Looking for the perfect destination in Australia with kids? Look no further, Canberra is it.
Canberra gets a bad rap. When we told people in our home city of Melbourne that we were going to Canberra, the most common response was “why?”. I don’t even know why there is so much negativity among Australians for our nation’s capital as this place is great! This was my fourth visit (first with kids, although I was 17 the first time), and I was blown away yet again by all the things to see and do in Canberra.
Canberra is definitely the most underrated destination in Australia. Perhaps the world!
I am not aware of anywhere else in Australia that has so many must see attractions. The amount of Canberra things to see that are quality, top class attractions is long. If you are on a budget, there is also the bonus that there are many free things to do in Canberra with kids. Many of our kids activities in Canberra that we have written about are free or very low cost and they will appeal to both adults and kids.
Below you will find out guide of what to do in Canberra with kids, a Canberra attractions’ map, where to stay in Canberra with kids and other useful information so you can plan an awesome Canberra holiday. Our kids were 6, 4.5 and 4 months old on our recent visit.
Be warned! There is a crazy amount of fun family activities in Canberra and it’s going to be hard to decide what to do! So whether you are looking for things to do in Canberra this weekend or for a longer trip, you will have plenty of choices.
Top 20 things to do in Canberra with kids
Museum of Australian Democracy at the Old Parliament House
Our choice for one of the best things to see in Canberra for families is definitely a visit to the Old Parliament House to explore the Museum of Australian Democracy.
Josh and I loved this museum. We were able to wander around the Old Parliament House and it felt more like getting an insider’s views compared to the new Parliament House since we could walk inside so many different parts – like the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Prime Minister’s offices. Many offices were set up like they used to be complete with old typewriters and box TVs. It is very cool to think about everything what went on in this building.
The kids loved it primarily because of the very well done kids’ area (more about this in a minute) but also because they enjoyed walking through the offices which were still set up and the House of Representatives – things like this are much more interesting to them than rooms full of information (which certainly exist here as well). They had been very interested in the recent election and this helped them understand it all a bit better.
There is a lot of information about Australian democracy – its history and all the big players like the Prime Ministers, former opposition leaders and other people and things that have played a part – like where the ideas of democracy came from in the first place.
The highlight for kids is definitely the “Play Up” area. Here, kids can learn about their rights and responsibilities and there are just some very fun activities for kids in Canberra right here. They can play with cars, planes, build cubby houses, play in a teepee and a makeshift kitchen – plus many more things.
Then there’s the more educational side with information to help kids’ learn about their rights and responsibilities. We did find these sections just had too many words and the explanations too long for our kids to understand it. They did love all the playing though.
There are plenty of other Canberra activities for kids here too with a dress up room and parts of the other exhibits work well for kids too with interactive screens, audio, dressing up as the Speaker (and sitting in their chair) and other opportunities to get involved at the museum. We all really loved this Canberra must see.
Entry is $5 for a family. Paid parking on weekdays. More information on their site.
National Museum of Australia
The National Museum of Australia is another of the very worthwhile Canberra attractions for kids (and adults!). This impressive museum will entertain everyone. The building itself is quite a sight and although it looks huge on the outside, it’s quite a good size for exploring with kids.
The best part about this museum is how well presented it is. It tells the history of Australia from the first Australians and European arrival until today. There are so many different items to look at including big things like cars, tractors, a plane, animals, etc that it is entertaining even for little kids.
There’s also regular hands on Canberra children activities throughout the museum to help keep kids interested including things like a whole lot of cupboard doors that kids can open to find different items.
Mr 4 is particularly interested in indigenous culture and this is well catered to as well.
The highlight for any kid is going to be Kspace. This area is built for families and rather than being a play space like many of the other Canberra attractions for families that we visited, it’s a fun interactive journey where you make a robot and go back in time and then play video game like activities as a family. It goes back to random points in history – on our turn, we went to the Victorian Goldfields which worked especially well after visiting Ballarat recently.
My older kids (4.5 and 6) loved it, and it also worked well with much older kids so I’d also suggest this when looking for fun things to do in Canberra for teenagers. We were there on a Sunday morning and only waited about ten minutes for a turn which I find amazing for such a quality free attraction.
