23 December 2021

Ten things to do in Canberra this Christmas and New Year

| James Coleman
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Fireworks over the capital of Australia Canberra, looking from Mount Ainslie towards the old and new Parliament House. Photo: File.

There’ll be loud noises all around as 2021 draws to a close and 2022 begins.

The fireworks are back so expect Lake Burley Griffin to explode with colour as the clock ticks over to the new year. Canberra’s biggest motoring event also returns in January, with all its revving engines and tyre smoke (we’re a bit early, but it gives you time to buff the bumpers).

It wouldn’t be a Christmas without a few basics either; namely, carols and church, a gargantuan family meal, and a good end-of-year sale.

But as nice as all that is, we all know what the domestic situation can be like after a few days with extended family in the house. Fortunately, all the major tourist attractions are open over the break (except the big day, of course), Sunset Cinema will continue to screen movies outdoors, and the Canberra Aqua Park has also set up a floating playground on the lake which – happily – is not just for the kids.

We got there, Canberra.


The inflatable Canberra Aqua Park sets up each summer at Black Mountain Peninsula. Photo: Canberra Aqua Park, Facebook.

Slip, slide and splash at Canberra Aqua Park

When: every day (except Christmas Day)
Where: Garryowen Drive, Black Mountain Peninsula
Cost: From $20; buy tickets online; email canberraaquapark@gmail.com.

The Canberra Aqua Park returned to Lake Burley Griffin this summer and will remain open over the holidays, with the exception of Christmas Day. Made up of slides, ladders, a jumping pillow and more, don your swimmers and spend the day beating the heat with friends, family or colleagues as you climb, splash, slip and slide through the giant inflatable obstacle course.

Sunset Cinema

Sunset Cinema is back this summer. Photo: Sunset Cinema, Facebook.

Watch a movie outside at the Sunset Cinema

When: Times vary
Where: Australian National Botanic Gardens, Clunies Ross Street, Acton
Cost: From $21 adult; buy tickets online.

Taking place in the stunning grounds of the Australian National Botanic Gardens, Sunset Cinema celebrates the perfect match of warm summer nights and sitting back to watch a blockbuster with friends and family.

Lawn lounges and chairs are available for hire, or you can bring your own chairs and blanket and spread out a picnic. There’ll be hot food served from an on-site food truck, as well as your essential movie snacks available for purchase. You can even head to the Sunset Bar for a refreshing G&T, a glass of wine or a frothy cold one from the selection of local beers.


The cultural partnership with the National Art Museum of China has been renewed, celebrated with a new exhibition called Sculpting the Soul at the National Museum of Australia. Photo: National Museum of Australia.

See the sights

When: Times vary
Where: Everywhere
Cost: Varies.

To get the visiting family and friends out from under your roof, all the major tourist attractions are open every day (except Christmas Day).

The Australian National Botanic Gardens are open from 8:30 am to 5 pm; the Australian War Memorial from 10 am to 5 pm; Parliament House from 9 am to 5 pm; the National Gallery of Australia from 10 am to 5 pm; the National Museum of Australia from 9 am to 5 pm; and the National Arboretum Canberra from 9 am to 4 pm.

There’s also the Behind the Lines – The Year in Political Cartoons 2021: Prophecy and Chance exhibition at the Museum of Australian Democracy until November 2022.

READ MORE Behind the Lines cartoons go freelance in a challenging and tumultuous year

A couple of new exhibitions have just opened up in time for the holidays at the National Museum of Australia, including one which showcases the drama of Ancient Greece and another celebrating Chinese art.

Presbyterian Church of Saint Andrew

Presbyterian Church of Saint Andrew in Forrest. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Attend a worship service

When: Christmas Day, Saturday, 25 December
Where: Churches everywhere
Cost: Free

Not everything is closed on Christmas Day. Ever since the early Christian church chose 25 December as the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, it has formed an integral part of the church calendar, with congregations gathering for worship across the world. Even many who don’t normally go to church often make the time to attend a Christmas mass or service.

