Australia, Travel

Weekends Away: A Toddler-Friendly Guide to Canberra

We recently enjoyed a long weekend in our nation’s capital, Canberra, with our 2.5 year old daughter. Canberra is a great city to visit with kids and we enjoyed a busy 3 days of art, food and playgrounds which kept everyone happy and entertained.

How to get there

Canberra is a 3 hour drive south-west from the heart of Sydney. It’s a fairly easy drive and we planned it around her nap time. A sleeping toddler makes for a much more relaxing trip! We stopped once in Mittagong (for Oporto’s drive-through… no judgement please…) You can also fly to Canberra in under 55 mins from Sydney Airport.

Once there, Canberra has a decent bus and light rail network to get around, but as everything is so close by, we either walked or drove everywhere.

Where to stay

We stayed at Deco Hotel, a new 4 star hotel in Braddon. I chose it because of their one and two bedroom apartments. We have stayed in a hotel room with Zsofia before and it’s never fun – once she goes to sleep all you can really do is hide quietly in the dark on your phone until it’s your turn to go to sleep! So now we only stay in apartment-style hotels with separate living areas.

We chose the one bedroom apartment and it was fantastic – the room was spacious, there was a kitchen with all the mod cons you needed such as fridge, dishwasher, laundry facilities and a Nespresso coffee machine (very important for tired parents!)

The location was great, we could walk into the heart of Braddon each night for dinner. There is also a small playground across the road which we stopped off at each afternoon to burn some energy.

Deco Hotel has a happy hour every day from 4-6pm which we made full use of – $5 beers and wines and $12 cocktails. The bartender also made Zsofia a babycinno so she could feel included when she wasn’t reading her book.

Another hotel I can recommend which is family-friendly in Canberra is the East Hotel. They also have self-catered apartments but are located in a different part of town, Kingston. You can read my full review here.

What to Do

Visit the Art Gallery

We had a great time at the art gallery, despite it being a little more stressful than usual! She is at that unique age where she is too old to sit quietly/sleep in her pram, and not quite old enough to understand she needs to walk around without touching things and using her indoor voice. We paused our viewing and went out to the Sculpture Garden and let her run around and be as loud as she wanted – a great idea and we wished we did that first! After exploring all the artwork outside (James Turrell was a highlight) we returned to the gallery and checked out more art. She was very patient in the queue for Yayoi Kusama’s installation and loved it.

Have a picnic at the Arboretum and Pod Playground

The Arboretum was created after a series of bushfires wiped out the area in the early 2000s and is now home to a collection of living forests and an open-air amphitheatre. There is a fascinating bonsai collection (which Zsofia had zero interest in, so we took turns) and an amazing playground inspired by pods.

We spent a lot of time at the Pod Playground, there is so much to do for little and big kids alike – lots of climbing, slides, sand and waterplay and swings.

In true Canberra-style, when we got to the amphitheatre to sit down and have some food on the grass the weather changed and became windy, freezing and wet. We swiftly decamped to the café and enjoyed sausage rolls and a yoghurt ice block inside.

Go to Questacon

We didn’t go this trip as Zsofia is still a bit too young (she is 2.5 years old). But I have been highly recommended to go next time and try out Science Sprouts for kids aged 3-6. They also have a young kids zone called Mini Q which was closed due to Covid but is opening again soon. We look forward to going back to Canberra and checking it out when she’s a bit older!

Visit the National Zoo & Aquarium

We have recently been to Taronga Zoo in Sydney and Tasmania Zoo in Launceston so I was feeling a little zoo’d out, but I have been to Canberra Zoo previously and it is fantastic! They offer close encounter tours where you can get up close and personal with the animals and help feed them which is an amazing experience for kids. The AdventureLand playground is a must-visit stop too. And if budget is no problem, you can also stay overnight at Jamala Wildlife Lodge for the ultimate animal experience.

Boundless Playground

Located on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin, Boundless is Canberra’s first all abilities playground which means that every kid (no matter their abilities or age) can enjoy themselves here! There are toilets and barbecue facilities onsite, and I highly recommend you pack a change of clothes as the waterplay section looks very fun. Zsofia also loved the music section.

Notable mentions: We ran out of time, but on our next visit to Canberra we would love to check out the Dinosaur Museum, Reptile Park, and Cockington Green.

Where to Eat

Pretty much every place we ate at was on the same block in Braddon – there is so much to choose from there and we didn’t need to go anywhere else! Plus it was walking distance from our hotel which made it extremely convenient.

My friend warned me to book and I foolishly ignored her and then we were turned away from several restaurants at 5.50pm on a Saturday night. So don’t be silly like me and please book!

Tipsy Bull

This isn’t the most kid-friendly restaurant, but Mum and Dad really wanted to try it out! The staff were friendly and welcoming to our toddler for our 6pm seating but there definitely weren’t many children dining here. I had a wonderful gin tasting plate complete with botanicals, fancy tonic and ice I could add to taste. The gin menu was pages and pages long!

To eat we had some incredible homemade sourdough bread with whipped ricotta and herb ash, truffle fries and porchetta with pickled pineapple and pecans.

Assembly The People’s Pub

We stumbled across Assembly after being turned away from several other establishments due to my laissez-faire attitude to Canberra dining. The only table they could give us was outside (but under heating) and on bar stools, which isn’t the ideal toddler seat, but I wedged her in between my chair and the railing and she was fine.