Entry is free. Paid parking on weekdays. See their site for more information.
Canberra Space Centre at Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex
The Canberra Space Centre is in the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex and is located about a 40 minute drive from Canberra. It is a must see in Canberra for budding space enthusiasts.
The complex is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network and is one of three tracking centres in the world which provide radio contact with the dozens of robotic spacecraft exploring the solar system.
The Space Centre is small but has lots of information about the exploration of space, what we know about the planets and details about being an astronaut. There are spacesuits, a piece of Moon rock and two theatres showing informative films. There’s some interesting trivia – like how astronauts go to the toilet in space!
Mr 4 is so obsessed with the planets and space at the moment that there was no way we were missing this – and he loved it despite it being more aimed at adults. Miss 6 wasn’t as impressed, but both J and I enjoyed it. They both were happy watching the films for awhile.
For toddlers, there is an activity centre like display to play with in the middle of one of the rooms. There’s a playground and cafe too and it’s our top choice of places to visit near Canberra.
Entry is free. More information here.
The National Dinosaur Museum
To say the Dinosaur Museum was an essential item on our list of things to do with kids in Canberra is an understatement. Our kids were so excited when they heard there was a dinosaur museum in Canberra!
Thankfully, the museum lived up to its name and the kids just loved it.
It was a hit from the beginning when we pulled up to find many dinosaur statues at the front of the museum. If you are visiting Canberra with kids, you could stop by and look at the outdoor statues even if you don’t have the time or budget to go inside. The museum is right by the main highway into Canberra so this is easy to do.
Inside is two levels – the top is the museum. Here is a history of dinosaurs over the ages. It is full of information and lots of dinosaur bones (over 50 full skeletons on display) and dinosaur models – many of which move! There’s also the chance for kids to touch many things including dinosaur bones and fossils.
The kids absolutely lapped it up, although they were scared of some of the moving dinosaur models.
Downstairs is a shop and a room full of dinosaur themed, Canberra kids’ activities. I think the kids could have spent hours here. There are drawing supplies, books, puzzles, fossil rubbings, lego, as well as the chance to pose in large model dinosaur eggs with a moving dinosaur in the middle. We all enjoyed doing the activities together.
The National Dinosaur Museum is easy to find by the Barton Highway (map below). It cost $45 for a family when we visited. More information on their website.
Australian War Memorial
The Australian War Memorial might be a surprising entry in a list of what to do with kids in Canberra, but like many things in Canberra we visited its a place that can entertain as well as educate. And given the subject matter that’s no mean feat. In addition to being a memorial, there’s a museum which contains Australia’s military history. Within the museum there’s a kid’s discovery centre which was a hit with almost every kid I saw pass through.
Entering through the main entrance the first thing that caught our eye was the Hall of Memory, and the pool with an eternal flame. The lead up to the chapel which is flanked by the Roll of Honour listing Australia’s war dead. Although I thought the kids wouldn’t be interested, they were curious about why there was a fire that is always burning and why there are all the names on the wall and what the poppies for. They even asked me to explain why no one knew who The Unknown Soldier was and why he was there.
The museum is filled with artefacts illustrating a narrative of Australia’s war involvement. Unsurprisingly the two world wars take up most of the space. I thought the kids would find it all boring and want to run through, but no. There are a lot of eye catching things on display and many multimedia or interactive displays. They never focused on any one thing for very long but there was always something that engaged them and that they wanted to talk about.
To the back of the museum there is a hall with old aircraft on display, mainly from World War II. I thought that this would be what they (especially Z) found the most interesting but there was so much stuff that to them it was just another section.
The biggest hit, by far, was the Discovery Zone. An interactive play centre, there was the chance for S and Z to fly a Huey in Vietnam, crew a mock up of a Oberon class submarine, clear mines and build bridges as part of a peace keeping mission and go into the trenches on the Western Front. In each section there were uniforms of the day (old bits of real ones, mostly) at hand to wear. Most had audio-visual components to add to the realism.
