After multiple visits to the area, with our kids at different ages and stages, we still find plenty to do in Canberra. For all seasons of the year, Canberra offers variety, education and fun. It could be throwing Autumn leaves along the accessible paths surrounding Lake Burley Griffin; smelling the tulips at Floriade in Spring; spotting trees wrapped up in woolen scarves at the National Arboretum in Winter; or visiting one of the many museums to escape the heat in Summer.
Here’s a list of some of our favourite wheelchair accessible activities within Australia’s national capital.
Driving down from Sydney, our first stop is often Cockington Green which is on the outskirts of the city. Nostalgia hits each of us, as we love revisiting the quaint model villages remembering the fine details and quirky humour including a streaker being caught on the miniature football pitch. Cockington Green has hands-on displays and BJ is a big fan of the scones in the cafe. There is a mini steam train which is not wheelchair accessible, however BJ manages to transfer onto the seat.
With wide paths between the exhibits, Cockington Green Gardens is wheelchair accessible and most exhibits are at ideal viewing height. There are a couple of steps at the entrance to the Gardens, however the staff will open the level side entry for anyone who has difficulty negotiating steps.
Entry to Cockington Green can be combined with the AIS and Questacon using a 3inFun card, saving 25% and including a return visit to each location within 12 months of buying the card.
You can read our full review on Cockington Green Gardens here.
AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF SPORT
When I first heard about the AIS, I was far from keen to visit, given that sport isn’t exactly my forte. However, I can guarantee you that all of us thoroughly enjoyed it. Led on tour often by athletes-in-training, within the centre there is memorabilia on display from big sporting events like the Olympics. The main attraction for BJ and AJ were the hands-on activities, and their competitive streaks came out! It is fantastic adults and children alike can try out wheelchair basketball, soccer, hand wrestling and more. It was also fascinating to watch potential future champions training in the pools, tracks and gymnasium on site.
I’m pleased to say the tour of the AIS is wheelchair accessible, and there is disabled parking and accessible toilets. We were impressed by the knowledge of our tour guide regarding Paralympians, and also about the accessible features available at the centre.
You can read all about our tour and access at the Australian Institute of Sport here
AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL
The War Memorial is located directly opposite Parliament House, and aims to help us remember the sacrifices of those who fought for freedom, lest we forget. With so much on offer, history buffs could fill 2 days here, however we often show BJ and AJ key exhibits or areas relevant to subjects AJ may be learning about at school.
One such key exhibit is the Discovery Zone. The zone is an educational space for school groups and is open at peak visiting times for the public, especially catering for children. Some elements are not wheelchair accessible. Experiences in this Zone include sitting in an Iroquois helicopter, dressing up in military clothes, and leaning over makeshift trenches.
The War Memorial can be accessed via ramps and lifts, and there are disabled parking spaces both under and above ground. Some rooms have low level lighting to protect exhibits, or there may be flash lighting. The Memorial is self-guided, although volunteers run regular free tours of various durations. The grounds are extensive often with statues commemorating specific battles, and there are often flat paths to view them.
We highly recommend timing your visit to coincide with the Last Post Ceremony that occurs just prior to the Memorial closing each day. Located in the Commemorative Courtyard, a story behind a name on the Roll of Honour is read out, personalising the moving experience.
You can plan your visit to the Australian War Memorial by checking their website.
OLD PARLIAMENT HOUSE
It’s been several years since our visit to Old Parliament House, so thanks to my friend Sue for providing photos and updating me on the facilities.
The Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House is a living museum of social and political history, located in a nationally listed heritage building in Parkes, Canberra. The museum helps people to understand Australia’s social and political history by interpreting the past and present and exploring the future.
The museum caters well to children with PlayUP – The Right to Have an Opinion and Be Heard, where kids can explore the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child in a playful way. Adults can even join in the fun too! From listening pods and a role play Kindness Café to a fuzzy felt wall and craft activities, PlayUP has a range of exciting and immersive experiences that flip the traditional idea of museums completely on its head.
Kids can even have fun letting their imaginations run wild with the dress ups. Why not try on a Greek helmet or the Queen’s dress.
There’s extensive information about accessibility, parking and entry on the Museum of Democracy website here.
