Trying to find the best things to do in Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory? If you’re not sure what are the best places to visit in Canberra, fear not! We visited recently and we were actually so surprised that there’s much more to this capital city than we ever imagined!
If you’re looking for a weekend away from Sydney, you’ll be pleased to know there is a lot of free things to do in Canberra as well as free parking on weekends too. You could spend a weekend in Canberra and have an action packed time without spending much money at all.
Expect tourist attractions such as the Australian War Memorial, National Science Museum, Parliament House, the awesome National Gallery of Australia, Lake Burley Griffin, some fantastic National Parks and so much more!
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Let’s get things straight
Every time I’ve spoken to people about Canberra, everyone says; ‘You’re not missing out on much’.
After a bit of research we found some absolutely fantastic things to do in Canberra that I wouldn’t hesitate to visit again. If you’re looking for a Sydney getaway, put Canberra on your list to visit. In this post, we’re letting you know what to do in Canberra so you won’t be stuck for ideas if you’re ever venturing down this way.
Do A Day Trip To Canberra From Sydney
If the idea of having to sort out your own Canberra sightseeing trip sounds like too much of a mission, we pre-booking this Sydney To Canberra tour which has had great reviews. Instead of planning your own trip, let someone else do it for you so you can sit back while being chauffeured around for the day. Sounds perfect!
Expect to visit the following places:
Hear about the secrets of Parliament House on a guided tour
Explore the National Museum of Australia at your own pace
Learn about the ANZACs at the Australian War Memorial
Whether or not you decide to stay at Ovolo Nishi, you should 100% go and check it out anyway because the entrance itself is incredible. We stayed there and we absolutely loved it which you can read about in Our Review Of Ovolo Nishi. The service, the food and the unique hotel itself was more than a reason to stay here. Honestly, I don’t think you’ll find a better hotel in Canberra or in Australia to be honest!
Based in New Acton, there’s some great reasons to visit this area including Mocan & Green Grout and the Nishi Gallery – but we talk more about these awesome places later in this post. Check availability for Ovolo Nishi here.
2. Canberra Hot Air Balloon At Sunrise
If you really want to make your weekend a memorable one, we recommend going on a Canberra hot air balloon experience at sunrise. Rated as one of the best things to do in Canberra, it’s the best way to see how beautiful the city truely is.
The 3h30m balloon ride takes you over the many lakes and parks of Canberra including Parliament House with a glass of sparkling wine to enjoy!
3. Win The Canberra Pub Crawl Game
The best way to explore the Canberra pub scene is to book a fun Canberra pub crawl with Let’s Roam. This self guided tour will take you to four of the best Canberra bars, with a trivia game included. There is a leaderboard to step it up a notch. The question is… will you make it to the top? This is a cheap and fun way to get to know Canberra for groups or friends or even if you’re looking for date ideas in Canberra too!
4. Visit National Gallery of Australia
One of our favourite free things to do in Canberra is to visit the National Gallery of Australia. Honestly the National Gallery of Australia is mind blowing. We couldn’t believe how few people were walking around (however, it was during Floriade at the time). Most of all there’s some absolutely brilliant global artists housed in this gallery, we couldn’t quite believe it – art lovers will love it!
We absolutely loved seeing the famous Yayoi Kusama Infinity Room and couldn’t believe that we didn’t even need to line up for it. When we went to see one of her pieces in LA, we had to line up for about an hour. And we saw some of her pumpkins at Naoshima Island in Japan which is a massive bucket list place to visit!
We also loved James Turrell’s Skyspace. He’s got a few dotted around the world and we managed to see one in Yorkshire, UK last year. I must admit, this one in Canberra is better.
We also couldn’t believe the amount of other artists in this gallery – from the Chapman Brothers, to Warhol to the infamous Pollack which was bought back in the 1970s.
Honestly, I’d make the effort to visit Canberra if it meant all we could see is the National Gallery of Australia. It’s brilliant and full of some fantastic Australian art as well, including the largest collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in the world!
We were gobsmacked to casually see a version of Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North. I mean, I haven’t even seen it in England and here we are in Canberra of all places and a version of it is right here at National Gallery of Australia. Young kids will love this gallery and it’s a winner for the school holidays as well.
5. Visit Floriade Festival
Floriade is the flower festival which brings in the crowds to visit Canberra. We were lucky to visit during the season and it’s especially good for the October long weekend as they have loads of bands and comedians lined up to perform. There’s also Night Fest which you need to know about. Check out our Reasons To Visit Floriade Festival Guide before you go which includes some other beautiful gardens you may not know about which to be honest we preferred over Floriade!
6. Go On An Art Scavenger Hunt In Canberra
Discover some of the best hidden gems in Canberra and book this fun art scavenger hunt. You’ll pass by Civic Square, Veterans Park and Latin American Plaza for example. This is a fun way to spend the day in Canberra with family, friends or on a date. Plus! There’s trivia along the way so you can get to the top of the leaderboard, and compete against previous players.
