Canberra has many good indoor family activities to enjoy when you bring the kids.
Overlooking Lake Burley Griffin on the Acton Peninsula, The National Museum of Australia is a showcase for Australia’s social history as well as a captivator of kids. It has some great cubbies such as a treehouse (complete with python and mysterious footprints), a tank stand hideaway (shared with a crocodile) and a magic wardrobe cubby. Littlies also enjoy the museum’s Story Place, where storytelling, puppets and videos take place in a boab tree. To give vent to their creativity and imagination hook them into Kspace, an interactive adventure game, where they can design futuristic buildings or vehicles or create a whole new world.
Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, is one big magnet for kids with its interactive science exhibits. It’s inspiring, informative and intriguing and with its earthquake simulator it will give you a real shake up. There is something here for everyone from the ever-in-awe under 6s to the super cynical seen-it-all before teenagers. You may be transfixed by spiders or you may be terrified but you can’t help being tangled in their web at Questacon. Build a robot or compete against one or just control how it works, you could be there for hours.
If your kids like to dress up and, show me one who doesn’t, then Canberra’s attractions offer lots of opportunities. Play Up, part of the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, gives both adults and children the chance to dress up, as well as a lot, lot more. It’s a living, evolving space curated for, with and by children. At the Australian War Memorial, you can dress up in a nurse’s uniform, try on military attire, role play and handle various objects as part of some real hands-on history. While you’re marveling over Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles at the National Gallery of Australia, kids can be exploring the Children’s Gallery, getting dressed up and taking a selfie or, better still, doing a self-portrait. Check out the NGAkids Art Zone App. Who said art was boring?
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The CSIRO Discovery Centre, aimed at kids 10+, provides an interactive journey through Australian science research and innovation. It’s a self-guided tour where you can experiment with a touch-sensitive 3D computer and experience the virtual reality theatre. This may be your big chance to create a tornado in a bottle. Once free but now asking an entrance fee, the Discovery Centre includes a garden, book shop and café.
For an overall view of the city take a lift to the top of Telstra Tower, which rises 195m above the summit of Black Mountain. It’s only then that you’ll truly appreciate why Canberra is called the Bush Capital. There is an indoor and an outdoor observation deck, a bookshop and a café. It’s open every day from 9am to 10pm and there is a small entrance fee.
The Royal Australian Mint started with decimal currency in 1966 and has been minting coins ever since. Watch from the gallery as coins are made and get the inside story in the Theatrette. It’s a thrill for kids to mint their own $1 coin. It costs $2 but perhaps that’s a lesson in life. The shop has an enticing array of coin sets, commemoration coins and jewellery, offering some very original choices for presents. I’ll bet there will be just the gift for that hard-to-buy-a-present person.
Ever wondered what it takes to become an elite athlete? Now’s your chance to find out at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), where the athletes conduct the tours. The kids will love Sportex, an interactive exhibit where they can test their reactions, simulate skiing and see how they would fare as a wheelchair basketballer. Make sure you take your togs because the pool and spa are open to the public and even if you visit in winter, it’s heated.
It’s about 45 minutes out of town, so you need a car, but at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex at Tidbinbilla, you can take one giant step towards finding out about Australia’s part in the exploration of space. This is where the first pictures of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon were seen on earth. With some fascinating videos and exhibits you can learn a lot about the planets and space travel. Take a hands-on trip around the solar system and find out what and how astronauts eat or just eat something yourself in the Moon Rock Café. It’s free and its open every day from 9 to 5.
Not all the fossils and dinosaurs in Canberra are in Parliament House but you can find a lot at the National Dinosaur Museum, located at Gold Creek about 25 minutes from the city centre. You can picnic in the garden under the watchful eye of some life size dinosaur models – but inside you’ll find skeletons of real dinosaurs found in Australia as well as animatronic dinosaurs (working robotic models that can be a bit scary for some toddlers). It’s open every day with the tours being highly recommended. A family ticket will cost you $42.