Canberra family holidays: Things to do with kids in the capital

One great thing about young children is that they come without preconceptions. To them, Canberra is not the waste of an old sheep paddock filled with polies​ and bureaucrats, it's another destination in which to play out their childhood.

Of course, visiting Canberra with my daughters Mila, 8 and Freya, 6, it's hard to entirely avoid capital cliches.

"Dad," asks Mila, as we tackle our 15th roundabout, on our first morning, "why do we keep going around in circles?"

"Because this place was purpose-built for politicians," I mutter, before admitting we're lost.

After four more roundabouts we reach the striking National Museum on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. Designed to emulate a giant jigsaw puzzle, each piece a different exhibition space, it is colourful, curvy and filled with light.

It is also packed with our nation's social history, not a subject high on primary school children's agendas.

But the museum's anticipated that, recently transforming its KSpace family exhibition area into an interactive experience in which kids build virtual robots (with their own faces superimposed onto them) and take them back in time.

It's not easy but with help, both girls create funky androids and then enter a Time Pod where, using joysticks to control the robots, they follow a young Aboriginal brother and sister around the pre-historical Australian bush, collecting points by achieving tasks.

During school holidays the museum also offers a "Discovery Space", where hands-on programs tackle themes like Australia's native and feral animals and the differences between them. When we visit about 30 children and their (mostly female) guardians wade into an ocean of cardboard offcuts, sticky tape and scissors to create masks, based on their imagined image of an extinct Tasmanian Devil.


Our next stop is Cockington Green, on the fringes of Canberra in Nicholls, where we are introduced to a Lilliputian world with miniature scenes from around the globe arrayed among gardens.

"Look girls, there's Machu Picchu​," I say, trying to interest them in the wonders of the world. But they're far more taken with riding the miniature steam train that loops around the exhibits.

We end our first day at Old Parliament House, where the girls construct their own seat of democracy from building blocks and do dress-ups in period costumes.

We're staying at the tremendous East Hotel in Kingston, a property that manages to mix feeling cool and stylish with being child-friendly. Their two-room kids studios are terrific for families, with bunk beds, games and an X-box in the children's cubby. We breakfast downstairs at Muse cafe and at night stroll to Kingston village to have dinner at family-friendly restaurants Mr and Mrs Brown and Santa Lucia. On our second morning there is much hilarity as we join another family to cycle around Lake Burley Griffin in pedal cars. The four-wheeled contraptions might be Italian-designed but their adult drivers are not, continually veering off the path toward the lake.

One Canberra venue that should be on every visiting family's list is Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre. From the moment we arrive and the kids get stuck into the outdoor glockenspiel we have an interactive ball here, experiencing everything from an earthquake in a purpose-built display to doing a freefall down a six-metre chute. Well, actually while four children, including Mila, ascend to the top of the freefall installation, all but one eye the drop and retreat, leaving Dad to perform the most undignified human flight since the birdman plummeted off Worthing pier into the English channel.

A final day trekking nine kilometres to Square Rock in Namadgi National Park, half an hour out of Canberra, helps restore my battered pride as I marvel at my young daughters' stamina and adventurous spirit. Their reward is an hour's bouncing at trampoline warehouse Flipout, in the suburb of Hume.

On our final morning I promise the girls time at the new playground in the National Arboretum, which Canberrans rave about. But even with Navman spouting instructions, I'm confronted with one roundabout too many and we find ourselves heading out of town without the option to "perform a U-turn as soon as possible."




Qantas and Virgin Australia fly regularly to Canberra from Sydney and Melbourne. The capital is 3.5 hours' drive from Sydney, eight hours from Melbourne.


East Hotel, 69 Canberra Avenue Kingston. two-bed apartments with kids' cubby from $359.  

Australian National Museum, Lawson Crescent, Acton. Open 10-5 daily (9-5 weekends), except Christmas Day. Free admission.  

Cockington Green, 11 Gold Creek Road, Nicholls. Family admission $56. 

Old Parliament House, King George Terrace, Parkes. Admission $2, $1 child. 

Mr Spokes, 2 Barrine Drive, Acton. Pedal cars from $40p/h. 

Questacon, King Edward Terrace, Parkes. Open 9-5 daily, except Christmas Day. Family (two adults/ three children) admission $70 

The writer was a guest of Visit Canberra.