Exploring Canberra City, Australia’s Capital

Bordered by extensive parklands which stretch down to the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra City Centre (known as Civic to the locals) is an attractive conglomeration of broad leafy avenues and pedestrian malls, lined with low-lying office buildings, fashionable shopping, and an array of accommodation.

The Civic area is also Canberra city hottest night time destination, boasting a excellent range of restaurants (many al-fresco), bars, and nightclubs, as well as the Canberra Casino.

North of the centre, you can explore the suburbs of Braddon and Ainslie which offer some more accommodation alternatives, most of which can be found along Northbourne Avenue.

There is a lot to see and do in Canberra and its surrounding suburbs, parks and the lake, the easiest way to get around outside of the city centre is hire a car so you can enjoy it all.

The Parliamentary Triangle

Only minutes from the city centre, the Parliamentary Triangle incorporates Canberra city has most significant buildings and monuments, dotted around the landscaped shores of Lake Burley Griffin.

On Capital Hill within the inner-city suburb of Parkes, Australia’s magnificent new Parliament House creates the apex of the triangle as well as the capital’s standout centrepiece. Completed in 1988 as part of the nation’s bicentennial celebrations.

Australia’s most expensive building has 4500 rooms, 3000 works of art, and a series of public chambers which beautifully reflect all the major themes in Australian culture.

When they’re in session, free tours allow visitors to observe the current day politicians in action, though time may be better spent discovering the pieces of art scattered throughout the building’s splendid halls and corridors.

Old Parliament House

Old Parliament House

Halfway between the new Parliament House and the lake, the stately Old Parliament House was the country’s seat of government from 1927 to 1988.

Although only ever intended as a temporary residence, tours of the restored public rooms with their brilliant Art Deco detail seem to resonate with Australia’s political history and intrigue. Tours also include free admission into the National Portrait Gallery.

On the lawns in front of Old Parliament House, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was established in 1972 in order to persuade the federal government about the legitimacy of land right claims.

The protests were also instrumental in the initial prominence of the Aboriginal flag, and the site is now recognised as a place of special cultural significance by the Australian Heritage Commission.

National Library

Closer to the lake, the grand neo-classical building of the National Library contains some six million books, as well as many captivating artworks and historic documents. A notable inclusion is Captain Cook’s Endeavour journal.

On King Edward Terrace next to the library stands the contrasting futuristic structure of Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre.

Filled with state-of-the-art interactive displays throughout five different sections, visitors can experiment with everything from earthquakes to lightning strikes.

High court

Further down King Edward Terrace on the foreshores of Lake Burley Griffin, the magnificent High Court of Australia, Australia’s last court of appeal, is open to the public between Mondays and Fridays.

Visitors wishing to sit in on a case can view proceedings from the glass-enclosed public gallery. Next door, the National Gallery of Australia fittingly exhibits a comprehensive overview of Australian art, from an extensive Aboriginal collection, to works from all the major artists since European settlement.

Including the controversial Blue Poles, the overseas collection is equally impressive. Always open outside the gallery, the Sculpture Garden has a variety of striking sculptures set amongst a series of native gardens.

On the city side of the lake, intersecting the suburbs of Reid and Campbell, Anzac Parade is the nation’s grandest boulevard, stretching from the lake’s extensive parklands to the massive Australian War Memorial at the foothills of Mount Ainsle.

The War Memorial houses Australia’s best collection of war time relics (some four million items), all which are impeccably displayed. Allow several hours when planning a visit to this moving, insightful and must see exhibit.

Directly behind the War Memorial, the Mount Ainsle Lookout allows breath-taking views back over the Parliamentary Triangle and beyond.

Commonwealth Park and Kings Park

Stretching alongside Lake Burley Griffin’s foreshores between the Commonwealth and Kings Avenue Bridges, Commonwealth Park and Kings Park merge together to form Canberra city most scenic and popular recreation area.

Linked by a network of walking trails and bike paths, the parks also serve as the venue for some of Canberra city most loved annual festivals, as well as permanent attractions like the Carillion and Blundells Cottage.

Directly south of the city, Commonwealth Park’s main attractions are clustered around the grassy slopes of Regatta Point. Perched on the knoll of the point, the National Capital Exhibition overlooks the lake’s central basin and the spectacular Captain Cook Memorial Water Jet (operates daily 10am-noon, 2pm-4pm, and 7pm-9pm during daylight-saving).

Inside the exhibition, various audio-visual displays showcase the history and development of Canberra. On the banks below the centre, an impressive skeleton globe is another national monument to Captain Cook, inscribed with his three great voyages.

The Carrilion Bell Tower

At the other end of the expansive parklands, the Carillion is Kings Park’s best known feature, as well as one of Canberra city most enduring icons. The bell tower houses 53 different sized bells, ranging from a few kilograms to several tonnes, and the daily recitals can be heard echoing across the city on a clear day.

A few hundred metres from the Carillion, the historic house museum of Blundells’ Cottage is Kings Park’s other noteworthy attraction, built before the idea of Canberra had even been conceived! Dating back to the mid 19th century, the cottage has been restored to it’s original condition inside and out, and is well worth a look.

A great way to explore the parks, or Canberra city for that matter, is on a push bike or roller blades. Both can be hired from the Acton Park ferry terminal, just around the corner from the skeleton globe at Regatta Point.

As its description would suggest, the terminalis also the departure point for the numerous Lake Burley Griffin cruises on offer. For those aspiring to be their own lake captain, paddleboats and other small vessels are available for hire as well.


On the southern side of Lake Burley Griffin and the city, the picturesque suburbs of Yarralumla and Forrest are home to some of Canberra’s grandest and most exclusive residences, including The Lodge (official dwelling of the Prime Minister), Government House, the majority of Canberra city foreign embassies, and the historic Hyatt Hotel.

Reserves and Parklands

Yarralumla’s additional beauty is provided by the extensive reserves and parklands which stretch for kilometres by the shores of the lake. Along the way, there are plenty of great spots to relax with a barbeque or picnic, especially towards the eastern end at Weston Park.

National Zoo and Aquarium

Also on the lakeside in Yarralumla is Canberra’s newest ecological attraction. The Zooquarium as the locals like to call it is the only Zoo and Aquarium in Australia and has both marine exhibits and large array of native wildlife to explore.

The aquarium features the continent’s largest inland reef, as well as an amazing river land tunnel which literally allows visitors to walk through schools of freshwater fish.

Outside, the zoo is equally impressive, boasting large, open habitats for all of its animals. Favourite enclosures include Bear Park, Leopard Rainforest, Monkey Island, and the cougar’s den. Nature lovers are also able to pat the dingoes, and hand feed the kangaroos.

Royal Australian Mint

Opposite Yarralumla, the suburb of Deakin is home to the Royal Australian Mint, another of Canberra city enduring attractions. The mint produces over two million coins a day, and visitors can observe the process from raw materials to finished product.

In the foyer, there’s also a collection of rare coins, as well as an exhibit which details the history of money minting in Australia.

Beyond the mint and the residential suburbs of Hughes and Curtin, the commercial district of Woden and Phillip make up the main shopping district for the adjoining urban expanses of Woden Valley and Weston Creek.

Also Read:

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