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Published July 31st 2018
A comprehensive guide of where & when
Canberra is a fascinating city to explore, with some of the nation's biggest museums and galleries all in one city. One of the main features that tourists enjoy about visiting Canberra's attractions is that most of them have free entry and free tours, so that every person who walks in the door can leave with a better understanding of the exhibits around them. I personally enjoy going on tours as the tour guide gives you behind-the-scenes stories, captures your imagination and gives you all the highlights - in less than an hour.
See below for 13 free tours that are available around Canberra's main attractions (with details correct at August 2018, however check their websites before you go). Along the way you will meet passionate tour guides, hear a few jokes, ask questions and be "wowed" by the information and stories you hear. Which one will you be going to first?
Enjoy free guided tours at Parliament House every day throughout the year, except Christmas Day. Image: Australian Parliament House Facebook
1/ Parliament House run a variety of paid tours throughout the day, however they also offer a free 40 minute Welcome To Parliament House Tour, which departs daily at 9:30am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm and 3:30pm. You will see both chambers of Parliament (on non-sitting days), the Marble Foyer, Great Hall (subject to availability), Members' Hall and highlights of the Parliament House Art Collection. See here for details.
2/ Old Parliament House (Museum of Australian Democracy) offer a range of special event paid tours, however they also run free 45 minute tours through the Old Parliament House building to explain the spaces, objects and stories that are housed within. The tours run at 10:45am, 11:45am, 12:45 pm (Saturday and Sunday only), 1:45 pm and 2:45 pm (Monday to Friday only). Entry into the museum costs $2 adults, $1 children (free for children under 5 years old) and $5 family. See here for details.
Parliament House tours - check in at the Information Desk in the Marble Foyer
3/ The National Gallery of Australia offer free highlights tours of the permanent collections every day at 10:30am, 11:30am, 12:30pm, 1:30pm and 2:30pm. They also offer free Art & Dementia Tours for individuals and their carers and groups. Also check out their What's On page for a long list of free and ticketed events. See here for details.
4/ The National Portrait Gallery of Australia is located opposite the National Gallery (above) and they have a free Collections Highlights Tour each day at 11:30am. Also check out their What's On page for events each week. See here for details.
5/ The National Library of Australia offer a Treasures Gallery Tour every day at 11:30am to view their permanent art and museum collection. They also offer a Behind The Scenes tour each Thursday at 2pm and a Discover your National Library Tour each Saturday at 2pm, except for public holidays and between Christmas and New Years. See here for details.
Join a tour and learn about the stories behind the portraits at the National Portrait Gallery
6/ The National Museum of Australia run a number of paid tours throughout the day, however they also offer a free 10 minute Host Talk each day - ask the Information Desk for the topic and times on the day you visit. There is also an app that you can download called The Loop self-guided Museum Favourites tour (in English and Mandarin). See here for details.
7/ The National Arboretum is a scenic property overlooking the city, with 94 forests of endangered or threatened tree species. They offer free short introductory talks at the Village Centre regularly each day between 10am - 3pm. They also offer a free 1 hour guided Forest Walks each Wednesday at 11am, as well as on Saturdays at 2pm and Sundays at 11am. If you would like to join the free Long Forest Walk for 2.5 hours, these are held on the 3rd Sunday of the month at 9:30am. See here for details.
8/ The Australian National Botanical Gardens have the largest living collection of native Australian flora in the country. To learn more about what they do, they have free guided walks daily at 11am and 2pm. See here for details.
Learn about the largest living collection of Australian native plants at the Australian National Botanical Gardens
9/ Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG) in the city centre have free Floor Talks scheduled throughout the year, where artists explain their work. See here for details.
10/ The Australian War Memorial has the longest list of free tours available, which are run by their team of knowledgeable volunteers. At the time of writing they offer 15 free tours a day, with general tours and tours through special exhibitions. See here for details.
11/ Blundells Cottage is a historical workers cottage located on the banks of Lake Burley Griffin, which was built around 1860. The National Capital Authority offer free tours each Saturday at 10:15am, 11:30am and 12:45pm, with bookings made through Eventbrite. If you just want to look around by yourself, the cottage is open between 10am - 2pm. See here for details. See here for a full article about the tour.
12/ The Canberra Glassworks offer free Historical Tours of the building each Saturday at 11am, with bookings made through Eventbrite. See here for details. See here for a full article about the tour.
13/ The Royal Australian Mint is located in Deakin and runs free tours each weekday at 10am and 2pm, as well as on weekends (and public holidays) at 11am, 1pm and 2pm. Meet the tour guide at the top of the staircase full of 5 cent pieces, outside the public theatrette. Please note that the coin factory is not in operation on weekends. See here for details.
At the time of writing the National Capital Exhibition, usually located next to the Canberra and Region Visitors Centre, is undergoing upgrades until September 2018. When it re-opens, see here for their free tours about the history of Canberra.
Learn about the history of the Canberra Glassworks building, which was previously the Kingston Powerhouse