At first, Canberra seems to have a whole lot of formal attractions to visit – things like the National Art Gallery, the National Film and Sound Archives and the Portrait Gallery. But it’s really not a stuffy city, even though it’s where the politicians mostly hang out.
Canberra is a friendly, lively city where you can do lots of things for free and when you’re looking for where to live, study or holiday, that can be important. Here are some suggestions on free activities Canberra has to offer.
Step outside and take a deep breath in. The air is fresh and the entire city is surrounded by bush. Go ahead and enjoy the natural assets.
- The Arboretum – Tree huggers and tree fanciers adore the Arboretum! It was created after the 250-hectare site, which was originally a pine plantation, burned in the 2003 bushfires. Now, it is a fully planned and planted site that displays forests of rare, threatened species from all over the world, including Australia. Start at the Village Centre and from there, visit the Bonsai Pavilion, the Pod children’s playground and the Canberra Discovery Garden. The views are magnificent and it’s a wonderful day out … for free.
- Australian National Botanic Gardens – You can easily spend an entire day roaming around the Gardens. Take a picnic lunch to the Eucalypt Lawn and simply inhale the fresh air under the shade of a tree. Paperbark treehouse and Garden is a fun environment for the kids with stepping stones and the exciting ‘Who Did That?” children’s trail. The popular Rock Garden is lush and peaceful and boasts a pretty waterfall. Then, enter a totally different setting at the Red Centre Garden where iconic desert plants such as saltbush and ghost gum take pride of place. One more change of pace and you’ll be in Rainforest Gully, lovely and shady and set with boardwalks so you can leisurely stroll through and enjoy the daily mistings.
- Namadgi National Park – Just 45 minutes’ drive from Canberra is Namadgi National Park. Start at the Visitor Centre where you’ll find audiovisuals of the park then you can venture out and explore. There are 160 kilometres of marked walking tracks and each trail has its own level of difficulty and points of interest. Choose views and heights or grassy valleys and abandoned huts and intriguing ruins. You’ll definitely find a trail that suits your capabilities and interests.
These quintessentially Canberra attractions should be on everybody’s ‘must-visit’ list when in the nation’s capital.
- Australian War Memorial – Allow yourself at least half a day to really see the War Memorial. Free tours are offered by passionate volunteers who will show you around the galleries. Pause to remember the fallen at the Roll of Honour wall which lists the names of more than 102,000 members of Australian forces who died during wars or as a result of their service. Visit the Hall of Memory above the Pool of Reflection, hallowed territory for Australians. There’s the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Hall of Valour, Aircraft Hall, Anzac Hall and a beautiful Sculpture Garden. Children enjoy The Discovery Zone, an interactive exhibition where they can be more active and have some fun.
- Royal Australian Mint – See where all of Australia’s circulating coins are minted and take a free guided tour. Witness actual robots in action, including Titan, the Mint’s strongest robot which can life a tonne! Learn what it takes to make currency and find out what was involved in the changeover to decimal currency back in the 1960s.
- New Parliament House – Not so new now, it was constructed in 1981, but New Parliament House is a really interesting place to visit. You can sit in on Question Time from the gallery and see bills being debated. You’ll have the privilege of seeing some of the country’s most magnificent artworks and walk through the great halls and open spaces which were the winning entry in a design competition. You can even walk on top of the roof of the House which is covered in a beautifully manicured lawn. From there, look out over Lake Burley Griffin and some of the city’s most important landmarks.
Two space-ified attractions and a pretty cool market where you can while away a few hours.
- Canberra Space Centre – Located on the grounds of the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, the CSC gives you the opportunity to learn about Australia’s involvement in space exploration. Find out what astronauts eat on the Space Shuttle and space station, watch a movie about space exploration and feast your eyes on an actual piece of the moon!
- Old Bus Depot Markets – If you’re in town on a Sunday, be sure to go along to the Old Bus Depot Markets for a browse. Open from 10am to 4pm, they’re busy, colourful and friendly. There are more than 200 stalls offering handcrafted goods from candles and flowers to furniture, antique china and handmade cushions.
- Mt Stromlo Observatory – Get science-y at Mt Stromlo, where you can geek out over the interactive astronomy exhibits. Try out the augmented reality displays and see holograms of scientists explaining their work.
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- Mt Ainslie Lookout – If you’re after views, then the Mt Ainslie Lookout is your go-to destination. From there, you can see how expertly the city is laid out, thanks to Walter Burley Griffin (after whom the lake is named) who, back in 1912, won an international design competition.
- Cotter Avenue – Drive out to Cotter Avenue, about 23 kilometres from the City and you’ll find a lovely picnic reserve. There are clean electric barbecues, a playground, a basketball court, picnic tables, restrooms and lots of wide, open spaces. You can even go fishing or swimming in the streams and river or walk along the many trails.
- Free bus – Take a journey around Canberra on the City Loop bus (route 101). You can use it to get to lots of tourist attractions and get on and off as you please.