Acton is a small affluent suburb west of Civic and is Canberra's university district, mostly taken up by the Australian National University (ANU). Right next to the ANU is the Australian National Botanic Gardens, containing some of the most diverse ranges of Australian flora in the country with places that can make you feel you're in the middle of either the Wet Tropics of Queensland or the Tasmanian Wilderness albeit just two kilometres from the city!
Another must-see of Canberra in Acton is the National Museum of Australia. Located in one of Canberra's most architecturally daring buildings, the National Museum perfectly summarises Australia's history from 65,000 years when humans first set foot on Australia to history as recent as the early 21st century.
This article does not cover the NewActon Cultural and Cinema Precinct. For the NewActon Precinct, see Wikivoyage's article on Civic.
Options into Acton are pretty limited, with the only options either by private transport, or by bus. With that said, much of Acton is just within walking distance from Civic (the city), which has a good range of connections and if you manage to get to the city, getting to Acton is not very difficult.
Unlike many other districts of urban Canberra, there is only a single bus line to Acton – bus route 53. The route starts at the Dickson Shops, winds its way east to Hackett, then heads south passing Ainslie to Civic. From Civic, the line heads west and makes several stops in Acton on the east end of the Australian National University: one in 1 Alinga St (southbound only) which is in City West but is commonly used to get to Acton, one on each side on Marcus Clarke St (2 City West Marcus Clarke St northbound and 3 Marcus Clarke St after Farrell Pl southbound), two on 4 Liversidge St (both sides), one on 5 Lennox Cres before terminating at the National Museum of Australia. There are two interchanges where you can get on the light rail/tram, one at Dickson Interchange and the other at the City Interchange.
Although public transportation to Acton is limited, Acton well-connected to other districts by road owing to the fact that it's right next to Civic.
If you are coming from the western areas of Canberra, namely Belconnen, Weston Creek, Molonglo Valley, Woden, Gungahlin or far south enough from Tuggeranong, the Parkes Way is a freeway linking from the Tuggeranong Parkway and Caswell Drive (both are the same freeway with different names) but there is only one exit on Parkes Way to Acton when coming eastbound at Edinburgh Avenue.
However, this would be inconvenient if you're heading to either the Australian National Botanic Gardens, the CSIRO Discovery Centre or the Black Mountain Nature Reserve, so if you're heading to either of those two places, take the Lady Denman Drive exit from Tuggeranong Parkway (the next exit south of Parkes Way) – you do not need to go onto Parkes Way.
It is much easier if you're coming from the city, given there are so many roads from the city. If you're coming from the city, just take any street that heads west when heading on Marcus Clarke St. Similarly, if you're coming from North Canberra, you'll need to head down south to the city, and then head west from there.
For those coming east of the city from places like the airport, just enter Parkes Way, and the road becomes a freeway after Coranderrk St. From there, you have two exits, the easterly one at Edinburgh Avenue (the one to take if you're going to most of Acton) and the westerly one at Clunies Ross St (the one to take if you're heading to Black Mountain, the Australian National Botanic Gardens or the CSIRO Discovery Centre).
Two of Canberra's principal cycle routes pass through or terminate at Acton. Acton is small and quiet enough that you can get around on a bike without major hurdles.
- Dickson Shops, it follows closely to C1 and C3 before branching west near the O’Connor Shops before abruptly ending at ANU, the border of Acton. According to Transport Canberra, the route continues until the shore Lake Burley Griffin. However, this section is poorly marked and requires you to cycle on the road (there are also no plans to build a separate cycleway). – starting at the
- Civic, with sections of the cycleway bordering Acton. – forms a loop around
- – the Lake Burley Griffin Circuit which loops around Lake Burley Griffin.
Many of Acton's points of interest are in the Australian National University precinct, although the botanic gardens, the national museum and the nature reserve are outside the ANU precinct. They are mostly within walking distance of each other, and don't require any means of private transportation.
Inside the Australian National University
- 1 Classics Museum (Australian National University Classics Museum), Ground Floor, A.D. Hope Building (off the main walkway into the ANU from University Avenue). M-F 9AM–6PM (except public holidays). One of the few classics museums in Australia, this museum within the Australian National University houses a small, but interesting, collection of ancient Greek and Roman artefacts. The A.D. Hope building also has a range of anthropological displays on Indigenous Australian and Pacific island cultures. Free.
