Old Parliament House, Canberra. Photo credit: Australian Capital Tourism
You’ve a population of government workers and students who all seem to disappear at weekends. You have a (rather unfair) reputation for being stuck up. Everybody gets lost on your roads.
More than most capital cities, Canberra has to work hard for your affections.
Canberra’s best festivals
And boy is it doing all it can to win you over. With almost more festivals than there are weekends, here are our favourites:
Floriade – Enjoy an explosion of spring flowers by day, and specially lit ‘night gardens’ and live entertainment during the evenings (Sept/Oct).
Canberra Festival Balloon Spectacular – Live entertainment each morning and more breakfast options than you can shake a bagel at. Watching the balloons floating away from the Parliament lawns is a genuinely uplifting (pardon the pun) way to start your day (March).
Foreshore Summer Music Festival – Well-known artists jostle for stage space alongside up-and-coming ones. Great surroundings, great music, great beer.
Things to do in Canberra
The city isn’t short of permanent tourist attractions either:
Black Mountain Telstra Tower Our top attraction in Canberra. Take a walk or drive up the mountain to the Telstra Tower for a 200m high view of the city. The tower has a viewing platform at the top and a café and revolving restaurant halfway(ish) up.
On the flanks of the mountain you’ll find The National Botanical Gardens with daily, free guided tours of the 6,000 species of native plants.
National Gallery of Australia Prize exhibits include works by Monet, Magritte, Pollock, and Sidney Nolan’s celebrated Ned Kelly series. Our favourite is the enthralling, if relatively small collection of Pacific Art. Free except for special exhibitions.
Australian War Memorial and Museum At the base of Mount Ainslie, at the far end of Anzac Parade, sits the Australian War Memorial and what many consider to be one of the finest museums in the country (and one of Canberra’s best attractions).
It’s affecting, informative and massive – and a wonderful tribute to the Australian men and women who have served their country. You could easily spend two days in here, so the free entry comes in handy.
Namadgi National Park A 45 minute drive from the city, Canberra’s best natural attraction, Namadgi takes up around 46% of ACT. Exploring it may take a while. We love hiking here. You’re at the northern tip of the Australian Alps and as you climb you’ll find the scenery changes every few hundred feet. There are great spots to picnic and camp in the south, near the Orroral River and Mount Clear.
If you’re after adventure it’s a great place to go sky-diving, canyoning, caving or abseiling. The Visitor Information Centre not only has excellent walking information, but you can hire a personal locator beacon if you’re planning to go off the beaten track.
Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve Bordering the Namadgi National Park, Tidbinbilla is a great place to see Australia’s brilliantly eccentric wildlife doing its thing in open surroundings.
Keep a lookout for kangaroos, koalas, emus, echidnas, possums, a whole bunch of reptiles, platypus, potoroos, lyrebirds, and brush-tailed wallabies. Walks range from easy to hard, and guided walks are available on weekends, public holidays, and school holidays.
Lake Burley Griffin Cycle it, sail it, fish in it or just admire it while relaxing with a coffee at an overlooking café. Perfect for a romantic evening stroll.
Parliament House Opened in 1988, the ‘new’ Parliament is built into the hillside with an enormous grass-covered roof that makes it far more sympathetic to its surroundings than any other parliament building you’ll have ever come across. You’ll find great views of the city from the top.
It may not be your immediate idea of a top Canberra tourist attraction, but there’s free entry and free guided tours which can include Prime Minister’s Questions and proceedings of Senate (if you time it right).
Australian Museum of Democracy at Old Parliament House (formerly Old Parliament House) This was the seat of Government from 1927-1988 and the tour, which celebrates and explores Australian political history, takes you round the original Parliamentary Chambers and the Prime Minister’s Suite.
Outside you’ll see the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, where the Aboriginals continue to press their case for land rights.
Skiing Snow? In Australia? When we first came here we were unprepared for it too – but many of the higher mountains in the south-west are snow covered and Thredbo and Perisher are ski resorts worth exploring.
Yes, technically they’re in New South Wales, but they’re close to Canberra. Visit Namadgi National Park in winter and you’ll also find snow on Mount Gingera and Mount Franklin.
Finding your way around Canberra. Or not.
There has to be some way of explaining the idea behind Canberra’s circular road system, but we lived there for a while and we’ll be damned if we can work it out.
So, grab a map, understand that the city is based on a series of concentric circles linking 5 main centres with the Parliament at the very centre. And good luck.
Working in Canberra?
A word of warning. Canberra is the centre of government in Australia. Much of the city’s economy is based on government work, or support services for the government.
Since you have to be an Aussie citizen to work for these organisations your options may be limited if you choose to work here.
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