The best attractions in Canberra

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The National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) is one of the most popular attractions in Canberra, for visitors and locals from all walks of life. Image: Still from NFSA Temple exhibition by Leila Jeffrey x Melvin J. Montalban.

Wondering how to make the most of your time in the nation’s capital? Whether you’re looking to explore natural beauty, delve into history, or enjoy some family-friendly fun, knowing where to go can make all the difference.

Canberra gets a bad rap on occasion – some even go so far as to call the city boring. Those that know the capital well, however, will attest to the fact that Canberra is anythign but a snooze-fest. From iconic landmarks to hidden gems, Canberra’s many sites and attractions provide a unique blend of experiences that capture the essence of the region.

In this article, we’ll outline the qualities to consider when choosing an attraction and share where to find the best of the best in Canberra.

What makes a great attraction?

Choosing the right attractions to visit could make or break your trip to Canberra. Here are some key qualities to consider:

  • Engaging content: A great attraction should provide informative and engaging content that captures your interest. Whether it’s a museum with interactive exhibits or a nature park with guided tours, the best attractions will keep you entertained and informed every step of the way.
  • Accessibility: The best attractions are easily accessible, with clear signage, ample parking and facilities for visitors of all levels of ability. Canberra’s top spots also have excellent public transport links, making them easy to reach for everyone.
  • Amenities: High-quality attractions offer a range of amenities, including clean restrooms, food and drink options, and souvenir shops where applicable. These conveniences should allow you to enjoy your visit without any hassles.
  • Customer service: Friendly and knowledgeable staff can make a big difference in your experience. The best attractions have staff who are eager to help, provide insightful information, and ensure that your visit goes smoothly.
  • Value for money: Great attractions offer a worthwhile experience for the price of admission. Look for places that provide a lot to see and do, ensuring you get the most out of your visit.

The best attractions in Canberra

Riotact’s editorial team has combed through 20 years of on-site comments to compile a list of the most recommended businesses according to you.

To be listed in our Best of Canberra series, each business needs to have consistently received positive feedback on Riotact and Facebook as well as maintaining a minimum average of 4/5 stars on Google.

National Film and Sound Archive (NSFA)

The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) is Australia’s national audiovisual cultural institution.

From Australia's earliest recordings in the 1890s to the latest games and immersive digital productions, the NFSA collection represents not only technical and artistic achievements, but also stories, obsessions and myths, triumphs and sorrows, and memories preserved by recorded sound and motion pictures.

The NFSA collection began in 1935, making it one of the first audiovisual archives in the world. Today it includes not only video and audio recordings, but also contextual materials such as costumes, scripts, props, photographs and promotional materials.

It is a diverse, dynamic and often surprising repository, ranging from items inducted into the UNESCO Memory of the World register to sporting matches, game shows and advertising jingles.

As well as preserving these items for future generations, NFSA curators continue to build the collection, ensuring it provides an unbroken record of Australian creativity and diversity.

The national collection's wealth of stories is also available across the NFSA's digital channels and platforms.

"A great trip back in time with free and paid exhibitions," Luke Davis says on Google.

"The staff are friendly and the content unique. I could sit here all afternoon watching the restored movies and documentaries in the air-conditioned cinema."

Lake Burley Griffin

Named after Walter Burley Griffin, who won the 1912 design competition to plan Australia's capital, Lake Burley Griffin is the centrepiece of Canberra.

Plenty of national institutions, parks, art pieces and places to eat and drink are dotted along its shores. Boating, kayaking, fishing and more are popular on the water alongside tours, cruises and ferries. Cyclists, runners and walkers alike are spoiled for choice on the lake's many paths and trails.

Lake Burley Griffin is also an important natural habitat for countless birds, fish, insects and other wildlife, making it one of the most well-rounded places to visit in the city.

Australian War Memorial

A profound tribute to Australia's military history, the Australian War Memorial combines a world-class museum, extensive archive and compelling exhibits with commemorative spaces, personal stories and more, in honor of Australian service members. It is also the number one destination in Canberra to mark Anzac Day each year.

The Australian War Memorial is open from 10am to 4pm every day except Christmas day. Entry is free, but visitors will need to book a ticket.

