5 reasons to visit Canberra

Canberra is both the home to our nation’s shrines to the Anzacs who lost their lives and a thriving capital city. Here are five reasons to plan a trip there soon.

1. Australian War Memorial
On Monday 25 April the Australian War Memorial in Canberra will host three functions to commemorate the 101st anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli: the Dawn Service, the National Ceremony and the Last Post Ceremony. Of course there will also be a host of other Anzac Day ceremonies around Australia, from major cities to small country towns, but the nation’s capital hosts the most significant.


The Anzac Day commemoration was attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2015

Indeed, the Australian War Memorial is regular rated Canberra’s Number One attraction and is much more than a memorial. It certainly has prime position, at the northern end of Anzac Parade that runs down to the lake and forms one end of the ceremonial axis that extends to Parliament House on Capital Hill.

It’s a grand building that consists of the shrine, the museum and the records section. Open every day, with free admission and changing events and exhibitions it provides great insight into our nation’s development.

The permanent display in the First World War Gallery has just been renewed at a cost of $33 million - the iconic dioramas have been restored and remain on display. There are regular, free, guided tours of the galleries throughout the day.

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The first field dressing station of the 7th Battalion at Gallipoli, Turkey

Every day the Australian War Memorial closes with a moving Last Post Ceremony at 4.45pm that includes the national anthem, a piper, a reading and ode before the sounding of the Last Post. If you can’t be there it can be watched live at 4.55pm each day by webcam here.

While most visitors find that more time is needed at the memorial than they expected, that’s true for much of Canberra. There are many other highlights.

2. The Parliament Houses
Parliament House is often referred to as “New” Parliament House despite the fact it opened in 1988. Still, it does distinguish it from Old Parliament House that is now a museum. While some criticise the national psyche that would hide our leaders under a grassy hill, the building is an architectural triumph both inside and out.

Fortunately visitors are welcome to the heart of our government. While admission is free, access inside depends whether parliament is sitting or not so check before you go.

The free guided tours are highly recommended as is attending a sitting of either the House of Representatives or the Senate. An absolute highlight is viewing one of the originals of the Magna Carta, a defining moment in the development of democracy.

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Australian Parliament House in Canberra

The Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House is worth a visit not just for its exhibitions into the defining moments of our history and its dated architecture but also to see how modest the needs of government were just a few decades ago. It’s an enlightening step back into the past and is open daily from 9am to 5pm at a cost of $2 for adults, $1 for children and concessions and $5 for a family.

3. Art galleries and an iconic library
The National Gallery of Australia is very concrete and cubic but it houses Australia’s largest art collection. It has the world’s most extensive collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. It is open from 9am to 5pm and admission is free for the permanent exhibitions.

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When you are finished exploring the National Gallery of Australia you can head to the Portrait Gallery which is close by (Photo: National Gallery of Australia/Facebook)

Nearby, the National Portrait Gallery brings you face to face with many of Australia’s most influential people throughout our history. You can also find out more about what made – or makes - them special.

A personal favourite of mine is the National Library of Australia in a building that looks great from the outside and holds so much knowledge within. It’s worth visiting simply for Leonard French’s stained glass windows but take a look at the treasures from the library’s collection that include James Cook’s journal and Dampier’s account of his exploration of the West Australian coast.

4. The new capital of cool
Canberra has come a long way from its rather drab image of the past. It has very good restaurants and some interesting neighbourhoods like Lonsdale Street, Braddon with its cafes and bars, NewActon that’s a fun newly evolved urban precinct as is Kingston Foreshore as well as ever-popular Manuka.

If you have a car take a drive around the diplomatic precinct of Yarralumla to see how various countries wish to present themselves to us. Interpret the architecture as you like because some are stylish and some aren’t.

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NewActon is a living art and design precinct that has won awards across architecture, property development and urban design (Photo: NewActon Precinct/Facebook)

Places to stay include the wonderfully Art Deco Hyatt Canberra and the newly refurbished Hotel Kurrajong that was long the preferred venue for political intrigue since it opened in 1926. Alternatively, there’s the new Vibe Airport Hotel or the ground-breaking Hotel Hotel.

5. Stunning nature and animals
The Australian National Botanic Garden on the slopes of Black Mountain should be on your list, if only for the 10-minute walk through the lush Rainforest Gully.

While the National Arboretum will be much more impressive in future when the trees have grown more, it also houses the exceptional National Bonsai and Penjing Collection. There are some 80 trees and plants on display and each is a living work of art.

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Canberra's Jamala Wildlife Lodge gets you up close and personal with animals 

The most unusual accommodation in Canberra is the remarkable and stylish Jamala Wildlife Lodge at the National Zoo and Aquarium. At this fantastic private zoo you can sleep very close to a giraffe, bear or even a big cat such as a snow leopard or white lion. It is well worth a visit even if you don’t stay here.

(Featured image: CoolR/Shutterstock)

Have you visited the Australian War Memorial in Canberra? Join the conversation below.