Once upon a time, Canberra had a reputation of being staid, musty and boring. Canberra’s orderly streets may be filled with politicians, public servants and roundabouts, but its theatres, museums, galleries and cultural centres are humming with activity. Canberra is high tech, hip and city with cool wine bars and excellent restaurants.
One of my favourite things to do in Canberra is a museum crawl. After a weekend wandering through Canberra’s museums, galleries and cultural centres, you’ll see how many things to do in Canberra there are for everyone. Australia’s capital has plenty of art, culture and history to offer and a visit to Canberra is something every Australian should do. Don’t worry, you won’t be bored with these fun things to do in Canberra.
- 30 Things To Do In Canberra
- Museums in Canberra
- 1- Explore The Australian War Memorial
- 2- Browse Through The National Film & Sound Archive
- 3- Visit The Museum of Australian Democracy
- 4- Spend Time In The National Museum of Australia
- 5- Admire Artworks At The National Portrait Gallery
- 6- See An Exhibition At The National Gallery
- 7- Read A Book At The National Library of Australia
- 8- Make Some Coins At The Royal Australian Mint
- 9- Do A Science Experiment At Questacon
- 10- Visit The National Carillon
- Nature and Wildlife
- Other Canberra Attractions
- 16- Practice Indoor Skiing At Vertical
- 17- Visit Deep Space Communication Complex
- 18- Take A Tour Of Parliament House
- 19- Segway Around Lake Burley Griffin Walk
- 20- See Animals At The National Zoo
- 21- Canberra Glassworks
- 22- Shop In A Market
- 23- Admire Tulips At Floriade
- 24- High Tea At The Hyatt
- 25- Eat Something Delicious At The Truffle Festival
- 26- Drink Wine in A Local Winery
- Canberra at night
- Museums in Canberra
30 Things To Do In Canberra
Museums in Canberra
1- Explore The Australian War Memorial
If you only can only fit in one attraction in Canberra, make sure to put the Australian War Memorial at the top of your list.
The war memorial is one of the most famous Australian landmarks and a blend of shrine and museum, telling stories about those who served in wars.
Exhibitions, artworks, personal records and other objects are fascinating to see.
There are permanent exhibitions and galleries with coverage of Australia’s involvement in all conflicts, including a significant collection of uniforms, medals and artillery from WWI and II.
Even if war and conflict are not subjects you’re interested in, you’ll find a visit to the Australian War Memorial fascinating.
The Australian War Memorial is at Treloar Cres, Campbell.
2- Browse Through The National Film & Sound Archive
The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) has impressive film, television, radio, video games and other new media items.
Its three million works range from the 19th century to the modern day and include discs, audiotapes, phonograph cylinders, wire recordings, records, photographs, posters and scripts.
The 4,000 newsreels are a repository of news stories that document major historical, sporting and entertainment events.
The National Film and Sound Archive is at McCoy Cct, Acton.
3- Visit The Museum of Australian Democracy
Old Parliament House, home to the Federal Parliament between 1927 and 1988, now houses the Museum of Australian Democracy.
This national monument is a charming 1920s art deco heritage-listed building.
Wander through the historical chambers, party rooms and corridors of power.
Sit in the House of Representatives Chambers, where important debates were held and decisions made.
Bob Hawke was the last Prime Minister to occupy the suite of offices in Old Parliament House.
The democracy displays in the museum are worth taking a look at as the exhibition is interactive and thought-provoking.
Kids can dress up in historical costumes and act out our nation’s history. And there’s an interactive section for families to consider our democratic way of life together.
Museum of Australian Democracy is at 18 King George Terrace, Parkes.
4- Spend Time In The National Museum of Australia
Another museum that you should not miss is the National Museum of Australia, which has a fascinating collection of over 200,000 objects.
From Phar Lap’s heart to the most extensive collection of Aboriginal bark paintings and stone tools globally, there’s a wealth of items representing Australia’s evolution.
The museum is devoted to telling great stories about Australia and Australians through technology and feels more like a technology centre than a museum.