The National Arboretum

The National Arboretum is one of the world’s largest living collections of rare, endangered and significant trees.

The network of plant life surrounds an award winning entertainment and events centre, with spectacular views across the valley and up to Telstra Tower.

The Arboretum is not only a display, it's a hub for art, science and conservation. It also features eight hireable venues for weddings, birthdays and other events.

Krishna Sapkota says on Google, "... an absolute gem and a must-visit for nature lovers!"

Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve

More than 50 square kilometres in size, Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve offers a huge range of outdoor activities and education opportunities.

From guided tours and walking trails to animal experiences and orienteering, there's something to grab the heart of anyone who visits.

Tidbinbilla is a crucial conservation space for iconic native and threatened species, including kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, platypus, echidnas, emus, lyrebirds, and countless reptiles and amphibians.

Open from 7:30 am to 8 pm during daylight savings time and 7:30 am to 6 pm all other days except Christmas Day.

Parliament House

With its striking architecture and beautiful surroundings, Parliament House provides a thoughtful and educational experience for all visitors, highlighting the workings of Australian government and its rich history.

Open from 9 am to 6 pm on sitting days and 9 am to 5 pm on non-sitting days, Parliament House allows visitors to experience Question Time, listen in on bill debates and watch committee inquiries.

Entry is free and guided tours are available.

Questacon: The National Science and Technology Centre

The perfect destination for families, students, and anyone eager to explore the wonders of science, Questacon offers a dynamic learning experience that sparks a love for science and technology in a playful and educational environment.

Visitors can engage with interactive exhibits that make science fun for all ages and discover (or rediscover) topics from physics to biology. Open 9 to 5 daily, the centre also runs regular demonstrations, tours, activities and shows.

National Zoo and Aquarium

Canberra's National Zoo and Aquarium provides a unique opportunity to learn about conservation efforts while enjoying a day surrounded by nature and fascinating creatures, making it a perfect outing for all ages.

Interactive activities and keeper talks are run daily around the zoo, which features more than two kilometres of walking trails and 47 acres of picturesque gardens.

The National Zoo and Aquarium is open 9:30 am to 5 pm every day except Christmas Day.

Cockington Green Gardens

A one-of-a-kind experience for visitors and locals alike. Cockington Green Gardens features miniature buildings and landscapes from around the world. Each model is intricately detailed and nestled amongst beautifully maintained grounds.

Complete with its own miniature steam train ride, Cockington Green Gardens is a whimsical must-see for anyone seeking a touch of magic on their day out.

Open 9:30 am to 5 pm every day excluding Christmas and Boxing Day, with last entry at 4:15 pm.

If you’re looking for more information on things to do in Canberra, you might also like our articles on the best wine tours, cinemas, skydiving and adventure activities, activities & programs for teenagers, campgrounds and gift experiences Canberra has to offer.

Your experience with attractions in Canberra

Thanks to our commenters who have provided insightful feedback. If you believe we have got it wrong, please let us know.

Have you had experience with any of the Canberra attractions listed above? If so, share your feedback in the comments below.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many days visiting Canberra is enough?

Being Australia's capital city, Canberra has a lot of things to see and do. Though many drive to Canberra for a weekend, if it is your first trip to the city and you want to see it all, you might want to stay for three to five days. This will give you plenty of time to dine, explore, learn and experience everything Canberra has to offer.

What makes Canberra unique?

There are too many unique factors about Canberra to name in one go, but something many don't consider it that the city is one of only a few planned capitals in the world. It is also home to many important institutions of Australian government, art and culture, history, and entertainment.

What is the best time to visit Canberra?

Canberra is a great tourist destination in any season, but to get the most out of your stay, consider visiting in spring. Weather is generally pleasant with cool mornings and evenings and plenty of sun during the middle of the day.

Are there free attractions in Canberra?

There are plenty of attractions you can visit for free in Canberra, including Parliament House, the Australian War Memorial, the National Arboretum and Roryal Australian Mint.

Why is Canberra called the 'bush' capital?

Canberra is affectionately nicknamed The Bush Capital for its abudance of natural spaces. With sweeping nature reserves on all sides, mountain treks in the middle of the city and plenty of parks, forests and bushland to explore in and around the suburbs, the city was planned to grow alongside its native environment.

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