The kids loved dressing up and role-playing. While I have to admit to a Tour-of-Dutyesque enjoyment of having my kids fly me into a rice paddy while under fire from the Viet Cong, it was a bit disturbing having them get right into manning an observation post and live in a trench complete with a trench foot display and a sample of what mustard gas smelt like.
We were here nearly three hours, with roughly half the time spent in the Discovery Zone. If I hadn’t had made them leave, the kids would have stayed there till the Last Post sounded. They loved that place. They found the rest of it more interesting than I thought and it was all well done, for people of all ages. It has the kids tick of approval. I’m not sure if “enjoy” is the right word of this sort of place but I’m glad I went and took the kids with me so while it might not be the first thing to jump into your head when thinking about Canberra family activities, this place is a great one.
Entry to the memorial and the museum is free, although gold coin donations are subtly requested at the entry to both. Everything was pram/wheelchair accessible.
Anzac Parade is a commemorative road leading up to the Australian War Memorial. The road is lined with memorials for Australian and New Zealand service people who fought and died in war.
There is a red gravel central strip made from crushed house bricks which is meant to make the crunch sound that are made by military boots in a parade. It makes for quite a sight and is also very visible from both the new and old Parliament houses.
It’s a nice walk to Lake Burley Griffin along here.
Questacon, Canberra’s science museum, is guaranteed to be one of your kids’ best things to do in Canberra. It’s awesome! And it’s not just for kids either. Adults are likely to love it too.
There are 8 different galleries with a variety of science experiments and activities. The how behind it is explained as well although if you have younger kids, like us, mostly it’s going to be about having fun with all the different things although my kids certainly learned as they went.
You can do things like puzzles, turning many different levers to make things happen, dance while a big screen shows you with a zillion legs and arms, see lightening, typhoons, earthquakes, build “helicopters” and try them out, build and use car race tracks, go down a 6 metre free fall slide, see how fast you can throw a ball and so, so many other things.
One of the final galleries is the perfect Canberra kids things to do if you are travelling with younger kids. It’s especially for 0-6 year olds and has areas such as an indoor playground, water activities, building blocks and a kitchen area. It reminded me of the Scienceworks little kids area in Melbourne. The best thing about this for me was that baby J finally had something he could do! At 4 months old, this is the first time there has been something suitable for his age group and he was able to lie down and bash at many hanging toys 😀
For my 4.5yo and 6yo, they enjoyed running around but the other areas were more fun for us as a family as we could do everything together.
The best part for us was one of the live shows (unfortunately, with a 1:15pm arrival, we were too late to see the other one). It was basically about kinetic and potential energy and how energy is never lost. It was so well done that my kids learned a lot from it and loved every moment, especially when they were each lucky enough to go on stage as volunteers. You can see below, including the muck up when a ball went in S’s face!
Our tips for visiting Questacon are to take your time at the beginning if your kids are a similar age to ours. The first two rooms were the most fun for us and, with hindsight, I would have spent more time in them. Being there around lunchtime was the best time. When we first arrived, there was barely anyone around. It seems like we were in between school groups (or they were taking a lunch break) and the families with kids that nap had left. After we came out of the 2pm show, there were lots of older kids and some school groups and this meant lines for some things. This wasn’t a big deal at all, but no lines were obviously better.
Questacon is definitely one of the best places to visit in Canberra for kids. It cost $58 when we visited for one adult and two kids (with baby J free). More information on their site.
Lake Burley Griffin
Lake Burley Griffin is one of the tourist spots in Canberra that you cannot miss – as it is an artificial lake right in the centre visible from many view points.
The lake is also one of the things to do at Canberra since it is lined with walking/running/cycling paths, there are many parks and gardens, and there’s the chance to do water activities on the lake. You can hire canoes or bikes or go on a cruise. There’s also the Australian of the Year Walk. It’s a great place to visit for outdoor activities in Canberra.
Many of Canberra’s famous places are around the lake including the National Museum of Australia, National Gallery and National Library. The Parliament Houses and Australian War Memorial are also very close. We found the lake an easy place to get some fresh air and have a run around while visiting attractions.
Australian Parliament House
The basics of this Canberra attraction need no introduction – you can visit the Australian Parliament House in Canberra.