- 2 Drill Hall Gallery, Kingsley St, ☏ . W-Su noon–5PM. This gallery operated by the Australian National University hosts interesting and well-selected temporary exhibitions of Australian and international contemporary art. One of Sir Sydney Nolan's best works, Riverbend, is on permanent display at the front of the building. Free.
- 3 National Film & Sound Archive, 1 McCoy Cct, ☏ , toll-free: 1800 067 274, firstname.lastname@example.org. Sa Su 10AM–4PM. Housed in a 1930s art deco building, the NFSA is the custodian of more than 3 million items related to Australia's audiovisual history. Special events and exhibitions available; film screening programs run at Arc cinema (check the website for details). Self-guided tours of the building also available.
- Fractured Heart. An interactive sound and light sculpture designed and built by illuminart in collaboration with Gotye (Wouter 'Wally’ de Backer). It was first presented as the backdrop to his live performance of Somebody That I Used to Know with Kimbra at the 2011 ARIA Awards. The sculpture used mapped animated projections based on the music video that changed in time with Gotye's performance.
- 4 ANU School of Art & Design Gallery, cnr Ellery Cres and Liversidge St, ☏ , email@example.com. Tu–F 10:30AM–3PM. Exhibits a variety of post-grad artworks, in particular contemporary art. Free.
- 5 Shine Dome, Gordon Street, Acton (across the road from the National Film and Sound Archive), ☏ . This unusual dome-shaped building owned by the Australian Academy of Science has been a Canberra landmark since the late 1950s, and is nicknamed the "martian embassy" by locals.
- 6 Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), 51 Lawson Cres, ☏ . M–F 9AM–5PM. A government institute where you can learn more about the culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. There's a strong emphasis on the Stolen Generation (a time where European settlers displaced Indigenous children from their families) along with National Sorry Day, but they only make up a part of the institute's 1 million items dedicated to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.
- 7 National Museum of Australia, Lawson Crescent, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily 9AM–5PM. This museum presents a thematic rather than a chronological account of Australian history, and spent its early years embroiled in a controversy over whether its displays were politically biased. The NMA has been revamped and expanded and includes some excellent galleries on Indigenous Australia and many interesting items, but the museum as a whole is somewhat underwhelming and not likely to be of much interest to non-Australians. Free, except special exhibits.
- 8 Australian National Botanic Gardens, Clunies Ross St. Daily 8:30AM–5PM. Located at the base of Black Mountain in Acton, the ANBG has the largest collection of Australian native flora in the country. It also has some interesting water dragons that live in the water features around the gardens. A delightful place for a picnic, try to grab some food from the city centre first to take with you for lunch. If you are there during summer, call and ask about the jazz evenings. These are held on the weekend and many families attend with evening picnic and champagne in tow, to chill out to the sounds of jazz in the balmy evening temperatures. Free entry, parking $1.40/hr or $7 all day.
- 9 Australian National Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre. The stating base of the park where many of the garden's trails branch out in all directions. Staff are known to be friendly, and the visitor centre also includes a bookshop selling botanical books.
- 10 Banksia Garden and Centre. Reflects the flora more seen in the coastal parts of mid-Western Australia, part of the Outback, and most of what is seen here requires quite a long drive from Perth. For the most part however, what you see here is much more colourful than the flora seen in the Red Centre garden. The nearby Banksia Centre is occasionally open, but not all the time.
- 11 Rainforest Gully. It's the only place where you can walk from the wet tropical north of Queensland down to the wilderness of Tasmania in just three minutes, the Rainforest Gully features a vast array of flora from many different Australian rainforests.
- 12 Red Centre Garden. Perhaps the most driest of all gardens you could end up finding in the botanic gardens. With flora from all over the Outback (except coastal Western Australia), it may really surprise you on the diversity of Outback flora.
- 13 Rock Garden. Many rocks and the flora seen is what is usually seen in a typical rock garden in urban city parks. Not much unique flora here if you're coming from other parts of Australia, but it's worth visiting if you'd like to see water dragons roaming around the pathways.
