Dog-Friendly Canberra: Visiting Canberra with a Dog

When I recently visited Canberra with my dog, I was surprised by how dog-friendly the city is. Sure, I didn’t try and take my dog inside of parliament house or the many museums that pepper the city. But there’s so many dog-friendly things to do, not to mention dog-friendly hotels. If you’re visiting Canberra with a dog, read on to find out about the best dog-friendly options in Australia’s capital city. 

Dog-Friendly Canberra

Dog-Friendly Accommodation in Canberra

In the last couple of years a growing number of Canberra hotels, both old and new, have put out a welcome mat (plus usually a treat) for four-legged guests. If you’re heading to Canberra, there’s a wide variety of dog-friendly hotels to choose from.

Abode Hotels have multiple hotels dotted around Canberra. Currently, their Gungahlin, Kingston, Murrumbateman, Narrabundah and Tuggeranong hotels welcome pets, plus their new Belconnen hotel opening in late 2020. (Skip staying at the Woden location if you have a pet.) 

Most of the Abode apartment hotels are pet-friendly @ Abode Hotels

All rooms in the Abode Hotels are self-contained, with a small kitchenette, always a handy option when you’re travelling with a pet and the weather turns miserable. To book a pet-friendly room, select the Pet Package on their website, which also includes dog treats, a soft toy, pet shampoo and conditioner, and other goodies.  

In particular, I’ve heard excellent feedback about Abode Narrabundah, with all pet-friendly rooms having access to a dog run. If you’re heading to Batemans Bay, they also recently opened the dog-friendly Malua Bay next to the beach. 

Inside the self-contained rooms at Abode Narrabundah © Abode Hotels

For a more luxurious stay in Canberra, consider the Ovolo Nishi. This five-star luxury boutique hotel is located in Canberra’s CBD, near Commonwealth Park. With artistic touches, including restored vintage furniture and original artworks in each room, your dog is also treated in style when you select a V.I.Pooch package. 

One of the stylish rooms at Ovolo Nishi © Ovolo Hotels

The V.I.Pooch package at Ovolo hotels includes a bed and bowls for your pup, along with a “Doggy Bag” containing specially designed dog toy and treats. There’s also pet-friendly staff on hand to provide assistance when needed. 

The entrance to Ovolo Nishi in Canberra © Ovolo Hotels

Another newly pet-friendly option in Canberra is the glamorous QT Canberra. Book a Pup Yeah! package and your pup will enjoy a designer dog bed for the night, as well as their own mini-bar (full of treats!) and in-room dining menu. Enquire about the option of dog walks and grooming. There’s a size limit of 20kg, and an additional $150 cleaning fee applies.

Two other pet-friendly hotel options in Canberra are the Mercure Canberra and the Pacific Suites Canberra. At the heritage-listed Mercure, there are dedicated pet-friendly rooms and a Pampered Pet Package, including a special keepsake for your dog. An enclosed garden is also available. The Pacific Suites features a pet-friendly floor, with no additional fee for pets, just a deposit. 

If you’d prefer to stay at a caravan park, the most dog-friendly option around is the Capital Country Holiday Park, located just before you cross the border on the road from Sydney. They have four “dog freedom sites”, powered sites which are fully fenced, as well as two dog-friendly cabins. The regular powered and unpowered sites also permit dogs. 

Alternatively, we also stayed not far from Canberra in the town of Bungendore, at the Bungendore Showground. While the facilities are basic, there’s a friendly caretaker and powered sites are just $22 per night. Just over 35 minutes from the centre of Canberra, make sure you visit the local Wood Works Gallery.

Dog-Friendly Dining in Canberra

A fabulous dog-friendly cafe in Canberra, perfect to combine with a walk along the banks of Lake Burley Griffin, is the Local Press Cafe at the Kingston Foreshore. This cafe serves up cold pressed juices along with fresh and natural wholefoods. Unfortunately, it was closed the day we visited Canberra (early in the week), so we couldn’t check it out. 

Dog-Friendly Canberra
Strolls along Lake Burley Griffin with our pup, Schnitzel

We did however make it to Snapper on the Lake, further west along the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, at the Canberra Southern Cross Club in Yarralumla. Voted Canberra’s best fish and chips, order at the counter then find an outdoor table or spread out on the lawns, alongside your pup. The fish on my fish burger were large, delectable chunks! 

Another option in Yarralumla is the Yarralumla Gallery and Oaks Brasserie. It’s situated at the Government Nursery, not far from the Yarralumla Dog Park. Open for both breakfast and lunch, with tables spread out in a beautiful garden, it’s extra dog-friendly. Water bowls are provided plus there’s a special canine menu, currently featuring chicken pasta and doggy biscuits. 