It’s a unique building which you can see from many vantage points in Canberra and it does look very impressive on the drive up to the building. You can walk in the building, take a free guided tour, a paid in depth tour, view historic documents and see the Government in action. Tickets for question time in the House of Representatives does require a booking (the Senate does not) which you can ring ahead to book. You can check which days Parliament is in session here.
It is definitely worth a visit here to see the Government in action if you haven’t been before. However, since we were travelling with young kids and I have been before, we left it out this time thanks to all the other Canberra things to do and see. I definitely want to take my kids when they are old enough to stay quiet though!
Royal Australian Mint
The Royal Australian Mint is another of the worthwhile tourist attractions in Canberra. It home to a museum all about money production in Australia as well as the history of money in this country. You can also see the factory where our money is designed and produced (as well as that of some other countries in the Asia/Pacific area).
The museum is surprisingly interesting, well presented and informative. I especially found it interesting reading about the history of money production and what they used to do before Australia produced their own coins and the challenge it caused.
The kids loved that there were activities for them – both on touch screens, a drawing area (where they could design their own coins) and in the form of a “treasure hunt” – they had to answer questions as we went around. It was also cool to see things like a dome full of 24,999 one dollar coins!
At the end we were able to watch our own $1 coin get stamped with a special design for the Mint.
It’s not the biggest museum but I think if your kids get into the activities that you could easily spend a couple of hours here. The small size also means that you can read many of the exhibits while the kids draw and play as you can still see them.
Entry is free and there are also free tours. It costs $3 to make your own coin (which is worth $1). Find more information on their site.
Canberra Reptile Zoo
The Canberra Reptile Zoo is one of the super fun Canberra kids attractions. This place totally exceeded our expectations. In fact, I think calling it a zoo is a shame, as I imagined something impersonal whereas the biggest strength of the Canberra Reptile Zoo is definitely how personal it is.
There are over 50 types of reptiles and frogs on display. Many are well labeled with good information about the species. There are also many animals in displays where you can reach over and touch them. The best part, though, is the wonderful keeper who was there when we visited that held many animals for us to meet up close and personal and the opportunities for the kids to feed them. Her love for the animals was very apparent and transferred to the kids. It was great to experience.
The zoo is mostly indoors but there are also some outdoor displays as well as a playground which has play equipment plus some big dinosaur and lizard models. The kids loved sitting on them. All up, this park was a huge hit and I think my kids will be far less scared of reptiles in future.
It cost $38 for one adult and two kids when we visited which is a bargain. We arrived just after 10am (when they open) which the keeper said is a good time as the animals need feeding.
Canberra Walk-in Aviary
Confession: We didn’t go to this attraction as there is so much stuff to do in Canberra that we didn’t have time and since we had just been to a bird park in Phuket, we prioritised other things.
However, we did visit the outside and it looks like a lovely, decent sized aviary at 1000 square metres and nearly 600 birds. It’s across the road from the Reptile Zoo and very close to the Dinosaur Museum so it makes sense to visit these Canberra tourist spots together. You can watch and feed the birds.
You can find more information on their site.
National Zoo and Aquarium
One of the fun activities in Canberra is to visit the National Zoo and Aquarium. This well presented zoo and aquarium is smaller than the ones you will find in Melbourne and Sydney but still has a huge range of animals from penguins to tigers to zebras and all of the Australian favourites.
There are many, extra cost animal encounter experiences which can be booked. You can also stay in Jamala Wildlife Lodge which looks absolutely amazing – the rooms are magnificent with animals right outside the window! See here for more details, the gorgeous photos and latest prices. We wanted to stay here but unfortunately the minimum age is 6 (or 4 on special family weekends).
The layout can be a big confusing so make sure you grab a map.
You can find more information here. Tickets give you entry to both the aquarium and zoo and currently cost $110 for a family.
If your family loves open space, great views and cool things to do in Canberra for kids then you can’t go wrong at the National Arboretum.
Arboretum means a “place for trees” or “tree museum” and you will definitely find trees here. You will also find sweeping views over Canberra (check our view in video above), many different gardens and a very cool Canberra kids playground.