Watch the introductory films in the rotating theatre, Circa, and lose yourself in Eternity.
This multimedia exhibition brings to life the personal stories of 50 Australians from all walks of life.
From Australian aviator Nancy Bird to Arthur Stace, a reformed alcoholic whose claim to fame was to write the word ‘Eternity’ on the streets of Sydney for 35 years, the Eternity gallery is a reminder that Australians are a diverse lot.
National Museum of Australia is at Lawson Crescent, Acton Peninsula, Acton.
5- Admire Artworks At The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Museum has many videos, multimedia, sound installations and displays that convey fascinating stories about the lives of the artists and their subjects.
With 3000 portraits in its permanent collection, created across various mediums such as drawing, painting, photography, multimedia and sculpture, there’s plenty to keep you fascinated.
You could spend hours wandering around the National Portrait Museum, admiring portraits of famous Australians from politicians to musicians and athletes.
By admiring the artistry, you’ll also gain a greater understanding of Australia’s past, culture and identity.
The National Portrait Gallery is at King Edward Terrace, Parkes, Australian Capital Territory.
6- See An Exhibition At The National Gallery
The National Gallery has an impressive 150,000 pieces of art, ranging from Australian, Asian and American contemporary art collection.
Famous works are Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles, Constantin Brancusi’s Bird in Space sculpture, Monet’s waterlilies and haystacks, and the Ned Kelly series.
There’s a section with 10 indigenous art galleries that has the most extensive collection of indigenous art.
There’s so much to see over three levels, and exhibitions are constantly changing.
The gallery’s highly successful Masterpieces of Paris exhibition a few years ago attracted art lovers from all over the country.
However, it’s not about seeing blockbusters as the National Gallery has a fabulous existing collection too.
The National Gallery building’s design is late 20th-century Brutalist style with vast concrete surfaces contrasted by sculptured gardens.
The National Gallery of Australia is at Parkes Pl E, Parkes.
7- Read A Book At The National Library of Australia
The National Library has 10 million items spread across three buildings in Canberra and one in Jakarta in Indonesia.
The library’s aim is to collect and preserve resources relating to Australia and its people.
The National Library is home to some significant works of art that chief architect Walter Bunning suggested would match its classical architecture.
The Main Reading Room showcases Indigenous art, while the Special Collections Reading Room has art focusing on modern-day Australia.
National Library of Australia is at Parkes Pl W, Canberra.
8- Make Some Coins At The Royal Australian Mint
The Royal Australian Mint is the sole supplier of Australia’s circulating coinage and the first Australian mint that wasn’t a branch of the Royal Mint in London.
Get a peek of the factory floor, where coins are produced, through observation windows.
You can also have a go at minting coins using the presses available for visitors.
The mint also creates military and Order of Australia medals.
Some of the medals for the 2000 Summer Olympics were also made at this mint.
The Royal Australian Mint is at Denison St, Deakin ACT.
9- Do A Science Experiment At Questacon
Opened in 1988, Questacon is an interactive National Science and Technology Centre that is fun for families.
The displays are hands-on and interactive, focusing on science displays and experiments.
Highlights include the Free Fall slide, Earthquake House, H2O-Soak up, Clockwork Universe and Robots in the lobby.
The Technology Learning Centre has facilities for innovators to take part in workshops.
Questacon began as an Australian National University (ANU) project and is now a key attraction in Canberra for kids.
Questacon is at King Edward Terrace, Parkes.
10- Visit The National Carillon
The British Government gifted the Carillon to Australia for Canberra’s 50th anniversary.
Its Brutalist design resulted from a competition between six Australian and British architects, and the winner was Cameron Chisholm Nicol from WA.
Completed in 1970 and officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II, it has three columns representing Great Britain, Australia, and Canberra.
The tower is 50 m (160 ft) high and has carillon bells, strong shapes, large areas of blank wall and vertical windows.
The National Carillon is on Aspen Island, Wendouree Drive, Kings Park, Parkes.
