17 Best Things to Do in Canberra
Although it is often overlooked in favor of Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s capital, Canberra, is an increasingly popular destination to visit. While it has plenty of impressive civic monuments and sights relating to its seat of government, it also has vast swathes of beautiful bushland and countless gardens and verdant forests to explore.
Set on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra started out life in 1913 as an entirely planned city, with even its lakes being man-made. Initially only inhabited by politicians, civil servants and their families, it has slowly developed into a thriving metropolis and there are now plenty of things to do in Canberra. Aside from its many museums, art galleries and nature spots, it has some great shopping, dining and nightlife scenes to enjoy.
With numerous parks and outdoor activities on offer and rolling mountain ranges lying nearby, the cosmopolitan city certainly has something that will appeal to everyone.
17. Cockington Green
Long one of Canberra’s most popular attractions, the quaint and quiet Cockington Green contains amazing miniature buildings from all around the world. Located on the northern outskirts of the capital, its grounds are a delight to explore with small model houses, gardens and figures wherever you look.
First opened to the public in 1979, displays initially only depicted cozy cottages and countryside scenes from around Great Britain, before later expanding to include buildings from Australia, Chile and Argentina.
Besides taking in the intricate details of the handcrafted houses, guests can enjoy the lush gardens, hop aboard its miniature steam train or see umpteen dollhouses in its Rose Room.
16. Museum of Australian Democracy
Formerly the seat of the country’s government from 1927 to 1988, the Old Parliament House now hosts the excellent Museum of Australian Democracy. Fascinating to peruse, its innumerable artifacts and exhibits document not only the history of the nation and its founding but particularly important protests and prime ministers too.
On tours around the perfectly preserved chambers, halls and offices, guests can get to grips with the political process, see historic photos and even sit in the old Prime Minister’s Office.
Surrounded by exquisitely manicured gardens, the ‘Stripped’ Classical style building is certainly interesting to explore and actually faces the current Parliament on Capital Hill.
15. National Portrait Gallery
Located next door is the superb National Portrait Gallery, which is packed with incredible portraits of influential figures from throughout Australia’s past. Alongside images of indigenous Aboriginals and the founding fathers, you can spy those of writers, musicians and politicians represented in a wide variety of artistic forms.
Founded in 1998, the museum occupies a striking modern building that features sharp angles, interesting shapes and lots of airy galleries. In total, it showcases around 3,000 or so portraits with multimedia presentations highlighting the impact and influence of each famous person on the country.
While hundreds of photos and paintings are hung up on its walls, splendid sculptures, digital works and even textiles also feature.
14. Old Bus Depot Market
Popular with locals and tourists alike, this bustling market takes place in what was once an Old Bus Depot, just east of Capital Hill. Held every Sunday, it has countless stands and stalls for visitors to stroll around that seemingly sell everything under the sun.
While one hall is dedicated to fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as baked goods and local artisanal products, the other is full of vendors selling handmade jewellery and ornaments. In addition, it has a fantastic food court to try out while musicians and street performers add to the lively yet laid back feel of the market.
13. Australian National Botanic Gardens
Lying on the lower slopes of Black Mountain you can find the beautiful Australian National Botanic Gardens. A peaceful and picturesque place, it sprawls across a huge site and remarkably boasts the largest living collection of native Australian flora on the planet.
Amidst its gently sloping hillsides and dipping gullies are more than 4,300 species of plants with rock gardens and water features set alongside pristine bushland and steamy rainforest sections.
Wild in places, with other parts being immaculately landscaped, its pretty paths take you past colorful flowers, plants, trees and shrubs. While tours and talks can teach you all about the gardens’ lush foliage and dense vegetation.
12. Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex
As it is one of only three such stations in the world, the epic Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex is definitely well worth visiting when in town. Set around forty minutes’ drive southwest of the city, the state-of-the-art NASA facility provides around-the-clock contact with numerous spacecraft and probes out in space.
Launched in 1965, its humongous antennas – the largest in the Southern Hemisphere – lie nestled in the secluded Paddys River Valley. Aside from ogling at their staggering size, visitors can explore the complex, see models of spacecraft and learn more about space exploration, astronauts and NASA through its interactive exhibits.
11. Telstra Tower
Perched atop Black Mountain overlooking both the botanical gardens and city below, is one of Canberra’s standout symbols and sights: the enormous Telstra Tower. Rising dramatically above the surrounding countryside, it offers the best and most breathtaking views in town from its cafe, indoor observation deck and outdoor viewing platforms.
Sporting a distinctive design, the now iconic telecommunications tower and its spindly spire reach 195 meters in height with umpteen satellite dishes studding its exterior. At its base, guests can learn about the history of the tower since its opening in 1980 before taking an elevator up to see the simply spectacular 360-degree panoramas of the city and its surroundings from up high.
10. Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve
Home to striking landscapes, scenery and nature, as well as all kinds of classic Aussie critters, the terrific Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve lies just a stone’s throw from the Deep Space Complex.
At its visitor center, you can learn all about the local fauna and flora with guided walks also taking you to see some of its amazing wildlife.
Protected since 1939, its scenic confines center around a wide, open valley with the towering Tidbinbilla Mountain and Gibraltar Range lying to either side. Scattered about are some important Aboriginal sites to check out while koalas and kangaroos, emus and wallabies can often be spotted ambling about the reserve.