- 14 Sydney Region Flora Garden. A garden entirely dedicated to flora found within the Greater Sydney region. It's not overly large, but it gives a quick insight to what you can find in the harbour city's many national parks, gardens and reserves.
- 15 Tasmanian Garden. The flora found in this garden mostly reflects the landscapes and environments you would find in the Tasmanian Wilderness, and what would otherwise require long hikes to get to in Tasmania. Look out for water dragons here – they may be lurking around and occasionally cross the path.
- 16 CSIRO Discovery Centre, North-Science Rd (entry via Julius Rd), ☏ . M-F 9AM–4PM. The museum of the Australian Government's scientific research organisation includes exhibits on the history of Australian science and the CSIRO's current research. Free.
- 17 Telstra Tower (Black Mountain Tower), Black Mountain Dr, ☏ , fax: . This functional communications tower rises 195 m above the summit of Black Mountain, providing 360-degree views of Canberra and the countryside around it from a viewing platform 60 m up the tower. It has been closed for repairs since mid-2021 and is not open to the public. It is not known when, or if, it will reopen.
As Acton is mostly known for its museums and the botanic gardens, the overall things to do are very limited in Acton. However, the district is home to a number of walking trails, all which can be found in the 1 Black Mountain Nature Reserve, which is not a large park by most standards, but this nature reserve has several bushwalking trails and picnic areas. It's more of a conservation park though, so recreation activities are limited. Cycling is only allowed on management trails and pets are prohibited.
If you're going bushwalking in Black Mountain Nature Reserve, there are several trails that you can bushwalk:
- Black Mountain Nature Reserve Forest Trail is a 2-km loop trail encircling the Black Mountain Tower (Telstra Tower). The walk takes 1 hour, and there's plenty of interesting birds, plants and insects along the way.
- Little Black Mountain Walk is a 5.2-km return walk that takes approximately 2 hours to complete. It mainly passes through management trails, but passes through some impressive open forest.
- The Summit Walk or the Summit Trail (you'll see and hear of both) is arguably the most important walk in this park, and while you can certainly drive up to the Telstra Tower, walking to the summit of Black Mountain is a great experience. The trail starts at the northeastern edge of the Australian National Botanic Gardens, and slowly winds its way up. It's 2.4 km round trip, but takes about 90 minutes.
- Woodland Walk is a 2-km walk (return), though it's a 3-km walk if you also include the Upper Woodland Walk that gives excellent views of the National Arboretum, and Tidbinbilla and Brindabella Ranges. It does get a bit steep in some parts of the walk, so make sure you have the right shoes.
Outside Black Mountain, there is also one other important walk, within the ANU precinct. The Lindsay Pryor Walk (☏ , email@example.com) near Hancock Library is a short self-guided walk that is dedicated to Lindsay Prior, who was one of the most important people in Canberra's history in helping it achieve its title, the bush capital. You'll see 22 significant tree species, including a sequoia tree from a seed from the world's largest tree in Sequoia National Park in California's Sierra Nevada region.
Outside Black Mountain Nature Reserve and other short and small walks, the main other thing to do is 2 Canberra Aqua Park (firstname.lastname@example.org, ☏ ), a rather average water park which only operates during the summer season.
Being a university suburb, there isn't much to "buy" in Acton. There are only three stores of interest to travellers: A bookshop, The Museum Shop, and The Botanical Bookshop in the Australian National Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre.
- 1 The Museum Shop (see § National Museum of Australia). M–F 10AM–5PM, Sa Su 9AM–5PM. Just outside the National Museum of Australia, this museum store is a great place for finding Aboriginal art and other quintessentially Australian things.
- 2 Harry Hartog Booksellers, 153-11 University Avenue, ☏ . M–F 9AM–5PM, Sa Su 10AM–4PM. The ANU branch of the Harry Hartog chain has a large secondhand section upstairs and a smaller new books section on the ground floor. It often stocks works by ANU academics, and also sells a wide range of ANU merchandise.
Eat and drink
Don't expect a large diverse range of restaurants in Acton. As most of Acton is taken up by the ANU precinct, most eateries in Acton are either a uni cafe/restaurant, or are in the northeast that's an extension of the food precinct in the City West, which is still a part of the ANU, but just filled with diners who are not uni students.