Thanks to Sue and kids for sharing their family pics.
When we tell the kids that we are going to Canberra, the immediate reply is, ‘Can we go back to Questacon’? I’m sure we aren’t the only family to have this same request over and again. Questacon is otherwise known as the National Science and Technology Centre, and basically it is loads of science experiments that are ‘cool’. With a plethora of hands-on activity stations, many at waist height, don’t be fooled that Questacon is only for the kids. Just quietly us adults love it too!
Questacon has several shows and ‘rooms’ which are constantly updating, so that every visit has something new. On our last visit we tried out The Shed and Fundamental. These 2 new zones involve using science to build something, or interactive activities to teach classical science in a fun way. There are always helpful staff members on hand to demonstrate experiments or give a hand if help is needed. For the 0-6 year olds, Mini-Q is a section of role playing, water play and fun so that even the youngest visitors are learning through hands on interaction.
Questacon is ideal for its variety of wheelchair accessible activities. Disabled parking is available and once inside, there are ramps or lifts connecting the various levels. Throughout Questacon there are several large stand-alone disabled bathrooms. The Companion Card is accepted.
You can read our tips for Questacon in our full review here.
NATIONAL ZOO & AQUARIUM
What do you do when you see a giant Burmese python around your sister’s neck? Laugh hard and admire her greatly it would seem. AJ and BJ met Bernice the Burmese python while at the National Zoo and Aquarium. BJ was very keen for a pat. Given it is hard for him to regulate his grasp, it was a squeeze. AJ reported Bernice tightened her grip (justifiably so) when BJ tightened his. Thus, BJ just got to look for the rest of the time!
Housing a zoo, aquarium and lodging, we especially enjoyed seeing rare species in the new open-range expansion. All exhibits including the aquarium are accessible via ramps, and although some paths are sloped, there is a well-marked accessible circuit around the zoo. Wheelchairs and motorised scooters are available for hire also.
Full review to come soon and in the meantime check out the National Zoo & Aquarium’s website.
NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY
For lovers of art the National Portrait Gallery is a must-see attraction in Canberra. With lovely open spaces this is an easy all-weather wheelchair accessible activity
Accessible parking is available under the building with lift access to the gallery. Accessible bathrooms are available and there’s a lovely gift shop for those inclined to shop for unusual items.
The exhibitions change regularly so check the National Portrait Gallery website for more information about current events.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AUSTRALIA
On each visit to Canberra we have difficulty choosing what to see and do but the National Museum of Australia has drawn us back several times. The changing exhibitions, easy access and free entry always make it a winner with our family.
On our last visit Kspace was a huge hit with the kids. Kspace is the Museum’s interactive adventure game for kids. The kids loved building their own time-travelling robot and then blasting off to explore a mystery location in Australia’s past. Plan your visit by checking the session times and booking requirements.
Accessible parking is available close to the museum’s entrance and accessible bathroom facilities are excellent.
You can read more about the National Museum of Australian here.
ROYAL AUSTRALIAN MINT
Ahhhh, if only I had free reign in the Mint for a few hours! How lovely to be surrounded by all that money. Alas, we visited the Royal Australian Mint and I am only richer in knowledge. Entry is free and it’s fantastic for kids to see how our coins are made.
You can see real robots in action including Titan, the strongest robot at the Mint, capable of lifting 1000 kilograms! Discover the Holey Dollar and Dump, Australia’s first minted coins – made by a convicted forger, as you wander through the national coin collection.
The Royal Australian Mint is accessible and you can read further about its access here.
OLD BUS DEPOT MARKETS
I’m a shopper from way back. A weekend getaway or holiday just isn’t the same without some browsing and the Old Bus Depot Markets is one of my favourite places to do it in Canberra. Not only do they have a wonderful range of stalls with hand made goods including jewellery, clothing and art, but the variety of food always has my eyes popping. It’s usually our last stop on our Canberra itinerary on a Sunday and we go home with lots of goodies including the best bagels I’ve had in Australia.
The market is popular with locals and visitors so arriving early will make parking easier.
Wide aisles make wheelchair access easy but I recommend entering the second level via the external entrance rather than the steep ramp which links the lower level to the second level.
You can read more about the Old Bus Depot Markets here.
