Why every Australian (and not Australian) needs to visit Canberra at least once

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

It’s the capital of Australia

Firstly, it’s the capital of Australia! Never mind that it was purposely built as a compromise between Sydney and Melbourne over which should be the dominant city. Planned by Walter Burley Griffin and built in 1913, the wide empty streets of Canberra hide much more than just politicians and university students. Canberra is a place where to discover more about Australia’s history, democracy and way of life. The capital’s famed attractions hold and share the nation’s stories.

I have been to Canberra on three occasions, each time with only a few hours to spend and, despite thinking there is not much to do there at all, I have to admit I was so wrong. I haven’t experienced even 20% of what the Australian Capital Territory has to offer and yet I want to share it with you.

One can pack a lot into a short break in Canberra. Hot air ballooning; hiking the city surrounds; sampling the cool-climate wines; enjoying blockbuster art and discovering foodie and nightlife hot-spots are just a few of the things to do in the area. The natural surroundings make Canberra a true city in a park, offering a mix of experiences for visitors who want best of both worlds.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.


A place to remember and understand the experience of war

The museums, however, bring Australia’s history to life and are a place for understanding the lasting impact of war on society. I could easily spend a whole day in just one of them, but have been trying to experience as many as possible to get to know as much as I can about the country I have been calling home for the past two years. My favourite has been the Australian War Memorial-a shrine, an archive and an expansive museum dedicated to all who have served Australia. The stories have been brought to life with sound- and light shows and would make anyone understand the complicated history a lot more.

At the end of each day, commencing at 4:55 pm AEDT, the Memorial farewells visitors with its moving Last Post Ceremony. The ceremony begins with the singing of the Australian National Anthem, followed by the poignant strains of a lament, played by a piper. Visitors are invited to lay wreaths and floral tributes beside the Pool of Reflection. The Roll of Honour in the Cloisters lists the names of more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations over more than a century. At each ceremony the story behind one of these names is told. The Ode is then recited, and the ceremony ends with the sounding of the Last Post. 

It was heart breaking finding out more about my partner’s grandfather’s hardships in a Japanese prison camp where the railway camps produced many victims, but also heroes who helped others to endure, to survive, or to die with dignity. I was also intrigued by the story behind the Kokoda track that I hope to complete one day, being one of the bloodiest campaigns of WWII. The Australian War Memorial gives a great overview of the timeline with a short film.

Opening hours
10am – 5pm daily
(Please note: The galleries start closing from 4:40pm for the Last Post Ceremony).

Free admission. Gold coin donations are appreciated.

Insider tip: Take one of the free guided tours starting in almost every 15 minutes.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Spend A Day In National History Museum

Another great day got spent in the National History Museum of Australia where everything you ever wanted to know about Australia’s history, land, culture and people is exhibited within the walls of this architecturally stunning building inspired by a jigsaw puzzle. The highlights include Lincoln Halls Everest Climbing boots, the original transcription of Ned Kelly’s political manifesto and the Australian flag found in the ruins of the World Trade Center after September 11, 2001.

I also enjoyed the rotating cinema experience in Circa-a 12-minute audio visual experience taking visitors on a journey through Australia’s past and introducing them to the National Museum’s collections. The show features 200 objects from the National Historical Collection, many of which are on display in the Museum’s exhibition galleries. Images of these significant historical objects are combined with archival photographs and films to evoke everyday life and notable events in the nations past. Scenes of Australia’s distinct and varied landscapes connect the past to our present. An original musical score weaves all these elements into a unique story of Australia from the continents prehistory to the close of the 20th century.

Opening hours
9am to 5pm daily
Free general admission

Insider tip: Download a free Loop Audio Tour App from Google Play or the App Store using their free wi-fi for a self-guided tour with The Loop and delve into the Museum’s rich and diverse stories of Australia’s land, nation and people.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Visit The Parliament House

Going to Canberra, one can’t pass the opportunity of visiting the Parliament House on Capital Hill, where the decisions affecting the nation are made in this extraordinary building. I took the time to walk around the impressive structure during one of my visits to Canberra and I must say it’s impressive from every corner. The members of the public are allowed to watch the Question Time, see bills being debated and sit in on committee inquiries as current issues are explored in detail. Even some of Australia’s finest historical treasures and contemporary art can be found on display throughout the building once passed the airport-like security screening at the entrance. From the roof, one can marvel at the perfectly aligned streets planned out by Mr Griffin and catch a glimpse of the views across Canberra and the Australian War Memorial built on the opposite side of the lake.

