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ACTing out

Canberra is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, and that means there is even more reason to visit this child-centric city. From hands-on science experiments to the wow-factor of hot air ballooning, Canberra has something to offer even the most discerning of children.

If you've never been before, go. If you have been before, go! Questacon's exhibits and hands-on activities are ever changing so what fascinated your child last visit may be entirely different from what appeals this time. For little ones aged three to six, Science Time is a fun and interactive learning experience of play, music and experiments in a friendly, inclusive setting. For budding scientists over seven, QLab encourages a different look at the world through microscopes and slow-motion footage. Live scientific demonstrations are sure to enthral. Kids of all ages (and their parents) will love the latest exhibition, Deep Oceans, which uncovers the deep, dark secrets of giant sea creatures below the ocean. Did you know only 10% of the deep oceans have ever been explored? For those with a leaning towards the dramatic, Questacon's Awesome Earth Gallery allows visitors to experience earthquakes, lightning, and cyclones - and survive unscathed. Questacon is open from 9am to 5pm every day except Christmas.

National Zoo and Aquarium
Australia's only combined zoo and aquarium is located just five minutes from the city centre and provides children the chance to have up-close encounters with some of the world's most amazing creatures. Personal behind-the-scenes encounters are available for children aged eight and over and involve 15-minute sessions with giraffes, red pandas, white lions, sharks, elans and sunbears. The cost is $50 per person, on top of zoo entry - be sure to book ahead. The two-hour behind-the-scenes Zooventure Tour for over 10s (from $120 per person, including zoo entry) gives visitors the chance to hand feed tigers, and get up close and personal with lions, otters, brown bears and giraffes, not to mention the friendly python. Tours run from 3.30 to 5.30pm daily. A tamer option is the Family Tour, designed with younger children in mind (from $85 per person). The zoo houses an array of native and exotic animals and has complimentary barbecue facilities in grassy picnic areas. Parking is free.  

Australian Institute of Sport
Inspire the budding athlete in your family with a visit to the training facility where Australia's sporting stars spend their days in pursuit of excellence. An elite athlete will serve as your family's guide through this world-class sporting precinct - you might see gymnasts in training or some of our esteemed swimmers doing their laps. The AIS facilities are open to everyone, so if your children need to burn up some energy swimming laps or hitting a ball around, there are 25- and 50-metre swimming pools and tennis courts that will make them feel like a pro. Tours take 90 minutes and depart at 10am, 11am, 1pm and 2.30pm. Adult tickets cost $18, children, $10. Tours leave from the Sports Visitor Centre, which showcases Australia's sporting heroes.

Parliament House
The politics behind it may be of minimal interest to kiddies, but there's few better ways to boost excitement in a budding public speaker than a trip to Parliament House. Take some happy snaps in front of the unique facade (angling the camera as though you're holding the Aussie flag is always a laugh), then make your way through security and into the world of Australian Parliament! Stop in at the Senate, the House of Representatives and see how many politicians older kids can recognise amongst the portrait collection. Top it off with a trip to the "roof" and roll around on the grass before stopping for a drink and educational debrief at the cafe.

National Portrait Gallery
Look the people in the face who have shaped Australia politically, culturally and socially, at the National Portrait Gallery. Featuring famous and non-famous faces from throughout history to the present day, the Gallery's exhibits will interest budding artists and photographers of all ages. As well as spending the day with people like Paul Kelly and Elvis, the Gallery runs a variety of child- and family-friendly programs. These include the upcoming 'Story Time' on 16 July and 'Play, Explore and Create Together' evert weekend and school holiday. General admission to the gallery is free, and scheduled activities start at $5 per child.

Australian War Memorial
ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day are introduced to kids early in their schooling, and a trip to the War Memorial can help bring war history to life. The beautiful building, statues and exhibitions are worth going for alone, and a number of free, guided tours operate daily. On top of this, the Discovery Zone lets kids interact with replica WWI trenches, the Australian home front, a helicopter, a submarine and peacekeeping strategies used in war-torn communities. It's open all weekend and 12.30-1.30pm on weekdays. If you're still around at 4.55pm, a trumpeter plays The Last Post to farewell lingering visitors.

Cockington Green
This multi-award-winning attraction is of great appeal to children, especially if they are into trains or dolls. Miniature trains make their way through meticulously crafted miniature buildings set within beautiful gardens. A mini steam train ride is a good way for kids to see the village without getting tired legs - and is big enough for parents to go along for the ride. The Rose Room indoor exhibition features a 34-room Georgian-style doll house, as well as a doll's house that replicates the house in the classic novel The Seven Little Australians. A playground, free gas barbecues and picnic tables are available for use during opening hours: 9.30am to 5pm. Cost: from $10.50 per child.

CSIRO Discovery Centre
The CSIRO Discovery Centre provides the perfect means to demystify scientific concepts in young minds. Their aim is to show real science in an entertaining and educational setting. Here you can see scientists working in proper laboratories - but it's definitely not just white coats behind glass. Kids will experiment for themselves in the hands-on DiscoverLab, and learn new things in the OptIPortal theatre and 3D@Discovery experiences. They'll grow insight into issues like green energy, climate change, biodiversity and gene diversity - all in a way they can actually understand (and impress their teachers with later). This year CSIRO will also open their doors for the National Science Week Experimentathon on August 10 and 11. Over 100 practical experiments will be available to mess around with, as well as a reptile enclosure, petting zoo, special performances and science shows. It's sure to be great fun for the entire family, and best of all it's free!

National Dinosaur Museum
If your little ones are currently crazy for Dinosaurs, let them sink their teeth into a dino-fix at the National Dinosaur Museum. With 23 complete skeletons, over 300 fossils and exhibits that transport you back to the Earth's beginnings, there's plenty to get the family excited. Activity sheets are available for kids to keep their minds and hands busy, as well as fossil digging at 12pm which gives them a hands-on archaeological experience. If you're after added atmosphere, go on a Saturday evening for a guided torchlight tour, otherwise the museum opens daily between 10am and 5pm. A family pass will cost you $40.

Telstra Tower
Canberra is famous for its strategic, circular town planning, which is not only interesting to drive through but also to see from above! This view can be found a short drive away at Telstra Tower which rises 195m above the Black Mountain summit. Open each day 9am-10pm, here you'll find 360 degree views of the city, by day or by night. You can stop and enjoy a coffee at the Panorama Kiosk while you try to point out all the familiar landmarks, or on a sunny day come prepared with your own picnic. A family pass is $17 and kids under 4 are free.

Royal Australian Mint
Have you ever wondered about the coins in your wallet? Come to the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra where all your questions about coinage and currency are answered in style. The Mint is the place to learn about everything from how to make Australia's change to the old action, mint your own $1 coin and look out for the new 'colourful change', a special surprise for Queen Elizabeth II. Admission and parking are free.

The National Museum of Australia
The recorded history of Australia is relatively short, but definitely sweet, and The National Museum of Australia is the place for all Aussie kids to discover their heritage in fun and interactive ways. With exhibitions and galleries showing 50,000 years of indigenous heritage, major events like Federation and the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and amazing artefacts like the heart of Phar Lap and the Holden prototype No. 1 car, the whole family will find sometihng to keep them entertained. The kids can also learn without realising it, by participating in the array of activities included in programs like 'Discovery Space', where they can put theory to practice! General admission is free and it is open 9am to 5pm daily.


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