Canberra doesn’t have a reputation as a town for those who like the unusual. It’s home to the Australian government so it naturally has a bit of an authoritarian vibe about it and there’s also a LOT of museums – however, with a little bit of hunting we found heaps of fun and unusual things to do in Canberra.
There are houses that look like UFOs and cafes that serve desserts shaped like planets. You can have close up encounters with wombats and kangaroos and even take a bath with a tiger (well, close enough) – plus a whole load of other cool stuff in between.
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In fact, there are so many fun things to do in Canberra we didn’t actually have enough time to do all the things on my list even though we were there for three nights. We definitely made a good start with this lot though – and so will you.
The Most Fun and Unusual Things to do in Canberra
1. Check Out the UFO House
If you’ve ever wanted to see one of the supercool 1960s ski lodges known as Futuro Houses, there’s one you can go and visit at the University of Canberra.
It’s also got quite an interesting story behind it. You can read about that and discover exactly where to find the house on campus in this longer post on the Canberra UFO House.
2. Cuddle a Wombat
Just a 45-minute drive away from Canberra is the home of one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my entire life.
Sleepy Burrows is a wombat sanctuary but they also allow you to visit – and when you do, your job is to basically wear out the baby wombats and then feed their their bottles.
If you love wombats, this is an experience you’ll never forget – and, the donation fee for your visit goes directly to help the sanctuary.
Visits aren’t always available as Donna who runs the sanctuary will always put the wombats first and if there’s a crisis or other reason why she doesn’t think it’s a good time to visit, she won’t let people come – but, you’ll find all the details on their website.
If you want to see a bigger post on the sanctuary – and more pictures of our visits (we’ve been twice now) check out this longer post but trust me, this is one way to make your Canberra trip unforgettable.
3. Get an Ornate Cake At Space Kitchen
When I checked into my hotel, they told me that Space Kitchen was where they’d choose to go when trying to find something unique to do in Canberra.
It’s a bit out of town but oh my goodness, the cakes are amazing. Look at them.
They’re open six days a week 7.30am to 4pm (slightly different on Saturdays) and you’ll find them at 3g/12 Furzer St, Phillip ACT 2606
4. Post Something in Canberra’s Highest Postbox
You’re going to need bring a letter to try out this one of our fun things to do in Canberra.
The Telstra Tower stands 195.2 metres above the city and gives you some great views from the viewing areas at the top – but, I was more interested in the Postbox that’s just outside the lift.
It’s still a working box and you’ll get a special postmark from the Tower from any letter you choose to put into it.
I’m not sure if they sell stamps though so bring your own!
It’s not the tallest tower in the world, but Mr Differentville used to work in telecoms so he loved this place and even sat through the entire movie that plays in the basement (twice!).
Even if you’re not a science geek this is worth a quick peek – if only for the outfits people are wearing in the film.
Oh, and while this is Canberra’s highest post box, if you’re now wondering where Australia’s highest postbox is, it’s on the Eureka Skydeck in Melbourne, 88 floors above the city.
If you’re travelling to Melbourne on your trip – or have decided to now you’ve read this, you can book your Skydeck tickets in advance here.
5. Marvel at Skyspace, The Pumpkin Room and More
If you like pop art or modern art, you’ll be blown away by the National Gallery of Australia.
I had two things I really wanted to see there – Skyspace by James Turrell and the Yayoi Kusama pumpkin room (my trip to Naoshima Art Island in Japan had sparked an interest in both).
Skyspace is just stunning.
Calling it a sculpture seems strange as it’s more like a mini building, but it’s very beautiful – and virtually impossible to capture in a photograph.
The day I went a guy was practising the flute inside the milddle of the buildlng which made it even more magical
Skyspace is just one of the incredible sculptures located outside the gallery.
On the other side of the building, you’ll find the sculpture garden which contains work by artists including Anthony Gormley (that’s the one in the first picture).
Try and time your visit while the fog that makes the piece by Fujiko Nakaya particularly special is switched on. It’s normally between 12.30 and 2.00 but double-check before you visit if you want to see it.
Sadly, the Yayoi Kasuma Pumpkin Room, one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Canberra, was closed the week I was there – although, considering how much I liked the city it gives me a reason to go back!.
