12 free unexpected things to do in Canberra
You don't need to leave Canberra to fill your weekend. There are plenty of fun (and free!) things to do right in the city.
Canberra’s status as a place worth exploring has been well and truly cemented. You don’t have to look far to find plenty of ways to fill your weekend without leaving the city, and the best part is that many of the best activities in the nation’s capital are free. Whether you live in the city or you're just visitng, you can fill endless weekends without spending a cent. Take your pick from exploring art or music, getting active in nature, or long afternoons with a picnic rug and good book.
Plan to visit a few attractions and looking for a way to get around? Check out our cars to hire in Canberra.
Watch professional glass blowers in action
Head to the historic Kingston Power House to visit Canberra Glassworks and get a whole new perspective on glass. See professional glass artists at work and view exhibits of their pieces, or take a tour of Canberra’s oldest public building. If you’re keen to try your hand at glass blowing, you can book in for a class to make your own glass paperweight or vase. Classes cost about $80, but general admission is free.
See dollars without spending dollars at the Royal Australian Mint
You don’t need to be a numismatic (that’s ‘coin collector’ to the uninitiated) to enjoy a visit to the Royal Australian Mint. The permanent exhibit features many of the rarest and most extraordinary coins in Australia. There’s the Holey Dollar and Dump, Australia’s first minted coins, as well as a one kilogram gold coin and rare 1930 penny. You can also watch current day currency being made by the mint’s robots, and browse the limited edition coin collections in the shop.
Embrace your inner tree-hugger at the National Arboretum
Following the devastating 2003 Canberra bushfires, the ACT Government committed to replanting a former pine plantation as the National Arboretum. It now features many rare and threatened species of trees from around the world, incorporating some of the cork oak and Himalayan cedar forests that survived the fires. Grab a map and walk along some of the trails, or learn more about creating your own water wise and sustainable garden at the Canberra Discovery Garden. If you’ve got little ones with you, they’ll love the Pod Playground, designed around the theme of seeds being the start of life for all trees.
Peer into space at Mount Stromlo’s public astronomy nights
A short drive out of Canberra is Mount Stromlo and Canberra’s Deep Space Network. If you haven’t already checked out the visitor centre it’s worth a look: you can explore the largest antenna network in the southern hemisphere, see a piece of moon that’s over 3.8 billion years old, and learn what it’s like to be an astronaut on a space shuttle or space station. Even if you’ve been out to Mount Stromlo before, it’s worth a revisit for one of their monthly public astronomy nights. Hear from an astronomer and take a look through the Observatory’s telescopes: on a clear night you can see the rings of Saturn, craters of the moon, and several spectacular constellations.
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A picture of the #MilkyWay from Mount Stromlo Observatory! 🌌🌌 * * And just a #quickquiz for fun 🤯🤗: What is the brightest star in the Earth’s night sky? * * Tell us your answer in the comments below! 🤓😎 * * * #brighteststar #astrophotography #nightsky #star #stargazing #quiz #photography #milkywaygalaxy #astrophoto #nightscaper #constellation #mtstromlo #mtstromloobservatory
Get jazzy with free concerts at the High Court
The High Court might not seem like an obvious music venue, but each Sunday the main foyer is transformed into an auditorium for a free concert by some of Canberra’s best jazz and classical musicians. All the concerts are free, but make sure you register online as these performances are popular and seats book out fast.
Get on your bike and hit some trails
The Canberra region has some excellent mountain bike trails, with plenty of parks and mountains nearby. Stromlo Forest Park has trails suitable for all levels, from fairly tame trails right through to Blood Rock, which is a favourite training trail for expert riders. The Majura Pines Ride, Sparrow Hill and Canberra Centenary Trail are also great options, and there are even a few mountain bike trails around Lake Burley Griffin.
Photo by Mark Turner
Unwind with a lakeside picnic at Lennox Gardens
There are plenty of good views to be had in and around Canberra, but not many you can enjoy without a long drive or hike. If you’re more into picnicking than mountain climbing, head to Lennox Gardens on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. From here you can see across the lake to the city centre, Black Mountain and the Brindabella Ranges. If you’re up for a stroll, wander through the Japanese and Chinese gardens, gifts from Canberra’s sister cities Beijing and Nara.
Explore Canberra’s trendiest neighbourhood
There’s plenty to see at NewActon, the cultural precinct built on the grounds of a 1920s temporary housing facility. The mix of old and new buildings, community gardens and galleries make it the perfect place for a Sunday afternoon stroll. There are also lots of free exhibitions and events to check out. Entry to Nishi Gallery is free, and they often hold free special exhibitions by local Canberra stories. You can enjoy free wine tastings at the Cellar Door wine market every Saturday afternoon, fix or upgrade your wheels at the free bicycle swap meet, or browse at one of the Sunday suitcase rummages.
Take in the views from Mount Ainslie
Just a few kilometres from the city centre, Mount Ainslie overlooks the whole of Canberra. Head to the lookout and take in the views down Anzac Parade and across the city. If you’re feeling active, you can walk up to the lookout. The Mount Ainslie Summit Trail starts behind the Australian War Memorial and is about a four kilometre return trip. If you’re not up for that, it’s a short drive up the mountain with plenty of parking near the lookout. Once you’re up there, continue wandering along one of Mount Ainslie’s many walking trails.
Photo by Jason Tong
Wander around Lake Burley Griffin
There’s plenty to do around Lake Burley Griffin, but a simple walk or ride around the lake is one of the most enjoyable (and free!) activities on offer. Do the five kilometre bridge-to-bridge walk (Commonwealth Bridge to Kings Avenue Bridge), or add an extra few kilometres and incorporate a wander through the Australian Botanic Gardens into your exploration. If you’d prefer to see the world form two wheels but don’t have your own bike, hire one from Share A Bike.
Photo by John
Enjoy an evening of classical music
See some up-and-coming classical musicians at one of Australian National University School of Music’s concerts. Every few weeks the university hosts performances by their students, and many of them are free. There’s vocal performances, piano recitals and chamber music concerts, as well as the opportunity to hear from researchers on a range of musical topics.
Watch the sunset from Shepherds Lookout
The half hour drive from Canberra to Shepherds Lookout is worth it to catch the sun going down over the Murrumbidgee River. It’s an easy 45 minute return walk from the car park to the lookout and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views. If you look closely, you’ll see the ACT border, just three kilometres downstream and marked by power lines over the river.