The main things that will interest families are all around the Village Centre. There is a car park here as well as a cafe and shop. The building is great in itself with floor to ceiling windows showing off the beautiful views.
On each side of the visitor centre are things for kids to do in Canberra. I suggest starting by walking to the right and walking through the Bonsai collection. Our kids just loved it! Next is the Discovery Garden. Finally finish off with the Pod Playground on the other side of the Village Centre.
The Pod Playground is amazing – there are a few different play areas which probably won’t be like any your kids have visited before. The main attraction for older kids (5+ I would guess – Mr 4 was too scared to do much of it, Miss 6 did it all but was quite scared) is like acorns suspended in the air with ladders, roped sections and slides. S loved the challenge! I did read later it is designed for late primary school aged kids.
There are also climbing walls, a whole rope climbing section and some little pods best for toddlers with different play sections. All up it’s a great park and our pick of the Canberra parks for kids.
Entry is free but parking is $2 an hour. We visited early on a Saturday morning. Someone else at the park said that it gets crazy busy from 10am onwards on a weekend so try to visit early if you can! It currently opens at 6am in daylight savings or 7am otherwise.
Kambah Adventure Park
This big park is the perfect place in Canberra for kids to let off some steam!
This park in Canberra for kids is part of a much bigger green area in Kambah, a suburb of Canberra. There is a more normal style playground and then an area with scattered “adventure” activities including two long slides, two big flying foxes, a big rope climbing frame and climbing walls. It’s great and S just loved the opportunity to challenge herself.
It was a bit tough for Mr 4 who was a bit small and timid to be able to do the more adventurous stuff. He did enjoy the normal playground though. See more below:
The park is easy to find and is on the map below. I recommend it most for kids 6+.
Have a freak shake
If you are looking for yummy Canberra places to visit then head to Patissez – the home of freak shakes. If you haven’t had a freak shake yet (or one of its counterparts which now sell in other places) then you must give one a go.
If you haven’t heard of freak shakes before then you are in for a surprise! Or if you have but haven’t had one yet, it’s still surprising the first time you are served up the cross between a milkshake and a dessert.
Basically, a freak shake is a milkshake on steroids. It’s a milkshake with lots of other things added (and piled on top) like caramel, cake, cream, fairy floss, chocolate, pretty much anything they can think of. It makes for a great picture and a sickening treat. We found we only needed one between the four of us.
We had an apple pie inspired one. It was yummy but a bit disappointing after ones I have had in Melbourne actually as it was not nearly as extreme or as picturesque as the ones on their website. Still, it’s nice to have it from the source, so to speak, and we also had a very nice lunch here. They have the most amazing potato salad!
Find more information (as well as some freak shake examples) here.
If you are looking for easy, kid friendly things to do in Canberra which involve food then head to the Hamlet. You will find a variety of food vans with a big food court area which is mostly outdoors and about half undercover.
The choice of food makes it a great choice with kids as you are sure to find something they like. We ate a mixture of Italian, Po’Boys and Greek desserts when we visited. What works well with kids as well is that it’s open early for dinner – on Saturdays (when we visited), it was open 12-9 which meant we didn’t have to feed the kids late to eat out here like most other options (although not all vans were open at this time).
There is a drinks van (called The Hutch – which is Josh’s nickname so he loved it), but it is also BYO.
More information here.
Other fun things to do in Canberra for kids
We visited Canberra for 4.5 days on our most recent trip and it was just not enough time for all the places to visit around Canberra. Here are some more fun places in Canberra which might suit your family…
- Australian Institute of Sport – You don’t have to be an elite athlete to visit the AIS. There are 90 minute tours which take you through the Institute as well as allowing you access to Sportex which is an interactive exhibit with the chance to try out many sports. More information here.
- CSIRO Discovery Centre – For another science things to visit in Canberra, you can visit the CSIRO Discovery Centre. It involves a self guided exhibit with stories of Australian research. There is also a 3D movie. Note that it isn’t open on weekends. More information here.
- National Gallery of Australia – The National Gallery has a Childrens Room with especially curated exhibitions to appeal to kids. Entry is free and you can see what is currently on here. There’s also regular activities scheduled for families especially in school holidays.