7. Visit The Pink Lake In Canberra
Who knew there’s a pink lake in Canberra? Yep, the pink pond in Canberra is located at Eardley Street in Bruce, which is about a 10 minute drive from the city centre. It equally makes a good Instagram photo too! Make sure you check out our top 10 pink lakes in Australia guide to find out more mind-blowing hidden gems located all around Australia!
8. Enjoy A Fun Winery, Distillery & Tasting Tour
Did you know Canberra has a thriving winery scene? Let the locals show you around by pre-booking this fun Canberra Winery Tour with Dave’s Travel Group. You’ll visit three wineries, a distillery, a chocolatier and you’ll have lunch thrown in too! This is a fun day out to meet other like minded people, and support local tourism which is needed right now.
9. Visit The Australian War Memorial
The Australian War Memorial is one of the best Canberra attractions and it’s free just off the Anzac Parade. I saw the building on Instagram recently and no lie, I thought it was in somewhere like Dubai. I couldn’t believe it is right in the middle of Canberra!
Make sure you go upstairs at the memorial to pay your respects to the soldiers who are no longer with us. The memorial is very beautiful and somewhere you just need to visit on your trip to Canberra to learn about Australian history.
10. Visit Cockington Green Gardens
Don’t you just love a miniature garden? We saw one back in the Cotswolds years ago and what do you know? Canberra’s got its very own miniature English gardens at Cockington Green Gardens. Located just 15 minutes north of Canberra, it’s a must visit for the whole family. I’m sure kids will love the steam train too!
11. Visit Parliament House
Parliament House is the first place you should probably visit on your Canberra trip. The iconic building is something to see for yourself! It’s quite fascinating to see the chambers of the Australian parliament, something we’ve all seen on TV. It’s really interesting to be able to walk around and learn about the political history of Australia’s government in a free tour. Look out for the random dude outside with his alpaca (or is it a lama?), you can have a very candid photo with!
The good news is, it’s free to go into Parliament of Australia and parking is free outside as well. Again Parliament House is somewhere you really should visit on your first trip Australia’s capital city. You can also jump on guided tours of Parliament House as well to learn more about Australian democracy.
12. The National Museum of Australia
The National Museum of Australia is one of the best things to do in Canberra with kids. The rooms are full of information, maybe a little too much for us to take everything in, but it’s a great place for school trips, younger kids or school holidays activities.
13. Questacon – National Science And Technology Centre
Although we didn’t have time to visit Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre in Canberra, it would be at the top of our list to visit next time. The science museum is located right near to a lot of the other museums in Canberra and would be a great visit for the whole family.
14. Explore The Street Art In Canberra
Move over Melbourne, because the Canberra street art is hidden away in some awesome spots around the central Canberra. We loved the Canberra street art on Tocumwal Lane a lot which is worth exploring to see a more artsy side of the capital city for art lovers.
15. Visit National Portrait Gallery in Canberra
Continue your art gallery adventure and stop by the National Portrait Gallery which is a gallery full of prominent Australian portraits. The National Portrait Gallery is a fantastic place to learn more about Aussie culture and famous Australians from the ‘notorious, remarkable and glorious’.
16. Lost Vintage Shop
Located in Braddon, I’ve heard Lost Vintage Shop is one of the best vintage shops in Canberra! We didn’t get the chance to visit, which is a shame because I LOVE a good vintage shop. If vintage shops are also your thing, pop over and let me know what you think! It’s only open from Thursday to Sunday from 10am-4pm.
17. Old Bus Depot Markets
If you love a good market then head over to The Old Bus Depot Markets. It’s open every Sunday from 10am-4pm. Expect to find vintage clothing, jewellery, fresh produce, arts & crafts and so much more at one of the biggest weekend markets in Canberra!
18. Weston Park
Weston Park is located just a 10 minute drive out of Canberra and has lots of playgrounds, dog parks and cycling tracks. When we visited it was very dry but if you pick the right time of the year, you’ll be able to see the trees filled with so much colour, especially in Autumn and in Spring. It makes the perfect weekend activity for a few hours to kill.
19. Mount Ainslie
If you’re looking to get the perfect Canberra photo, prepare yourself to climb up to Mount Ainslie. The 4km walk takes about 1.5hours return. Fear not, you can always drive up to it as well to see the natural beauty of the city and Lake Burley Griffin, making it one of the top Canberra attractions!
20. Visit The Bonsai At National Arboretum
Just 12 minutes west of Canberra is the National Arboretum. We loved the National Bonsai Collection which holds some of the best Bonsai trees we’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. There’s loads of walking tracks in the arboretum and a big canteen to grab some food at. Also, there’s a big playground there to entertain the kids and we noticed they seem to love rolling down the hill in the amphitheatre too.
21. Admire Lake Burley Griffin
One of the first tourist attractions you’ll see in Canberra is Lake Burley Griffin. This man-made lake is located in the middle of the city and is a central point for Canberrans and tourists alike. The 5km walking path is popular for runners and cyclists but it’s a great spot to hire a GoBoat electric boat, so you can sit back and enjoy Lake Burley Griffin with your family and friends.
