Canberra Mini Road Trip: Our Family Holiday in Australia’s Capital City

View of Black Mountain Tower at Sunset in Canberra Australia

View of Black Mountain Tower at Sunset in Canberra Australia

My ten year old daughter’s eyes filled with sadness as we tried to explain what happened during World War Two, and how so many Australians died during the conflict.  She got it.  At the same time my two younger sons were oblivious and were just enjoying seeing the ships, airplanes and weapons at the Australian War Memorial.

Canberra is often overlooked as an Australian tourism destination.  I personally suspect that it may be related to the fact that it is the only Australian capital city which is not close to the ocean.  Although you may be surprised to realise that Canberra is only about a two hour drive to the closest ocean beaches at Batemans Bay!

Our Canberra Trip Background

In the most recent school holidays my husband’s parents decided to visit and suggested that it would be great to visit Cooma in the Snowy Mountains near Canberra as it is a place they used to live many years ago when my husband was just starting school.  When I researched the options I quickly realised that spring was a great time to visit not just the Snowy Mountains but Canberra as well, especially as the Floriade flower festival was on during that period.

After discussing options we quickly agreed that a family road trip to Canberra and the Snowy Mountains over a 4-5 day period sounded like a good option and I proceeded to research options to create a trip itinerary and book our accommodation and other attractions.  Our three children aged 9, 8 and 5 years old were excited to discuss options for our trip, and they also influenced our decisions on what to see during our short time in Canberra.

Here is the story of our trip to Canberra, and our Snowy Mountains story will be the subject of a follow on article.

Day 1 – Road Trip from Sydney to Canberra

The Big Merino in Goulburn Australia

The Big Merino in Goulburn Australia

After three months of planning our trip we finally left Sydney at around lunchtime.  We started by picking up my husband’s parents from the train station on our way out of Sydney after their flight from Brisbane that morning.  As there were seven of us we drove our two vehicles and travelled in convoy to Canberra.

The road between Sydney and Canberra is a good quality multi-lane highway with a 110km/hr speed limit.  As a result it is a pretty easy drive over the 287 km/3:05 hr distance.

We stopped in at Goulburn to have a rest stop and while we were there we went to have a closer look at the 15m high Big Merino.  I have seen the Big Merino many times before but I was surprised to realise that beside it is quite a large tourism shop which showcases the local produce and handicrafts.  Our children loved investigating the large shop!

After a longer stop than planned we finally got going again and drove through to our accommodation in Canberra and arrived just before dinner time.  We settled in for the night, ready to start exploring the next day. Our accommodation was conveniently located on Northbourne Avenue and we were within a short walk of the Canberra city centre.

Day 2 – Exploring Questacon, the National Gallery and the Floriade NightFest in Canberra

As a result of some rain which was expected to clear later in the day we decided to move forward our plans to visit Questacon – the National Science and Technology Centre in the morning, as it is an indoor option.  After having to circle the area a couple of times (thanks to our GPS…) to find a car park, we finally worked out the lay of the land, parked our cars and walked over to Questacon.

Along the way there is some great sculpture and walking paths, and our children loved playing the massive outdoor Rock Xylophone!

Our Children Playing the Xylophone near Questacon in Canberra Australia

Our Children Playing the Xylophone near Questacon in Canberra Australia

Questacon

We then spent the whole morning exploring Questacon and we all had a lovely time.  You can read the detailed account of our visit in Questacon Canberra: Kids + Science = Fun!

Recollections IV Exhibit at Questacon in Canberra

Recollections IV Exhibit at Questacon in Canberra

While Questacon was great fun it was also very busy, so by the time we had very slowly transited (and shopped) through the very busy gift shop we were all ready for a quieter option for lunch, and the Questacon café looked very busy and noisy.  As a result we decided to start walking over to the National Gallery of Australia through the rain and see if there was another lunch option along the way.

Walking from Questacon to The National Gallery of Australia

As we walked along the pathway and sculptures towards the National Gallery of Australia we spotted the perfect place for lunch (and to get out of the rain…).  The National Portrait Gallery was just off the route and had a tempting looking café.  We had a closer look and decided that lunch was on!

