Canberra is a city that’s often skipped by people who visit Australia. I think it’s not wrong to assume that some people don’t even know that Canberra exists, focused as they are on Sydney, Melbourne or the golden beaches of the east coast. People who do visit Canberra, however, are usually surprised by the amount of landmarks, monuments and museums in the city.
Just like the vast majority of capital cities in the world, Canberra is home to the country’s national museums and parliament. Though unlike most capital cities, Canberra is a completely artificial city, in the sense that everything in it was planned.
Canberra was designed in 1912 by the architect Walter Burley Griffin who pictured it as a garden city that would be able to house about 25,000 people. Nowadays, it is home to many gardens, a huge artificial lake (Lake Burley Griffin) and tree-lined avenues; its population has grown to 300,000.
Although there’s a lot of places to see and things to do in Canberra, I must also admit that staying for two days is probably long enough to see and do everything. It’s not a big city and besides the following attractions, there’s not really that much to do. Canberra makes for an ideal and recommended stop while driving from Sydney to Melbourne though.
Top 5 Things to Do in Canberra
The Parliament House
Canberra and Australia’s Parliament House is a real architectural masterpiece, its white pillars perfectly complemented by expansive lawns and great landscaping. This is a major highlight that can be visited on free guided tours – they depart every half hour. The inside is decorated with more than 4,000 (!) works of art, while the roof offers some of the very best views of Canberra.
There are several small art galleries found all across the city, but the two main ones are the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery of Australia. The former houses the portraits (about 400 of them) of people who have helped and are still helping to shape Australia. The latter is situated on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin and is home to the national art collection of Australia, encompassing more than 150,000 works of art and including the largest Indigenous Australian art collection on the planet. Both museums are free to visit.
The National Museum of Australia is both serious and fun. It’s home to vast collections of Australiana, providing an insight in the history and culture of the country. Exhibits are mind-blowing, featuring everything from the prototype of the very first Holden car to the extraordinarily large heart of the legendary racehorse Phar Lap. Additionally, there are numerous artefacts showing the history of the Australian Aboriginals. It’s a fabulous museum. A second museum that’s worth visiting is Questacon, a museum that focuses on science and technology. Featuring many interactive displays and hands-on exhibits, this would be a great place to visit with children.
Australian War Memorial
The Australian War Memorial is possibly the most touching and humbling monument/museum in Canberra. It’s an essential place to visit for people who really want to get a sense of the country’s history. The memorial includes monuments commemorating all wars Australia has taken part in, ANZAC Parade, memorials to fallen soldiers, weaponry, stories from veterans, overviews of events and so on. It’s a magnificent attraction – one of the top attractions in the entire country. Again, entry is free.
Hiking Up Mount Ainslie
Plenty of outdoor activities can be done in Canberra, but hiking is definitely the one recommended thing to do for people who are only there for a couple of days. The trail to Mount Ainslie starts behind the Australian War Memorial. At the summit there’s a spectacular view of the Australian capital, including ANZAC Parade, the War Memorial, Lake Burley Griffin and the Parliament House.