When many Australians think of Canberra, cliches of politicians and public servants, roundabouts and a quiet social scene often come to mind.
But the locals know the abundance of museums, galleries, workshops, gardens, and the great outdoors itself, brings its own unique thrill.
Whether it’s visiting the icons of the national capital, learning about Australia’s history, or watching hot air balloons, there are plenty of classic Canberra experiences to delight locals and visitors. Here are 16 things to try (or visit again) that you won’t be able to get enough of.
Cruise Lake Burley Griffin
Even if you call Canberra home, a fun way to see the national capital is by taking a classic Lake Burley Griffin cruise. The hour-long cruise will show you the city’s best-known landmarks from a different perspective. There are several cruises available, offering options such as meals, and guides whose fascinating insights and wealth of knowledge will make the experience even more enjoyable.
Visit the icons
It’s not a Canberra experience without visiting some of the iconic landmarks. The Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House is a must to learn about politics and history from the exhibitions, tours and events hosted at the former home of Federal Parliament.
Or book a visit at Parliament House to experience Australia’s robust democracy in action. Join a tour to enjoy the architecture and art, or relax at the Queen’s Terrace Café. The Parliament Shop is also worth a visit.
The Australian War Memorial combines a shrine, a world-class museum and an extensive archive to commemorate the sacrifice of those Australians who have died in war or on operational service and those who have served our nation in times of conflict.
Black Mountain Tower, also known as Telstra Tower, offers incredible panoramic views over the city and the ACT from its viewing platforms. Nestled on the summit of Black Mountain, the tower also has a number of facilities including a café and the Telstra Heritage Exhibition which traces the history of Australian telecommunications.
Go museum and gallery hopping
Home to Australia’s national museums and galleries, Canberra always has something new to explore. Start at the National Museum of Australia to see the rich and diverse stories of Australia brought to life, before heading to the National Gallery of Australia (NGA), the country’s leading arts institution. The collection at the NGA comprises almost 160,000 works of art, including the world’s largest collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and Australia’s pre-eminent collection of modern international art, leading the way in shaping visual arts culture across Australia.
Spend time at the National Portrait Gallery of Australia and explore the wide selection of portraits that tell extraordinary stories of encounter, exploration, independence, individuality, and achievement in Australia.
For those who are interested in movies, television, music recordings and radio, the National Film and Sound Archive is the place to go. The ‘living’ archive is the custodian of over 3 million items and the building is said to be haunted. The NFSA is open from 10am to 4pm daily, with concession prices available for children under 16.
The Canberra Railway Museum is open each Sunday from 10am to 3pm with displays of historic steam locomotives, a mainline diesel locomotive, ‘Tin Hare’ rail motors, carriages and rail memorabilia. It is also home to the 140-year-old steam locomotive, 1210, which brought the first train into Canberra in 1914.
The National Dinosaur Museum at Gold Creek houses the largest permanent display of dinosaur and other prehistoric fossil material in Australia. From guided tours of the museum to birthday parties for the kids, there is sure to be something to suit your interests. A short stroll from the National Dinosaur Museum takes you to the Canberra Walk-in Aviary, home to over 500 brightly-coloured birds.
In the city centre, the Canberra Museum and Gallery is a unique place to experience the diverse history and contemporary culture of the Canberra region. Don’t forget to go online to see what’s happening at the moment!
Go wild at the National Zoo and Aquarium
Encounter exotic wildlife at the National Zoo and Aquarium. With many experiences on offer, guests can get up and close with some of the world’s most interesting creatures. Meet a cheetah or spend the day watching the wide variety of animals. Overnight packages at Jamala Wildlife Lodge let you sleep next to lions, tigers and bears – oh my!
Full of hands-on fun, Questacon strives to promote greater understanding and awareness of science and technology within the community.
Explore real CSIRO science at the CSIRO Discovery Centre which offers several facilitated programs for visiting school groups, as well as virtual programs on Monday and Fridays.
The Australian Academy of Science also provides independent, authoritative, and influential scientific advice and hosts a range of events.
