Canberra - The Complete Guide To A Fun Filled Family Weekend Getaway!
By Sarah Stores, ellaslist explorer
Fancy a weekend away where you can enjoy activities with the kids as well as have fun yourself? Canberra is the perfect pick. It is an easy 3-hour drive from Sydney and has heaps of attractions, as well as lots of family friendly places to eat and sleep.
I am a Sydney Girl through and through but in my early 20’s I found myself living in Canberra for work (and apparently to meet my now husband). I have to admit that I did not love Canberra in my twenties. In fact, I really disliked it. Coming from Sydney it felt too small and like there was nothing to do but drive around roundabouts or go for a bike ride around the lake and hope that the fountain was turned on or that it didn’t snow.
I no longer live in Canberra but we have very close friends down there and we visit regularly. I have since discovered a real love for the city and all that it has to offer. There are so many great activities to list that would keep you busy for at least a week. I have listed a few of my favourites below:
Museums and Attractions
Questacon, the national science museum, is a kids and adults dream. Every time I visit I am delighted to find the old attractions (like the earthquake) that I remember being thrilled with on my school trips to Canberra. My kids also always find new things to delight them. Our 4-year-old was particularly taken with the volcano section. The exhibition centre is just a delight to explore with the central spiral path leading to all the exhibitions. There is also a special toddler area for kids under 5 with a fabulous role play area and water play section.
Old Parliament House
This is a great space which allows kids to explore in a hands-on way the houses of parliament and how things work in the Government. They have really taken the time out to try and incorporate interactive spaces that will interest kids. In particular, the current Play Up exhibition is highly enjoyable!
If you have a dinosaur loving child in your house this is a MUST. In fact, I would almost recommend a trip to Canberra just for the Dinosaur Museum. The front yard of the museum is packed with large replica dinosaurs. My 2 and 4-year-olds were amazed and delighted as they ran around meeting and greeting dinosaur after dinosaur. It gets better on the inside as the fabulous museum steps the kids through all different types of dinosaurs and simply explains some of the history. The shop is also excellent for any dinosaur lovers. I can’t recommend this space enough!
Right next to the Dinosaur Museum you’ll find Cockington Green which is a display of miniature buildings, landscapes and worlds. My boys were completely fascinated by trying to spot the mini dogs in front of the houses, or the streaker in the soccer match, or the policeman at the pub. The International section was also a favourite with the boys picking out all of their favourite buildings and adding them to their travel list. They particularly liked the mini Petra and the mini Masada. The highlight for my 2-year-old was, of course, the steam train ride. And as a side note, I can highly recommend the scones in the café!
The playgrounds in Canberra are excellent and a perfect way to wind down after a busy morning. Some of our favourites include:
Image via ABC
The Pod Playground
This one is at the National Arboretum. This is a fabulous and unique playground built around the concept of pods and trees. Kids climb up and through the giant acorn cubbies, nest swings and banksia pods while the parents sip on coffee and admire the beautiful grounds of the Arboretum.
Weston Park Playground
This is a great little park and playground near the water. We usually explore the park and find some kangaroos before having a good play in the playground (good for both big and little kids) and then ending at the Weston Park Miniature Railway where you can ride a train and play mini golf. Such a great day out.
Boundless Canberra – Kings Park
This is a fabulous brand new, huge playground right on the foreshore of the lake. It is fenced (yay!) and has incorporated many features that make this park perfect for kids of all ages and abilities. My favourite was the huge swing and roundabout.
Canberra also has a lot of great festivals which are fabulous for kids. It is good to time a visit to Canberra for one of these events.
This is Canberra’s version of the Easter show but smaller, calmer and cheaper but no less fun. The Canberra Show is usually on in February.
One for the car lovers, Summernats is on a weekend in January. The whole of Canberra seems to turn into a car parade and you can hear burn outs all across the city day and night.
The Multicultural Festival
Affectionately called “Meat on a Stick Day” by our friends. The Multicultural Festival is a great day for the adults where you can find every kind of meat and cheese fried onto a stick and all different types of beer. It’s also a great day out for the kids to explore and try new foods (or eat chips like my kids did).
Floriade is one of Canberra’s most popular festivals. It runs for a month over September / October and the whole city is turned into a flower wonderland but with rides and other attractions as well. The kids’ corner is especially fun with reptiles, a farm yard, face painting, craft and circus workshops.
SNOW!!! Now that I have your attention I am not sure I should tell you about Corin Forest as it is such a hidden gem. It is about 45 minutes’ drive from Canberra and has a slope that is used for tobogganing and an alpine slide as well as a rustic cabin serving hot chocolate. You really do feel like you have spent the morning at the snow. It’s a perfect way to show the kids some snow without going all the way down south!
If you are a Vivid lover in Sydney then I can highly recommend visiting Enlighten which is Canberra’s take on a light show. All of the Government buildings are light up and the fun activities vary year by year. Kids are usually wrapt just by the lights but the festival also usually incorporates fun activities for the kids as well.
On Our To-Do List
While we haven’t got there yet, I have heard that the War Memorial, the Zoo and the Australian Institute of Sport are great fun to explore with kids.
Where To Stay
We love that Canberra has a brilliant variety of accommodation to choose from. And best of all – while the hotels and apartments can get busy during the week (especially during Parliament Season), they do tend to empty out during the weekend, which is a big plus for weekend visitors.
Our pick of accommodation is BreakFree Capital Tower, right in the centre of Canberra. This self-contained apartment hotel is perfect for families and you can pick from 1,2 and 3-bedroom apartments, all fully equipped with everything you may need on holiday. The view from our Lake Side apartment is absolutely spectacular and the kids loved watching the scenery from the floor-to-ceiling windows. The hotel boasts a large heated swimming pool, secure parking, gym, sauna and swimming pool. BreakFree Capital Tower is excellent value-for-money and if you sign up to their newsletter, there are often excellent special offers.
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