School Holiday Activities in Canberra 2020
Updated: May 17
Active Adventures in the Nation's Capital - a local's guide
School Holidays in Canberra are the perfect opportunity to get the kids entertained and stimulated in the great outdoors and there is something to suit every season. Canberra for kids is jam-packed full of attractions and there is no shortage of fun and free things to do in Canberra as well.
As a Canberra local for over 20 years now I think we have covered almost everything there is to do in Canberra so I want to share with you the very best of outdoor activities to keep your kids entertained and excited.
Family Accommodation in Canberra
Let's take care of the logistics. Finding a fabulous place to stay in Canberra that meets the need of families is easy with a huge range of private rentals and great quality hotels and serviced apartments. Here is my list of highly recommended places to stay for family groups.
Located in the dining precinct of Braddon this is a fun place to locate yourself with plenty of great eateries on your doorstep and access to public transport networks a short walk away. The Avenue Hotel is modern and offers families beautiful, spacious 1 or 2 bedroom apartments. Book now.
Jamala Wildlife Lodge is the option if you want a stay with a huge difference. Stay onsite at the National Zoo and Aquarium to experience a fully immersive animal experience with most rooms adjoining animal enclosures. The zoo has transformed over the past ten years and is one of the loveliest places to visit in Canberra.
Staying at the Lodge is not cheap but opens up lots of opportunities to interact closely with the animals - the kids will love it!
Packages include your accommodation, full board (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and your entry to the zoo. Check prices for Jamala Wildlife Lodge here.
Kid Friendly Restaurants Canberra
When you travel it means you get to enjoy plenty of relaxed evenings dining alfresco. Once back home it is easy to fall back into the trap of kids routines where you are tucking them in each night and sitting in front of the telly whilst the world keeps ticking on outside without you. I often have to remind myself that we used to have a life after 7pm!
The Canberra dining scene is ever-changing which means there is always somewhere new to discover and whilst fancy dining is off the cards with kids there are some great hands down winners for consistently good family dining in Canberra.
In summer a highlight for us is to spend the evening at Kingston foreshore where you can blend a casual dinner from a great selection of restaurants followed by a stroll along the lakes' foreshore with panoramic views of Canberra. There is plenty of grassy space for the kids to burn off some excess energy before bed time as well.
Our favourite restaurants on Kingston Foreshore include La Rustica (family Italian), Chong Co (Thai) and Morks (Thai but on the higher price end).
In Canberra City we love the super tasty offerings at Soi Noodle Bar (Asian fusion) on the outside walk of the Canberra Centre. Vapiano, across the road from Soi is also a fantastic place for authentic thin wood-fired Italian pizzas in an unpretentious dining room.
If you aren't a local but want to hit a great pub that is family friendly then Siren Bar or The District are two locals in Gungahlin (North Canberra). Edgar's Inn at Ainslie is a favourite in the inner north, or Braddon offers a whole range of pubs, bars and restaurants suitable for all travellers (some rowdier than others).
A less expensive approach of course is a simple bbq or some take away eaten on the shores of any of Canberra's lakes, gardens or nature reserves.
For daytime food visit Rodney's at Pialligo. Good food in a beautiful garden setting with kids play equipment and a great selection of kids food options for a relaxing meal. Rodney's is a lovely spot for weekend breakfast outside in the warmer months.
Snapper by the Lake offers fish and chips served picnic style from the Yarralumla Yacht Club whilst you set up a picnic on the lawns of the lake. No need for time consuming self catering here, just set up the blanket and relax until your dinner is ready. Simple, easy fun and a great spot on a warm summers evening to watch the sun go down with a cool glass of wine.
School Holiday Activities in Canberra - Active and Outdoors Fun
Time to get to the fun stuff - here is my list of top active things to do in Canberra for a school holidays visit. I have focused on the more unusual, outdoor adventures that are brilliant to do in Canberra.
If you want a list of all the paid tourist attractions check out the Visit Canberra site which has a fabulous amount of information. Of course, there are all of the usual fun things in Canberra like Questacon and the Dinosaur Museum that are covered in detail on this site.
1. Hiking Trails Canberra
No other city in Australia has as many hiking trails and kid friendly walks available at every turn. Canberra is affectionately dubbed the bush capital which means awesome hiking trails at every turn and the well established walking and bike trail network means there are literally hundreds of places to enjoy a walk in Canberra.
A climb up Mt Ainslie beginning from the steps directly behind the War Memorial is an exciting option for kids and you can bribe (sorry reward!) them with a milkshake or pancakes at Poppy's cafe (inside the grounds of the war memorial) once you return back down the hill. The Mount Ainslie Summit Walk affords the best views over Canberra with 360 degree outlook from the central position over the city, lake, airport and beyond.
If you have a car, the Pinnacle Nature Reserve which can be accessed from multiple points in the suburb of Hawker has fantastic views over the Brindabella mountain ranges and is a great spot for hiking with a picnic. Choose this one on a clear sunny day and be rewarded by the stunning vistas from the lookout and the southern ring road.
For those who don't mind a longer drive head south to Namadgi National Park and tackle the Booroomba Rocks hiking trail. It is not a difficult walk but finishes with stunning views back over the mountains. Beware if climbing with young kids that the top viewpoint has no guard rails and includes some drops so hold onto your kids.