If you’re looking to visit some of the best Canberra museums, you’ll find them around Lake burley griffin. Work your way around Questacon, National Museum of Australia and the National Gallery of Australia with ease.
22. Where To Eat In Canberra
If you’re looking for Canberra restaurants, we found Braddon to be the suburb with the most variety of restaurants, especially on Lonsdale Street.
We went to Lazy Su for dinner which is excellent. The cocktails are amazing (make sure you order the Sumo Bowls) and we had the Miso Banquet – a five course tasting menu. Honestly it was awesome. Make sure you have enough room for the Nutella Gaytime Bao – it will blow your mind!
Other options for food include Mocan and Green Grout which is a great option if you want to have dinner nearby Ovolo Nishi Hotel. Eighty Six is the go to place for brunch and Molly is a super cool underground jazz bar in central Canberra.
We went to Bar Rochford for a glass of wine before dinner and it’s a great little place, perfect for a spot of fine dining too.
Places to visit near Canberra
There are so many places to visit just outside of Canberra so here’s out extended list so you can make a great plan for the weekend.
23. Tulip Tops Gardens
Whilst we were in Canberra one of our follower on Instagram told us about Tulip Tops Gardens and so we visited on our way back to Sydney (just 20 minute drive out of Canberra). Although Tulip Tops Gardens is located just off the highway, it’s absolutely beautiful. Although it’s only during Spring, make sure you make the effort to visit because it’s stunning. Read our Floriade Guide to find out more about our visit to Tulip Top Gardens too.
24. Mount Stromlo Observatory
A 20 minute drive South West out of Canberra will bring you to Mount Stromlo Observatory. They also hold FREE public night tours which you should check out. If you’ve got a particular interest in space, make sure you also go and check out the Deep Space Communication Complex as well when you visit Canberra, which has interactive displays so you can learn all about space.
25. Swim At Gibraltar Falls
A 45 minute drive South of Canberra will lead you to Gibraltar Falls in Namadgi National Park. It’s a lovely 2km hike. It’s suggested it takes around 1hour return but as always, if you’re going to swim here, just be very, very careful.
26. Hike to Booroomba Rocks
Just a little further down from Gibraltar Falls is another popular hiking spot at Booroomba Rocks located in Namadgi National Park. The 1.5 hour walk will take you through the tall trees and finishing up with a cracking view over to Canberra.
27. Discover The Binnalong Canola Fields
An hour north of Canberra will bring you to the Binnalong Canola Fields. If you’re visiting Canberra during Spring, make sure you make the effort to go and visit them because they look absolutely beautiful!
28. Climb Mount Kosciuszko
We have wanted to climb Australia’s highest mountain for years now and when we visited Canberra recently, we couldn’t do it because it was still snowing there. It supposedly takes 6-8 hours to hike 18.6km to hike to the top of Mount Kosciuszko, and is usually completed in one day.
If walking for 6-8 hours doesn’t sound like fun, catch the chair lift up most of the way to the top. It takes just 15 minutes and to be honest, with that in mind, it makes me wonder if I would be happy to walk 6-8 hours. But, it doesn’t go directly to the top – you’ll still need to walk around 4 hours return from the chair lift to the summit. Think about ticking off this bucket list activity when you’re planning your next long weekend from Sydney!
29. Go Skiing At Thredbo or Perisher
If you weren’t aware, you can in fact go skiing near to Canberra at some of the biggest ski resorts in Australia called Thredbo and Perisher! Unsure whether it’s worth going?
Our writer Nina grew up in the French Alps and has written a huge guide for you: 13 Tips For First Time Skiing in Thredbo NSW. Learn about the difference between Thredbo and Perisher, what makes Thredbo great and everything you need to know about hiring ski equipment, where to stay, eat and drink and the legendary DJ nights on weekends you have to go to!
30. Yarrangobilly Thermal Pools
I have wanted to visit the Yarrangobilly Thermal Pools for such a long time now! Located nearly a three hour drive from Canberra, it surely is worth it if you’re heading down to Kosciuszko National Park or to Thredbo to go skiing. Imagine taking a swim in the 27C all year round pool? Pure bliss, especially if there’s snow around!
Where To Stay In Canberra
Hopefully we’ve convinced you there’s so much more to Australia’s capital city than you may have thought. Spend a weekend from Sydney here exploring all of the amazing things to do in Canberra! If you’re looking for the best Canberra accommodation, here are our top picks!
Ovolo Nishi Hotel in Canberra
Our number one pick for accommodation is Ovolo Nishi, which we mentioned earlier in this post. It’s an amazing hotel and is really good value for money. Plus! The fantastic reviews on Booking.com above speak for itself. Find the best deal here to stay at Ovolo Nishi.
More Accommodation Options
With plenty of accommodation options to choose from, here are some of the best rated hotels and apartments we would personally stay in.
Budget: The Village Hostels – basic but it used to be a YHA which in our opinion are always a fantastic option for anyone on a tight budget.
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