Here's 13 top things to do in Canberra, ACT within a long weekend (That are mostly FREE)
When you think of Australia's Capital City, Canberra, we bet a Parliament House and Government buildings are the first things that come to mind to visit when planning a trip. Of course these are things you can't miss and they feature on this list (Bonus they are all totally FREE to check out as are many of the museums and memorials), but we wanted to share another side to Canberra you can't miss as well. We you to experience a mix of Canberra including its artsy and innovative side, its high-quality bar and restaurant scene and its natural beauty of waterfalls and scenic lookouts just a short drive from the city centre. There's so much this city has to offer that it really does make the perfect long weekend tourist destination.
Getting to Canberra: From Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane
Canberra is the perfect weekend destination located within two hours flying duration from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. If travelling from the Gold Coast like us, we opted to fly to Sydney and take the 3 hour drive into Canberra. The flights were significantly cheaper to take this option. If you do choose to drive from Sydney take the route through the New South Wales Southern Highlands stopping in the quaint and charming country towns of Bowral or Berrima along the way, they are full of cute cafes and boutique stores.
A few highlights from our drive and stop via Bowral, NSW Southern Highlands:
Alternatively if you're looking to still be close to the city centre but want to enjoy restaurant and cafe culture we would recommend a stay around Braddon near the Lonsdale Street Area, Kingston Foreshore or NewActon Precinct. Looking for a more boutique stay? Don't miss the Ovolo Nishi Hotel in NewActon, this place is design award winning and surrounded by some of Canberra's best bars and restaurants.
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Ovolo Nishi - NewActon Precinct:
Top 13 things you must do on a long weekend visit to Canberra that are mostly FREE:
1. Hike and Swim at Gibraltar Falls and Namadgi National Park: FREE
Just a 30 minute drive from Canberra, located within Namadgi National Park is Gibraltar Falls. The top of the waterfall is surrounded by a chain of slow moving cascading rock pools overlooking sweeping views of the mountains in the Namadgi National Park. It is the perfect natural infinity pool and swimming spot to cool off during the summer. You can reach the top and base of the waterfall within just a short 200m walk from the car park, making this spot easily accessible for any fitness level. Even if you visit in the cooler months it is well worth it for the views.
On your way into our out of the national park, make a quick stop at Point Hut Crossing River. At this scenic and quiet spot you might be lucky enough to spot a few people panning for gold.
2. Watch the sunset from Shepards Lookout: FREE
Located within a 30 minute drive from Canberra is Shepards Lookout, part of the Woodstock nature reserve. It overs some of the most stunning sunset views over the Murrumbidgee River, one of the most beautiful national landmarks in the region and Australia's second longest waterway. To reach the lookout from the carpark it is a fairly flat 600m walk, be sure to allow yourself 15 minutes walking time to arrive for sunset. Along the walk look up into the trees, we noticed a number of colourful rosellas along the way.
3. Drink and Dine at the New Acton Precinct:
Don't miss a visit to the NewActon Cultural Precinct, renowned for its innovative and creative design. At the centre of it is the Ovolo Nishi Hotel, if you're looking for a boutique stay, this hotel is a must. The building itself won Project of the Year in the 2015 Building Awards in London beating out international competition.
NewActon is a cultural precinct that has well and truly put Canberra on the map for design, creativity and originality. At the heart of NewActon is Nishi, the much-loved ‘pineapple-shaped’ building which won International Project of the Year at the 2015 Building Awards in London. With plenty of things to see and do, NewActon is the epitome of new Canberra cool.
Within the ground floor of the Ovolo Nishi is Monster Kitchen and Bar. This award winning plant based restaurant offers an incredible dining experience work trying, it's also a great spot to enjoy a cocktail and take in the surrounds. Our personal favourite dinner choice in New Acton was Rebel Rebel also offering a high end dining experience located under an open beam ceiling.
4. Check out Australia's National Tree Museum - The National Arboretum: FREE entry
One of Canberra's newest and not so well known yet attractions is the National Arboretum. The park is home of over 100 forests of trees from around the world, all planted in 2013 to commemorate Canberra's centenary. We recommend having a picnic lunch here to enjoy the time overlooking the spectacular hill top views of the forests and city. You can buy food directly at the visitors centre and there's a small indoor cafe with seats where you can sit, however if you pack a picnic blanket the location is perfect to enjoy the outdoor lawn. Once finished eating enjoy one of the many walking or cycling trails around the gardens or check out the national bonsai collection. Entry to the National Arboretum is Free, and there is no need to pre book any tickets before arrival.
5. If there's one museum you visit - make it the National Museum of Australia: FREE entry
As you enter the National Australia Museum, you'll notice immediately the exceptional design and creativity of this place! Walk past the wall of mirrors on the way in, and under the giant colourful archways. General entry is FREE and the museum is open daily from 9-am to 5-pm, though some particular exhibits may have additional cost.