OUTDOORS & PLAYGROUNDS
Canberra is wonderful for getting outdoors, and many of the paths, parks and reserves are wheelchair accessible.
Canberra’s first all abilities playground is on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin at Kings Park. Although BJ and AJ are less interested in playgrounds as they have gotten older, I never miss a chance to see an inclusive and accessible one. Lovely features include pod swings, a wheelchair accessible see-saw, carousel and various ramps with hands on activity stations. The water play and tinny boat were popular with BJ.
There are 6 disabled parking spaces, and the bathroom facilities are some of the best I have seen at a playground. Click on the link to read about this fabulous playground. A further upgrade occurred at the end of 2017, and we hope to check it out next time we are in Canberra.
You can see all our photos and information on Boundless here.
For a month each Spring, Commonwealth Park is home to Floriade, the largest floral display in the Southern Hemisphere. In its 31st year, we have visited several times, and have always been impressed by the masses of tulips and the variety of blooms. Floriade is a free event and has good accessible facilities in place. Accessible parking is available close to the entrance and there are accessible stand-alone unisex bathrooms. The paths are a mix of compact gravel, concrete and grass.
Even when Floriade isn’t happening, Commonwealth Park is lovely to meander through. You may just spot some gardeners who are there for months before the main event, weeding, watering and replanting plants disturbed by birds. To see all the work put into Floriade, we can really appreciate it is a labour of love but the gorgeous floral results are worth it.
Check the Floriade website for annual information.
THE NATIONAL ARBORETUM
We often re-visit the National Arboretum and Pod Playground because it is constantly changing as the many species of trees grow. The views from this vantage point are also spectacular and I highly recommend arriving in the afternoon and staying for sunset. In winter, there are scarves wrapped around trees, and at all times there are various sculptures to investigate. The Arboretum has a main Village Centre and adjacent playground, then extensive forests/hills/collections which can be explored by car, or along the many accessible paths. The Village Centre has a restaurant, information displays often at waist height, and a gift shop. It can be a wonderful place of refuge should the winds pick up! The Pod playground is a beautiful collection of equipment that is reflective of the environment, however has limited accessibility.
There are 36 disabled car spaces on the top tier near the visitor centre, and disabled parking spots at the Himalyan Cedar Forest, the Margaret Whitlam Pavilion and Dairy Farmers Hill. Parking is free-of-charge when a valid disabled parking voucher is displayed. For specific information about viewing sculptures and exploring forests, be sure to check out the Arboretum website.
You can read more about access at The National Arboretum website here.
TELSTRA TOWER, BLACK MOUNTAIN
The Telstra Tower rises 195 metres above the summit of Black Mountain, with 360 degree views of the city and the Brindabella Ranges. A lift takes visitors to the large windowed indoor observation deck for spectacular views over the city. We visited towards the end of our stay in Canberra and had fun picking out all the landmarks we’d been to.
There are two levels within the viewing area. The lower lever can only be accessed via a few stairs. The views are still good from the top level (see photo above)
It was fun showing the kids phones from the ‘olden days’ in the Telstra Heritage Exhibition. The exhibition traces the history of Australian telecommunications as well as a theatre showcasing a video, produced shortly after the Tower opened in 1980 on the tower’s design and construction..
Accessibility is good with lift access, accessible parking and the Australian Companion Card is accepted.
Telstra Tower is open daily 9am-10pm.
You can read more on the Telstra Tower website.
40 minutes drive from Canberra we came across 2 great wheelchair accessible attractions. Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve and Canberra Space Centre were both unique, and there was plenty to see and do to fill a whole day.
TIDBINBILLA NATURE RESERVE
Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve has an extensive variety of national flora and fauna in their own natural habitat. This includes koalas, emus, wallabies, platypus, turtles, jabirus, frogs and more. With 21 bushwalks to choose from, there are plenty of wheelchair accessible tracks. On arriving at the reserve, enter the Visitors Centre to pay for the $12 entry ticket. When we were there, the staff were very helpful, showing us the most accessible paths on the map. We were also told about the TrailRider which is available to borrow on site, where it is recommended that it be booked in advance.
