The city of Canberra in Australia has the honor of being the capital of the country. It sits on the southeast coast surrounded by farmland, forest and nature reserves. It has gotten the nickname the “Bush Capital”. The city’s focal point is Lake Burley Griffin.
The Australian War Memorial is a huge Byzantine-style monument and also a striking museum experience with halls that are dedicated to WW I, WW II and conflicts that occurred from 1945 to the present. An amazing aircraft hall offers sound and light shows among them the most exciting are Striking by Night, recreating a WW II night operation over Berlin and Over the Front: the Great War in the Air.
Entrance to the museum is through a Commemorative Courtyard with an honor roll of the nation’s war dead. Bright red paper poppies have been attached to the names of fallen relatives by family members. These poppies of remembrance reflect those which flowered the battlegrounds of Belgium, France and Gallipoli in the spring of 1915.
Behind this courtyard visitors will find the Hall of Memory – home to the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, representing all Australians who gave their lives during wartime. Free-guided tours are available from the Orientation Gallery or visitors can purchase the Self-Guided Tour leaflet with a map.
To really get a good look at Canberra head for the lookout point – Mount Ainslie, 843 meters high. There is a paved walking/biking trail more than 2 km long starting from the rear of the Australian War Memorial. On the trail visitors will find commemorative plaques informing them about historic Australian battles. One can also choose to drive up to the lookout point. Because of Walter Burley Griffin’s inspired vision the lookout aligns perfectly with Anzac Parade, Lake Burley Griffin, Old Parliament House and way in the background New Parliament House.
Visitors admire the architecture of the New Parliament House. This is a boomerang-shaped building that sits on Capital Hill. The building is the creation of a New York architect and was officially opened by the Queen on May 9, 1988. This date was chosen in order to commemorate the first meeting of Federal Parliament in Melbourne in 1901 and the first meeting of Parliament in the Old Parliament House in 1927.
An expansive grassed walkway forms the roof from which visitors can get panoramic views of Canberra, since the Parliament forms the central focus of the city’s street layout. Some of the highlights of this building are two huge circular walls made-up of granite. the towering 81 m flagpole and the Ceremonial Pool.
In the foyer are 48 illuminated columns of greenish-gray marble to create an impression of a eucalypt forest. There are displays of important documents throughout the public spaces. From the gallery visitors can get to the public galleries of the green-hued House of Representatives and the Senate, traditionally dressed in red. One can visit during sitting times to view how the Parliament functions and there are free guided tours available. Visitors can choose to take the 3.5 km Parliament House Walk to the city center and learn about the Parliamentary Triangle along the way through interpretive signs.
At the foot of Capital Hill is the Old Parliament House which is now home to the Museum of Australian Democracy. Visitors can learn about past Australian Prime Ministers, sit in the old Prime Minister Office, visit the Press Room and read important historic documents. The chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate are modeled on the British House of Commons and House of Lords with paneling and furnishing made of Australian wood and wall hanging display Australian flora. There are child-friendly exhibits. After visitors have seen the building they can relax in the cafe or stroll in the National Rose Gardens. Free, guided tours are available.
On the lower slopes of Black Mountain you’ll find the 90 hectare Australian National Botanic Gardens. There are self-guided trails and a 90 minute return trail starting from near the eucalypt lawn and leading to the garden’s higher areas and then continuing into the Black Mountain Nature Park and on up to the summit. Free guided tours are available at the visitor center and on weekend, an electric bus takes visitors on the Flora Explorer Tour.
The 35 km shoreline of Lake Burley Griffin is home to most of the city’s cultural institutions. Walter Burley Griffin with fellow architects designed Australia’s new capital city in 1911. Some of the highlights include the National Carillon and the Captain Cook Memorial Water Jet. Both visitors and residents enjoy this artificial lake where they can stroll along the waterfront paths, bike ride, picnic on the shore, fish, sail or even paddle. At the center of the lake are six islands, the largest being Aspen Island, home to the National Carillon, a gift from the British government with 55 bronze bells.
On the north side of the lake you’ll find Commonwealth Park with playgrounds, paddling pools, waterfalls, an amphitheater and a path around the park. In the spring this is the place of the famous Floriade in celebration of spring and over a million flowers bloom.
The National Gallery of Australia sits on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. It is home to Australia’s largest art collection. Opened by Queen Elizabeth II in October 1982 it has 11 main galleries on three levels. Outside you’ll find a large sculpture garden that was laid out according to the four seasons.
The collection includes art work from Australia, Asia, Europe, America and the Pacific as well as the largest collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in the world. The collection consists of oil paintings, watercolors, sculpture, decorative art, drawings, book illustrations, sketchbooks, photos, films, ceramics, costumes and textiles.
The High Court of Australia was dubbed “Gar’s Mahal” when it opened in 1980. The foyer has a 24 m high ceiling. Visitors can find out about judicial life and see murals and paintings along the walls.
The National Museum of Australia is located on a peninsular jutting into Lake Burley Griffin and spotlights the nation’s social history with lovely lake views. The building itself is impressive and was inspired by a jigsaw. The major theme of the exhibits is the cultural history of the Aborigines. Some of the highlights include exhibits on the Gold Rush, Australian industry, clothing and migration. There are some interactive displays for children.
The National Library of Australia opened in 1968 and is a treasure trove of Australian books, manuscripts, newspapers, historic documents, oral history, music and pictures. Among the most valuable items are Captain Cook’s Journal (1768 – 71) and Wills’ diary of his expedition with Burke (1860 – 61). The building is in the style of a Greek temple and includes marble from Australia, Greece and Italy.
The foyer has wonderful stained glass window by Leonard French and three Aubusson tapestries woven from Australian wool. On the lower floor visitors can find treasures from the library’s collection and the Exhibition Gallery offers special visiting displays. You can sit and read in one of the reading rooms, browse the bookshop or relax in the cafe.
The National Zoo and Aquarium is Australia’s only combined zoo and aquarium and it has a wide range of marine life including sharks. In the zoo visitors can see important species of Australian fauna and exotic species like lions, tigers, cheetahs, bears and others.
Visit the white Carillon Tower on Aspen Island in Lake Burley Griffin. This was a gift from the British government on Canberra’s 50th birthday in 1963. This 50 m tower incorporates three sleek columns. In the towers are 55 bronze bells that range from 7 kg to 6 metric tons. Visitors can picnic on the surrounding lawns. The tower is beautifully lit up at night.
Black Mountain Nature Park has walking trails taking visitors through the bush land where hikers can see native birds and other wildlife.
For panoramic 360 degree views head up to the viewing platform of Telstra Tower or Black Mountain Tower. On Level 5 you’ll find a souvenir shop and you can relax at the Panorama kiosk. This 195 meter tower provides the city with communication facilities.