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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.