The walks vary between boardwalk, bitumen and dirt. The walks are accessed by driving around the reserve (slowly, as the wallabies WILL come and say hello as you drive past), and there are various carparks at the start of the tracks. Accessible parking is available throughout, and there are accessible bathrooms as indicated on the maps. Keep your eyes peeled, as Tidbinbilla is a great place for easily spotting a range of native wildlife.
Read more about Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve in our full review here.
CANBERRA SPACE CENTRE
Also located in Tidbinbilla, as we drove down the road to the Space Centre, our jaws immediately dropped when we saw the sheer size of the antenna dishes in the distance. Our amazement grew as we came closer to the largest antenna complex in the Southern Hemisphere. On site of the working Deep Space Communication Complex, there is a self-guided small museum which is free of charge. Inside the wheelchair accessible centre, there are information displays, cinema screens and hands-on activity stations often at wheelchair height. For budding astronauts and space enthusiasts, there are displays of space food (that would put anyone off their dinner!), moon rocks, a model Mars Rover and more.
There is a cafe on site, disabled car parking and an accessible restroom. The playground equipment is not wheelchair accessible, however the view outside is picturesque.
Check out all the information and photos of our visit to Canberra Space Centre here.
EATING OUT IN CANBERRA
On holidays we love finding unique dining options where the food is not only yummy but the atmosphere encourages fun social interaction. Two such places in Canberra were the Guild Restaurant with its board games and Patissez for its huge shakes. This is my review of both as featured in Out and About with Kids, Summer 2018 edition:
The kids were surprised to be offered two menus at Guild Restaurant – the regular food menu and a board game menu. For $3 per person we could play unlimited games for the evening while devouring delicious wood-fired pizzas (pizza at additional cost). Not an electronic device was in sight, with families at surrounding tables connecting over good old-fashioned board games. It’s the best family dining experience we’ve had.
Guild is popular, so bookings are recommended. When booking we arranged wheelchair access via the rear of the building, but be aware there are still two small steps to negotiate.
Check the Guild website for more information about the menu and opening times.
Decadent shakes are trending with all ages, particularly teens, and Patissez’s reputation had us queuing up to try a Freak Shake. Our daughter chose to indulge in a Mint Condition Shake, and the super-choc-mint-shake complete with gooey choc fudge, mint choc mousse, mint choc ice-cream and chocolate cookie sandwich, guaranteed our teen had a pep in her step for the rest of the day. I feared the exercise necessary to burn off the calories might be too great, so chose to abstain! Patissez.com.au
WHERE TO STAY
Based in the centre of Canberra, Novotel is a 4 ½ star hotel that ticks many boxes in terms of wheelchair accessibility and family friendly options. It was unique offering a standard inter-connecting room to the accessible accommodation, a feature we would love to see happen in more locations.
The rooms have been made with wheelchair access in mind, including good circulation space, lowered towel rails and clothes airer, and room for a wheelchair to fit under the basin. With level paths surrounding the hotel and secure accessible car parking, it is an ideal base to call home while exploring Canberra’s many wheelchair accessible activities.
You can read our full review of Novotel Canberra here.
Located in Kingston, our go to suburb when we stay in Canberra, we have stayed at East Hotel twice. It is easy to understand why East Hotel is popular with all ages and stages, as there are many entertainment options provided. For young children, there are Kids Cubby Rooms, and for children at heart, the option of Xbox consoles, DVD machines for hire, and free Wi-Fi keeps everyone happy.
We have been won over by the spaciousness of the rooms and facilities at East Hotel. The ‘Luxe Easy Access Studios’ have many valuable features including great bathroom facilities and waist-high electrical switches. Some rooms offer kitchen facilities to give the choice of self-catering, otherwise there is an on-site cafe or nearby restaurants.
Our full review of East Hotel can be found here.
Canberra can be a city of extremes, either pouring with rain or sunny, and it can be boiling hot or the mecury has dipped below 0. But no matter the weather, we are constantly amazed at the many wheelchair accessible activities there are on offer in Canberra. I have lost count how many times our family have visited our Nation’s capital, and I’m sure it won’t be long until we venture south again.
I think our friend Christine from Adventure Baby has nearly visited Canberra as many times as us. If you’d like to see more of Canberra, take a look at her extensive range of information here.