It may be small when compared to Sydney or Melbourne, but the ease of getting around Canberra means visitors with kids are often surprised to learn their biggest holiday problem is less “What is there to do?” than “How do we fit it all in?”
The view from Mount Ainslie is a good place to start. Drive up or, if the kids are keen, make like the locals and walk. The trail, which starts behind the Australian War Memorial, isn’t pram-friendly but is good for older kids or parents happy to carry a baby in a carrier (a popular choice for Canberra’s mums). Keep an eye out for kangaroos, and consider your timing: Canberra usually boasts clear blue skies year-round, but in winter it pays to do indoor activities until the early morning fog lifts, and head back inside around 3pm, when the sun dips past the Brindabella Mountains and temperatures drop.
Trees, views and outdoor entertainment also abound at the National Arboretum Canberra. 94 forests of rare and endangered trees from around the world are being cultivated on this mountain ridge, but given the Arboretum is only a toddler itself, the attraction will be way more spectacular in twenty years when your own kids return. For now, adults enjoy the concept, the coffee and the views, while the “Pod” playground impresses the preschool plus crowd (best avoided on a windy day, brrr).
Back at street level, Lake Burley Griffin’s bridge-to-bridge walk is a must. About an hour at adult pace, the route passes many of the national institutions including the National Gallery, High Court, National Library and National Portrait Gallery: perfect for a sightseeing jaunt by bike, scooter or pushing a pram. If the kids are still in single digits, a stop at Boundless playground (near The Carillon belltower) will be a hit enroute. There are BBQs just outside Boundless, and the bush setting (and nearby coffee cart) makes this a restful stop for parents too.
Need something indoors? Play Up at Old Parliament House costs just $2 and is excellent for kids under five, while science and technology centre Questacon’s Mini Q is another good option for the same age group. Remember, if you’re visiting Canberra in the school holidays all the national institutions have superb programs for kids: most are cheap and many are free. Check out the National Gallery or Australia and the National Portrait Gallery for artistic options, the National Library for kids’ movies, and the Australian National Botanic Gardens for night walks.
By now, the crew will be ravenous. Canberra’s kid-friendly cafes include The Knox at the Watson shops or Ricardo’s Cafe or Little Oink café in Belconnen. Closer to the Parliamentary triangle, Bittersweet café in Kingston’s Green Square is a good option: dine at the tables or spread out one of the provided picnic rugs on the grass. If you’re in Kingston on a Sunday, it’s only a five-minute walk to the Old Bus Depot Markets, an easy lunch spot.
On summer evenings, Canberra families in the know head to the yacht club in Yarralumla for an early meal. Friday nights are particularly popular: head downstairs where there’s a fish and chip outlet, a bar and the kids can roam happily on the expansive lakeside grass as the sun sets.
When it is time to sleep, Canberra has accommodation options for all budgets. If money is no object (and the kids are six or over), treat yourself to a night at Jamala Wildlife Lodge, part of the National Zoo and Aquarium, where giraffes stroll up to your balcony and bears snore only metres away from your bed.