Parliamentary Triangle & War Memorial
The vision of Canberra’s architect, Walter Burley Griffin, can be seen in the tree-lined avenues, spectacular lake views and spacious parks of central Canberra. The focal point is Parliament House, atop Capital Hill, situated at the apex of the Parliamentary Triangle. An integral part of Burley Griffin’s plan was the vista from Capital Hill, extending to Lake Burley Griffin, bounded by Commonwealth and Kings avenues, up the broad sweep of Anzac Parade to the Australian War Memorial.
National Capital Exhibition
The National Capital Exhibition tells the story of Canberra through interactive displays, rare photographs, a laser model of the city and various audiovisual material. Learn about the area’s Indigenous inhabitants, European settlement and Walter Burley Griffin’s design for the city. Regatta Point, Barrine Dr, Commonwealth Park; (02) 6257 1068; open 9am–10pm Mon–Fri, 10am–4pm Sat–Sun; admission free.
Designed by the American-based architects Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp, Parliament House was officially opened by the Queen in 1988. It is home to both houses of Federal Parliament (the Senate and the House of Representatives). If your visit coincides with the sitting of parliament, you can see democracy in action from the public galleries (check parliament’s website, www.aph.gov.au, for sitting dates). The permanent displays include an extensive collection of Australian art, the Great Hall Tapestry and one of only four surviving 1297 copies of the Magna Carta. Once inside, take the lift to the roof for magnificent views of the city. It is worth noting that the fl ag fl ying atop the 81-metre fl agpole is roughly the size of the side of a double-decker bus. Guided tours of the complex are recommended; brochures also give visitors the option of self-guide tours. Those with a keen eye may spot the fossils in the main foyer’s marble fl oor. Those who prefer outdoor attractions can walk through the 23 hectares of landscaped gardens. Parliament Dr, off State Circle; (02) 6277 5399; open 9am–5pm daily; admission free.
Reconciliation Place, adjacent to Commonwealth Place on Lake Burley Griffin, symbolises the journey of reconciliation between Indigenous and white Australians, in the past, present and future. The location of Reconciliation Place within the Parliamentary Zone places the reconciliation process physically and symbolically at the heart of Australian democratic and cultural life. A series of public artworks, known as slivers, surround a central circular mound, while pathways link Reconciliation Place and Commonwealth Place, national institutions and Lake Burley Griffin.
Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House
Home to Australia’s Federal Parliament from 1927 to 1988, this heritage-listed building captivates its audiences with its rich history as well as several innovative and vibrant exhibitions. It’s now home to the Museum of Australian Democracy, Canberra’s newest cultural attraction, which provides insights into the stories and events that have shaped Australia’s democracy. Wander through the corridors of power or take a free guided tour. In summer enjoy Friday night drinks and music in the lower-house courtyard. Flanking the building are the Old Parliament House Rose Gardens, while across the road are the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, established in 1972 to protest against a lack of land rights for the country’s Indigenous peoples, and the National Rose Gardens. 18 King George Tce, Parkes; (02) 6270 8222; open 9am–5pm daily.
National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery opened in December 2008, in a new building next door to the High Court of Australia and the National Gallery of Australia in Parkes. The National Portrait Gallery has a permanent display of over 400 portraits that represent the human face of Australia – those who have contributed to Australian society or whose lives have set them apart. Included are paintings, sculptures, photographs and multimedia works. The gallery also hosts changing exhibitions as well as those online. King Edward Tce, Parkes; (02) 6102 7000; open 10am–5pm daily; general admission free.
National Archives of Australia
The National Archives occupy what was Canberra’s first GPO, opened in 1927. The permanent exhibition, Memory of a Nation, highlights the extent and diversity of the treasures contained within the National Archives’ collection, including ASIO surveillance photos, wooden balls used in National Service ballots to conscript young men to the Vietnam War and an 1897 draft of the Constitution complete with Australia’s first prime minister Edmund Barton’s edits. Learn how to search for war service and migration records to trace your family history. The Federation Gallery displays Australia’s ‘birth certificate’– Queen Victoria’s Royal Commission of Assent and Australia’s original Constitution. Queen Victoria Tce, Parkes; (02) 6212 3600; open 9am–5pm daily; admission free.