The museum shares rich and diverse Australian stories, including indigenous histories and European settlement. We visited the Endeavour exhibit during our visit, which told the story of the ships voyage along the East Coast of Australia from both the European and Aboriginal perspectives. It was the first time we had been presented with both sides of this story in an exhibit and we felt we really learned a lot from it.
While at the museum, don't miss taking your time walking through the outdoor garden area and reading the details behind its design it's symbolism is one of the BEST things we experienced in Canberra.
6. Take a self guided tour of Australia's Parliament House: FREE entry
Parliament House is a must visit in Canberra, even if you're not that interested in politics. It is renowned for its boomerang-shaped modern style architecture, achieving multiple accolades for this design, something worth seeing it itself. If you're driving there ample is parking directly under the Parliament House. Upon arrive be sure to take your time at the front entrance fountain as views look back directly over the Old Parliament House, Anzac Parade and the Australian War Memorial.
Entry is FREE and Parliament is open daily from 9-am to 5-pm, you can book online your time slot to visit in advance. Once inside enjoy a self guided tour at your own pace. Be sure to visit the Senate, House of Representatives and various galleries.
7. Sit in the Speakers Chair at the Old Parliament House Museum of Democracy: FREE entry
Not far from the new Parliament House is the Old Parliament House, now known as the Museum of democracy. While it's more often overlooked as an attraction than Parliament House itself we enjoyed this visit much more. Here you get the chance to enjoy a more interactive experience. You can visit the old Prime Ministers office, sit in the speakers chair, enter the cabinet rooms and take your time sitting in the House of Representatives and Senate rooms.
Entry here is also FREE and Parliament is open daily from 9-am to 5-pm, you can book online your time slot to visit in advance but it is not necessary to do so.
8. Take the Embassy tourist Drive around Yurralumla: FREE
Located in the Suburb of Yarralumla, next to Parliament House is almost 80 foreign embassies and high commissions of which Canberra is home. Take a slow drive through the suburb to enjoy all of the international designs of each Embassy. Our highlights were the Cape Dutch style South African Embassy which to us looked like a winery cellar door, the US Georgian style embassy, which looked like a wealthy suburban mansion, as well as the local style Asian influenced Thai and Chinese Embassies. We also made sure to stop outside the Singapore embassy for a photo to remember our old home.
9. Eat and drink as the locals do at Broadburger in Kingston
If you ask a local from Canberra where to eat during your visit - we can pretty much guarantee you they will say Broadburger. This was the top recommendation to use from multiple friends who had lived or live in Canberra. They don't take bookings so you can just show up.
10. Take a walk or electric scooter ride around Lake Burley Griffin: FREE (Walking)
Canberra city is surrounded by Lake Burley Griffin, you literally can't miss seeing in on a visit. The trail around the lake is 35 kilometres long and mostly flat, making it an easy walk, cycle, or scooter ride around the lake. There are many points along the lake where you can opt to rent electric scooters.
If you only want to walk some sections, a few highlights to be sure to enjoy is the Kingston Foreshore and National Carillon. At the National Carillon there are a few picnic tables, so we decided to visit in morning with a take-away coffee and breakfast to enjoy in the park area there.
11. Visit the Australian War Memorial for the Last Post Ceremony: FREE entry
Much like Parliament House, the Australian War Memorial is one of the most prominent destinations on top of the must visit list in Canberra. It's a truely moving experience to walk through the memorial taking the time to learn more of the personal stories behind Australia's war history as well as walk along the memorial wall filled with poppies and the names of the fallen soldiers. Entry to the memorial is free although you may want to book in advance your time slot at www.awm.gov.au. The Memorial is open daily from 9-am to 5-pm and at 4.45pm each day the memorial conducts a moving Last Post Ceremony, we recommend a visit in the late afternoon to experience this. You don't need to book in advance however you can reserve a time slot online here. Don't miss the views overlooking Parliament House while you're there too.
12. Check out the views from the top of Mt Ainsley Lookout: FREE
Be sure to take in the views over Canberra from the Top of Mt Ainsley lookout. It's close by to the Australian War Memorial so we recommend a visit either before or after this. Here you can enjoy panoramic views over Anzac Parade, Parliament House, the National Arboretum and surrounding mountains. You can either drive directly to the lookout at the top of Mt Ainsley or park at the bottom and enjoy the 5km hike to the top.
13. Dine on Lonsdale Street, Braddon:
Located only a short walk from Civid, Canberra's Central Business District is Lonsdale Street, lined with a collection of must-try restaurants, cafes and bars. Enjoy a morning of Melbourne quality coffee (We recommend Lonsdale Street Roasters) or cocktails and dinner from some of Canberra's best restaurants (We recommend Lazy Su - be sure to make a booking).
Lonsdale Street Roasters:
We hope you enjoyed our food guide to Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory, Australia. To see more of our other Australian destination guides click here.
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