Surrounded by cultural treasures, Canberra, in the ACT (Australian Capital Territory), is the carefully designed capital of Australia. It is no coincidence that the city is located between Sydney and Melbourne. The site of the capital was chosen as a compromise between these two rival cities in 1908. The American architects, Walter Burley Griffin and his wife, Marion Mahony Griffin, won an international competition for the design of the city, which incorporates vast belts green and geometric shapes.
Lake Burley Griffin in the city center is the sparkling jewel of Canberra, and many tourist attractions and things to do can be found along its shores, including the National Gallery of Australia, Questacon and the National Library. The Parliament Buildings, as well as some of the city’s other main attractions, are found in the Parliamentary Triangle, formed by Kings Avenue, Commonwealth Avenue and Lake Burley Griffin. Canberra is also known for its fantastic festivals, including the famous Floriade, a celebration of the city’s many spring flowers.
1. Australian War Memorial
Inaugurated in the middle of World War II, the huge Byzantine-style monument commemorating war deaths in Australia is Canberra’s most poignant attraction. More than just a war memorial, the site combines an excellent museum, archives, an art gallery and a library. The memorial courtyard at the entrance to the memorial is a haunting introduction. The name of each Australian who has died in war since 1885 is inscribed in bronze on the walls of the colonnades and the length of the list is frightening.
Beyond the entrance, various galleries retrace the stories of Australian armed conflicts from colonial times to the present day. The exhibits are constantly evolving, but highlights include the collection of old planes and the kid-friendly discovery area teeming with interactive exhibits. If possible, you should set aside several hours to appreciate this thought-provoking memorial, and if you are visiting near the end of the day, try to stay for the Last Post, a moving tribute to the fallen dead played at 4:55 p.m. everyday. Visiting the memorial is one of the best free things to do in Canberra, and 90-minute tours are highly recommended.
2. New Parliament House
The New Parliament House, the ultimate achievement of architect Walter Burley Griffin’s vision for Canberra in 1912, is a marvel of modern architecture. The boomerang-like structure nestles comfortably in Capital Hill and was designed to replace the Provisional Parliament at the base of the hill, now known as the Old Parliament House. A New York-based architect won an international competition for the design of the new building, and on May 9, 1988, the Queen officially inaugurated Parliament. The date of May was chosen to commemorate the first meeting of the Federal Parliament in Melbourne in 1901 and the first meeting of the Parliament in the old Parliament in 1927.
From the vast grassy walkway, which forms the roof, visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of Canberra and see how the Parliament is the focal point of the city’s streets. The architectural highlights of the building include the two huge circular walls made of granite, which reflect the curves of the hill; the imposing 81-meter mast; and the ceremonial pool. In the hall, 48 columns of illuminated greenish gray marble give the impression of a eucalyptus forest. In public spaces, the exhibits display important documents (the Magna Carta is a highlight) and retrace important events in Australian history. From the gallery that runs on the first floor, you can access the public galleries of the House of Representatives with green hues and the Senate, traditionally dressed in red. A visit during sitting hours is a great way to see first-hand how the Parliament works, and the free guided tours offer fascinating details about the building.
3 Lake Burley Griffin
The magnificent Burley Griffin Lake is the centerpiece of Canberra. Named in honor of the city’s architect, this artificial lake was included in its original plan of 1912, but only materialized in 1958. Tourists and locals come here to cycle and stroll along the riverside paths; picnic along its park-lined banks; and fish, sail or paddle in the sparkling waters. Six islands are at its center, the largest of which is Aspen Island, which houses the National Carillon, a gift from the British government with 55 bronze bells.
Dotted around the lake are some of the main things to see and do in Canberra, including the National Gallery, the National Library, Questacon and the National Museum. Standing on the shores of the central basin, you can see the Captain Cook Memorial Jet, a 147-meter high fountain inaugurated in 1970 on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the discovery of Australia by Cook. A globe sculpture depicting Cook’s journey is on the shores of the lake at Regatta Point. On the north side of the lake, the Commonwealth Park contains playgrounds, wading pools, waterfalls, an amphitheater and a path around the park. In spring, the park is the site of the famous Floriade festival, a celebration of spring when more than a million flowers are in bloom.
4. National Gallery of Australia
On the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, the National Gallery of Australia contains the largest collection of art in Australia. The concrete cubic structure was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in October 1982 and consists of 11 main galleries on three levels as well as a large sculpture garden arranged according to the four seasons.
