8 ways to entertain the kids in Canberra without spending a cent

Katie Williams 29 March 2018

Australian National Botanic Gardens. Photo: Jack Mohr.

If you’re a parent, you’ll know how quickly the cost of entertaining the kids on the weekend and school holidays can add up. With the Easter long weekend fast approaching, and school holidays soon after, here’s our pick of Canberra’s best kid activities that are wallet-friendly and will keep everyone entertained.

1. Explore the Botanic Gardens

The Australian National Botanic Gardens is the perfect place for kids to burn some energy and explore the great outdoors. There are plenty of walks to wear everyone out, with lots of places to run, play and hide, including a new Kids’ space. The rainforests and bridges provide endless fun and opportunities for imaginary play, and there are several spots where you can set up a picnic and enjoy the sights and sounds of the local flora and fauna. If you call in to the visitor centre, they sometimes have free items like stickers, bookmarks or posters available.

Photo: Australian National Botanic Gardens via The RiotACT.

2. Discover your local library

Libraries ACT runs regular programs for kids of all ages, from babies through to teens. They’ve been offering Story Time for decades and have the formula down pat, with sessions packed with stories, rhymes and songs suitable for 3-5 year old children and their parents/carers. For the younger ones, Giggle and Wiggle offers interactive learning through language play for 0-2 year olds. The activity program ramps up during school holidays with dedicated kids’ activities. Check out their What’s On guide. The kids can come along to author talks, craft sessions, learn to create a novel, or try out some dance moves.

3. Visit the War Memorial

Many people are surprised to know that entry to the Australian War Memorial is completely free. The Discovery Zone is a space where kids are welcome to climb, jump, crawl, touch and explore. They can take the controls of a navy helicopter or step into a submarine. The zone is open for limited hours during non-school holidays and longer on weekends and holidays. If the kids still have energy to burn, there’s a picnic area behind the buildings and the foothills of Mt Ainslie to explore.

The Discovery Zone at the Australian War Memorial is sure to keep kids entertained. Photo: Australian War Memorial.

4. Check out Mt Stromlo Observatory

Take a drive up to Mt Stromlo. It’s the headquarters of the Australian National University’s Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics but there’s lots for kids to do there, like explore the interactive astronomy exhibits at the Visitors Centre and walk the Heritage Trail. Bring some good walking shoes if you’re planning to do the 30-minute walk as it’s not all paved. There are picnic facilities and spectacular views over Canberra.

5. Visit an adventure playground

When the kids have energy to burn, take them along to an adventure playground. We mostly used the southside ones at Kambah and Gordon, but there are several all around town. Use this playground finder to find the one best suited to you. Most have equipment that meets the needs of a broad age range, from little ones through to teens. Expect to find equipment like flying foxes, swings, climbing activities and more. And if you haven’t checked out Boundless at Kings Park, it’s an all-ages and all-abilities domain that is definitely worth a visit.

Boundless Playground is fun and free. Photo: The RiotACT.

6. Head to the Arboretum

The National Arboretum Canberra is the perfect spot to fly a kite, visit the pod playground area or admire the fantastic cork forest on foot. There’s a free guided forest walk and several other walks that you can do on your own. Be sure to drop into the Children’s Garden, where kids can play, explore and interact with their environment in fun ways. There are several active play spaces which are suitable for a variety of ages, and quiet spaces for relaxing.

7. Show the kids where money comes from at the Mint

The Royal Australian Mint has terrific free guided tours. Participants can meet the resident robots, do some treasure hunting and learn how coins are made. On weekdays when the factory floor is in production, get a bird’s eye view of the process from the upper observation gallery.

Pod Playground at the National Arboretum. Photo: The RiotACT.

8. National Museum of Australia

It might surprise you, but general entry to the incredible National Museum of Australia is free. Although costs apply to some exhibitions, there is more than enough to see with a free general admission ticket. Kspace is the Museum’s interactive adventure game for kids, where they can build a time travelling robot then blast off to explore a mystery location in Australia’s past, and it’s an enjoyable way to while away a few hours or longer.

What’s your free favourite activity to do with the kids? Share your suggestions in the comments section below.

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