If you don't have your own transport the easily accessed Lake Burley Griffin has multiple lovely sections to be walked. Take the bridge to bridge option between Commonwealth Avenue and Kings Avenue to take in the parliamentary circle highlights. Or alternately, travel to Yarralumla and complete the loop around Weston Park peninsula. If you walk this in an anti-clockwise direction you get great views back to the grand Government House (where the Governor General lives).
2. Keeping Cool in the Canberra Summer Holidays
Planning a summer school holiday visit to Canberra? The perfect way to spend a hot summers day is to cool off at one of Canberra's shady outdoor pools. Dickson Pool is a favourite for us with plenty of green shady lawns, warm pools and easy parking.
Big Splash Waterpark is another great option particularly if you have older kids who will love the large slides.
If you want to avoid the crowds consider heading to Canberra's river reserves where you can spend a relaxing day having a picnic or bbq with some swimming. Uriarra Crossing is a great swim spot for all ages with nice sandy banks and is also dog friendly if you want to take the family pooch on the outing.
The Cotter Reserve has some lovely spots for swimming along with a great kids playground and plenty of green lawns to throw a frisbee or kick a ball.
If heading to the rivers for a swim, make sure you keep a close eye on the kids as river currents can vary dramatically and hidden debris is something to watch out for.
At Lake Burley Griffin during the summer months the Canberra Aqua Park is an inflatable water course and a fun day out for the whole family.
Another option to cool off on the water without necessarily swimming is to hire a paddle boat, SUP or kayak on Lake Burley Griffin through Paddle Hub. Canberra has the best lakes and they are worth exploring by boat so head out on the water to enjoy.
There are a couple of small islands which make interesting stops for kids, and if you are feeling energetic you could paddle around to Yarralumla Yacht Club for an ice cream break at Snapper by the Lake before heading back.
3. Bouldering Canberra
Looking for something adventurous when the weather may not be so great then definitely check out BlocHaus Boulder. Located in Dairy Flat Road in Fyshwick you can book the kids in for 3 hour sessions that will keep them enthralled as they tackle rock climbing challenges without the ropes.
My kids love this activity and used up the entire 3 hours challenging themselves to every different type of climb. There is a separate kids only section for those under 12 making it safe and achievable for all ages.
4. Canberra's Best Playgrounds, Gardens and Nature Reserves
Playgrounds abound in every suburb of Canberra with some requiring your own transport and others found in popular central locations. Our favourite parks include:
- Moncrieff Community Recreation Park
- Ridgeline Park (Denman Prospect)
- Pod Playground (National Arboretum)
- Boundless PLayground (Lake Burley Griffin)
- Weston Park (Yarralumla)
A short 45 minute drive from the centre of Canberra will bring you to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. Unfortunately Tidbinbilla was affected by the 2020 bushfire season but rebuilding and regeneration has begun in earnest. Tidbinbilla is a lovely spot for a day trip for bushwalking, spotting Australian wildlife including emus, koalas (sanctuary) and kangaroos and stopping for a picnic and play at the Nature Discovery Playground.
The Eucalypt Forest provides a protected environment for six koalas that can be visited during park open hours.
Another great destination for families is the National Botanic Gardens. I know, this might sound super boring for kids but they do a great job to stimulate young minds. During school holidays there are regular displays such as reptile exhibits and the kids will love running around the winding paths to discover the rainforest boardwalks, the three storey tree house and the desert rocks for jumping and climbing.
4. Canberra Wildlife and Pets
The National Zoo and Aquarium fringing Lake Burley Griffin is a gorgeous boutique zoo which is perfect for family entertainment. With newly expanded exhibits, a quality focus on rehabilitation and sustainability and a really visitor friendly layout the zoo is highly recommended.
Horse riding is a great confidence builder for kids and can be done at a number of riding schools around Canberra or nearby regions. I have ridden on a number of occasions with Burnelee Expeditions which offer relaxing bush rides about 45 minutes from Canberra.
If your kids are 7 or older RSPCA ACT have a fabulous holiday initiative called Kids n Kritters teaching kids all about animal care in a hands on, fun and interactive way. This will require a pre-booking but may be something fun for your family and is supporting a worthwhile charity at the same time.
5. Canberra Bike Trails for Kids
Canberra may have a lot of hiking trails but this is equally matched by brilliant bike paths and off-road riding opportunities so choose to bring your bikes with you if you can.
Stromlo Forest Park was host to the 2009 UCI World Cup and offers excellent mountain biking for all levels from downhill tracks to beginner trails.
Mount Majura in Canberra's north is also home to many mountain biking trails along both sides of the ridgeline.
If you are after some tamer riding then start with all the bike paths around Lake Burley Griffin. The trails on the western basin of the lake tend to be a lot quieter if you want to find some space to yourself.
5. Hot Air Ballooning
If you are lucky enough to visit Canberra during early to mid-March then you will be fortunate enough to fall in the window of our Enlighten Festival and Balloon Spectacular. Weather dependent, each morning at sunrise over a ten day period you can see dozens of hot air balloons hit the skies in all shapes and colours.
From the famous sky whale to cartoon characters and rainbow balloons it is quite a spectacular sight and the kids love watching them inflate and lift up into the sky from in front of old parliament house.
At the same time the Enlighten Night Noodle Markets in front of Old parliament House are fast becoming an institution in Canberra and a great night out to sample loads of different cuisines and enjoy the last of the warm weather before winter arrives.
NEXT: Need some more school holiday destination ideas for Australia? Here are some other perfect places to visit for your next break from school.
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