Dog-Friendly Transport in Canberra

On our recent visit to Canberra we had our own campervan, so didn’t make use of public transport. Which is just as well, as pets are not allowed on the buses that cover most of Canberra (just service animals). 

Pets are however allowed on the recently constructed light rail line that runs between the CBD and Gungahlin Place. Pets need to travel in a secure pet carrier, so it’s really only practical for small pets. Check out the relevant rules

Luckily, there are plans to extend the light rail network, with the next extension from the CBD to Woden. 

Dog-Friendly Parks in Canberra

Around the Canberra area there are seven off-leash dog parks. They’re located in Belconnen (Lake Ginninderra Dog Park), Greenway (Mortimer Lewis Drive at Lake Tuggeranong), Yarralumla (Weston Park), Forde (Amy Ackman Drive), Casey (Springbank Rise), O’Connor (Fairfax Street) and Duffy (Warragamba Avenue).

For full details on the off-leash dogs parks and dog etiquette, check out the City Services webpage. There’s also this handy map (be warned it’s huge!) highlighting all off-leash dog areas, plus prohibited areas.

Yarralumla Dog Park is one of seven fenced off-leash dog parks in Canberra

On our visit to Canberra, we checked out the Yarralumla Dog Park, in Weston Park. It’s quite large, with separate fenced areas for small and large dogs, which we always appreciate for our Miniature Dachshund, Schnitzel. Inside are water taps and benches to sit on. Be warned that much of it is dirt, so it will be muddy after rain.

Dog-Friendly Walks in Canberra

There’s no shortage of dog-friendly walks around Canberra. One of the most popular options are the walking and cycling paths around Lake Burley Griffin. There’s a total of 30km paths divided into the Western, Central and Eastern Loops. Although part of the Eastern Loop passes through the Jerrabomberra Wetlands Nature Reserve, where dogs are not permitted.

The most popular section is the Central Loop, otherwise known as the Bridge to Bridge Walk, as it loops in between the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge and Kings Avenue Bridge. Along the way it passes popular sights such as the Captain James Cook Memorial water jet, Commonwealth Park, the International Flag Display and the National Gallery of Australia Sculpture Garden. Use this self-guided walking tour brochure along the way.

Walking part of the Bridge to Bridge Walk

While dogs need to stay on leash on the Bridge to Bridge Walk, a great off-leash walk in Canberra is the Shepherds Lookout Walk in the Woodstock Nature Reserve. Starting from a small carpark near the end of Stockdill Drive in the Belconnen area (Google for “Shepherds Lookout Car Park”), it’s a 600m walk to the lookout over the Murrumbidgee River. Return by the same route or the slightly longer loop. While dogs are allowed off-leash on this track, they are prohibited from the rest of the nature reserve.

At the start of the Shepherds Lookout Walk, before we realised dogs were allowed off-leash
The view from Shepherds Lookout over the Murrumbidgee River

Other on-leash dog walking options around Canberra include the Farrer Ridge Nature Reserve Walking Trails, the walking trails in Mount Ainslie Nature Reserve including the Mount Ainslie Summit Track, and the 20km of walking trails in the National Arboretum (see more below).  

Dog-Friendly Swimming in Canberra

While Canberra is far from the coast, there are still plenty of options for dogs to swim during the hot summer months. (When we visited on a cold winters day, it was definitely not a consideration!) 

Hmm, just a bit too cold for swimming…

Around the lakes of Canberra, dogs are prohibited from public swimming beaches and must remain on-leash in most areas, but there are six designated dog swimming beaches. These are located at Gordon (Point Hut Pond), Greenway (Lake Tuggeranong), Yarralumla (Orana Bay and Kurrajong Point Beach in Weston Park), Gungahlin (Yerrabi Pond) and Belconnen (Lake Ginninderra). 

Another option that I’ve heard plenty recommendations for is to head to the Murrumbidgee River. Dogs are allowed off-leash in the Uriarra Recreation Reserve Area, including the Uriarra East, Uriarra West and Swamp Creek picnic areas. There’s plenty of welcoming water holes to cool down in. Dogs are also allowed off-leash on the western riverbank of the Point Hut Crossing. 

Dog-Friendly Sightseeing in Canberra

What really surprised me during our visit to Canberra with our dog was how many popular sightseeing stops in Canberra are dog-friendly. If you’re heading to Canberra with your pup, add these to your itinerary.

1. Visit Parliament House

Just as humans can walk on the lawns in front of Parliament House, dogs are also allowed access to this space, sometimes dubbed “The Great Verandah”. For the ultimate Canberra dog-selfie, get a photo of your dog outside the front of Parliament House.  

Checking out Australia’s Parliament House

The whole Parliamentary Zone, extending from Parliament House down to the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, contains many important buildings, and is fine to walk through with your dog. Check out Old Parliament House, the National Library, the Portrait and National Gallery and the International Flag Display.  

