Our last few months in Australia helped us become masters of the mini-trips. With limited time left, we had to cram as much as possible into the shortest time frames possible – which is how our 3 day trip to Canberra came about!
We’d heard a lot about Canberra; mainly that it was expensive, boring and not even worth the drive through let alone a visit – but we heartily disagreed with all of the above! Although it wasn’t earthy and spiritual like the Northern Territory, or a hipster’s dream like Melbourne, Canberra had its own little educational charm that we adored for the short time we spent there. We’d been meaning to head into Australian Capital Territory for a while and had originally planned to add it on as a stop after our New Year’s Eve trip to Sydney, but opted out because we thought we had way longer to tick off our Ozzie destinations! But plans change – so instead of an easy 3-hour drive from Sydney, we ended up doing a 28-hour trek from Uluru spread over 2.5 days, which was exhausting! We had downloaded a LOT of podcasts, stocked up with a LOT of snacks and prayed that our Sunny Subaru’s new radiator hose would hold up for the long trip.
We managed to get there sleepy but unscathed – heading straight to the centre of Canberra and checking into our Air BNB. One thing to note about the CBD in Canberra is the combo of accommodation and parking is quite awkward to get right. Most of the cheap hostels/hotels don’t have free parking and the few places that do are super far from anything worthwhile. Parking in the city is the most expensive we experienced throughout the whole of Australia as there wasn’t many little side streets for people to utilise when popping over to the attractions for the day. Although some of the venues do have free parking included in your ticket, your best bet is to try and get lucky (like we did) and find an Air BNB in the centre with parking included so you can utilise the city’s free shuttle bus loop around some of the main attractions!
One of the first places we decided to explore was New Parliament House – the heart of Australia’s capital and where some of the country’s most important decisions were made. The tour around Parliament was totally free and happens at a few different intervals throughout the day. We both found it super interesting learning about Australian government and loved that they give you the option to have a better insight into the workings of the country; especially considering it was free!
*Free Entry – Free Parking – Mon-Sun 9-5*
Australian Institute of Sport
Another lil spot that we absolutely loved in Canberra was the Australian Institute of Sport. Based at the athlete’s village from Sydney’s 2000 Olympic games hosting – the focus was, you guessed it, all about sport. The visit was included as part of the ‘3 in fun’ ticket – and, in our opinion was the best of all 3! During the 90minute tour, we got to explore the training set up for future Australian athletes, watch a couple of the youth basketball tournament games and take a peek at the gymnasts training session, while silently scolding ourselves for not being fitter and more athletic. The absolute highlight of our AIS tour was by far Sportex – their interactive training arcade like set up. Being that we’re both worryingly competitive, we revelled in being able to challenge each other at a variety of gaming machines and try our hand at wheelchair basketball. We loved it so much that we used our free return visit from our ‘3 in fun’ pass to come back the next day and rematch!
*Paid Entry – Free Parking – Daily Tours: 10am, 11.30am, 1pm, 2.30pm*
Cockington Green Gardens
Another must see as part of the ‘3 in fun‘ ticket was Cockington Green Gardens – the place where you feel like you’ve been dropped into a ‘honey, I shrunk the kids’ movie! Slightly out of the city centre, it’s a treasure trove of delicately sculpted mini landscapes – perfect for anyone that has a penchant for arts and crafts! The detail on each of the miniature models was fantastic and really captured the location and vibe that it was modelled on.
*Paid Entry – Free Parking – Mon-Sun 9.30-5pm*
Questacon was the final spot as part of our ‘3 in fun’ ticket – an interactive science museum that can keep you entertained for hours! With a variety of exhibits that allow you to get involved rather than just walking around reading placards and looking at things through glass cases, it keeps your attention throughout. One of our favourite parts of the museum was the mini shows that aired throughout the day. They were definitely geared towards very young children but honestly (and, quite embarrassingly) taught us so much!
*Paid Entry – Paid Parking – Mon-Sun 9-5pm*
Mount Ainslie Lookout
If museums aren’t your thing but you wind up in Canberra in search of natural beauty – then the Mount Ainslie lookout is the place for you! It’s the perfect little spot for a picnic and to take in the views of the impressive Australian capital. It’s either a 50-minute uphill walk – or a 5-minute drive to the free car park at the top; which we opted for because we’re lazy and had used our minimal athletic energy up at AIS. The views were stunning and it was a perfect sunrise or sunset spot outside of the hustle and bustle of the city centre.
*Free Entry – Free Parking – 24/7*
Australian War Memorial
The Australian War Memorial is a HUGE free museum dedicated to the Australian Armed Forces. They have a poppy-laden roll of honour for soldiers that had lost their lives that immediately captures your eye in the stunning courtyard grounds. They have military replicas, realistic sculptures and an abundance of stories. My absolute favourite part was arriving on time to watch soldiers practice a drill command ceremony – super interesting and ridiculously emotive!
*Free Entry – Free Parking – Mon-Sun 10-5pm*
National Gallery of Australia
One final freebie to check out if you’re keeping the purse strings tight is the National Gallery of Australia. With over 160,000 art works there is definitely something there for everyone. The outdoor sculpture garden is a great way to take in some artistic creativity while dosing up on vitamin D after wandering around inside museums all day!
*Free Entry – Paid Parking – Mon-Sun 10-5pm*
Because of the heavy focus on museums and exhibitions – Canberra isn’t for everyone. I think families and anyone with a nerdy streak would appreciate a little excursion here – especially because there’s so many activities you can do for free. However, for people that like spending every waking moment basking in nature or people that would rather jump off a bridge than read a book – I’d probably recommend only spending a few hours in Canberra as it doesn’t have as much else for ya! Otherwise, it’s an inexpensive, educational, interesting little spot that’s definitely worth checking out for a couple of days if you’re travelling in between Sydney & Melbourne!