Cheap activities in Canberra
Our “bush capital” of Canberra is often overlooked in favour of Sydney or Melbourne. Yet you will find so many cheap activities in Canberra. We lived in Canberra for nearly 20 years, so have lots of local knowledge on what to see and do. Living only three hours away, we are still frequent visitors. We have some great tips for visiting Canberra on a budget.
Food and Drink in Canberra
When we visit Canberra, we usually stay in the inner north, around Dickson. Here you will find a range of pubs and the Dickson Tradies club where you can get a good value bistro or counter meal.
- You must visit Dickson, which has a small Chinatown, as well as a range of ethnic restaurants where you can enjoy a good meal for as little as $17.
- In the centre of Canberra, you will find King O’Malley’s Irish pub, with great atmosphere and value bistro meals.
- In the south, you will find Manuka and Kingston, where you will be spoilt for choice in cafes and restaurants. Even in the cold winter months, the outdoor dining areas pull down the patio blinds and bring out the heaters. This means you can enjoy a great meal in a cafe environment.
- In summer, the Kingston foreshore is a beautiful place to enjoy a meal by the lake.
Canberra Art Galleries and Museums
Entry to the permanent exhibitions in most of Canberra’s galleries and museum’s are free. Special events and exhibitions may attract an entry fee.
- The Australian National Library in Parkes hosts a range of free exhibitions and activities. You will find much more than just books. In the Treasures Gallery you will find artifacts from the life of poet, Henry Lawson, sporting memoriabilia. The collection also holds maps, photos, diaries, paintings and artifacts which tell Australia’s story.
- Australian National Gallery in Parkes houses the famous “Blue Poles” by Jackson Pollock and Sidney Nolan’s “Ned Kelly” series among its collection. Entry is free and half hourly tours are available.
- Also in Parkes you will find the National Portrait Gallery, with it’s fascinating collection of portaiture of over 400 people who have shaped Australian history. Free guided tours are available at 11.30am daily.
- Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre is also in Parkes. The centre has eight interactive exhibitions and over 200 hands-on experiences. Entry is $23 for adults and $17 for children, but provides a fun and educational day out, particularly if you strike a cold Canberra day.
- At the Australian National Museum in Acton you can enjoy exploring the free exhibitions chronicling the history of Australia and it’s people. Relax by the lakeside and enjoy a coffee or a light meal.
- In the heart of the city you find the Canberra Museum (not to be confused with the National Museum), where you can explore the history of the Canberra region.
- Also in Acton, you can enjoy free exhibitions from some of Australia’s up and coming artists at the ANU School of Art Gallery on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 12 to 5pm.
Explore Lake Burley Griffin
Man made Lake Burley Griffin is the centrepiece of Canberra. It is surrounded by park lands which make the perfect setting for a picnic. Stroll along the 40 kilometres of walkways around the Lake. Why not hire a bike and cycle,? In summer you can enjoy a paddle boat around the Lake. There are many park lands surrounding Lake Burley Griffin to enjoy a picnic or just laze in the sun and enjoy the scenery.
Around the Lake
- In the middle of the lake you will see the 50 metre tall Carillon on Aspen Island. A gift to the people of the ACT from the British as a 50th anniversary present, regular recitals are held on the island where you can hear the chime of the 55 brass bells.
- Also look out for the Captain James Cook Memorial Fountain, which operates between 11am and 2pm daily.
- Take a scenic lake cruise and enjoy Canberra from the water.
- Weston Park was always one of our favourite picnic areas. Shady barbecue areas, safe swimming areas and kids play areas, including a small water park, mini golf and a maze make it a perfect summers’ day out
Visit the Zoo
- The National Zoo and Aquarium near Scrivener Dam is home to a diverse range of exotic and native animals. The aquarium also boasts Australia’s largest inland saltwater tank. Entry is $45 for adults, $25 for children. If you can only afford one “big ticket” item during your stay with kids, this is worth the entry for a day out.
Bushwalking around Canberra
- Take a ride up to Black Mountain and enjoy one of the marked walks through the local bushland. This is a natural habitat for over 500 species of birds, reptiles and insects.
- While you are there, take a ride to the top of the Telstra tower. At nearly 200 metres tall, you have panoramic views over the region. Entry is $7.50 for adults, $3 children.
- Mount Ainslie lookout is also a popular bush walking spot and picnic spot, offering great views over Canberra and the mountains beyond.