Quick taste of Canberra things to do with kids
Map of Canberra tourist attractions
This is a Canberra tourist map of all the fun places to go in Canberra mentioned in this article.
Where to stay in Canberra with kids
Alivo Tourist Park
Part of what attracted us to Canberra was actually the good value accommodation and this is thanks to Alivo Tourist Park. It’s our pick of the best place to stay in Canberra with kids.
Alivo Tourist Park is located just four kilometres from the centre of Canberra. It feels like very far away though and is surrounded by bush. It’s a nice big site with lots of good facilities including a pool, sports grounds, laundry and restaurant. There are many cabin types and a camping ground.
We stayed in a Grevillea cabin which was one of the cheapest types but it was great for us. It had two bedrooms with beds for 5 and a portable crib cost only $10 extra for the stay. There was also a self contained kitchen, dining table and 4 chairs and a big couch. It was perfect for us and a total steal at $140 a night for our family of 5. My only complaint is that only 200MB of wifi is free a day. When is Australia going to catch up with the rest of the world with this!!
Albury Stopover at Boomerang Hotel
If you are travelling up to Canberra from Melbourne, like us, then we recommend a stop at the halfway point in Albury. It was so much less painful on the way to Canberra when we broke up the journey than on the way home.
If you are looking for a great, budget hotel that works well for a family, try the Boomerang Hotel. We stayed here and we were very happy. For $118 we had a decent size family room with beds for 5 people plus a free included (and requested) cot. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s neat and clean and met our needs perfectly for our short stopover.
They also have a bar and bistro on site, an indoor pool and a laundry. If you are tired and want things easy, the bistro staff can bring meals to your room.
My only caution is that they call it a “family studio” so I imagined some type of kitchenette facility but it’s just a larger hotel room with extra beds.
More recommended places to stay in Canberra with kids
Some of the best places to stay in Canberra with kids are apartments. They offer additional space and amenities that are generally more suitable for families than hotel rooms. You can see our recommendations below.
- Forrest Hotel and Apartments Canberra – This hotel offers accommodation from standard rooms to 2 bedroom apartments making it suitable for both families and groups. Parliament house is within walking distance and the hotel even offers bicycle rental. Click here to see the latest prices.
- Novotel Canberra – A beautiful and modern hotel, families can choose from double rooms and 1 bedroom apartments. The hotel has a great pool and day spa, and whilst it’s kid friendly it is not really kid focused, making it great for older families. Click here to see the latest prices.
- Waldorf Apartments Hotel Canberra – Apartments are a great option for families staying in Canberra. The apartments have their own laundry facilities with a full sized kitchen. Many attractions are also within walking distance. Click here to see the latest prices.
- Quest Canberra – Quest Canberra also offers clean and modern apartments in Canberra from studios to 2 bedrooms. The apartments are also located close to loads of shopping and eateries. Click here to see the latest prices.
Getting around Canberra
There are buses in Canberra as well as a hop on, hop off sightseeing bus. However, to get around to a variety of sites you are going to want a car. I recommend you hire one or bring your own.
To say we had a fabulous time in Canberra would be a massive understatement. Canberra is the perfect destination with kids! There are so many places to see in Canberra and many must do attractions in Canberra. The best part is that the majority of them have amazing kid areas. And they are often free! And without many people!
There are so many fabulous Canberra things to do with kids that our kids didn’t even have a clear favourite. They kept raving about all of them. We only visited for 4.5 days but they were able to:
- Fly a Huey in Vietnam
- Touch a snake
- See moving dinosaurs
- Learn more about planets
- Pretend to be members of the House of Representatives
- Build robots and go back in time
- Learn about collisions from on stage
- Design new coins
And more. I don’t know anywhere else where they would get the opportunity to be exposed to so many different experiences in such a short time.
Thanks to cheap accommodation and all the free attractions, I would actually consider Canberra a budget destination (relative to the rest of Australia), so it wins on that front too!
We really had an awesome time here and can’t wait to return again. If you are someone who has been dismissing Canberra as a destination – STOP! Your kids will thank you for it 🙂
Have you been to Canberra? What were your favourite things for kids in Canberra?
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Tags: Australia Travel Blog