Best things to do in Canberra: 6 off-the-beaten-path outdoor adventures

Canberra could be the ultimate Covid destination. Fast emerging as the most Covid-vaxxed city in the world, it’s blessed with enough open spaces to make social distancing a breeze.

Cleanliness aficionados will also be reassured to know Canberra has been voted the second most-hygienic capital city in the world (after Berlin) thanks in part to its lack of pollution, volumes of hand sanitizer and love of recycling and composting.

Beyond the national institutions and abundance of roundabouts, the city boasts a feast of activities and surprises, with no shortage of different ways to experience them. By foot, on two wheels, or on water, from the air or on horseback, each offers different vantage points, new insights, and some pretty spectacular views. You just have to choose your mode of transport. Here are six ways to explore Canberra’s gems:

Paddle or sail Lake Burley Griffin

The sparkling centrepiece of Lake Burley Griffin provides aquatic options galore to discover Canberra, depending on your preferred level of activity. Paddle under your own steam on the colourful paddleboats that were MIA for years, hire a sail boat, explore in a kayak or master stand-up paddleboarding. Try it at dawn to witness the serene magic of a silent sunrise on water. For the less energetic, a picnic with friends and/or dog on an electric-powered GoBoat may be more appealing. To get the lay of the land quickly, small one-hour cruises with Lake Burley Griffin Cruises come with rollicking commentary while cruises on board the MV Southern Cross can come with meals or snacks.

Drive to Tidbinbilla

Cascades Trail at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve
Cascades Trail at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. Picture: We Are Explorers / VisitCanberra

If you’ve ever wondered why Canberra is called the Bush Capital, a 40-minute drive from the city to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve will reveal all. Tidbinbilla has wildlife lovers covered, with koalas, ’roos, emus, and even platypuses. With myriad walking trails and sweeping mountain views, go it your own or join ranger-guided activities on weekends. Take a trip out on Cotter Road to the recreation area by the river for a quick dip, a picnic, or a short hike to the dam, or get your science geek on at Mount Stromlo Observatory. Although the telescopes were decommissioned after the 2003 firestorm, visitors can take a self-guided heritage walk and take in some great views.

Take a balloon flight

Balloons over Lake Burley Griffin
Balloons over Lake Burley Griffin. Picture: VisitCanberra

There’s no better way to appreciate the design genius of this town planned for a purpose than by drifting silently over the top of it. From the basket of a hot-air balloon at dawn, riders will discover the symmetry of a city nestled carefully between hills, the expanse of a created lake, the green patchwork of the National Arboretum, and the triumphant results of century-old urban planning that saw two million trees and shrubs planted between 1913 and 1926. From the skies, it will also become clear why the Parliamentary Triangle is so named. You may even score one of Canberra’s spectacular sunrises to boot. Daily flights are offered by balloon stalwarts Dawn Drifters or Balloon Aloft – but they are always dependent on the weather.

Walk the trails

Views from the Red Hill lookout
Views from the Red Hill lookout. Picture: VisitCanberra

Don your walking shoes to explore on foot. Start with the plethora of central galleries and national attractions or head for higher ground to tackle the city’s hills – Black Mountain, Red Hill, or Mount Ainslie – all of which come with virtuous feelings and commanding views.

By day explore the nation’s largest collection of native species at the sprawling Botanic Gardens, or by torchlight wander through the National Film and Sound Archives – one of the country’s most haunted buildings – and hear a tale or six of resident ghosts, and perhaps even meet one. And if you’ve never walked the 5km “bridge to bridge” around the lake, have you ever really visited Canberra?

Ride a bike

Bike riding in Commonwealth Park
Bike riding in Commonwealth Park. Picture: Kara Rosenlund / VisitCanberra

Founded on sheep plains and gloriously flat for easy city riding and with an astonishing number of bike paths, Canberra is a cyclist’s heaven. BYO bike or hire one from Airbike or Share a Bike dockless sharing services for town adventures. Cycle Canberra offers longer and multi-day bike hires (and gear) for singles and families and can even drop off bikes at your hotel. Purple and orange electric hire scooters scattered about provide even more options.

Adventure-seeking mountain-bike enthusiasts can head for the adrenaline-filled hills of Stromlo Forest Park, site of world championships and just 15 minutes from the city, to test their skills on 50km of trails, jumps and thrills.

To the north of the city, Majura Pines provides another 20km of forest bike trails, from beginner tracks to black-diamond descents and a whole lot of dirt fun.

Go horseriding

Exploring Canberra with Forest Park Riding School
Exploring Canberra with Forest Park Riding School

Dotted with wooded hills and bushland, Canberra has some spectacular places to spend time on horseback. A number of riding schools and equestrian centres offer trail rides and lessons, catering for beginners to experienced riders. Both Forest Park Riding School and Stromlo Equestrian Centre take advantage of their proximity to Stromlo Forest Park (remember those mountain-bike tracks?) and its 1200-odd hectares of trails and views.

Christine Aldred is a Canberra-based writer who delights in exploring her own backyard. This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of australiaexploring.com

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Ozzie

Hi! I’m Ozzie!

Before joining Australia Exploring, I was a writer at Tripadvisor.

I'm looking for the best posts for you about travel adventures in Australia and around the world. This website has the purpose to inspire you to travel… travel more and better. I hope it can help you explore the world a little bit better.

I graduated from the University of Sydney. I live in California with my wife and two children.

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