- Mount Stromlo Observatory was destroyed by bushfire in 2003. The site still provides an excellent picnic spot with views over the Brindabella ranges. Heritage walking tours are also offered periodically
Parks and Gardens
Lake Burley Griffin is surrounded by beautiful parks and gardens.
- In The Botanical Gardens, you can enjoy free guided tours of the native plant collections.
- Commonwealth Park is the perfect lakeside park in which to relax and enjoy the changing seasonal views. Stroll around the lake and enjoy the sculptures.
- In spring however, Commonwealth Park comes alive with Floriade, a spectacular display of plants, shrubs, floral displays and all things garden. Entry to the displays are free, and a range of entertainment and workshops are available for an entry fee.
Gold Creek Village
- Gold Creek Village in the north of Canberra is a destination in itself. The village has a range of old fashioned shops where you will find arts and crafts, handmade toys, furniture and clothes and the hub of the town- the boiled lolly shop. There are a range of galleries and attractions, as well as the George Harcourt Inn, which is the perfect place to relax by the fire after a day’s sightseeing. Adjacent Federation square holds a range of cafe’s and retail outlets.
- In Gold Creek Village you will find Cockington Green, an extensive display of miniature buildings and villages from over 30 countries. A visit to these gardens has always been one of our family’s favourite activities. Stroll around the immaculate gardens and enjoy a mini steam train around the village. Cost $19.50.
- Next door you will find the National Dinosaur Museum. Here you will find lifelike models of prehistoric creatures, as well as displays of local fossils and minerals. Entry is $16 for adults.
- Also in Gold Creek is the Walk in Aviary, with over 400 birds from 50 different species. Entry is $13 for adults, $9.50 children.
- Canberra Reptile Zoo lets you get up close to some of Australia’s slipperiest creatures, with a collection of snakes, geckos and pythons.
Markets and shopping
- Exhibition Park in the North hosts the Farmers’ Markets every Saturday morning from 7.30am. Be there early to pick up the best local produce. This is also the venue for ongoing exhibitions and events, including the Royal Canberra show.
- The Bus Depot Markets in Kingston is open every Sunday. Located in an old industrial warehouse, you can browse through hundreds of stalls for jewellery, clothes, arts and crafts as well as the best local food and produce.
- .Next door to the markets is the Canberra Glassworks where you can enjoy contemporary glass art, view exhibitions, glassmaking and even enjoy a hands-on workshop.
- Canberra has numerous shopping complexes where you can satisfy your need for some retail therapy. We would usually visit either the Canberra Centre in the CBD, Belconnen Mall to the north or Woden Plaza to the south.
No visit to Canberra is a complete without seeing Parliament House. But did you know we have two? Looking from the Australian War Memorial down Anzac Parade, you will look over Old Parliament House, to the current Parliament House on Capital Hill with it’s now iconic flagpole flying high over Canberra.
- Old Parliament House was the centre of Australian Democracy from 1927 to 1988. Today you can wander through the extensive rose gardens and visit the Museum of Australian Democracy. Guided tours are available from $5 for families.
- On Capital Hill you can visit Parliament House. Take a free guided tour including the impressive art collection and a display of historic documents.
- At the Royal Australian Mint in Deakin you can not only learn the history of Australia’s currency, you can also view coins being made and strike a coin yourself. Entry is Free with half hour guided tours.
Australian War Memorial
- Visit the Australian War Memorial in Campbell. Here you will find contemplative commemorative spaces as well as an extensive war museum with historic artifacts and documents which tell the stories which shaped Australia. Entry is free, with guided tours each hour.
- The Anzac Parade Commemorative walkway is a Canberra landmark. The red gravel drive leading towards Parliament House is lined with memorials to the ANZACS who have fought and died in war.
- A unique feature of Canberra is its over 80 embassies on Embassy Drive in the suburb of Yarralumla. Take a leisurely drive and spot the architecture representing each of the various countries.
- Blundells Cottage in Parkes is an 1860’s workers cottage which gives an insight into the lives of some of the regions earliest European residents. The displays cover the early colonial period until the area was proclaimed as the nation’s capital in 1913. The cottage is open from March until December each year and is closed during the hot summer months.
Australian Sporting history
- Visit the Australian Institute of Sport in Bruce. Enjoy a dip in the heated pool where some of our swimming greats have trained, or take a 90 minute guided tour, including the Sportex collection of memorabilia. The tour costs $19.50 for adults, $11.50 for children.
The above is by no means a comprehensive guide to the many things to do in Canberra. Hopefully it will inspire you to visit our bush capital and help you to plan your trip.
Read also: What does it cost to visit Canberra