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Spend a day in Canberra, Australia

Updated on November 6, 2010

Australia did not become an official country until 1901, when all the separate colonies signed a federation pact. But for this a capital for the new country had to be chosen. Sydney and Melbourne were two obvious choices as the biggest cities, but the heads of the single colonies could not come to an agreement as to which one to pick. So instead they decided to create a new town and make this their capital. They settled on a rural area 280km from Sydney. In 1911 they split the area off from New South Wales and named it the Federal Capital Territory (changed to Australian Capital Territory (ACT) in 1938). And the Australian capital city was to be called Canberra. It is nowhere near as big as either Sydney or Melbourne, it is not next to the sea, and it gets very cold in winter. As it is not too big, a day would be enough time to spend here. Of course if you have some more time, you can add a few days, but do not skip it on your visit to Australia, as its capital it has some interesting sights. Let’s have a look at what you can do for a day in Canberra.

If you happen to visit in Winter, make sure you bring warm clothes, as temperatures can go as low as 0 degrees Celsius during the day time. In the summer temperatures can be quite nice to rather hot, but rarely go over 40 degrees Celsius.

Canberra is a very bycicle-friendly city, and, me being Dutch and all, of course I rented a bicycle to get around. It is an easy way to see a lot of the city, and is very pleasant when the weather is nice. Of course you can also walk everywhere, it will just take you a little (a lot) longer. And there are bus services that will take you anywhere you want to go. Just check with the local visitors centre for the time tables.

Things to do in Canberra

The Parliament House

When you are in Canberra you cannot miss a visit to the Parliament House, as this is the country’s capital after all. It is situated in and on Capital Hill, and from the top you can look out over the city. When you go in you have to go through security, but they are not too strict and after you can just wander around on your own. Very refreshing in a time where you have to go through heavy security checks before entering almost any public building in the world. The inside of the building is beautiful and very impressive with lots of marmite stone. Upstairs there is a little exhibition with paintings of former leaders and important documents in the history of Australia. When I was visiting there was a kind of quiet demonstration going on for Aboriginal rights. Some people simply set up camp on the lawns in front of the Parliament and handed out leaflets. Very friendly people willing to explain you the other side of the Australian politics. A nice contrast with the beautiful Parliament, and very interesting for visitors, I thought.

Lake Burley Griffin

This lake separates the main city centre from the Capital Hill, where the parliament is. It has a long bridge to connect the two parts. The lake was named after Canberra’s architect. It used to be a large empty muddy area, but it was filled with water in 1963, by building the Scrivener Dam in the Molonglo River. Around it are nice parks through which you could take a stroll on a good day. In 1970 they build the Captain Cook Memorial Water Jet. As you would have probably guessed from the name, this is a water jet, which shoots water up to 147 metres high. Have a stroll along the shores of this lake, check out the water jet, and examine Regatta Point, a skeleton globe which shows Captain Cook’s great voyages.

 The Australian National Botanic Gardens

The Botanic Gardens in Canberra are stunning. They climb up against the lower parts of the Black Mountain. Here you will find many native Australian plant species, neatly planted and very well cared for. There is an Aboriginal Plant Use Walk (about an hour long), which will give you heaps of information about all the different plants and its possible uses. Visit the little visitors centre and the book shop to get a map, or to do a free guided walk.

 The National Gallery of Australia

This is a free museum with an amazing collection of Aboriginal art. There are beautiful paintings and wood crafts on display. There are also collections of Asian, Indian and Australian art, but I thought the Aboriginal art was the most astonishing. There is a beautiful sculpture garden and usually some thematic exhibitions. The entrance is free, however sometimes you have to pay extra for some of the temporary exhibitions.

Enjoy your day!

I had an awesome day in Canberra, so I hope you will too! The city is very nice, and most of its available activities are very educational. And most of them focused on Australia and its history. So enjoy!

And be sure to let me know what you thought of Canberra in the comments!


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    • willemab profile image

      willemab 7 years ago from Utrecht, Holland

      yup i went there too! great city. very bicycle friendly indeed!

    • Mieka profile image

      Mieka 7 years ago

      Haha drjb, yeah I do recommend visiting in summer, the botanic gardens are nicer in summer too!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 7 years ago from south Florida

      Hi, Mieka - Canberra seems like an interesting city to visit but I'll make sure I don't visit in winter. 0 degree C temperature does not appeal to me on a vacation. I'm too accustomed to warmer weather.

    • lilian_sg profile image

      lilian_sg 7 years ago from Singapore

      Nice. Most people do avoid visiting Canberra...I may give it a try then.