Planning a visit to the nation’s capital? Spring brings the famous Floriade festival, but there are plenty of iconic things to see and do in Canberra all year round…
There’s nothing like a visit to Canberra to get you feeling all patriotic.
The Australian capital is flush with world-class cultural facilities, high profile national institutions, emotive monuments, and stunning green spaces, and visitors are spoilt for choice for ways to spend their time.
Here are eight famous things to do in Canberra to tick off during your visit.
The revolving door continues to spin rapidly for those in the nation’s top job, leaving many of us to wonder exactly what’s going on in Australian politics. Find out by paying a visit to Parliament House. The building was designed by New York architects Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp and opened back in 1988. Visitors can explore the public areas (which house many pieces from Parliament House’s extensive art collection), take a guided tour or secure tickets to watch the House of Reps in action during Question Time. It takes place most sitting days at around 2pm.
Old Parliament House and the Australian Museum of Democracy
Just a stone’s throw from Parliament House sits Old Parliament House – the regal neoclassical edifice that served as the seat of Australian democracy from 1927 to 1988. Today it’s home to the excellent Museum of Australian Democracy. Climb the front steps where Gough Whitlam made his famous press statement following the Dismissal in 1975, then head inside to explore the building and its collection of memorabilia. The Prime Minister’s Office, which served Gough, Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke, is a highlight.
National Gallery of Australia
Canberra is home to more than 40 museums, galleries and exhibition spaces, so deciding which ones to visit can be a daunting task. Navigating the vast collection at the pre-eminent National Gallery of Australia is also no mean feat. There are more than 160,000 pieces in the permanent collection, which spans Australian, Asian, European and North American art. Popular highlights include Sidney Nolan’s mid-20th century Ned Kelly series and Jackson Pollock’s controversial Blue Poles. The gallery is home to the world’s largest collection of Indigenous Australian art.
Australian War Memorial
The Australian War Memorial documents the involvement and loss of the country‘s service personnel in armed conflicts dating back to the 1880s. The Memorial, which consists of a commemorative shrine (including the Hall of Memory and its Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier), museum and archive, draws well over a million visitors a year. There’s a huge amount of detail to absorb and the programme of free guided tours offered daily is a great way to get the most from your visit. The Last Post Ceremony commemorates a different name from the Roll of Honour each day.
Canberra’s monuments and cultural institutions are framed by a fabulous backdrop of public parks, gardens and tree-lined avenues. 2013 saw the opening of the National Arboretum – a spectacular living exhibition of significant trees. The Arboretum consists of 94 forests (set to increase to 104 over time) spread across 250 hectares at the western end of Lake Burley Griffin. Each forest showcases a particular species – many of which are endangered or at risk. Visitors can access the Arboretum by bus from the CBD.
Ask an Aussie what they associate most with Canberra and next to pollies behaving badly, Floriade will probably get a guernsey. The capital’s uber-popular four-week annual celebration of spring paints Commonwealth Park all the colours of the rainbow as more than a million bulbs and annuals come into bloom. These days the festival is as much about cultural events and food and wine as it is about flowers. After dark, Nightfest offers a programme of comedy, music, movies and more. The whole event takes place from mid-September to mid-October.
Lake Burley Griffin
These days it’s hard to believe that Canberra’s gentle Lake Burley Griffin is artificial. It looks like it’s always been there. The tranquil waterway is the city’s centrepiece and a focal point of recreational activities for Canberrans and visitors alike. Walk, jog, cycle or Segway around the perimeter, or explore by kayak or stand up paddle board. A hot air balloon flight at sunrise shows the lake off at its sublime best.
Australian Institute of Sport
The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) has produced plenty of icons of its own and is one of Canberra’s most popular attractions. Take a guided tour and go behind the scenes to see the state-of-the-art training facilities that have forged any number of sporting champions. Tours include access to the interactive Sportex facility, which houses an exhibition of sporting memorabilia.
Need a place to stay?
The Quality Hotel Dickson Canberra is perfectly located as a base for exploring everything the capital has to offer. The hotel is just a few minutes’ drive from the Australian War Memorial, Telstra Tower, the National Gallery of Australia, and so much more. Guests enjoy complimentary parking and Wi-Fi, and the hotel’s 24-hour reception team is always on hand to help.
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has previously had the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. Adam and his team will be contributing pieces to NeedaBreak.com throughout September and October.