It takes around 4 hours to travel from the Sydney CBD to Canberra, and while it is possible to travel there and back in a day, it is better to spend longer to take in the sights and get a real feel for the city.
Canberra is located almost midway between Sydney and Melbourne, and this was built on the basis of keeping it in neutral territory and not favouring either of the two cities or the states of Victoria or New South Wales. Canberra sits in its own territory – the ACT which stands for Australian Capital Territory – and this in turn has its own Territory Parliament too.
The city was designed by the Chicago USA Architect, Walter Burley Griffin in 1913 and planned as a series or circular streets. Many of the houses in the Sydney suburb of Castlecrag were also designed by him.
Canberra is quite distinctive as a city and environment, with most of its population either directly or indirectly involved with the Australian Federal Government, its public service departments, ANU University, CSIRO, banks, accounting and other service businesses. There are also a larger number of embassies, and museums in Canberra too, making it an interesting city to visit and spend some time in.
Driving into Canberra from Sydney, you will pass Lake George – a vast expanse of flat ground that is either covered in water or completely dry. To the side of the Lake you will also find some small wineries on the slopes of the land.
A little further along there is a signpost pointing to Bungendore where there is a magnificent Wood Works Gallery and some wineries on your way there.
Back to Canberra, as you enter the city, you will see a showground where the Canberra Show is held each year. Major events such as Floriade www.floriadeaustralia.com are held in September-October and Summernats in the first week of January each year (Street car/Hot Rods) www.summernats.com.au
Summernats attracts large numbers of people from all over Australia to Canberra to see the cars, utes and hot rods – and if you like burn-outs, donuts, burning rubber, this is the time to visit Canberra.
One of the most attractive things about Canberra is the large parkland areas and changing colours of the trees in autumn and spring. Floriade and the Tulip gardens with their amazing colours come to life in spring, and certainly if the season and weather has been good, this is a great time to be in Canberra.
Canberra is a great place to visit anytime of the year, but it can get very cold in the winter, and hot in the middle of summer, so it is best to be prepared.
There are a number of cool climate wineries around Canberra. See www.canberrawines.com.au for more information and locations of some of these wineries – most within an hour or so from Canberra.
Canberra is largely flat, making it ideal for bike riders, and there are bike tracks and bike lanes on the main roads, in parks around the city, and a 16km Cycle Loop around Lake Burley Griffin. Hire bikes from Mr Spokes www.mrspokes.com.au (Tel: 6257 1188) or Real Fun www.realfun.com.au
Tel: 0410 547 838. Also check out www.stromloforestpark.com.au where there is a cycling circuit and mountain bike tracks. You can also hire a Segway www.segglideride.com.au (Tel: 0406 379 518) next to the International Flags at Questacon on the Lake’s edge, in Parkes. Taking a guided tour on a Segway and learning how to ride a Segway can be a lot of fun too.
The city is now grown up around Lake Burley Griffin where sailing boats and rowers can be seen at different times of the day. Commonwealth Avenue takes you right to the heart of Canberra CBD and directly in front of you is Parliament House on Capitol Hill. It is possible to drive and park free under Parliament House and then visit Parliament House to take tours of the building and depending on proceedings in Parliament, see where all the action takes place in the Senate or House of Representatives. There are many school groups that come here too.
Looking for shops and places to eat? Check out the Canberra Centre on Bunda Street in the city CBD, City Walk Boulevard; Lonsdale Street in Braddon, and Manuka and Kingston. For bars – head to Garema Place, Northbourne Avenue or to King O’Malleys Pub on City Walk. There is also a large Westfield Shopping Centre in Belconnen, and another in Woden.
Canberra Casino is located an Allara Street in the city. For nightlife take a look at www.outincanberra.com.au
Canberra has many notable buildings, embassies, gardens, parks and attractions for tourists, and some, but not all, of these are listed below.
Australian National Botanic Gardens – are located on Clunies Ross Street, near CSIRO Discovery in Acton.
Australian War Memorial – houses a vast collection of Australian war medals, stories, tanks, aircraft and other material to commemorate Australia’s role in all the wars in which Australia has been involved. At 5pm in the afternoon, they have a ‘Last Post’ ceremony which is very moving. It takes more than a day to see all the exhibitions, so allow lots of time if you want to see everything.
Black Mountain – is a telecommunications tower on the mountain overlooking Canberra. There is a viewing tower for the public and also café facilities too.
Canberra Gallery of Australia – has more than 100,000 works of art – See www.nga.gov.au
Canberra Glassworks – located in the Kingston Powerhouse has a number of Glass blowers and displays of their artistic glassware. See www.canberraglassworks.com
Canberra Contemporary Art Space – has a diverse number of collections making it an interesting museum to visit. See www.ccas.com.au
Canberra Museum and Gallery – in the Civic Centre of Canberra houses the Sidney Nolan art collection, and has a number of other collections and displays that are quite special. See www.museumsandgalleries.net.gov.au
Cockington Green Gardens – has a miniature Steam Train ride that takes you around the perimeter of the garden, where there are miniature houses, famous castles, churches, and towers representing buildings from around the world. The Gardens are located just off the A25 Barton Highway in Nicholls, near the National Dinosaur Museum. See www.cockingtongreen.com.au Tel: 6230 2490
Duntroon College – home to Australia’s Army Officer trainees.
