Australia’s capital city is mostly known for being the country’s political hub, but is often overshadowed on itineraries by the more popular tourist destinations of Sydney and Melbourne. However, with a proliferation of museums, galleries and one of the world’s leading research universities, this city may not be the best for nightlife, but it’s fantastic for intellectual pursuits and showcases some of the most interesting exhibitions that Australia (and the world!) has to offer, as well as celebrating much of what gives Australia its national identity.
If you enjoy museum-hopping, cafes to rival the global coffee-hub of Melbourne, and gorgeous natural beauty just minutes outside of the city, then you won’t want to miss Canberra.
Lets explore the best things to do in Canberra:
1. Parliament House Tour
When the word Canberra gets mentioned, Parliament House is the first thing to come to mind for international visitors and Australians alike: Parliament House has been the hub of the nation’s political action since it opened in 1988, replacing what is now referred to as the Old Parliament House (the home of Australia’s parliament from 1927).
This iconic, beautiful building is breathtaking, and its an amazing backdrop for your holiday snaps (especially at sunset). There are tours available every half an hour from 9am until the facility closes 5pm, and it’s a fantastic way to familiarize yourself not only with the building but with the complicated ins-and-outs of Australia’s unique political system.
There’s also plenty of Australian art on display within the building, giving you a taste of art history to go with political history.
2. National Zoo & Aquarium
Canberra is home to Australia’s only combined zoo and aquarium facility, and as you’d expect from a zoo located in a national capital city, the National Zoo & Aquarium has gone to great efforts to do the country proud.
The ZooVenture tours are particularly fun: you can feed a bear, pat a rhino, hand-feed a giraffe and much more in this 2-hour behind-the-scenes look at the zoo.
At only $125, it’s excellent value and an experience to remember.
The facility is also home to a luxury safari lodge, Jamala Wildlife Lodge, which offers deluxe accommodation and special safari itineraries for visitors, from one to three nights of exotic, exciting entertainment.
3. Namadgi National Park
Just 40km south of Canberra, Namadgi National Park makes for a wonderful day trip to explore regional ACT. You can find stunning Australian fauna including colorful birdlife, rugged granite mountains, and habitat that varies from alpine meadows to lush forests.
This Park is also listed on the Australian National Heritage List, as one of eleven protected areas that form the Australian Alps National Parks and Reserves.
Australian regional and rural scenery is as diverse as it is beautiful, and while you’re in the area it’s definitely worth seeing this stunning example.
4. Revisit Australia’s history
Canberra is renowned for the exceptionally high-quality exhibitions that are attracted to its museums and galleries, many of which are not shown elsewhere in Australia and attract visitors from around the country.
The National Museum of Australia is a perfect spot to learn about the history, geography and culture of Australia, as well as many fascinating international exhibits.
Art lovers certainly shouldn’t miss the National Gallery of Australia, a world-class facility with a particularly excellent collection of Aboriginal art.
There are also many interesting war memorials scattered across Canberra, such as Changi Chapel (built originally by prisoners of war in Singapore, and transported back after WW2 piece-by-piece) and the Australian War Memorial.
5. Discover the future
Between Questacon, the CSIRO Discovery Centre, and the exciting events held by the Australian Academic of Science, there’s plenty for budding scientists (and actual scientists!) to enjoy in Canberra.
Questacon is the National Science and Technology Centre, a leading facility with many exciting exhibitions to enjoy, using cutting-edge technology such as virtual and augmented reality to make science accessible to viewers of all levels of scientific understanding.
6. Relax and rejuvenate in the National Botanic Gardens
Australia is renowned for its gorgeous flora, especially its wildflowers.
The National Botanic Gardens is a fantastic introduction to the beauty of Australian plant life, as well as its versatility and the important role that it has played in traditional culture.
The Botanic Gardens are great for a relaxing walk or a picnic, but also a horticulturalist’s dream.
There’s even a 45-minute bus tour of the Gardens so that you can learn in depth about the beauty of nature, in air-conditioned comfort.
7. Do a spot of market-hopping
If you enjoy buying fresh produce at farmer’s markets, artisan goods at maker’s markets, or just the wonderful bustling small-businesses-of-yore atmosphere that markets provide, then you’ll love the Old Bus Depot Markets and the Capital Region Farmers Markets.
They’re both quite easy to get do, and you’ll come home with some of the tastiest fruits and vegetables you’ll find in the country, as well as many handmade crafts as quirky souvenirs to fill up your suitcase with for your friends back home.