Nature and Wildlife
11- See The Bonsai At The National Arboretum
Set on 250ha, the National Arboretum Canberra has 94 forests filled with 44,000 rare trees and 20 km of walking trails forests.
As the arboretum’s focus is growing trees for conservation and research, it’s an attraction keen gardeners won’t want to miss.
The highlight is its National Bonsai and Penjing Collection.
The Gallery of Gardens has a collection of gardens home to trees and plants.
There’s a serene pond, a labyrinth and sculptures throughout.
National Arboretum is in Forest Drive, Molonglo Valley, Australian Capital Territory.
12- Go Camping At Namagi National Park
Namadgi National Park covers 106,095 ha (almost 46% of the ACT!) and has 160 km of walking tracks to enjoy.
It has birds, plant life and a rich heritage of human history dating back 21,000 years ago to the Ice Age.
Pastoralists occupied the upper valleys from the 1830s and timber extraction began in the Brindabellas in the 1930s.
The Canberra Alpine Club was created in 1934 when recreational skiing started to take off in the Brindabella Range.
If you’re keen on camping, there are campgrounds at Woods Reserve, Mt Clear and Honeysuckle Campgrounds.
Namadgi National Park and Visitors Centre Visitors Centre, Naas Road, Tharwa, Australian Capital Territory.
13- Go Hiking In Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve
Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is a picturesque natural landscape with wetlands and a koala-filled eucalypt forest.
Choose from 24 walking trails, including a full-day hike to the summit of the Tidbinbilla Range.
Another popular walking trail is the Church Rock Heritage Loop, an easy 2.5 km return walk in the footsteps of Aboriginal inhabitants and early pioneers.
It’s a natural habitat for birds, koalas, emus, platypus and kangaroos, within a 45-minute drive from the CBD.
The Nature Discovery Playground is great for kids and there are plenty of picnic spots for a family outing.
Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is on Paddys River Road, Tidbinbilla, Australian Capital Territory.
14- Enjoy The View From Mount Ainslee
Mt Ainslie (843m) has the best view of Canberra, Anzac Parade, Lake Burley Griffin and Parliament House.
You can get to the viewpoint by car or if you’re feeling energetic, hike or bike up.
Mount Ainslie Nature Reserve (637 hectares) is unique because of its proximity to the city’s centre.
Its grassy woodlands landscape is home to migratory birds, wildlife and has long been an important place for the Ngunnawal Aboriginal people, with 31 Aboriginal heritage sites.
The Mt Ainslie Summit Trail starts behind the Australian War Memorial (off Treloar Crescent, Campbell) and is also known as the ‘Kokoda Memorial Trail’ because it has memorials and plaques about PNG’s Kokoda Track.
15- Relax In The National Botanic Garden
The National Botanic Gardens is a top spot to go for a picnic, walk or if you want to cover more ground in a short time, take the 45-minute bus tour.
It is home to a breathtaking array of Australian plants and a pleasant bushland setting of dry sclerophyll woodland.
A network of paths crisscrosses the site winding past garden beds and bushland.
Other highlights include a rockery, rainforest gully planted with species from various states, and an Aboriginal trail.
The garden’s living collections include rare and endangered plant species.
Australian National Botanic Gardens is on Black Mountain, Clunies Ross Street, Acton.
For more things to do in NSW read:
Other Canberra Attractions
16- Practice Indoor Skiing At Vertical
Vertikal is the place to go for skiing and snowboarding practice all year round.
Its indoor slopes simulate actual terrain while the operators can adjust the angle and speed at a touch of a button.
Vertikal Indoor Snowsports is at Unit 2, Building 3/1 Dairy Rd, Fyshwick
17- Visit Deep Space Communication Complex
This NASA complex in Tidbinbilla is one of three Deep Space Network stations around the world. The other two are in California and Spain.
The international network of enormous antennas provides radio contact with spacecraft exploring the solar system.
The Complex has informational displays about outer space, including photos and a piece of the moon!
