Where you may see a Monet & a Prime Minister on the one day
Canberra is fortunate that so many of its tourist attractions come with no entry fee. Most museums, galleries and parliamentary buildings can take all day to walk around and you can enjoy them at no cost. There is also so much to learn and see just in the Parliamentary Triangle alone - where you can sit on a bench in front of a Monet in the morning and then see the front bench in action at Parliament House in the afternoon. The Parliamentary Triangle includes several of Canberra's most iconic buildings in the city suburb of Parkes, with the top of the triangle at Parliament House and then the lower two points located across Lake Burley Griffin, as designed by Walter Burley Griffin (see map below).
If you want a completely free experience, then visit on the weekend when parking is free all day in the Parliamentary Triangle (weekdays it is a combination of free short term parking and paid hourly parking, with a maximum cost of $20 per day). Also, as everything is so close together, you can just leave the car and walk between most venues - just wear your comfiest shoes. There is a vast amount of green space and gardens to also enjoy along the way. The following are 13 things to do in the Parliamentary Triangle, which are entertaining and enlightening and best of all - free!
1/ Parliament House has free entry, however the parking underneath the iconic building is free for two hours and then it is paid parking - with a maximum day rate of $20. Weekends are free. Once you have walked through the entrance and had your bags X-rayed, explore the building on a free tour, wander the exhibitions, visit the gift shop and then enjoy a coffee at the Queens Terrace Café, with popular outside courtyard. Also remember to take the lift at the opposite end of the first floor up to the grass topped roof and witness the Australian flag fly above the building, which is the size of a double decker bus. See website here for details.
2/ Old Parliament House is now called the Museum of Australian Democracy and is situated further down Federation Mall, heading towards Lake Burley Griffin. Although this museum technically isn't free (it costs $2 entry), it is also a "must see" when visiting the Parliamentary Triangle. Walk through the different chambers, see where Bob Hawke and Paul Keating sat in their offices, explore the exhibitions and learn more on one of their free tours. There are two eateries to choose from if you wish to stop for lunch - the sunny and scenic Terrace Café and the Hoi Polloi restaurant, located inside the building. See website here for details.
3/ Old Parliament House Gardens are located either side of the iconic building and are free to walk around, inhale the scent and enjoy the serenity from one of the many benches scattered around both gardens. These gardens were originally designed to be used by politicians only when the building was constructed, however they were opened to the public in 2004 so the public can enjoy them today. If you want to explore the gardens in more detail, print out the Old Parliament House Gardens Walk to take with you and then walk across the road to the National Rose Gardens. These gardens are overlooked by Pork Barrel Café, so you can enjoy a coffee or lunch with a view. The gardens are often pruned during August, so they are best viewed the remainder of the year. See website here for details. 4/ Magna Carta Monument is located next to Old Parliament House, at the entrance to the Parliamentary Triangle. The Magna Carta Monument was a gift to the people of Australia in 1997 from the British Government to commemorate the centenary of Federation of Australia. For more information on this monument, see here for an article with photos. You can also do a Magna Carta Democracy Walk, which begins at Parliament House, where the only original 1297 copy of the Magna Carta is located in the southern hemisphere. See website here for details.
5/ The National Archives is just a short walk away, with free entry and a range of exhibitions to explore inside. Although it isn't large inside, it is a valuable source of information if you are tracing family history or have an interest in Australia's written past. Search online for information or contact the Archives at least a week prior to visiting if there is something in particular you want to read in their Reading Rooms. See website here for details.
6/ The National Gallery of Australia has free entry, with an underground parking facility with weekday hourly paid parking, however it is free on weekends. This is a spectacular gallery to walk around, with levels of exhibitions with iconic artists on display, including the impressionist Monet. Whilst there, enjoy a free tour, explore their large gift shop, stop at the NGA Café for lunch inside the gallery or head back outside to the Street Café. When you have finished exploring inside, ensure you visit the James Turrell Skyspace installation out the front of the gallery, to view the sky from a different perspective. It is open 24 hours a day. See website here for details. 7/ The National Gallery Sculpture Garden is located behind the Gallery, by Lake Burley Griffin. This sculpture garden comprises of 26 sculptures to walk around and experience their beauty at any time of the day or night. There is ample opportunity to stop and rest here, take a picnic or sit in the sun and enjoy the sculptures. A popular sculpture enjoyed by kids is Fog sculpture, by Fujiko Nakaya which operates between 12:30pm - 2pm daily. See website here for details.