National Library of Australia
Collecting since 1901, this is the country’s largest reference library. The present building contains over six million books as well as newspapers, periodicals, photographs and other documents. There are free tours every hour and if you are there on Thursday take the free behind-the-scenes weekly tour. The Library cafe, bookplate, is a good spot for lunch or coffee. Parkes Pl, Parkes; (02) 6262 1111; open 9am–9pm Mon–Thurs, 9am–5pm Fri–Sun; admission free.
Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre
Making science fun and relevant for everyone, Questacon has many interactive exhibits – you can experience an earthquake and a cyclone, see lightning created and free-fall 6 metres on the vertical slide. King Edward Tce, Parkes; (02) 6270 2800; open 9am–5pm daily.
High Court of Australia
Located between Questacon and the National Gallery of Australia, the High Court is notable for its glass-encased public gallery and timber courtrooms. Murals by artist Jan Senbergs reflect the history and functions of the court, and the role of the states in Federation. Visitors can explore the building, talk to the knowledgeable attendants and view a short film on the court’s work. Parkes Pl, Parkes; (02) 6270 6811; open 9.45am–4.30pm Mon–Fri; admission free.
National Gallery of Australia
Established in 1911, the gallery has been housed across the road from the High Court since 1982. With over 100 000 works, the collection provides a brilliant overview of Australian art. The international collection is just as impressive and includes Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles and Australian-born Ron Mueck’s Pregnant Woman. Enjoy a picnic lunch in the tranquil Sculpture Garden, which comprises a series of native gardens and contains over 50 sculptures set between the gallery and the lake. Parkes Pl, Parkes; (02) 6240 6411; open 10am–5pm daily; general admission free.
Built in the 1860s, the historic Blundell’s Cottage was part of the Campbell family’s 32 000-acre (12 800-hectare) estate and home to tenant farm workers. The cottage is now a museum that offers a close encounter with the region’s early farming history. Wendouree Dr, off Constitution Ave, Parkes; (02) 6272 2902; open 10am–4pm Sat.
Australian War Memorial
The War Memorial, set at the foot of Mount Ainslie and at the end of Anzac Parade, commemorates and honours the Australian men and women who have served in war. The memorial has undergone redevelopment, culminating in the opening of Aircraft Hall, the Second World War Gallery and ANZAC Hall. Free guided tours run daily. Visitors can browse over 20 exhibition galleries or find moments of silent contemplation at the Hall of Memory, the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, the Pool of Reflection and the Roll of Honour, which lists the names of over 102,000 Australian servicemen and servicewomen who died in war. Treloar Cres, Campbell; (02) 6243 4211; open 10am–5pm daily; admission free.
National Zoo and Aquarium
This modern zoo, with naturalistic enclosures rather than cages, has a strong commitment to breeding endangered species and conservation. Animals range from the big cats to bears, otters and monkeys. Wander through the aquarium to see colourful marine life in the Great Barrier Reef exhibit and visit the shark-filled Predators of the Deep exhibit. Special tours include handfeeding the big cats and bears, meeting a cheetah and going on a ZooVenture. (These tours can cost significantly more than general admission, but include all-day zoo entry.) Scrivener Dam, Lady Denman Dr, Yarralumla; (02) 6287 8400; open 10am–5pm daily.
Royal Australian Mint
Opened in 1965, the mint has the capacity to produce two million coins per day. You can learn how coins are made and see the production floor from an elevated gallery. There are displays of old coins, a video on coin production, and visitors can even make their own coins. Denison St, Deakin; (02) 6202 6800; open 9am–4pm Mon–Fri, 10am–4pm Sat–Sun; admission free.