This means that there are only places to eat outside the Australian National University: the Pollen Cafe in the Australian National Botanic Gardens and the Museum Cafe (open M–F 9AM–4PM; Sa Su 9AM–4:30PM, tel: ☏ ) outside the National Museum of Australia.
If you're an ordinary traveller who's got nothing to do with the Australian National University and want to avoid going to the uni cafes and the cafes in the botanic gardens and the National Museum of Australia, you're left with two choices: the few restaurants and cafes that is an extension of City West's food precinct or head to Civic for lunch; after all, Civic is right next to Acton, where you'll find a diverse range of restaurants, cafes – you name it!
- 1 1980 Chinese Restaurant (Spicy Ginger Café), Shop 2/25 Childers St, ☏ . Tu–Su 11:30AM–2:30PM, 5:30–9:30PM (closed Mondays). A Sichuan restaurant best known for its cuimin lamb and chilli chicken. There's a good range of seafood too, and their quality often matches some of Canberra's high-end Asian restaurants in Dickson but for a reasonable price.
- 2 La Baguette by R&M, cnr Ellery Crescent and Liversidge St (near ANU School of Art and Design). M–Th 8:30AM–2:30PM, F 8:30AM–2PM. Some delicious French pastries and a good variety of Central European and French style breads, including baguettes.
- 3 Little Pickle Cafe, Biology Pl. (inside ANU precinct), ☏ . M–F 7AM–3:30PM. A small cafe near the Robertson Building. The coffee here is mostly catered towards uni students, so don't be surprised if it does not taste like the normal coffee you'd have at other cafes.
- 4 Mr Shabu Shabu, Shop 6/35 Childers St, ☏ , email@example.com. M–F 11:30AM–2PM, 5:30–8PM; Sa Su 5:30–8PM. A cozy Japanese restaurant that specialises in shabu-shabu, a hot pot dish originating in Osaka mostly consisting off some type of meat with some vegetables and tofu.
- 5 Pollen Cafe (inside the Australian National Botanic Gardens), ☏ . Daily 9AM–3:30PM. Although there may not be anything special in its menu nor the building of the cafe, the surrounds of the cafe make you feel nestled in the middle of a rainforest.
- 6 Shanghai Dumpling Cafe, 35 Childers St, ☏ (mobile), (landline). Find some high-quality dumplings that are good value too, especially if you're on a budget. However, outside dumplings, the food isn't known to be great, especially chicken that may look burnt.
- 7 The Coffee Grounds, Building 19, ANU Sport and Recreation Centre, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. M Tu Th F 7AM–4:30PM, W 7AM–6PM, Sa 8:30AM–2:30PM. A mid-range cafe with an extensive breakfast and beverages menu for a cafe of its size. However, the opening hours can largely vary, and it highly depends of activity levels of the uni.
There is only a single place to rest your head in Acton, and that is at the University House in the Australian National University. Unfortunately it's been closed since early 2020 after being damaged in a severe hail storm. Repairs began in 2023 and the university is hoping to offer accommodation there again from late 2024.
There's a whole slew of accommodation options in Civic (the city that is) between Edinburgh Avenue, London Circuit and Parkes Way that all include "Acton" in their postal address, but are officially a part of Civic.
If that's confusing, it's because it really is confusing – it's because it's part of an area called the NewActon Cultural Precinct, a new cultural precinct which opened in 2013. Some consider NewActon to be a part of Civic, while others consider it to be a part of Acton. Wikivoyage chooses to cover it under Civic.
The main place to get free Wi-Fi is at the Australian National Botanic Gardens which has free Wi-Fi in the visitor centre. Otherwise, the 1 Australian National University Library has Wi-Fi available. The opening hours vary, so check the ANU website for the weekly schedule.
Telstra, Optus and Vodafone all have good coverage in this area mostly with 5G but with 4G in some areas, but in particular, Telstra has an exceptional coverage but that's no surprise given how close Acton is to the Telstra Tower.
|Molonglo Valley ←||W PARKES WAY E||→ Civic → Canberra Airport|
|END ←||S NNE||→ North Canberra (Dickson)|
|North Canberra ← Civic ←||↻ (E) ↺ (W)||→ Molonglo Valley|