THE SPIRITS OF THE PUMPKINS DESCENDED INTO HEAVENS 2015
© Yayoi Kusama
Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/ Singapore/ Shanghai
Because the two exhibits above were my reason for visiting the museum, I hadn’t really paid attention to what else was there and so to suddenly walk around the corner and see Dali’s Lobster on a Telephone was amazing. They also have Warhol’s soup cans, some Jeff Koons – and Jackson Pollocks Blue Poles.. more of which below.
If you have any interest in art, you need to add the National Gallery to your Canberra Itinerary – I think it’s the best art museum I’ve visited in Australia so far.
6. Visit All The Roos
I have never seen more kangaroos in one place as there were at the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve in Canberra.
They were just hanging around in mobs in the fields like more exciting sheep.
They’re totally wild and so still a bit phased by people but you can get fairly close to them and get some great pictures.
Tindinbilla is also one of the best places to try and spot a platypus. Head to the weir area – and look for ripples on the surface of the water. We watched one swimming around for about 15 minutes.
There’s also a koala area, but other than the ones actually in an enclosure right at the front, we didn’t spot any on our trip.
7. Find The Big Parcel
Why would you not love the fact that there’s a giant grey parcel just stuck on the corner of the street in the middle of Canberra?
It’s officially named Sculpture No23 (The Parcel) on the ACTarts page and it’s by artist Alex Seton and is actually made of jade green Australian Marble.
Apparently, it’s a carved illusion turning an everyday object into a piece of art.
Find the parcel on the corner of West Row and Alinga Street.
There’s a few ‘Big Things’ in Canberra – it’s also home to the Big Mushroom, The Big Owl, The Big Acorns – and…
The Big Cushion
You’ll find the Big Cushion in Garema Place in the middle of Canberra, and the work by Matthew Harding is one of Canberra’s most popular sculptures.
Big Things aside, if you’re a sculpture fan, you’re going to LOVE Canberra. It had so many great pieces of work just dotted around the place. Make sure you take a trip to the area around the Ovolo Nishi hotel and Peppers Gallery – there’s some really amazing works dotted around the streets down here.
You’ll find a full map of all the public art in Canberra here.
8. Sleep Next to a Giraffe
The Jamala Wildlife Lodge at the National Zoo and Aquarium in Canberra gives you the chance to sleep right within the animals – just a window separates you from the lions, tigers and bears (oh my), there’s even a bathtub with tigers outside in one room!
And the Reef Room has an aquarium in it – or, are you in the aquarium, I’m not quite sure?
My top pick though would be the treehouse rooms which bring you up to eye level with the giraffes. If you’re really looking to add something special to your weekend in Canberra, a night at Jamala Wildlife Lodge would be it.
Click here to check out prices for your dates on booking.com
If you prefer to book via Agoda, then click here.
9. Eat a Chocolate Art Work
Enigma Chocolates in Braddon make handmade chocolates in-store and are most famous for their bar based on the Jackson Pollock painting found in the museum- that’s the bar below.
Their less arty bars are also amazing. I definitely recommend the Dark Chocolate Cherry one.
10. Or, Check Out the Dessert Laboratory
Enigma are in the same arcade on Lonsdale Street as Frugii Dessert Laboratory which is always suggested in lists of Canberra things to do.
I admit, their name is a bit more exciting than the experience – the word Laboratory meant I was expecting some amazing looking creations or a bit of theatrics, but it’s really just a dessert shop.
You can’t fault the taste though.
I had a circular chocolate and caramel concoction that kept me full for the rest of the afternoon.
11. Take a Brewery Tour
Canberra has a few local beers so while you there you should definitely try brews from Bentspoke, Capital and Zierholz.
If you also want to get up close and personal with the brewing process or are a Canberra local looking for something a bit different to do one weekend, you can book a day tour of three of the breweries where you’ll learn all about the brewing process – and sample a few of the results.
If you’ve got a beer fan in the family it’s the perfect gift. See more about here.
If you don’t want to spend all day, there’s also a shorter tour that visits three breweries in three hours. Check that one out here.
12. Visit Superhero Square
There’s a few street art squares in Canberra, but possibly the most fun is the one is the square at the end of Tocumwal Lane which is full of superhero-themed art.
Also wander down to the end of Riverside Lane for some cool animal-themed murals.
There are 30 legal graffiti sites in Canberra and street artists are encouraged to keep their paints to these areas.
There’s a map of them here if you want to go add your own tag, or, maybe discover the next Fintan Magee!
13. Go Up in a Balloon
Canberra is known for its balloon spectacular which happens in March when brightly coloured balloons take to the skies over Lake Burley Griffin.