8. Go sports-mad with an AIS sports tour
Australia is a famously sports-mad country, and if you’re a sporty type or want to learn about this intrinsic part of Aussie culture, the Australian Institute of Sports should be on your itinerary.
This premier sports precinct is one of the capital’s favorite tourist attractions, with international and domestic visitors alike, and the 90-minute tour is a wonderful introduction to Australia’s sporting past, present and future.
While you’re at the AIS, challenge yourself with the state-of-the-art interactive sports exhibit, Sportex; it’s unmissable and very fun.
9. Fly a jet plane
Virtually, that is. If you’ve ever fancied yourself becoming a jet pilot when you were a child, Canberra’s Jet Flight Simulator is a great place to give it a go in an entirely safe virtual environment.
No experience is needed to become the captain of one of the world’s most popular planes, a Boeing 737, and you’ll have an experienced flight instructor acting as your First Officer and teaching you the ropes of the sky.
There’s 22,000 virtual airports available to land in, and different weather conditions available, making it an extraordinary adventure to enjoy.
10. Get to know Canberra
Formally founded as a city over a century ago, Canberra is far more than the capital of the country; as the eighth-largest city in Australia, its vibrant and interesting in its own right, and has its own unique culture that is quite different from that of its interstate neighbors.
You can learn more about Canberra at the Canberra Museum, and about its function as national capital at the National Capital Exhibition.
The Australian National University is also a very significant Australian icon, as well as being a gorgeous campus and a great place for a stroll.
There’s also plenty of lovely heritage buildings to enjoy in and around Canberra, such as the Lanyon Homestead and Blundells Cottage.
The area has been inhabited for approximately 20 thousand years by the local indigenous population, making it a fascinating visit if you’re interested in pre-modern history as well: many artefacts remain and can be found at various museums and significant sites around the city and beyond.
11. Cruise Lake Burley Griffin
Lake Burley Griffin is an artificial lake smack-dab in the centre of Canberra, created in the 1960s.
Many of the city’s best-known landmarks are either on the shores of the lake or easily visible from it, and a cruise on the lake is a wonderful way to see the city in a new light and in a tranquil, beautiful setting.
There are several cruises available, offering options such as meals, and guides whose fascinating insight into the history of the city will make the experience even more meaningful.
12. Experience the Canberra Glassworks
The Glassworks are a studio and gallery dedicated to the art of glassmaking.
As Australia’s only cultural centre dedicated singularly to modern glass art, it’s a hub for glass artists, art lovers and visitors looking for special souvenirs.
Workshops are available to give the general public a taste of glassmaking, with both one-on-one sessions with professional glass artists and group sessions on offer.
Tours are also available, so that as well as enjoying the beauty of the glass art, you can learn in-depth about the meaning of the works, the stories of the artists and the amazing creative inspiration happening at the facility.
13. Enjoy the panoramic views from Mount Ainslie
Located to the north-east of central Canberra, within the Canberra Nature Park, Mount Ainslie boasts extraordinary panoramic views of central Canberra, particularly Capital Hill, as well as Black Mountain (another gorgeous lookout, if you’ve got time!) to the West.
You’ll find the Mount Ainslie Kokoda summit train, a well-maintained and informatively signposted walking trail behind the Australian War Memorial, to be an excellent and highly educational way to experience the mountain.
14. Hunt for truffles
On the outskirts of Canberra, you’ll find a gourmand’s paradise at the Truffle Farm.
This homestead farm comes with an on-site restaurant with a chef who has graced the kitchen of several Michelin star restaurants worldwide, who has settled in Canberra because of his passion for the fantastic culinary potential of truffles.
Jayson, the farmer, is Canberra born-and-bred, as are the friendly truffle-hunting dogs and pigs that keep him company (and now, keep a steady stream of visitors company). You can join in the action by going on a truffle hunt in season (June-August); outside of those months, it’s still well worth a visit to enjoy the restaurant and the gorgeous views of the oak forest and the picturesque Majura Valley.
15. Stroll through the beautiful Jerrabomberra Wetlands
The “Jerra” wetlands are right in the heart of Canberra, and a relaxing natural getaway after an exciting day in Capital Hill.
Billed as one of the ACT’s best-kept secrets, the wetlands are rich in diverse bird-life (including migratory species from as far away as Japan), lush greenery and beautiful flowers.
There’s also often interesting events being held here, including indigenous cultural events.
The Wetlands are really quite a treat and should be a must-see on any nature-lover’s itinerary.