (Fyshwick) has a walk around the wetlands, Kelly's Loop, which has little hideouts to watch the birds. Suitable for older kids who enjoy birdwatching - take your binoculars. See here for details. Free.
33/ Jungle Mini Golf and Power Kart Raceway (Griffith) are both located inside a large warehouse, so it is perfect activity for a rainy day. The mini golf is played in dim lighting with the course lit up in a fleuro jungle theme. There is also a mini Go Kart area for kids aged 4-7. Junior Go-Karting on the full sized track is for kids with a minimum height of 124cm and aged between 6-12 years of age. Over this age they can use the adult karts. See here for details. Cost per game or session.
34/ Brick By Brick (Regatta Point, Commonwealth Park) is a permanent LEGO play area at the National Capital Exhibition overlooking Lake Burley Griffin. Kids are given instructions on how to build Canberra's iconic monuments or just have a play and make up their own design using LEGO or DUPLO. See here for details. Free entry.
35/ The CSIRO Discovery Centre (Acton) is back open again after renovations and is an interesting place for primary school aged children to learn about Australia's CSIRO inventions. See here for details. Cost for entry.
36/ Canberra Indoor Rock Climbing (Mitchell and Hume) is suitable for older kids to test their strength up the walls, or climb the boulder climbing area over soft mats. See here for details. Cost per session.
37/ Indoor Trampoline Centres in Canberra are Flip Out (Mitchell and Hume) and Skyzone (Belconnen). Both are great for all ages to wear off some energy and literally bounce off the walls. It is also fun and exercise for parents too! Cost per session or hour.
38/ Indoor Play Centres in Canberra are KidCity (Mitchell), Lets Play (Nicholls), Lollypop's Playland (Majura Park) and Monkey Mania (Canberra Outlet Centre, Fyshwick). All are great rainy day ideas, although can get busy in school holidays and weekends. Cost for entry. 39/ Phillip Ice Skating Centre is the only ice skating centre in Canberra. Unfortunately it is in need of an upgrade, however if your kids love to ice skate all year around then it is the best place to visit. See here for details, however you may need to call 02) 6282 1660 for more up to date information. Cost for entry and skate hire.
40/ Skate Nation (Fyshwick) is Canberra's only roller skating rink, where you can skate along to disco music and have skating lessons to get you on your feet. See here for details. Cost for entry and skate hire.
41/ Canberra Glassworks (Kingston Foreshore) is a great place for kids who are interested in art to watch glass blowers in action, before enjoying lunch at the family friendly Brodburger downstairs. During school holidays they have classes to make their own glass art. See here for details. Free entry.
42/ The Canberra Theatre Centre has regular kids performances for all ages, particularly in school holidays. See here for details. Cost per show.
43/ Iplay is an indoor entertainment centre at Belconnen Westfield Shopping Centre which has arcade games, dodgem cars, laser tag and ten pin bowling. See here for details. There are also bowling alleys at AMF Belconnen and Tuggeranong. Pay money onto an Iplay card and then swipe to play.
44/ Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve (Paddy's River) is located 45 minutes from the CBD, west of the city. This nature reserve has bushwalks, playground, koala walks, platypus pools and The Sanctuary - a 2.1km boardwalk around the wetlands. See here for details. Pay an entry fee per car. Also west of the city is Namadgi National Park (Tharwa), which also offers bushwalks and aboriginal sites to visit. Free entry.
45/ Corin Forest Mountain Retreat (Tidbinbilla Range) is located 50 minutes from Canberra's CBD up high in the mountains. It has the Southern Hemispheres longest bobsled ride in summer and in winter it has a snow play area for the kids with tobogganing and a small ski slope. See here for details. Cost per snow session and deals for multiple bobsled rides.
46/ Gibralter Falls (Tidbinbilla Range) is found on the road up to Corin Forest Mountain Retreat (above) and it is a 5-minute rocky and steep walk down to the falls from the carpark. If your kids enjoy nature, they will enjoy standing on the platform and admiring the view. See here for details. Free.
47/ Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex (Paddy's River) is located 45 minutes from the CBD, just minutes from Tidbinbilla (above). This space station is fascinating for adults and kids who love space. This station "listens" to what happens in space from robots positioned on other planets. There is also the Moon Rock Café with small playground for the kids. See here for details. Free entry.
48/ Cotter Avenue Reserve (Casurina Sands) is 25 minutes from Canberra's CBD and is Canberra's most popular recreation area with river swimming at Cotter Bend and Casurina Sands, as well as a large BBQ area and playground. See here for details. Free.
Cotter Reserve - popular for family picnics by the river and playground
49/ Telstra Tower (Acton) is located at the top of Black Mountain and can be seen from all around the region. At the top of the tower there is a viewing platform to see the city from all directions and a little café to stop for a snack. See here for details. Cost for entry. 50/ Lookouts are a great way to get your bearings in the city, with Mount Ainslie the highest and most popular lookout in Canberra where you can look right down the centre axis of Canberra to Parliament House. Red Hill Lookout also has a scenic café at the top to enjoy the view with a cold drink. See here for details. Free.
Phew! You made it to the end. With so much to do in Canberra, this list is just a starter of what the city of offers. Why not drive north and south of the CBD and find some local playgrounds, markets and treasures yet to be discovered. Happy Exploring!
Take a break from exploring at Little Brother Cafe, Red Hill Lookout