You can either watch from the ground or book flights in the balloons themselves.
But, don’t worry if you’ve not there in March, as you can book balloon flights in Canberra all year round.
The sunrise flights even get to float over the Parliament building.
14. Get a Buzz at the Races
We’re not talking about racing horses, dogs, or even crabs or cockroaches (yes, those are a thing in Australia). No animals are involved in this little dose of excitement.
Instead, on a Thursday night, Honkytonks bar in the centre of town race items which, in an attempt to keep this family-friendly, I shall describe as a bit buzzy and usually sold in shops you’re not allowed in until you’re over 18.
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Canberra at night this could fit the bill!
15. Go to the Model Village
Cockington Green Gardens is a family-owned business and has been operating in Canberra since 1979. It took seven years to build the village and you’ll find buildings from over 30 different countries.
Not only are the teeny tiny houses and village scenes adorable, someone putting these things together has quite the sense of humour and has added quirky touches to many of the scenes.
See if you can find the Star Wars cast, a flasher, someone walking a dinosaur and what looks like a citizen’s arrest (or a tiny model giving CPR, I’m still not quite sure.
It’s a little bit out of town, but Cockington Green Gardens is worth the trip, especially if you have kids (or adults who act like kids – which would be me!)
You’ll also find the Dinosaur Museum, a walk-in Aviary, an English-themed pub and the Canberra Reptile Zoo in the same area.
16. Grab a Drink at Smith’s Alternative
We walked past this quirky cafe/bar while wandering around one day but didn’t think we’d be able to find it in to our plans. However, the Friday night we were in Canberra was just before Christmas and the bar we had planned to spend the evening was mobbed.
In fact, everywhere was mobbed.
But not Smiths Alternative – and it turned out to be our favourite bar on the trip.
It’s all crimson cushions and velvet curtains inside (and an Irish folk duo were performing the night we were there). Outside, you’re sitting on planks and sipping on tinnies – but we loved it.
Make sure you try the local Bentspoke cherry beer – and don’t miss the cheese plate if you need a snack.
17. Watch Out For a Ghost
The National Film and Sound Archive is best known for collecting and restoring recordings of Australian history, but the museum is also located on the site of the old Australian Institute of Anatomy and some spooky things have gone on within its walls including small giggling children appearing from grates in the floor and old men appearing by walls (walls that hold their ashes!).
If you prefer your ghosts of a better class, the book into Hotel Kurrajong. It’s rumoured to be haunted by the ghost of ex-Australian Prime Minister Ben Chifley.
18. Have Breakfast With an Alpaca
Or watch the sunset with one over a BBQ dinner
You can also take a llama for a walk – and as there are only 500 llamas in Australia, that’s pretty special (see what happened when we walked an alpaca in the UK here) and definitely one of the more unique things to do in Canberra
The Alpaca Magic alpaca farm just 20 minutes north of Canberra has over 200 alpacas and llamas and offers a heap of fun experiences with them.
They are open by appointment only – and do check the rules on which experiences are suitable for children. See more here.
19. Go Back to the 80s
88mph Bar is home to 80s music, wall displays made from videotapes, cocktails and also has 80s themed karaoke rooms (which is basically my idea of the perfect night out).
If you know why its called 88mph it’s also going to be your idea of a fun night out in Canberra too.
If you don’t, it’s a Back to the Future thing.
20. Get Some Crispy Duck (UK style)
Okay, so this might only be for a limited number of people reading this – but those people are about to get VERY excited.
A restaurant in Canberra does UK-style crispy duck.
That’s right, the deep fried one with no fat that gets shredded before it’s brought to you.
I have found one place in Sydney that does this, but they don’t do any other dishes – this place does everything you’ll remember from trips to the takeaway on a Saturday night as a kid.
We ate a quarter duck, then had Kung Po Chicken, Chow Mein and Sweet and Sour Pork and pretended we were 12 and have never actually been to China!
I know it’s not truly authentic, but, if you’ve been craving ‘British-style’ Chinese food – head here.
It’s called Portia’s Place and it’s in the suburb of Kingston.
21. Check Out the Fire-Damaged Dishwaster
I told you this list contained unusual things to do in Canberra – this one can’t really come under the fun category though.
It’s basically what remains of a dishwasher after a firestorm ripped through a home in the Canberra suburb of Duffy during bushfire season in 2003.