The food here is simple pub fare done right, and we ordered the 600g t-bone steak, braised cabbage & a bowl of fries served with chimichurri. It was all delicious. Zsofia got the kids cheeseburger and chips and I definitely stole a few bites – it was excellent.

Lazy Su

We went here for Mother’s Day dinner (thankfully I had booked) and by 6.01pm the place was at capacity. The staff were lovely and attentive to Zsofia (isn’t it great when they don’t flat out ignore your child) and the waitress wished me a happy Mother’s Day which I thought was a nice touch.

To start we got the edamame with miso soy sauce and Su Fry 2.0 (sweet potato noodles, chinese broccoli, capsicum, onion, chilli) – not something I would usually order but it was recommend and ended up being one of my favourite dishes!

For mains we shared the Beef Short-Rib Bibimbap which was insanely rich and good (Zoltan declared it the best thing he’s eaten in ages) and Grandma’s Mapo Tofu which was spicy and delicious. Zsofia ate an entire bowl of white rice because #toddler.

Rye

Rye was packed and I of course hadn’t booked, so I put out name down and we went for a walk. We were seated earlier than expected but service was pretty slow – it was Mother’s Day brunch so I forgive them for that. The menu looks northern-Euro inspired and had some really interesting dishes. We decided to brave the “Toasted Barley Grod” which is a savoury Danish porridge. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was outstanding! It was served with smoked corn, kale, hazelnut, goats curd & a slow cooked egg and was a warm and hearty start to the morning.

We also ordered something a little more traditional – the spiced baked eggs. They were served with chickpeas, black beans & capsicum,  pangrattato,  goat’s curd, and grilled garlic bread. Zsofia had the fruit toast with butter and she demolished it.

Gather

Our food at Gather was a bit hit and miss – the stand out was the Miso Roast Mushroom Benedict. Honestly I could eat this every day! It featured local roasted king brown mushrooms, miso, asparagus, organic poached eggs, kimchi hollandaise, nashi slaw & lotus root on ancient grain bread.

The miss was the Blueberry Tiramisu Pancakes. The pancakes themselves were very nice but the flavours seemed to compete and confuse the palette – there was blueberry mascarpone and coulis, espresso ice-cream, charcoal tuile and a mocha sauce. And then a random assortment of fruit on top including banana, mandarin, strawberries and nectarine. Just too much going on!

Sweet Bones

This café and bakery is 100% vegan with an extensive menu of delicious sounding things. We went with the Big Breakfast which came with hummus, tomato, avocado, sourdough bread and tofu scramble which was filling and wholesome. We also got the Loaded Banana Bread topped with coconut maple butter, apple, banana and maple syrup. Both were tasty but a bit expensive and we were still pretty hungry – we ordered more banana bread and then we were good to go. I definitely regret leaving without one of their Vegan Cinnabons – next time.

Travelling with Toddler Tips

We have been travelling somewhat regularly with Zsofia since she was small and she is fortunately a good traveller. These are some things I have learned make holidays always that much easier.

  • If your baby/toddler sleeps well in the car, plan all long drives around their nap times. Sometimes it’s inconvenient or a bit annoying for our desired schedule, but it’s always 110% worth it when you have a quiet kid in the car!
  • Bring out some car-only entertainment for when bub is awake (or hates to sleep in the car). We have certain toys that only come out in the car, keeping their novelty value high and she enjoys playing with them. We have an obnoxious talking puppy with buttons, a plastic phone that also makes annoying sounds, and some type of sticker book. When she is completely done with the drive and about to lose her mind, I give her my phone and let her watch Bluey or Peppa Pig. I try and only offer this as a last resort otherwise she’d commandeer my phone for all future trips I’m sure!
  • Bring sleep associations from home – for us it means her sleep suit, her Glow Dreaming machine and a selection of soft toys she chooses herself. She usually sleeps in our bed when we travel so I have sometimes bought a bed rail with us so she wouldn’t fall out when small!
  • Have a little eating out kit to keep your babe occupied as much as possible at meal times. We have a water painting kit, a few books, and some colouring in supplies. Once again, if we have exhausted all our entertainment options and Mum and Dad still need to finish their meal (and have a conversation!) I bring out my phone. I always said I would never stick my kid in front of a screen at mealtimes and all I can say to that is HAHAHAHA.
  • Toddlers still have lots of little bits and pieces that can overwhelm your suitcase – so packing cubes are your friend! I used packing cubes a lot when we went to Japan when she was a baby and had a million bibs, socks, hair bows etc. Now there is less bitty stuff but it’s still a pretty busy area of the suitcase. So I sort her clothes into pyjamas, tops, bottoms, jackets, socks etc and make use of individual packing cubes to not only keep it tidy, but so I know exactly where to find everything when we arrive.
  • My final tip is to try and keep your trip balanced with things Mum and Dad want to do (like the art gallery and going to nice dinners) and things Zsofia wants to do (like go to the playground and the arcade). It’s no fun for us if we do a 100% kid-focused holiday (do I sound selfish? Maybe? But I want to enjoy myself too??) and it’s obviously no fun for her if she gets dragged from a gallery to a museum to a fine dining restaurant every day and expected to “behave” and stay quiet. So we always tried to find somewhat of a balance each day so everyone was happy. And it worked!

Have you been to Canberra recently and have anything more to add? Let me know in the comments!

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