When visitors first arrive in Canberra, they are often surprised by how many things there are to do in the Capital - and then realise they should have booked for longer. There are, of course, all the landmarks that we all know about - such as Parliament House, the Australian War Memorial, the National Museum and the National Gallery of Australia. After arriving in the Capital however, many visitors also want to see the High Court, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Library, take a walk along Lake Burley Griffin and then see what the kids are up to in Questacon.
If that's not all, there are also hundreds of brochures to pick up about the Royal Australian Mint, Telstra Tower, the National Arboretum, the Canberra Wine Region, the National Zoo and Aquarium, National Parks, restaurants, theatres, bars and nightlife! Phew! Before you know it, a simple trip to Canberra has become a whirlwind of choices. To make things easier, ensure you check out these 3 "must see" attractions first (then you can deal with the rest later).
Pay respect to the fallen and fighting, at the Australian War Memorial. Image: Australian War Memorial Facebook
1/ The Australian War Memorial is arguably the most popular tourist attraction in Canberra. If you have a family member, or know someone who has fought in war, it can be a touching visit to learn more about their experience and the war they were in involved in. Even if you don't have a connection, it is a fascinating and tasteful museum to walk around and learn more about Australia's wartime past. Taking a free tour of the galleries is recommended, to hear the personal stories behind the exhibits and learn more about different conflicts.
If you have young kids with you, ensure you spend some time in The Discovery Zone, or take a Family Tour during the school holidays. If you have older companions with you, you may want to drop them off close to the entrance, as the car park can be a long walk to the entrance for some. There is the Landing Place cafe inside the museum and Poppy's Café outside the museum, for rest breaks and refreshments. Ensure you stay for the very moving Last Post Ceremony, at 4:55pm daily. See here for details.
Take a free tour and learn more about the people and stories of war
2/ Parliament House is the next place to visit for most visitors - as you can't visit the Capital City of Australia without seeing where all the action happens. When you arrive at Parliament House, there is paid parking underneath the building and then you walk up the stairs to the impressive foyer out the front of the building. Admire the 196 square metre mosaic which was designed by Aboriginal artist Michael Nelson Jagamara, before walking down to experience the water feature artistically cascading at the front.
After walking inside the building (and through a metal detector), the marble foyer just inside the doorway will impress, with a large marble staircase leading up to the second floor. Here you can choose how to explore the building - take a free tour, wander around yourself, stop for lunch in the café or ask the information desk about how to watch parliament in action. A free tour is once again recommended, to get the most detail about the artworks, history and behind-the-scenes gossip of this iconic building. See here for details.
3/ CHOOSE BETWEEN - The National Gallery of Australia and The National Museum of Australia - depending on your interests. If you have a passion and appreciation of art, in all its forms, then you can't go past the National Gallery of Australia. It has free entry and then you can spend hours walking through the various levels and era's in Australian art history. Sit on a bench and appreciate artworks that you may have studied, or just seen in art history books. Also take a break at the impressive NGA Café and walk outside to the Sculpture Garden afterwards, to view the creative sculptures including Within Without (2010), by James Turrell. See here for details.
The National Museum of Australia, on the other hand, tells the story of Australia's history, with exhibits ranging from Phar Lap's heart to Captain Cook's magnifier. Browse the exhibits and be reminded of stories in our past, learn about events that have shaped the nation and see relics of history that represent eras in time - from indigenous art, all the way to present day. See here for details. If you have time, why take in both the National Gallery and National Museum, as they each represent the history of this country.
Take a walk through periods in art history at the National Gallery of Australia. Image: National Gallery of Australia Facebook