8/ The National Portrait Gallery is located across the road and has free entry and features portraits of prominent Australians identities who are important in their field, or whose life sets them apart in one form or another. The front entrance of the gallery has an iconic orange artwork (Geo Face Distributer by James Angus), so you know where to find the entry. There are different exhibitions to walk through on your own and admire the range of styles of each piece, or take a free tour and learn more about Australia's personalities. At this location there is the Portrait Café for a rest stop with particularly tasty lunch options. There is underground parking available under the gallery, which is paid parking during the week and free on weekends. See website here for details.
Walk in to the Skyspace viewing chamber, by James Turrell (out the front of the National Gallery of Australia)
9/ The High Court of Australia has free entry and is open to the public between 9.45 am - 4.30 pm Monday to Friday and 12pm - 4pm on Sundays. Visitors are free to wander around and look into each court room, with a guide on hand in each court to explain the architectural features and the cases that are heard there. If you coincide with a court sitting, then visitors are welcome to quietly sit in the back and watch the proceedings. See website here for details.
10/ Reconciliation Place begins between the High Court and Portrait Gallery and then runs through the Parliamentary Triangle towards the National Library of Australia. Reconciliation Place is a public promenade of indigenous artworks which began in 2001 as a monument to reconciliation between Australia's Indigenous people and settler population. More artworks have since been added, providing a fascinating walk of stone sculptures to touch, artworks to admire, buttons to push to hear indigenous stories and pictorial works showing indigenous history. See website here for details. 11/ The National Library of Australia has free entry and views over Lake Burley Griffin. As you walk into the library there is a popular Bookplate Café to the right, prominent stain glass windows by artists Leonard French above and the National Library Book Shop to the left. Straight ahead is the library itself, with free public exhibitions to explore along the way. The library itself isn't large, as if you want to read a book you need to order for it to be searched and then wait 45 minutes for its arrival. See here for collection delivery times. See website here for details.
13/ The Australian of the Year Walk is located alongside Lake Burley Griffin, outside the National Library of Australia towards Commonwealth Bridge. There are plaques positioned along the lake which depict every Australian of the Year recipient from 1960 to today, with empty plaques along the end of the walkway for the recipients of the future. Interestingly, each plaque is positioned along the walkway at a different spot on lines marked along the walkway. The lines represent sheet music and the plaques are musical notes, positioned to the sheet music of Advance Australia Fair. For an article and photos of the walk, see here. See website here for details.
A museum that is not mentioned on this list as it has an entry fee, is the highly popular Questacon science museum for kids of all ages. If you have school aged children, then ensure you take your kids to experiment, invent and be entertained by this museum that can take the whole morning - or all day - to explore. There is also a Mini Q area for the under 5's. See website here for details.
Take a twilight walk along the Australian of the Year Walk
The Parliamentary Triangle has something for everyone who is visting Canberra, or who makes the Nations Capital their home. There is scenery down by the waterfront, art in all its forms, political mayhem and pieces of history that join together to tell the Australian story. They all come together in this one triangle where you can have a wander around one venue and if it doesn't interest you, then simply leave and find somewhere else that does. As everything is free, there is plenty of time to linger or just leave, the choice is yours. What I do guarantee however, is there will be something in the triangle for everyone, whether you stay for one hour for all day. So strap on your comfiest walking shoes and discover the secrets of the Parliamentary Triangle for yourself. You won't leave disappointed.
Why not take a break on the terrace at Queens Terrace Cafe at Parliament House...
Thanks for the article Sue. I am plannign a trip to Canberra some time in the next year and have had difficulty finding good information sources on the internet. This helps as my husband and I like to see as much as possible on our holidays and get the most out of our trips.