EMBASSIES – Most (but not all) embassies and high commissions are located in Yarralumla, and are located close to Parliament House. To see some of the main ones travel along Perth Avenue to see South African High Commission, French Embassy, Malaysian, Egypt and Mexican; Empire Circuit to see European Union, Netherlands, Greek, Thai, Korean and Japanese Embassies; Turrana Street to see German, Israeli, and Swedish embassies; Arkana Street to see Spanish, Russian and Ireland; Forster Crescent to see Finland and Brazil; Moonah Place to see United States; and coming off State Circle onto Flynn Drive, head to Coronation Drive to see Republic of China and nearby British and New Zealand High Commissions on Forster Crescent.
High Court of Australia – the highest court in Australia and an outstanding building located near the National Portrait Gallery.
M16 Artspace – is a contemporary artist collective showcasing the works of a number of artists. See www.m16artspace.com
National Arboretum – is located on Tuggerannong Parkway, near the National Zoo and Aquarium. See www.nationalarboretum.act.gov.au (Tel: 6205 5082)
National Archives of Australia – in Parkes has an amazing collection of photos and other archival material, with changing exhibitions throughout the year. See www.naa.gov.au
Belconnen Arts Centre – located on Emu Bank, in Belconnen has three exhibition spaces with changing displays, exhibitions, workshops and classes throughout the year celebrating dance, music, writing and film. See www.belconnenartscentre.com.au Tel: 6173 3300
National Carillion – where the Carillion Bells ring out at different times, it is located on Aspen Island next to Kings Park. Blundell’s Cottage – an old stone cottage from the time before Canberra was built is also in Kings Park.
National Dinosaur Museum – houses some amazing dinosaurs and other scientific material. See www.nationaldinosaurmuseum.com.au The Museum is located in the suburb of Nicholls, just off the A25 Barton Highway, which leads on to Yass.
National Gallery of Australia – has a number of permanent and changing exhibitions, as well as an indigenous Gallery and a sculpture garden too, making it one of the best galleries in Australia. See www.nga.gov.au
National Library of Australia – one of Australia’s best libraries. See www.nla.gov.au
National Museum of Australia – on Acton peninsula overlooking Lake Burley Griffin the Museum houses a number of visually exciting displays including Newsreels, Aboriginal artifacts, and historical records of Australian History. The building itself is quite spectacular and the museum is one of the best in Canberra. Definitely worth a visit – See www.nma.gov.au
National Portrait Gallery – focused on Portraits of famous and not so famous people. See www.portrait.gov.au
National Rose Garden – this is just one of the many gardens and parks that are in Canberra, the National Rose Garden, close to Parliament House has Roses of all varieties and colours.
National Science and Technology Centre – in the suburb of Parkes, it contains lots of interesting scientific and technology interactive displays. See www.questacon.edu.au
National Zoo and Aquarium – is located off Lady Denman Drive near Government House. See www.nationalzoo.com.au Tel: 6287 8400. It is possible to feed some of the animals but you need to book.
Old Bus Markets – happen each Sunday in Kingston foreshore area with food, fashion, plants, jewellery and other things for sale. See www.obdm.com.au . There are also other markets in Canberra, including a good Farmers Market in the Showground area.
Old Parliament House – contains the Museum of Australian Democracy, the story and history of Australia’s political past and leaders. See www.moadoph.gov.au Next to Old Parliament House, there are two gardens on either side to see too.
Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre is located in Parkes next to the Lake.
Royal Australian Mint – produces all of Australia’s coins- up to 2 million coins in a single day. Here you can see how the Mint operates making coins for collectors and for general circulation. See www.ramint.gov.au The Mint is located on Denison Street, in Deakin.
The Lodge – this is just around the corner from Parliament House on Adelaide Avenue, and this is the Canberra home of the Prime Minister.
Tidbinbilla – a large park dedicated to preserving the national environment and Australia’s wildlife. See www.tidbinbilla.com.au
Yarralumla – is the name of a Canberra suburb, and also the name of the ‘Government House’, Governor General’s official residence in Canberra. A number of Embassies are also located Yarralumla too. Turn off the State Circle (which runs around Parliament House) onto Perth Avenue to see some of these from the roadway.
As you can see there are lots of museums, art galleries, and other places to visit in Canberra, with events and exhibitions constantly changing, so while Autumn and Spring are maybe the best times of the year to visit, there will definitely be things to see and places to visit, no matter what month of the year that you visit.
ALSO – Think about visiting some of the small towns and cities in Southern NSW – like Goulburn – with a population of around 22,000 people where there are some of the best Colonial buildings in Australia, including the ‘Goulburn Brewery and Steam Mills’ – designed by Francis Greenway, Australia’s first Architect. The Goulburn Historic 1883 waterworks has fully operational steam engines which were used to pump water to the town. See www.goulburnwaterworks.com.au Goulburn has a beautiful park in its centre, Belmore Park, which is also close to the Railway Station, Courthouse, Main Street, churches and other colonial architecture from the gold rush days.
Also look for the Big Merino gift shop www.bigmerino.com.au which has lots of fine wool garments and other items. It is near McDonalds so you won’t miss it.