It’s no surprise that our nation’s capital is packed full of iconic things for your youngsters to tick off – from walking with dinosaurs to sleeping with tigers to missioning to Mars.
Enjoy the brisk Canberra air with a visit to the acorn-themed Pod Playground, an experiential outdoor space at the National Arboretum Canberra where little ones can burn off their wiggles. The arboretum is set on 250 hectares and features a patchwork of more than 44,000 rare and significant trees. Wander around the themed, landscaped gardens here and explore the Forest Sculpture Gallery, which offers panoramic views from its location on top of Dairy Farmers Hill.
In addition to seeing lions, leopards, elephants and rhinoceroses, visitors to the National Zoo will spot lesser-known animals such as the black-and-white-ruffled lemur, the fallow deer, the serval cat from sub-Saharan Africa, the pygmy marmoset and the red-rumped agouti. The 19-hectare property is also home to native Australian animals as well as sea creatures such as the big-bellied seahorse and the enormous humphead Maori wrasse (Cost: Adult: $49; Children 3-15: $28). Stay overnight in Jamala Wildlife Lodge to see the animals in action at the Giraffe Treehouses and Jungle Bungalows, where all that separates you from a tiger, leopard or sun bear is a huge glass window, or at USHAKA LODGE, with its ring-side seats to the monkeys and meerkats.
The National Dinosaur Museum uses everything from fossils and animatronic dinosaurs to interpretive displays from our prehistoric past and interactive digital exhibits to explore life on Earth during the Mesozoic era. The National Dinosaur Museum also charts the course of evolution in chronological order from the first single-cell life form to the age of dinosaurs and beyond. Explore the landscaped dinosaur garden to meet Stan the 12-metre-high, 20-metre-long Tyrannosaurus Rex and the larger-than-life raptors and triceratops. The National Dinosaur Museum also has an extensive crystal and gemstone collection. Spot some modern-day real-life reptiles in the form of water dragons at the Australian National Botanic Gardens just a 15-minute drive away.
Curious little minds will find it challenging to move beyond the foyer at Questacon, where exhibits Cam Wave, Robo Q and A Clockwise Universe are on display. The interactive wonderland is part of the National Science and Technology Centre and includes a range of immersive activities: undertake a virtual mission to Mars, which brings you up close and personal with the planet’s red surface; experience the force of an earthquake; and watch a high-voltage caged lightning show in Awesome Earth. Bookings are essential ahead of your visit.
Despite the fact that everything at Cockington Green Gardens is in miniature, the landmark attraction is an enormous undertaking. The closer you look, the more you will see at Cockington Green Gardens, a family-owned and operated attraction that the Sarah family opened in 1979. Take a miniature steam train ride around the gardens, and peer into the original English village where you can see tiny model people going about their business. An indoor exhibition in the Rose Room will also reveal a teeny tiny world within Waverley, a 34-room doll’s house.
A family trip to Canberra should always include a visit to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, a 40-minute drive from the city centre (located on Tidbinbilla Reserve Road). Choose your own nature adventure when you opt for one of the paths that cuts across the parkland: the 700-metre-long Koala Path takes you past eucalypts that shelter the bear-like marsupials; the Sanctuary Loop offers plenty of opportunities to spot platypus, especially in August when they are at their most active; while the more challenging Camels Hump trail boasts views over the nation’s capital. Join Dhawura Tours to learn about Aboriginal history, connection to the land and bush foods on a very inspired walk through the wilderness. For bookings, contact the Canberra and Region Visitors Centre.
Wait for a clear and crisp day before bundling your brood into the car for the 45-minute drive from Canberra to Corin Forest on the northern edge of the Australian Alps. Put those little hands in mittens in readiness for riding down the silky man-made ski slopes in a toboggan (Cost: $25 for an hour-long Alpine Slide session; or $20 for a Snowplay session) or ease them into snow sports with a lesson by a professional instructor. The gentle terrain has been groomed so beginners master the basics in no time. A half-day ski area pass is $50 or $95 with the inclusion of skis or boards and boots. Head to the cafe to chow down on wood-fired pizza.
It’s a Play Station, but not as you know it. Yarralumla Play Station opened in 1973, long before franchises such as Fortnite started to redefine what adventure looks like for children. The iconic business is home to Weston Park Miniature Railway, a 36-hole Lake Walter Miniature Golf putt-putt course, as well as a Petite Park Petting Zoo, where the mini farm friends include miniature pigs, a miniature Galloway cow, miniature goats and ponies as well as regular-sized chickens, turkeys and ducks.
The history of the world-famous FreakShake can be traced back to a little café in Manuka called Pastissez, where the monstrous milkshake was born. As well as being highly sought-after fodder for Instagram stories, the photogenic concoction is wickedly good. Get your freak on with shakes such as the Super Chocolate Fudge, stacked with house-made gooey chocolate fudge sauce, chocolate pashmak (Persian fairy floss), fudge brownie and cookie crumbs). The loaded Tijuana tacos also deserve cult status: if you can’t decide between the Chancho (braised barbecue pulled pork shoulder) or the Carne (12-hour braised pulled beef brisket) then choose both.
There are more than 1000 Australian animated short films in the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) collection that date back to the 1920s. Visit on the weekend to check these out and then stay for a contemporary take on cartoons and all things animated at Saturday Morning Cartoons on the first Saturday of the month. The program caters to cartoon and TV lovers big and small, and includes everything from beloved Aussie TV classics (think Skippy the Bush Kangaroo and Simon Townsend’s Wonder World to name just two) to animated films the kids will instantly recognise such as the computer-animated Frozen and Astro Boy.