Together, the three stations provide around-the-clock contact with more than 30 spacecraft, including missions to study Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto, comets, the Moon and the Sun.
The Canberra station has five antennas, including a 70m radio dish as high as a 22-storey skyscraper.
The three stations work on a roster to contact over 30 spacecraft on missions to study the moon, sun, comets and planets.
The NASA facility is managed by CSIRO and was constructed in Tidbinbilla because the location is near the capital.
Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex 421 Discovery Drive, Tourist Drive 5, Tidbinbilla, Australian Capital Territory.
18- Take A Tour Of Parliament House
Queen Elisabeth II opened Parliament House on 9 May 1988.
Melbourne was where Federal Parliament meetings were held until 1927 before the Parliament moved to Old Parliament House in Canberra.
Parliament House’s design is based on the shape of two boomerangs topped by an 81-metre (266 ft) flagpole.
Inside the building is 4,700 rooms, including the House of Representatives chamber and the Senate chamber.
A marble staircase in the foyer leads up to the Great Hall.
The Ministerial Wing is where the Prime Minister’s Office and other ministerial offices are located.
One of the impressive features of Parliament House is its collection of over 6,000 artworks, including portraits of every prime minister.
Parliament House is open to guests to wander around and there’s a range of themed guided tours to learn about the architecture, art and furniture, indigenous experiences and Blitz relics.
The signature tour includes High Tea and a taste of Parliamentary Librarian’s Gin produced exclusively for us by McHenry’s Distillery.
Parliament House is at Parliament Drive, Canberra.
19- Segway Around Lake Burley Griffin Walk
Lake Burley Griffin is a tranquil playground and a popular place to go kayaking, rowing or sailing.
There are paths around the lake for walking and cycling as well as picnic spots.
The manmade lake was created in 1963 by damming the Molonglo River and named after the architect from the USA who won the design competition for Canberra city.
The lake is in the centre of the city and a fun way to explore is to go on a Segway tour.
20- See Animals At The National Zoo
You’ll be surprised to learn that the National Zoo and Aquarium is a private zoo and a family-run business.
A combination of aquarium and zoo has a large collection of big cats and is involved in breeding programs for endangered species.
Animals at the zoo include all the usual suspects, from lions and tigers to monkeys and penguins.
The zoo offers hands-on animal experiences, such as feeding bears, and runs educational programmes.
National Zoo & Aquarium Scrivener Dam, Lady Denman Drive, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory.
21- Canberra Glassworks
Trying your hand at making glass is an immersive experience offered by Canberra Glassworks.
You’ll perspire from the heat from the furnace as your lump of glass begins to take shape.
Kitted out with safety glasses, heavyweight gloves and an apron, you’ll soon turn a molten lump of glass into a masterpiece, learning to shape the glass with tweezers.
Besides glassmaking, another reason to visit as the glassmakers is it is located within the historic Kingston Power House, which supplied electricity between 1915 and 1957.
It’s the oldest permanent public building in Canberra and was designed by John Smith Murdoch, who also designed Old Parliament House and Hotel Canberra (now the Hyatt Hotel).
Canberra Glassworks 11 Wentworth Avenue, Kingston Foreshore, Kingston, Australian Capital Territory.
22- Shop In A Market
The Old Bus Depot Markets
Shop for handmade clothing, crafts and jewellery at the Old Bus Depot Markets.
The market is located in a historic industrial building and has a vibrant Sunday atmosphere.
Old Bus Depot Markets is at 21 Wentworth Ave, Kingston (10 am to 4 pm on Sundays).
Shop handmade is a design and food market with stalls selling various items, including jewellery, art, homewares, gifts, fashion, accessories, and kids clothing.
The food hall is packed with food vans.
Shop Handmade is at Exhibition Park in Canberra.
23- Admire Tulips At Floriade
Floriade is Canberra’s annual floral display and a huge spring celebration with over 1,000,000 blooms gracing Commonwealth Park.
What began in 1988 as a celebration of Canberra’s 75th birthday and grown into the largest flower show in the Southern Hemisphere.
