The Red Explorer Bus has been operating in Canberra for the last 16 years, helping tourists get to popular attractions and providing commentary along the way. For many visitors to Canberra, it is a handy service where you pay the driver for a day ticket and then you sit back and relax - and let someone else do the driving. The route begins in the city (and also picks up at 4 hotels along the way) and then proceeds to Canberra's attractions and then returns every 1.5 hours to take you to your next destination. Just keep a copy of the Red Explorer Bus Timetable handy and see the sights of Canberra. It couldn't be any easier.
The first stop of the day is the Australian War Memorial which opens at 10am daily, so the first bus will arrive there ready for opening. You could easily spend the whole day looking through the various exhibitions from different conflicts throughout history. Hear stories about mateship and audio of interviews from past wars, which are sobering and often emotional. Kids will enjoy the Discovery Zone, on the Lower Ground Floor (check website for times). If you have time, also take a walk along the Anzac Parade Memorial Walk at the front of the museum, while you wait for the bus to return.
Explore the Australian War Memorial - inside and out
Hopping back on the bus, the Red Explorer drives back into the city and stops at the National Capital Exhibition at Regatta Point, overlooking Lake Burley Griffin. This scenic area has 5 attractions to visit in the one location - the National Capital Exhibition to learn about Canberra's history, the Canberra and Region Visitors Centre, the Captain Cook Memorial Jet, The Deck Café for a coffee break and Commonwealth Park, the location of Floriade (which runs between September and October). The National Capital Exhibition has free entry and is an interesting look at how the city was designed by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Griffin.
Views, history, Floriade and coffee at the second stop
3rd Stop - The National Library of Australia and Questacon
The National Library has two small exhibition spaces to look around, including the popular Treasures Gallery. Although most people expect to see rows of books on display inside the library, they are all housed "behind the scenes" so you need to order the book you want in advance (see process here). There is however, an extensive bookshop and popular Bookplate Café. On the other side of the road is Questacon, a large science museum with 4 floors dedicated to "hands-on" and fun science experiments - designed mainly for primary-school age children. Smaller kids will love Mini-Q. There is an entry fee to get in and you could easily spend a few hours here with the kids, pressing buttons and having fun. Also at this stop is the scenic Lake Burley Griffin.
Books, cafes, fun for kids and lake views all at this stop!
4th Stop - National Portrait Gallery, National Gallery of Australia and the High Court
If you feeling energetic, this stop is only a 5-10 minute walk from Questacon (above), so you don't need to wait until the next bus to keep exploring. The National Gallery of Australia has free entry and houses some of Australia's most famous artworks, sculptures and historical artefacts. If you prefer some fresh air, take a walk behind the gallery to the Sculpture Garden, alongside Lake Burley Griffin. Just a short walk across the road is the National Portrait Gallery, which has free entry and houses many famous portraits of prominent Australians through history. Just a short walk from the entrance to the Portrait Gallery is the High Court of Australia, to look through the court rooms and possibly catch a court sitting in action.
Art, sculpture, portraits and High Court action on the 4th stop
5th Stop - Museum of Australian Democracy (Old Parliament House)
Hop back on the bus for a short ride up to Old Parliament House (which is also within walking distance of the National Gallery if you have any energy left). Here you pay a small gold coin entry fee and step back in time to walk through this iconic Australian landmark. Old Parliament House is now also called the Museum of Australian Democracy, so visitors can walk through various rooms and re-live important decisions and events in Australia's political past.
6th Stop - Parliament House
Next stop on the bus is Parliament House, which is located further up the Parliamentary Triangle behind Old Parliament House. Expect to line up for a short while at the main entrance to have your bags X-rayed and walk through a metal detector. When inside, explore the building and look at prominent artworks, exhibitions and portraits of previous Prime Ministers. Why not take a free tour or if it is a sitting day, watch all the drama of parliament in action.
Discover the old and the new at both Parliament Houses
Sit back on the bus and have a rest for the 10 minute drive to the Royal Australian Mint in Deakin. The Red Explorer Bus, at the time of writing, visits the Royal Australian Mint just once a day to drop off and then pick up 1.5 hours later. The Mint also has free entry and you can walk up a staircase filled with 5 cent pieces, walk around the National Coin Collection and view historical coins from the First Fleet to modern day. There is also a glass-lined factory walkway to look down and see the coin-making in action. Kids will enjoy the free activity book and watching Titan the Robot pick up barrels of coins to tip over. There is also a coin shop to purchase collector coins and you can mint your own commemorative coin for $3.
History, coins and robot action at the Royal Australian Mint
Lastly, the bus then travels past some of the worlds Embassies and then arrives at the last stop on the bus route - the National Museum of Australia. This museum also has free entry with various exhibitions which reflect Australia's past and heritage - with indigenous tools, Captain Cook's magnifier, convict love tokens, Phar Lap's heart and more. It will remind you of events in Australia's past and explain "The Australian Story".
Phew - what a big day of sight-seeing! You can now relax, put your feet up and reflect on all the highlights of your day in the Nations Capital...and there will be many!
Last stop - the National Museum - then back to the hotel to relax!