Here in the ACT, at this stage at least, almost all congregations are back to gathering in person after a tricky time juggling COVID-19 restrictions, while many are also continuing to livestream their services. Check your local church’s website for details.


Spare a thought for those who won’t be having a Christmas lunch. Photo: St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn.

It is more blessed to give than to receive

When: All-day
Where: online
Cost: up to you.

While you’re busily tearing off the wrapping paper and finally finding out what that rattle was, it’s easy to forget there are many people out there who are missing out on Christmas. Fortunately, it isn’t too late to share the joy with someone who really needs it.

Vinnies, Communities@Work, The Salvation Army, and The Smith Family are all running virtual Christmas trees, accepting donations of money online. This will be used to provide food, clothing, and help with utility bills and rent.

Boxing Day marks the beginning of post-Christmas sales. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Go shopping

When: Boxing Day onwards, Sunday 26 December
Where: varies
Cost: Less than before Christmas.

Canberra’s shopping malls aren’t missing out on the end-of-year sales action. The Canberra Centre will be open from 8 am to 7 pm; Westfield in Belconnen and Woden from 9 am to 6 pm; South.Point in Tuggeranong from 10 am to 4 pm; the Canberra Outlet Centre from 8:30 am to 8 pm; and Majura Park Shopping Centre from 9 am to 4 pm.

There is always online shopping too, for those reluctant to brave the crowds and be COVID-safer.

Canberra Southern Cross Club.

Yacht Club. Photo: Canberra Southern Cross Club.

Wine and dine at the Yacht Club

When: Friday, 31 December, 8 pm
Where: Southern Cross Yacht Club, Mariner Place, Yarralumla
Cost: $195, with full bar facilities available on the night; book online.

The Southern Cross Yacht Club is letting 2021 sail by with a five-course meal and live music. There’ll be views of the fireworks on the lake as a backdrop, not to mention full bar facilities available on the night.

Hyatt Hotel Canberra

Hyatt Hotel Canberra is hosting a classy garden party on New Year’s Eve. Photo: Hyatt.

Attend a garden party

When: 6:30 to 10 pm, New Year’s Eve
Where: Hyatt Hotel Canberra, 120 Commonwealth Avenue, Canberra
Cost: $185 adult, $92.50 6-12 year old; contact Food & Beverage Coordinator on 02 6269 8901 to book.

The Hyatt Hotel Canberra is hosting a New Year’s Eve Garden Party, with a spectacular buffet dinner in the Rose Courtyard including active cooking stations, seafood selection, quintessential BBQ, and a glass of Veuve Clicquot on arrival.

Within a 5-minute walk to Lake Burley Griffin, the Hyatt Hotel Canberra is the perfect location to enjoy a beautiful dinner, with live music, before making your way to see the fireworks.

fireworks in the city

Say goodbye to 2021 in style with fireworks in the city on New Year’s Eve. Photo: File.

Watch fireworks by the Lake

When: 6 pm onwards, New Year’s Eve, Friday 31 December
Where: Lake Burley Griffin
Cost: Free.

Say goodbye to the year that was and welcome in the New Year with a night of celebration, connection, and big bangs. Pack your own food or purchase a picnic hamper and enjoy fireworks displays and roving entertainment along the shores of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra’s first major event since lockdown.

READ ALSO New Year’s Eve fireworks and festivities to go ahead this year

The smell of smouldering rubber has long been a feature of Summernats. Photo: File.

Smell burning rubber at Street Machine Summernats 34

When: 9 am, Thursday 6 to Sunday 9 January 2022
Where: Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC), Flemington Road, Mitchell
Cost: From $58.50 for adult day pass; buy tickets online.

Summernats isn’t technically a New Year’s event, but if you’re a petrolhead, this is bigger than Christmas.

Held over four massive days at Exhibition Park in Canberra, Summernats is a unique celebration of the modified car community. Since its humble beginnings in 1988, Summernats has grown and matured to become a diverse, exciting and engaging event with plenty of new attractions.

Think 100,000-plus people and 2,000-plus cars from across the country, four days of automotive heaven, and a great line-up of bands and concerts. Fingers crossed it isn’t a casualty of Omicron.

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