Opening hours
Non-sitting days 9am-5pm
Sitting days Monday-Thursday 9am-6pm

Insider tip: Take a free 40 minute tour around the Parliament House departing at
9:30am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm, 3:30pm daily.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Something other than museums

After you have saved all your money by visiting free museums, drive 30 minutes from the capital to some excellent wineries including the Canberra's District’s well-known label Clonakilla that reside on the Yass Plains. Around 35 wineries produce many different grape varieties that reflect the regions diverse terrain. From shiraz, Riesling, chardonnay and outstanding shiraz viognier to sparkling cuvee, semillion sauvignon, merlot and riscato, the options are endless.

And did I already mention hot air ballooning over the Australian Capital? Or maybe go cycling around Lake Burley Griffin, take a cruise or enjoy water views from the cafes and restaurants nearby. Have a picnic at the Bejing Garden or try windsurfing.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Want to go hiking? 

Lakeside walk is an easy 2-km one-hour self-guided walk on the south side of Lake Burley Griffin and loops past some of the landmarks like Commonwealth Place, Speakers Square, National Gallery of Australia, National Portrait Gallery and Questacon.

For the hard-core walker, the 145 km Canberra Centenary loop passes many natural and man-made icons of the capital. It’s divided into sections so you can tackle it bit by bit, averaging 20 km a day over a week. The trail goes past One Tree Hill Lookout what was Charles Scrivener’s commencement point when he surveyed the site what would become Canberra and from there one can see the nation’s capital. Keep an eye out for wombats, echidnas, wedge-tailed eagles and platypus. Who’s in? 

Or maybe drive a bit out of the city to explore various bushwalking tracks in Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, Namadgi National Park or the 4 km loop of Mt Ainslie for sweeping shots of Canberra from the lookout after hanging out with the many rosellas and kangaroos in the area.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Entertainment For After Dark

I have heard mixed opinions about the nightlife in Canberra, with the students claiming it’s one of the best and some parties are even better than in Sydney while older crowd has admitted there is really nowhere fun to go on the weekends. I’ll list some of the city hotspots for a great evening as stated so by the locals and let you decide.

Hippo Co serves more than 220 types of whiskies, Honky Tonks is serious about tequila and Playground Bar does excellent martini. Go to Transit Bar for live music and White Rabbit Coctail Room for some Alice in Wonderland-inspired night. Go to Wig and Pen Travern and brewery for house brewed beers and ciders and Tongue and Groove for some dancing. If you can find the secret bar of Molly that can only be found following GPS coordinates, you will be rewarded with live jazz and cool vibe.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

Does that make you want to visit Canberra yet? There is so much more to do there that I haven’t even listed, so jump over to VisitCanberra for more. Who has been to Canberra before? What else would you add to the list? Why do you think every Australian (and non-Australian) should visit Canberra? Let’s talk in the comments!

Disclosure: This article has been written with the help of Canberra Visitor Guide 2016 published for Visit Canberra. All of the information above including opening times and tour times are up to date as of the date published.

Pin it for later:

Canberra is not only the capital of Australia, but also surprisingly full of culture and history complimented with good wine and superb hiking.

And also, please have a look at the link ups I'm participating in from #TheWeeklyPostcard by Two Traveling Texans, #FollowMeFriday by Feet Do Travel Community, #WeekendTravelInspiration by Albom Adventures and #WeekendWanderlust by Weekly Wanderlust Travel Community Feel free to click on the badges below to find other great posts about travelling. Thanks!


Two Traveling Texans
Feet Do Travel
Albom Adventures
Weekend Wanderlust