Floriade is an annual event, with food stalls and shops among the flower displays.
Floriade is at Commonwealth Park, Canberra, in September and October.
24- High Tea At The Hyatt
An indulgent experience in Canberra is to take High Tea at the Hyatt’s Tea Lounge.
The famous afternoon tea comes with tempting cakes, finger sandwiches and freshly baked scones.
Wash down the spread with a pot of estate tea and a glass of Lerida Estate Zenzi sparkling wine.
The Afternoon Tea buffet (2.30 to 5 pm) in the Tea Lounge is a real treat.
Hyatt Hotel is at Commonwealth Avenue.
25- Eat Something Delicious At The Truffle Festival
The Truffle Festival is held every year, beginning on the shortest day of the year until the end of August.
There are foodie events throughout Canberra when the festival is on, and black winter truffles are part of meals served in local cafés and restaurants.
The aroma of truffles hangs in the air, and cafes, restaurants and bars dish up various truffle-based goodies.
Truffle brie, truffle beer, truffle pizza and truffle crème brulée are some of the food to try during the festival.
You can also join a cooking workshop, visit a farm, shop in a market or join a truffle hunt and watch the dogs in action.
26- Drink Wine in A Local Winery
With over 30 wineries within half an hour of the city, Canberra’s cellar doors are easy to explore.
Visit boutique wineries and chat with the winemakers or book a table at a gorgeous vineyard restaurant.
Start at the Lake George Region where these vineyards will delight:
Mount Majura Vinyard
ACT’s first vineyard was planted in 1988 and has a wide range of varietals including some unusual wines like Tempranillo and Graciano.
The winery has glamping accommodation at the Naked Cubby and there’s a truffle farm next door.
Lark Hill Biodynamic Winery
A certified biodynamic winery that grows several varieties, including Grüner Veltliner, commonly grown in Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic).
One of the highest vineyards with the highest altitude in the region, its cellar door has lovely valley views.
Keep an eye out for the winery’s programme of creative events.
Lerida Estate Winery
Lerida Estate Winery makes excellent Pinot Noir and has a designer cellar door and a fabulous restaurant.
Grapes are hand-picked and the winery operates under sustainable practices.
Accommodation is available in the tiny house known as Little George.
Canberra at night
27- See the Lights During Enlighten Festival
Enlighten Festival is a culture and creative Autumn festival in Canberra that is worth organising your trip around.
From film screenings to hot air balloon flights and music in the park performed by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, the festival brings culture to the people.
Enlighten Illuminations is a creative series of projections on some of Canberra’s famous buildings at night.
Another way to see the lights is to cruise on Lake Burley Griffin.
The best spot to watch the hot air balloons is at the National Arboretum but you’ll have to get up there at dawn.
Enlighten Festival is in March.
28- Sleep With Lions At Jamala Wildlife Lodge
Sleep with the lions and giraffes at Jamala Wildlife Lodge, where suites are decorated in African style.
There are three types of accommodation: Ushaka Lodge, Giraffe Tree Houses, facing the giraffe enclosure, and Jungle Bungalows, offering the best wildlife experiences for guests.
Giraffes often wander past the tree houses and some even come up to the balconies for a feed.
There are five Jungle Bungalows with floor-to-ceiling glass windows facing lion, brown bear, cheetah or tiger enclosures.
Jamala Wildlife Lodge is at 999 Lady Denman Drive, Canberra.
29- Dine in A Fine Restaurant
Canberra is a fabulous city for foodies and there’s no shortage of fine restaurants.
Aubergine is a two-hatted restaurant that offers fantastic value, while Courgette has a delicious French-Australian menu.
Read this post for the best Canberra restaurants.
30- Drink Craft Beer
A craft beer tasting time in and around Canberra is a great way to spend an afternoon. Popular spots include:
- Bent Spoke Brewing
- Capital Brewing Company
- Signal Brewing Company – Signal is a micro-brewery located in The Pot Belly pub.