When people come to visit Australia they go to Sydney, maybe Melbourne, and if they’re feeling really adventurous potentially Darwin or Perth. One city no one seems to ever visit is Canberra and this is something I find quite puzzling. Even Australians tend to put Canberra down and before you call me crazy just hear me out.
No, Canberra is not a big city, but so what. Canberra is a really pleasant area of Australia with an abundance of museums and cool places to go. Here are some of my favorite parts of the city.
The Australian War Memorial
The War Memorial sort of resembles the National Mall in DC because it has the museum at one end of a long strip, which is the focus of the memorial, but down the sides separate memorials that honor various groups of people. Some of the most notable ones are Vietnam, Korea, the Air Force, nurses, and WWI and WWII. The memorials are moving and beautifully well done and not even the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne (which I love) is equivalent.
This one is super cool and it really surprised me when I visited Canberra because I wasn’t expecting it. I drove up to Parliament House and parked underneath (for free!) and was going to wander up and have a look from the outside. Coming from Washington D.C. I never in a million years thought I’d be able to just wander in and have a look myself, but that is indeed something you can do, and it’s even encouraged. No tour guide necessary, you have pretty much free reign of the whole place. I checked out both houses’ chambers and even went up to the roof. Plus the roof has a little colony of parrots living on it. What could be better?
This sounds boring, I know, but the drive to the tower is quite pretty, but not nearly as spectacular as the views you can get from the top. It costs $7.50 to go up, and for the views you get I think that’s very reasonable. The city is sort of in a valley, so when you go to the top of the tower you can see the whole city sprawling below and dramatic hills on pretty much every side of it. The views are stunning and there’s even a little restaurant up there if you wanted to have a snack. It’s not going to win any awards, but it’s pretty reasonably priced.
The DOD Office
I know this sounds like a weird one, but I read on WikiTravel before I went that there are tons of kangaroos that hang out by the DOD Headquarters at dusk, so I thought I would pop on over to see if it was accurate. I thought two things before I went: 1) That I wouldn’t actually be allowed in and 2) Even if I was, there couldn’t be possibly kangaroos that close to the city. I was very very wrong. I think I saw more kangaroos walking around there for 20 minutes than I have in the whole six months I’ve been in Australia. It’s quite a magnificent sight to see. For the most part they’ll just ignore you so you can walk straight through the pack of them.
Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve
Although the Nature Reserve isn’t actually in the city it’s only about 45 minutes outside. It does cost $11, but that’s the cost for a whole car, not per person. So if there’s more than one of you it’s really cheap, but even if it were just me I would still pay it. Tidbinbilla has so much more than you might think. It’s a beautiful and well looked after area, but it has walks that are dedicated to specific animals. There’s a koala walk (my personal favorite– I saw 5!), a platypus walk and even more. What’s even more awesome about Tidbinbilla is they actually have brush-tailed rock wallabies, which are just now starting to make a bit of a comeback. There was a huge wild fire and most of them died, but a few survived by hiding in rocks. The fact you can now start seeing these creatures again after such a tragic event is totally awesome and heartwarming.
Deep Space Communication Complex
On the way to Tidbinbilla you pass a NASA complex and if you drive a couple of kilometers off the main road (it’s a real road, just a side one) you can visit it for free. It has huge satellite dishes that are more than impressive and we were lucky enough to be there when they were moving one of the dishes. It’s located in a valley sourrounded by beautiful rolling hills and it’s a really cool stop for anyone, even if you’re not that interested in space. There’s a also a little museum attached to it as well if that’s up your alley.
Other notable places to visit:
There are so many more places in Canberra that I haven’t been, but other places to think about that get amazing reviews are the National Museum of Australia, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Questacon and the Old Parliament House.
One downside to Canberra though for some people is that you really do need a car to get the full experience. Things are very spread out, even within the city, and to get to the Telstra Tower, Tidbinbilla, or the NASA Complex you’ll definitely need one. Despite that though, Canberra is a great city and I think it should be given much more credit than it does.