The purchase of the extensive collection began in 1968 and includes works from Australia, Asia, Europe, America and the Pacific, as well as the largest collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. in the world. Mediums range from oil paintings and watercolors to sculpture, decorative art, drawings, book illustrations, sketchbooks, photographs, films, ceramics, costumes and textiles. Locals and tourists will also appreciate the many special exhibitions. After exploring the gallery, you explore the adjacent High Court of Australia, with its fountains, floors paved with Carrara marble, and murals.
5. The National Science and Technology Centre
Between the High Court and the Burley Griffin Lake National Library, Questacon is a national interactive science and technology center opened in 1988. Parents and children will enjoy the interactive science exhibits and DIY experiences designed to delight and inspire. The exhibitions aim to promote understanding of the importance of science and technology in everyday life. Scientific exhibitions, special events and guest lectures complete the 200 practical exhibitions. At the Technology Learning Center, budding innovators can participate in workshops and build and play with technology. Highlights of the permanent exhibits include the H2O-Soak up science with water fun, the Free Fall toboggan and Earthquake House.
6 National Portrait Gallery of Australia
Near the High Court of Australia and the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery of Australia presents some 400 portraits of the most influential people in the country. You can easily spend an hour or two face to face with Australian movers and shakers, animated by painting, photography and sculpture. Multimedia presentations reveal fascinating details about the lives of the people who helped shape the nation, and special exhibits offer new things to see. Visiting the gallery is a breeze: parking is free, and the cafe and bookstore are a great way to round off a visit.
7 National Library of Australia
Opened in 1968, the National Library of Australia is a treasure trove of Australian books, manuscripts, newspapers, historical documents, oral history, music and images. His most valuable possessions are Captain Cook’s diary (1768-71) and Wills’ diary of his expedition with Burke in 1860-61. Architecturally, the building is a dramatic contrast to the National Gallery and the High Court. Built in the style of a Greek temple, its classic effect is underlined by the sumptuous use of marble and travertine on the columns and walls, and marble from Greece, Italy and Australia used in the decoration of inside.
In the foyer, superb stained glass windows by Leonard French and three Aubusson tapestries in Australian wool. The lower floor presents treasures from the library collection and the exhibition gallery
8 Mount Ainslie Lookout
To truly appreciate the layout of this carefully planned capital, head to the 843-meter Mount Ainslie lookout, one of the city’s most popular vantage points. A well-paved walking / biking trail winds a little over two kilometers behind the Australian War Memorial. Along the way, you can stop on the commemorative plaques to learn more about the historic Australian battles. It is also possible to go on the lookout. Thanks to Walter Burley Griffin’s vision, the gazebo aligns perfectly with Anzac Parade, Lake Burley Griffin, and Old Parliament House and, in the background, the clean lines of New Parliament House. On windy days, be sure to bring a jacket. Other popular views include Red Hill, south of here, and Black Hill, west.
9 Australian National Botanic Gardens
About one kilometer west of the city center, the 50-hectare national botanical gardens are spread over the slopes of the Black Mountain. In the carefully maintained collections, you can admire representatives of all important species of Australian flora. The Rain Forest Gully is particularly impressive. Look for water dragons among the lush foliage.
Other highlights include the Red Center garden, with its red earth and spinifex meadows, as well as the children’s discovery walk. The gardens are also a paradise for birds and butterflies. From the gardens, you can access the Montagne Noire Natural Park and walk to the top for a magnificent view of the city.
Garden lovers will also enjoy a visit to the National Canberra Arboretum, about six minutes by car. This 250 hectare natural area includes forests of rare native and exotic trees, the national collection of bonsai and Penjing, a gallery of gardens, picnic areas with panoramic views and a fantastic playground for children.
10. National Zoo and Aquarium
Australia’s only zoo and aquarium combined, this private venture is a hit with families and anyone who loves animals. The National Aquarium presents a wide range of marine life, from tiny reef inhabitants to huge sharks. In the nearby zoo, visitors can see all the important species of Australian wildlife as well as exotic species such as lions, tigers, cheetahs, bears, etc. Animal encounters are extremely popular and allow visitors to go behind the scenes and interact with cheetahs, giraffes, solar bears and red pandas, among other creatures. It is located five minutes from the city center.
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