The National Portrait Gallery Café had some great looking affordable lunch options, and also had a lovely quieter atmosphere.  We probably disrupted that atmosphere somewhat when we entered, but after so much stimulation at Questacon I think our children were also ready to have some quieter moments.

We had a really relaxed lunch, and finally the rain eased and we were ready to continue our walk to the National Gallery of Australia.  Along the route to the National Gallery of Australia we saw the imposing High Court of Australia building before finally reaching the gallery.

The National Gallery of Australia

The National Gallery of Australia has some amazing outdoor sculptures as you approach the building.

Sculptures in front of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra

Sculptures in front of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra

Sculptures in front of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra

Sculptures in front of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra

We started by visiting the outdoor Sculpture Garden which my daughter’s school teacher had recommended.

We really enjoyed strolling through the gardens and seeing the wide variety of sculptures on display.  The gardens abut Lake Burley Griffin, so we were also able to enjoy the view over the lake and see the National Carillon bell tower on the other side, and we also heard the bells ringing at one stage.

National Carillon Bell Tower in Canberra Australia

National Carillon Bell Tower in Canberra Australia

One of our favourites was the fog sculpture – who would have thought that a sculpture could be made of tiny water droplets!  Our children enjoyed trying to get my husband to take photos of them disappearing into the fog…  We probably spent around an hour exploring the gardens in a very relaxed manner.  There were very few other people around so it was a very calming experience.

Children in the Mist in the Sculpture garden at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra

Children in the Mist in the Sculpture garden at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra

Creepy Heads in the Water in the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra

Creepy Heads in the Water in the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra

The view from the Sculpture garden over Lake Burley Griffin and the Carillon in Canberra Australia

The view from the Sculpture garden over Lake Burley Griffin and the Carillon in Canberra Australia

Shiny Sculpture in the Sculpture garden in the national gallery of Australia in Canberra

Shiny Sculpture in the Sculpture Garden in the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra

The Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra

The Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra

We then entered the main gallery to see a few (but not all) of the displays.  My daughter was particularly interested to see the Asian Art Collection and Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Collection.  We strolled through and enjoyed the Asian Art Collection, and then walked towards the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Collection.  We also stopped in to see the infamous ‘Blue Poles’ artwork which I knew nothing about but my husband knew that it had caused great controversy when first purchased.

As we were walking along I looked to a room to the left and was surprised to see a very famous Sidney Nolan painting of Ned Kelly – this I had to see closer!  The room wasn’t particularly marked on the map of the gallery, but it was an amazing oval shaped room which showcased around twenty Sidney Nolan paintings.  I really enjoyed having a closer look around the room to see how many Australian stories he had painted.

We then spent some time exploring the amazing diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artworks, which I can definitely recommend.  We were not allowed to take any photos inside the gallery so unfortunately I can’t share any photos of this part of our visit.

Our children were starting to run out of energy so we then decided to start the walk back to our vehicles.

The walk back was much nicer as the rain had passed and we were better able to enjoy the sculptures and views along the way.  We could see Parliament House in one direction, and the Australian War Memorial with a backdrop of Mt Ainslie in the other direction across Lake Burley Griffin.

View of the Australian War Memorial across Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra Australia

View of the Australian War Memorial across Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra Australia

View of Old and new Parliment House in Canberra Australia

View of Old and new Parliament House in Canberra Australia

Sculptures along the path between Questacon and the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra

Sculptures along the path between Questacon and the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra

Sculptures along the path between Questacon and the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra

Sculptures along the path between Questacon and the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra

We then returned to our accommodation so we could have a short break before heading to the Floriade Nightfest event.

Floriade NightFest

We walked over to Floriade Nightfest from our hotel with a quick stop for a snack along the way.  We were slightly early for the opening so stood in a queue for a short period before entering.

Floriade was dressed up as a fairy wonderland and we had a great time exploring and checking out some shows.  You can see more about both our daytime and night time visits to Floriade in Photo Essay: Floriade Night and Day.

