Whether you’re a bushwalker, nature lover, wine sipper or would-be surfer, day trips are an awesome way to take a break from the daily grind and discover new places, people and experiences. From the wintery grandeur of the Snowy Mountains to the sparkling waters of Batemans Bay, an exciting weekend adventure is literally a few hours away from the Canberra. So what are you waiting for? Here are some of the best places to visit near Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).
Drive time from ANU: Under an hour
If you love a splash of vino and are keen to taste some local wine varieties then … cheers! The first vines in Canberra’s wine region were planted in the 1840s. Today the region is home to over 140 wineries and 30 cellar doors. Plus, the distinct variations in altitude, temperature and soil types of the area mean there are many different palette pleasers, from riesling and chardonnay to pinot noir, merlot, shiraz and tempranillo.
Here you can visit cellar doors, meet the winemakers and reward your designated driver with a bottle to enjoy when you’re all safely home. Aside from savouring lovely liquids, you can also chow down on mouth-watering lunch options designed to pair perfectly with your chosen wine drop.
Road trip reward: Splash out and book a wine-tasting tour to learn about a wine’s body, length and tannins. It’s a superimpressive skill to have for your next date night!
Grab a pizza at Four Winds Vineyard and enjoy the sun and views amongst the vines.
Drive time from ANU: 45 minutes
In terms of places to visit near Canberra, the rugged Namadgi National Park is an ancient and diverse landscape managed by the Ngunnawal people for tens of thousands of years. Within it, you’ll find an expanse of natural bushland, the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.
With over 20 bushwalking trails to explore, from short walks to longer hikes, there are lots of opportunities to spot some native wildlife, including koalas, cockatoos, emus and possibly the Southern Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby. (This is the only place in the ACT where it’s found, so it comes with bragging rights).
Then, check out The Sanctuary, a large wetlands ecosystem. Keep your eyes open here for a notoriously shy platypus or head to the Birrigai Time Trail. This winds through the valley before making its way up to the Birrigai Rock Shelter, the oldest rock shelter in the ACT. And its history is pretty impressive. The Ngunnawal people used this shelter over 16,000 years ago; yes, that was during the last Ice Age!
Road trip reward: Treat yourself to a ranger-guided tour to get the lowdown on fascinating facts, including about Australian animals, fire ecology and Aboriginal culture and heritage.
A tree-lined road in the Southern Highlands.
Drive time from ANU: 2 hours
There is soooo much to explore and experience in the Southern Highlands, we can’t possibly cover it all here. From Moss Vale to Mittagong and Burrawang to Bundanoon (how cute are those names?), the region is packed with heritage towns sprinkled amid stunning natural scenery, quaint antique shops and cafes, and wildlife peeking through every one of its pockets.
Surrounded by national parks – from the rainforest to the eucalypt variety – there are many amazing hikes here. Add a waterfall and a scenic lookout or two, and you’ll definitely put “adventure” into your weekend. One of our favourites is Carrington Falls. It’s a bit of a drive (two and a half hours), but the waterfall views are oh-so-worth-it.
Always wanted to fly? At Illawarra Fly Treetop Adventures, you can add a bit of airborne authenticity by doing it among the treetops. The unique zip line and a 1.5-kilometre treetop walk through the stunning Illawarra Rainforest end in a spiral tower that rises to a breathtaking 45 metres above the forest floor.
And if you love cricket (or at least its most famous Australian legend), don’t miss the Bradman Museum. Nicknamed “The Don” and knighted in 1949 (and from then on called “Sir”), Don Bradman is renowned as the greatest batsman of all time. He was born in Bowral and the museum houses a collection of items that explore his achievements and some of the game’s history. Legend alert!
Road trip reward: If you visit in September, don’t miss the Tulip Time Festival, where over 100,000 tulips share their colourful characters with everyone. Bloomin’ beautiful.
If you’re keen to get out and about and into the thick of nature, Batemans Bay has so much to offer.