A map of the Parliamentary Zone

Across the lake it’s also fine to visit the exterior of the Australian War Memorial, perhaps viewing the many memorials lining Anzac Parade. 

Checking out the exterior of the Australian War Memorial

2. Take in the Views from Mount Ainslie

To appreciate the layout of Canberra, designed by Walter Burley Griffin, head to the summit of Mount Ainslie. One of the tallest peak that surrounds Canberra, Mount Ainslie lies at one end of the axis that extends through Parliament House to the Australian War Memorial. There’s also some great signs at the lookout illuminating the history of the city’s design. 

The view from Mount Ainslie towards Parliament House

The easiest way to reach the summit of Mount Ainslie is to drive up, with a carpark at the top. However, it’s also possible to walk up to the summit through the Mount Ainslie Nature Reserve, with a walkway starting behind the War Memorial. Dogs are welcome in the reserve on a leash, for more details of the walk see here.  

On-leash dogs are allowed in the Mount Ainslie Nature Reserve

3. Stroll Through the NGA Sculpture Garden

While dogs are naturally not allowed inside the National Gallery of Australia, the same restrictions don’t apply to the Sculpture Garden outside. We checked for signage, discovering none except for a warning asking for cyclists to take care, but of course keep your dog on a leash. 

Wandering through the NGA Sculpture Garden with Schnitzel

The Sculpture Garden contains 30 works by both Australian and International sculptors from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. One of the most famous works is a partial edition of Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais.  

Clement Meadmore’s steel sculpture “Virginia”

Perhaps enjoy a wander through the Sculpture Garden as part of a longer walk along the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, perhaps walking the 5km length of the Bridge to Bridge Walk (see above).  

4. Head to the National Arboretum

The National Arboretum on the western edge of Canberra is a rather new addition to the city. It was established in 2005 following the devastating bushfires of 2003 that swept through the area, opening to the public in 2013. But as trees take a long time to mature, it still looks quite young, except for a few older sections. 

Looking across the National Arboretum

One of the most popular spots at the moment are the Himalayan Cedars, one of the older sections of the Arboretum, planted just over 100 years ago. The trees are mainly planted in monocultures, so the plantings of deciduous trees are sure to look special during Autumn. 

Checking out the Himalayan Cedars
One of the sculptures, “Wide Brown Land”

There’s a huge number of walking trails throughout the Arboretum, over 20km in total. Dogs are welcome on all trails, but keep them on a leash and bring your own poo bags. Entry is free, although there is a fee for parking next to the Village Centre.

5. Visit a Winery

The Canberra wine region is renown as a cool-climate wine region producing quality wines. Many wineries have a cellar door open to the public, with dogs often welcome. 

Vineyards in Murrumbateman

A number of the wineries are located near Lake George, on the road from Sydney. I’ve previously stopped off at the dog-friendly Lerida Estate, who make some fine roses. There’s also an on-site cafe with an excellent lunch menu, perfect for a dog-friendly lunch stop on the way to or from Canberra. 

This time we headed over to the Murrumbateman area, to the northwest of Canberra, on the way to Yass.  We enjoyed a tasting at Shaw Wines, the largest winery in Murrumbateman, who have a beautifully modern cellar door. Dogs are allowed outside on the terrace, but not inside the winery where we did the seated tasting. 

Another option close by is the Murrumbateman Winery, a more rustic kind of cellar door. With two wine dogs regularly greeting visitors, I believe dogs are allowed inside as well. 

6. Have a Dogs’ Day Out at Floriade

Canberra is famous for its annual Floriade Festival, a month long Celebration of Spring held during September and October. The centrepiece is usually the ornate flower displays in Commonwealth Park, in between Lake Burley Griffin and the CBD. 

Dogs are able to join in the fun, with generally the final day of the flower displays in early October designated as a Dogs’ Day Out. As well as exploring the flowers, there are usually plenty of fun dog events, from pampering to photographs to doga.

In 2020, the festival is being “reimagined” due to the current pandemic, with one of the major changes being no central display of flowers. Instead the flowers that would have been planted in Commonwealth Park will be spread out over the city, so there won’t be a Dogs’ Day Out in 2020. 

7. Play in the Snow

As the coldest capital in Australia, a few falls of snow is typical most winters in Canberra. But to be guaranteed of enough snow to play in, the closest spot to head is Corin Forest, 45 minutes south of the centre of Canberra.  

Corin Forest operate a snow play area, with a combination of snowguns and snowmaking machines generating plenty of snow cover every day. An entry fee applies and bookings are advisable.

Fun in the snow at Corin Forest © Corin Forest

While their picnic area is dog-friendly, generally the snow play area is not open to dogs. However, they host a handful of designated Snow Dogs sessions each September. It’s best to check their Facebook page and website closer to the time (usually late August) to find out the date and make a booking.

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