The china dinner service inside is still totally intact, even though the house itself was completely destroyed.
This exhibit is in the excellent Canberra Museum and Gallery. I wasn’t going to go here on my trip but it was actually one of my favourite stops.
22. Find an Iconic Bus Stop
The Canberra Bus Stops were another thing I only found out about at the Canberra Museum and Gallery and found a book on them there.
They were designed by architect Clem Clemmings in 1974 and over 470 of them were put up around the city.
They’re now a real emblem of the city.
Many of them are still standing – although they have lost the fibreglass windows that used to be on the sides.
There’s also a few to be found outside of Sydney and Newcastle artist Trevor Dickinson (see more about him in our Newcastle post) has even drawn a number of them for a book and sells prints of them on his website.
This one is on Torrens Street close to the junction with Henty Street.
23. Take a Trip to China (or Japan)
Lennox Gardens in the Parliamentary district of Canberra is full of themed gardens including the Canberra Beijing Garden and the Nara Peace Park Japanese garden – in a year when we couldn’t go to any of those places it’s a nice way to pretend you’ve left the country for a bit!
24. See the Lego Parliament
Getting a chance to go to the home of Australian Government is one of the things you must do in Canberra.
The tours are really interesting and, if Parliament is sitting, you briefly get the chance to walk through and watch the proceedings.
The highlight for me though was the fantastic Lego model of Parliament that’s full of fun details.
Also, check out the portraits of the Prime Ministers – each one is allowed to choose the artist and style and it’s quite interesting to see their personalities represented in the paintings.
You need to book the tour in advance, but it is free.
We booked on the 4pm tour as we wanted to go out after the tour, but note that this tour is the shortest one of the day and lasts just 45 minutes – earlier tours at 90-minutes.
And no, I don’t have a picture of the Lego Parliament to show you.
Just after I took this photo and about 10 minutes before the start of our tour, a big demonstration arrived outside and they ramped up security inside which meant we weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside.
We also got escorted out of a secret entrance which made us feel super important
25: Check the Walls at Green Shed
Talking of Lego
Green Shed sells itself as the biggest vintage shop in Canberra and one of it’s sites has a quirky little touch in the walls.
I’ve no idea why though so please tell me in the comments if you know the answer.
These are at the location marked as the Green Shed Shop on the map – not Green Shed Underground. I spent a while staring at the wall therefore before I realised.
26. Find the Pink Pond
If you’re going to find the UFO house, then take a quick detour here on the way back.
It’s more reddish brown than pink on the day we went, but it’s still quite interesting.
You’ll find it at 1 Eardley Street in the Bruce area of Canberra.
27. Make First Contact
The Canberra Deep Space Communication Centre is communicating with numerous spacecraft orbiting the earth through a series of huge dishes like this one.
I also like to think they’re sending out ‘hi there’ messages to any little green men that happen to be listening.
It’s thanks to one of these dishes that we received pictures of the Apollo Moon landings in 1969 (a building in Sydney’s Paddington also played a role in that).
There’s also a Visitor’s Centre on the site which has been closed for a long period but reopens on April 2nd 2021. Yay.
There really is a lot of space stuff in this post isn’t there!
28. See ALL the Trees
There are over 44,000 different species of tree at the Canberra Arboretum – including an entire room of incredible bonsais.
Add to this more amazing sculptures and a playground based around the Big Acorns, and you’ve got the perfect day out for everyone.
29. Stand on the Rainbow Roundabout
For no reason other than the fact that you can!
It’s at the junction of Lonsdale Street and Elouera Street
Where to Stay in Canberra
Because we like to be close to bars and restaurants we decided to settle ourselves in the suburb of Braddon which is just a few minutes walk to the centre of Canberra but is full of evening options
We picked the Avenue Hotel which was fantastic. We had a huge one-bedroom apartment with a full kitchen, lounge and balcony – I wish we’d stayed longer so we could have enjoyed it more, but there really is heaps to do in Canberra. I’ve still got a list of things to get to.
If you want to check the different types of rooms and rates available, click here.
So there you have it, our list of some of the most fun and unusual things to do in Canberra. There’s still more than could be on here – because we were here during the P-word, some fun things like the Questacon museum and the Mandalay Food Bus that would normally be in this post weren’t open. I do plan to go back though so expect this post to get much longer in the future.
Oh and before you head off to book your fantastic trip to Canberra, if you’re driving from Sydney, find out why we think Marulan is the perfect place to break your journey.