Drive time from ANU: 2 hours
With its chilled coastal atmosphere, Batemans Bay at the base of Clyde Mountain is the northern gateway to the Eurobodalla Shire and a fantastic place to start exploring the surrounding forests, villages, beaches, national parks and waterways. Fishing, diving, snorkelling, swimming, jet skiing, kayaking, surfing and sailing… if you love all these things, this will be your local marine paradise.
Love all creatures, great and small? The Mogo Wildlife Park (a 15-minute drive from Batemans Bay) has over 250 animals, including rhinos, gorillas, zebras, giraffes, squirrel monkeys, snow leopards, meerkats, red pandas, Sumatran tigers, otters, white lions, ring-tailed lemurs; yes, beasts galore!
Continuing with the animal theme, fancy a snorkel with a seal? The pristine waters of Batemans Bay Marine Park are home to these as well as dolphins, sharks, stingrays and an abundance of super-cool underwater plant life in all the colours of the rainbow. Sign up with a registered tour operator, and they’ll give you an unforgettable tour of sites such as The Maze, The Tunnel and The Chimney.
If all of the above sounds a little too energetic, you can always take a cruise down the Clyde River to Nelligen with a brown bag of salty fish and chips or check out local produce, vintage clothing and bric-a-brac at the Batemans Bay Sunday Market.
With so much to do, Batemans Bay is one of the best places to visit near Canberra. (And if you study medicine at ANU, you might end up on a rural placement there.)
Road trip reward: Oysters. They’re not to everyone’s taste but if you relish these moreish molluscs, head to the Oyster Shed on Wray Street. They’re as fresh as the day's catch.
Couple watching the sun set at the summit of Mount Kosciuszko in Kosciuszko National Park.
Drive time from ANU: Under 3 hours
If you’re a bonafide snow bunny, hop along to the high country’s two biggest ski resorts, Perisher and Thredbo, in Kosciusko National Park. Whether you’re a seasoned powder chaser or content to meander down the beginner slopes, you’ll find lots of white stuff at both resorts generally from June to late September.
From skiing and snowboarding to tobogganing and snowshoe exploration, both locations offer exhilarating alpine experiences with unforgettable scenic splendour. They also have all the complementary cold weather taste-pleasing bonuses from hearty lunches to steaming coffee (or cheeky schnapps) that you can enjoy in front of a blazing fire.
Road trip reward: Ditch the car and book a same-day bus service for a quick, stress-free day trip. They’ll negotiate the traffic delays, cost of petrol and timing logistics for you and deliver you outside the Skitube train!
Drive time from ANU: 3 hours
Okay, so this is a bit of a drive. But the reward when you get to the Shoalhaven region will cancel any crankiness sustained from an early morning weekend wake-up. Think astonishing marine life, sparkling aquamarine waters and sand the colour of snow (and according to Guinness World Records, Hyams Beach has the whitest sand in the world!).
Uncovering this coastal paradise can be done in a variety of adventurous ways. You can try fishing, snorkelling, scuba diving, sailing, kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding, or take a cruise to spot a frolicking dolphin or breaching humpback whale. There are also over 30 beaches to explore in the Shoalhaven if you prefer a relaxing paddle.
For a little national park action, check out Booderee National Park (with its kangaroos and birdlife), Jervis Bay National Park (birdlife, dolphins and whales) and Jervis Bay Marine Park (with its fur seals, penguins, sea dragons and bottlenose dolphins). You can also snap some Insta-worthy pics at Cape St George Lighthouse, Point Perpendicular Lighthouse or on the 2.5-kilometre White Sands Walk.
Road trip reward: Also known as the Devil’s Elbow (with a name like that, we like it already), the Ocean Cave Lookout features huge caves at the bottom of cliffs that tower over 60 metres above the ocean. Time for a selfie!
The lighthouse area at Point Perpendicular.