9. National Arboretum
Another pleasant spot to stop by is the National Arboretum which is located just to the west of the center overlooking the Molonglo River. Ever-expanding, many of its verdant forests and various tree species were planted following the devastating bushfires that ravaged much of the Australian Capital Territory in 2003.
Officially opened in 2013, it now encompasses almost a hundred different forests with both themed and landscaped gardens tucked away amidst the trees.
While wandering along its shady paths and trails you’ll come across playgrounds, picnic areas and public artworks. Lookouts and a large outdoor amphitheater are also on offer alongside its internationally recognized bonsai and penjing collections.
Right next to the Old Parliament House and National Portrait Gallery is yet another of Canberra’s top tourist attractions: the excellent Questacon.
At this thought-provoking museum, visitors can delve into the fields of science and technology with intriguing interactive exhibits and hands-on activities. A firm favorite with families, it was established in 1986 with its galleries focusing on everything from art and inventions to ancient mythology, robotics and space travel.
On top of trying out its earthquake simulators and coming up with experiments in its lab, guests can watch awesome live science shows or attend interesting talks on all the latest technological innovations.
7. Royal Australian Mint
The sole producer of every single one of the country’s circulating coins, the Royal Australian Mint is situated in the Deakin suburb of the city, some ten minutes’ drive from the center. At its facility, you can learn all about the history of Australia’s currency and even watch countless coins be minted before your very eyes.
Since 1965, millions of the country’s coinage have been produced on-site with note printing instead taking place in Melbourne. On tours, a knowledgeable guide will teach you about the coin making process and point out the giant robot ‘Titan’ who helps churn them out at such an unrelenting pace.
Afterwards, you can mint your own Australian dollar and shop for commemorative coins in its store.
6. National Museum of Australia
Not to be missed when in town is the outstanding National Museum of Australia, which is perched at the end of a peninsula jutting out into Lake Burley Griffin. Its extensive array of artifacts, artworks and archaeological findings paint a comprehensive picture, not only of the nation’s past and present, but prompts debates and discussion about its future too.
Founded in 1980, it now occupies a phenomenal purpose-built museum that itself is a work of art. Its looped layout and knotted rope theme symbolically tie together the stories of Australians from all walks of life.
Inside is just as alluring as its huge collection of over 200,000 objects shines a light on the history and culture of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and that of the Europeans who first arrived in Australia in 1788.
5. Lake Burley Griffin
As Canberra is centered around Lake Burley Griffin, no visit can ever be complete without spending at least some time either exploring its shores or cruising about its waters.
Named after the American architect who designed the city, it offers up lots of fun outdoor activities and watersports with scenic cruises taking you to see all its sights.
Created in 1963 following the damming of the Molonglo River, the artificial lake is surrounded by picturesque parks and gorgeous green spaces with many of the capital’s most important institutions lining its shores.
Besides walking, biking and running along its paved three ‘loops’ pathways, which are also frequented by politicians, you can always rent a kayak, boat or paddleboard and explore its secluded coves and islands.
4. National Gallery of Australia
Arguably the most impressive of the city’s many museums, the National Gallery of Australia houses an incredible collection of artworks. Featuring masterpieces by renowned artists, such as Jackson Pollock, Salvador Dali and Claude Monet among others, its grand galleries really are a treat to amble around with fantastic paintings, photos and sculptures all on show.
Set alongside Lake Burley Griffin, the purpose-built gallery was founded in 1967 with its stunning Brutalist-style, angular shapes and concrete surfaces making for quite the sight amidst the glorious grounds that surround it.
As well as awe-inspiring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, its large holdings of some 160,000 items also include sizeable sections of Western and Eastern works, while a wonderful sculpture garden can be found outside.
3. Australian Parliament House
A remarkable piece of modern architecture, the elegant and now iconic Australian Parliament House is certainly one of Canberra’s main tourist sites. The seat of the country’s government, the enormous edifice seems to emerge from Capital Hill and has tours that highlight how Australian democracy works in practice.
Built between 1981 and 1988, its distinctive design is based on the shape of two boomerangs with a gigantic flagpole rising up dramatically above its blinding bright white facade. Aside from snapping photos of the beautiful building and exploring its halls, chambers and artworks, visitors can venture up onto its grass walkway roof which boasts breathtaking panoramas of the city and lake before it.
2. Mount Ainslie Lookout
If you’re after an even better view of Canberra from above, then you’ll have to head to the top of the nearby Mount Ainslie which looms above the center. From here, you can clearly see how the city is laid out with all its most important buildings, institutions and attractions aligning almost perfectly.
Reaching 843 meters in height, its lofty summit is one of the most popular vantage points in town along with Telstra Tower to the west. In addition to basking in the exquisite views from its lookout, you can also hike and cycle around the mount’s pristine bushland or stop by the moving Australian War Memorial.
1. Australian War Memorial
Even with all the city’s architectural marvels, the art-deco Australian War Memorial still manages to stand out as a highlight. Unveiled in 1941 as World War II was going on, the massive Byzantine-style monument commemorates all of Australia’s war fatalities from each major conflict.
Set on the lower slopes of Mount Ainslie, the pretty and peaceful site encompasses both a pool of remembrance and a commemorative courtyard while its Hall of Memory is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Much more than just a memorial, it also has a museum to check out which is full of artifacts and exhibits on Australia’s military past. Although not part of the complex, the adjoining Anzac Parade which leads up to the Australian War Memorial is also lined by other impressive monuments and military memorials.