Established in 1913 as the capital of Australia, Canberra ended the bitter rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne for capital status. Here, you may take a crash course in Australian history and culture. The national monuments and galleries of this planned (American architect, Walter Burley Griffin), spacious city of 340,000, built on the shores of an artificial lake (Lake Burley Griffin), are within easy walking distance.
Enjoy breakfast at the lake and watch the joggers, cyclists, sail boats and dragon boat teams. The huge, artificial lake is Canberra's centerpiece, surrounded by many national attractions. The central shopping and commercial area, known as "Civic," is on the north side; the parliamentary triangle and embassy area is on the south side. The National Museum of Australia and the Australian War Memorial are on the north side and the National Library and National Gallery of Australia on the south side.
Discover Canberra's story at the National Capital Exhibition, and hear the chiming of 55 bronze bells on the National Carillon on Aspen Island. Visit the War Memorial and then head to the Parliamentary Triangle to explore Parliament House and Old Parliament House on Capital Hill. You can view famous Australians on canvass at the National Portrait Gallery and check out historical documents at the National Library of Australia as well as Australia's first constitution at the nearby National Archives.
Summer months (November-March), usher in temperatures above 30° C, and it can become bitterly cold during the winter months (June-August) due to the altitude and Snowy Mountains proximity. Canberra is less humid than the coastal cities, the hottest days often accompanied by cooling, mountain breezes, particularly towards the end of the day.
ACTION buses are the primary form of public transport at $3 for adults and $1.50 for students. There are all-day, weekly monthly and 10-ride-"fare-saver" tickets available. The main shopping and commercial area is known as Civic, but you do not see a signpost to Civic. It is labeled "City."
Here are some prime sites worth seeing north of the lake:
Australian War Memorial, Treloar Cres., daily 10 AM-5 PM. More than a memorial, this is one of Australia's top museums. You could spend a full day here; it has a café. Anzac Parade, leading up to the War Memorial has a number of memorials. Free entry.|
Canberra Museum and Gallery, London Circuit & Civic Square, Civic, Tue-Fri 10 AM-5 PM; Sat-Sun 12 PM-5 PM. A museum and art gallery. Free entry.
National Capital Exhibition, Barine Dr., open 9-5 Mon-Fri, 10-4 Sat-Sun. Free entry.
National Museum of Australia, Lawson Cres. Free entry. Allow several hours.
Australian National Botanic Gardens. The largest collection of Australian native flora in the country. If there in summer, ask about the jazz evenings on the weekend when many Aussies attend with evening picnic and spirits. Entry free; parking: $1.40/hr or $7 per day.
South of the lake:
The High Court of Australia, Parkes Place, 9:45-4:30 Mon-Fri. A huge building with three main courtrooms open to the public. Tours available as is a cafeteria.|
National Gallery of Australia, Parkes Place, 10 AM-5 PM. A modern structure and one of the largest art galleries with a vast collection of paintings and sculptures collected from Australia and the rest of the world. Also, excellent aboriginal artwork. Free entry. The Gallery offers free public one-hour tours. Allow a half day, possibly more.
National Portrait Gallery, King Edward Terrace, Parkes, adjacent to High Court and National Gallery of Australia, 10 AM-5 PM. The Gallery displays some 400 portraits of people who have shaped the nation. Free entry.
Old Parliament House, featuring the Museum of Australian Democracy, King George Terrace. Parking free; admission $2 for adults, $1 students. Allow several hours.
Parliament House of Australia, Capital Hill. Tours are available.
Questacon, The National Science and Technology Centre, King Edward Terrace, 9 AM-5 PM. An interactive science museum with exhibits illustrating scientific ideas from the principles of physics to the motion of an earthquake. $15.50 adults, $10.50 students, $9 children, and $46 for a family of 2 adults and 3 children. Allow a half day.
Australian Institute of Sport, Leverrier Cres. The AIS runs tours a several times per day. The pool is open for public access. $15.
Government House: viewing platform off Lady Denman Dr., Yarralumla. The official residence of the Governor-General of Australia.
The Lodge, Adelaide Ave. The Prime Minister's official residence.
Canberra is surrounded by hills and there are plenty of great vantage points. Try Black Mountain Tower (Telstra Tower), Black Mountain Drive, 5 km from the city centre; open daily 9 AM-10 PM. This communications tower rises 195 m above the summit of Black Mountain, providing 360 degree views of Canberra and the countryside. It is worth a visit, day or night, for the incredible views. There's a revolving restaurant and telecommunications display. Above the restaurant is a two level viewing platform: the bottom level is indoor and has a souvenir shop and refreshments; the upper level is an open air area. $7.50 adult, $3 pensioner, $3 child 4-16 yrs, free for children under 4 years; a family pass (2 adults, 2 children) costs $17.
Adam Southwood writes for Canadian, U.S. and European magazines and newspapers. He is a graduate of both McMaster University in Hamilton and UWO in London with an interest in culture and history. He has produced several educational programs for TV.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/
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