Canberra with kids: culture, coffee and cakes

by pavlovawoman

Having recently had a four-month stint in Canberra with my children but without even the distraction of school, allow me to rave about the many and varied delights of this family-orientated city

Australia’s capital is certainly a magnificent place for families; it’s picture perfect and bursting with museums, national institutions and wonderful parks.

During the four months I’ve spent here entertaining my 7- and 9-year-olds, we have climbed every mountain, interacted with every interactive exhibit and ‘responded’ to modern art. Here are the highlights.

Places to go

Questacon (King Edward Terrace, Canberra ACT 2600; 02 6270 2800; www.questacon.edu.au) a.k.a. the National Science and Technology Centre.

This place, the usual science museum concept but done really, really well, is heaven for children. There are daily shows by 'The Excited Particles', an in-house science drama group who are far funnier than that rather worthy description might suggest. And the talks are (whisper it) educational too.

It’s not cheap ($30 for adults and $15 for children) but it you’re around for a while, the annual membership pays for itself in three visits.

National Museum of Australia (free!) (Lawson Crescent, Acton Peninsula, Canberra ACT 2600; 02 6208 5000; www.nma.gov.au)

This is a crazy piece of architecture and monster of a museum where one gallery rolls pretty much into the next. Exhibits cover just about everything you think a national museum of Australia might, and the staff are unfailingly eager to share their enthusiasm and knowledge.

Outside is the ‘Garden of Australian Dreams’, a colourful and abstract concept that is deeply representational of the Australian experience. The kids might roll their eyes and say “whatever”, but they certainly enjoy running around it, through the tunnels and trying out the camera obscura.

Lake Burley Griffin Canberra is set around a 7 square kilometre lake named after the city’s architect, Walter Burley-Griffin (although it turns out his wife, Eleanor Mahoney Griffin, had quite a lot to do with its design too).

Kids will love the 147-metre Captain Cook Memorial Jet which spurts water high into the air. It operates between 2pm and 4pm and offers the added thrill of risking getting soaked if you’re on the water at the right (wrong?) time.

Two companies offer tours on their own boats and Canberra Lake Cruises (www.canberracruises.net) will let the kids steer the boat themselves and give them a certificate for their endeavours.  Alternatively, if you’re feeling more active, you can do-it-yourself and hire a paddle boat or canoe from Lake Burley Griffin Boat Hire (www.actboathire.com).

Getting high The layout of Canberra is best appreciated from one of the city’s look-outs and kids will enjoy pointing out the landmarks they’ve visited. Black Mountain and Mount Ainslie Mountain, to the west and east respectively, are short drives from the city centre. The Telstra Tower sits on top of Black Mountain and for a few dollars you can go up the 195 metres to admire the panoramic views. Red Hill look-out to the south gives a lightly different view of the suburbs, and hosts some friendly kangaroos and a rather lovely café

Where to eat

Many Canberra restaurants are pitched at business visitors on expense accounts, so if you’re paying your own way and dining with kids, the options are rather more limited (though of course the usual ‘kid-friendly’ suspects are here – the best of the bunch being the Hogsbreath Café (www.hogsbreath.com.au) chain with its great burgers and steaks).

But much better, do as the Aussies do and dine out at the beginning of the day. Do brekkie in style at a Kingston or Manuka café with terrific people spotting thrown in for free.

Silo (36 Giles Street, Kingston, ACT 2604; 02 6260 6060; www.silobakery.com.au) is highly rated and has queues outside way before it opens. Specialities include chilli jam on fried eggs and tomatoes.

Alternatively, save your money for morning tea at one of cafes at the major sights and museums. The cakes may be incredibly expensive, but they taste amazing and will keep the kids very happy whilst you bond with a well-earned cappuccino.

Where to stay

Canberra is full of hotels and swanky accommodation for business travellers but since many people visit for a few weeks or months, there are a hoard of serviced apartments on offer.

Location, location, location

Kingston and nearby Manuka are fantastic suburbs to base yourself. Kingston is a funky little place just a with individual shops and enough cafés and restaurants to eat out somewhere different for weeks. It’s where the bronzed and the beautiful hang out so is always interesting!

Manuka offers much of the same though is arguably more upmarket. But these two hubs are so close (less than a kilometre) that you can make the most of both of them wherever you stay.

Our home-from-home

If you’re here as a family, you can’t go wrong with one of Canberra Serviced Apartments three complexes. We stayed at the largest; Kingston Terrace. (16 Eyre Street, Kingston, ACT 2604). The apartments are spacious and generally well-equipped, and all have balconies. The pool is lovely, and there’s a half tennis court and small playground.

The fixtures and fittings are hardly modern or cutting-edge, but everything works and it's all clean and comfortable. And at $200 per night for a large 3-bedroom apartment with full cooking facilities and laundry, it’s good value in a city that is notoriously expensive.

Other serviced apartments in the same general part of town that look good and were recommended include the Manuka Park (1 Oxley Street, Manuka, ACT 2603) and Oxley Court (Corner Oxley and Dawes Streets, Kingston 2604).

Enjoy!  You're in for a treat.