Tapestry of Flowers at Floriade NightFest in Canberra

Tapestry of Flowers at Floriade NightFest in Canberra

After a big day and night out and about we walked back to our accommodation, all ready to call it a night!

Day 3 – Exploring Floriade and the Australian War Memorial in Canberra

Floriade

We started our third day by re-visiting Floriade to see it by daylight.  We all loved having a ride on the Ferris Wheel and seeing the full Floriade site from above – you don’t really appreciate the amazing patterns and designs in the flower beds until you see them from a higher point.  You can see the story and photos of our visit in Photo Essay: Floriade Night and Day.

A View of Floriade from Above in the Ferris Wheel

A View of Floriade from Above in the Ferris Wheel

Lonsdale Street Roasters Cafe

We then checked out an interesting lunch option which my husband found online.  We visited Lonsdale Street Roasters Café at 23 Lonsdale St in Braddon, which is just to the north of the Canberra city centre.  We really enjoyed the vibe of the big open building and our lunches were definitely worth waiting for.  The top pick of the day was my father–in-law’s amazing smoked salmon lunch platter.  We also enjoyed the pulled pork and beef brisket sandwiches.

After our lovely lunchtime break it was time to head to the Australian War Memorial for our tour.

Australian War Memorial

We arrived at the Australian War Memorial a bit early which was just as well because the walk from the car park to the entry had many memorials and intriguing sights to see.  Our guide Tim Lewis was waiting for us when we arrived and we quickly got started.  You can read the detailed account of our visit to the Australian War Memorial in Why Every Australian Should Visit the Australian War Memorial.

Our Guide explaining about the Roll of Honour to Our Son

Our Guide explaining about the Roll of Honour to Our Son

We were at the Australian War Memorial for three hours to do our tour, have some time to explore on our own and to then attend the Last Post ceremony at 5pm.  I personally found that visiting the Australian War Memorial was a very emotional experience and I felt quite emotionally exhausted by the end of our visit.

I also think that after several big days our whole family was starting to feel like we needed some time out so fortunately that evening we had nothing planned so enjoyed some relaxing time together.

Day 4 – Road Trip from Canberra to the Snowy Mountains

That morning we had to pack up and load the vehicles to prepare to depart from Canberra and head to the Snowy Mountains.  We decided that we wanted to stop in to see the view from the top of Mt Ainslie, and to also see Memorial Avenue before we departed.

After winding our way up the road behind the Australian War Memorial we were able to see the expansive view across Canberra from the top of Mt Ainslie.  From Mt Ainslie you can see a direct line over the top of the Australian War Memorial, along Memorial Avenue, across Lake Burley Griffin, through to Old Parliament House and finally finishing at new Parliament House.

Via from Mt Ainslie over Canberra, with the Australian War Memorial and Parliment House

Via from Mt Ainslie over Canberra, with the Australian War Memorial and Parliment House

After enjoying the view we then drove to Memorial Avenue, which starts at the front of the Australian War Memorial.  I have driven along this road before but never stopped to have a closer look at the massive memorials.  While you can’t stop on Memorial Avenue itself, you just need to take the first turn and in behind the memorials there are local streets where you can park and then take your time to have a closer look.

We visited seeral Memorials, and it was sobering to see just how many battle honours had been listed for each memorial.

Royal Australian Navy Monument on Memorial Avenue in Canberra Australia

Royal Australian Navy Monument on Memorial Avenue in Canberra Australia

Royal Australian Air Force Monument on Memorial Avenue in Canberra Australia

Royal Australian Air Force Monument on Memorial Avenue in Canberra Australia

Vietnam War Monument on Memorial Avenue in Canberra Australia

Vietnam War Monument on Memorial Avenue in Canberra Australia

Leaving Canberra

Finally we commenced our road trip to the Snowy Mountains having really enjoyed our short visit to Canberra, but also realising that there was so much we hadn’t had time to see and do.

But there will be lots of opportunities for us to return to Canberra on future trips!

 

This article was written in collaboration with Visit Canberra, Questacon, Australian War Memorial and Floriade.

Have you been to or are thinking about visiting Canberra?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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