Art of glass
Combining spacious industrial cathedral interiors with the drama and thrill of glass blowing, Canberra Glassworks is a studio and gallery dedicated to the art of glassmaking, for glass artists, art lovers and visitors looking for special souvenirs or a glass blowing workshop. Located in the historic Kingston powerhouse, tours and workshops are available to learn more about the beauty and history of glass art.
The history of money
Visit The Royal Australian Mint to learn about Australia’s money history! See some coins from the early days of Australia or have fun minting your own $1 coin. Take a free public tour and head upstairs to the factory viewing area to see where the coins are made.
Explore the National Botanic Gardens
The Australian National Botanic Gardens has an array of Australian plant life, maintaining a scientific collection of native plants from all parts of Australia. Go on a picnic in the Gardens or spend hours exploring the plants. There are even guided walks so that you can learn in-depth about the beauty of nature and discover some of the more unusual species.
Play at the National Arboretum
The National Arboretum isCanberra’s mosaic of living forests and gardens. With over 44,000 rare, endangered and symbolic trees from around the world, the Arboretum offers breathtaking views, unique experiences, and a world-class entertainment and events hub. Take a break at the café or let the kids run wild atThe Pod, a playground that has giant acorn cubbies, nest swings and banksia pods that encourage children to climb and explore.
Climb Mount Ainslie
Offering extraordinary panoramic views of Canberra, particularly of the Parliamentary Triangle and Lake Burley Griffin, Mount Ainslie lets you discover a range of native birds and wildlife close to the city centre. The Mount Ainslie Kokoda summit train, a well-maintained and informatively signposted walking trail behind the Australian War Memorial, shows off the impressive scenery of the bush capital. Home of the local Ngunnawal people for over 25,000 years, Mount Ainslie Nature Reserve is also one of Canberra’s most important places for Aboriginal culture.
Explore the Jerrabomberra Wetlands
This one-of-a-kind ecosystem is right on Canberra’s doorstep. The Jerrabomberra Wetlands are near the heart of Canberra, rich with diverse birdlife, lush greenery and beautiful flowers. There are always interesting events being held at the wetlands, especially during school holidays, so jump online to check them out.
Feel charmed at Cockington Green Gardens
Explore the fascinating and charming display of miniature buildings at Cockington Green. Featuring miniaturised houses and monuments from more than 30 different countries, including Scotland’s Braemer Castle and Peru’s Machu Picchu, there’s plenty to see. Complete the experience with a ride on the miniature steam train, view the 34-room doll house or enjoy some homemade scones in the Garden Café.
Visit the animals at Yarralumla Play Station
Yarralumla Play Station is home to the Weston Park Miniature Railway and the Lake Walter Miniature Golf course. The Station Stop Café has delicious food and has been refurbished with original NSW Transport Department booths and handmade timber tables for some old-world charm. Their miniature farm has dozens of animals including alpacas, ponies, goats and more, making it a perfect adventure for the kids.
Live performance at Canberra Theatre Centre
Located in the heart of the city, the Canberra Theatre Centre is a hub for performing arts and entertainment. As the first government initiated performing arts centre to be completed in Australia and a premier performing arts venue, there is sure to be something for everyone, even the little ones as school holidays are filled with entertaining shows and activities.
Glow at Jungle Golf
Canberra’s first indoor glow in the dark mini-golf course is always fun. Located at Power Kart Raceway, the 18-hole course is jungle themed and illuminated by special UV lighting and is suitable for all ages.
Hot air balloons
The annual Canberra Balloon Spectacular lifts off again this year from 6 to 14 March. Held over nine days, the city’s skyline is festooned with a collection of colourful hot air balloons each morning, weather permitting. The event is free for spectators; however, registration is required to watch the balloons inflate and take off from Patrick White Lawns.
Balloon Aloft has been conducting flights over Canberra for 30 years, initiating the Canberra Balloon Spectacular in 1986, the biggest annual balloon fiesta in Australia. With fully qualified and certified pilots, safety is a priority. Book in for a flight and enjoy floating over the beautiful Canberra landscapes.
Dawn Drifters is another experienced operator offering early morning flights over the national capital.
What are your favourite things to do in Canberra? Tell us in the comments below.