As the national capital, Canberra is home to the nation’s best public collections of art and culture. The National Museum of Australia presents the art, culture, and history of the nation in innovative and interactive exhibits that group works by concept, such as the history of travel, aboriginal Australians, or headdresses and masks. A huge collection of Australian and foreign art is on display at the National Gallery of Australia – its collections of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art is especially impressive. The National Portrait Gallery displays more than 400 portraits of people who have influenced the growth and culture of Australia, represented in various media. Architecture buffs should visit the National Capital Exhibition in Commonwealth Park, which includes a model of the original Burley Griffin Plan for Canberra and an exhibit on how the city was built. It also offers great views over Lake Burley Griffin.
The Australian War Memorial also contains a fascinating museum devoted to Australian military history, with displays of equipment, military vehicles, propaganda, and battle dioramas. Relive colonial conflicts, life on the front lines of World War I and the disaster at Gallipoli, defense of the home front during World War II, Australia’s military actions in both gulf wars, and peacekeeping operations throughout southeast Asia.
Australians in particular will be interested in visiting the government institutions that Canberra was built to hold. The Old Parliament House, in use from the 1920s to 1988, now houses the Museum of Australian Democracy with exhibits on the country’s political history, controversies, scandals, and triumphs, as well as the history of Canberra. All of the important rooms are open to the public, including the Prime Minister’s office, Cabinet, and the two houses of parliament. The current Parliament House of Australia is a marvel of modern architecture and is open for tours. If Parliament is in session, it’s worth watching the raucous afternoon “Question Time” in the House of Representatives when opposition members question government on policy. Arrive with plenty of time for security checks and queues. The High Court of Australia is also open to the public when court is not sitting.
No trip to Australia is complete without experiencing the continent’s unique and beautiful wildlife. Start with a visit to the Australian National Botanic Gardens, which has the largest collection of Australian native flora in the world. Guided or unguided tours take you through each of Australia’s ecosystems and are supplemented with photographic exhibits, lectures, and musical performances.
Wild kangaroos rove quite close to the capitol and if you know where to look, they’re easy to spot. A short drive out to the hidden Campbell Park Offices used by the Department of Defence is all it takes to catch families of kangaroos grazing in the grassland near the offices. You’ll have to come early in the morning or right before sunset as the kangaroos spend the daytimes lying in the shade of trees in a nearby nature reserve. You’ll notice tour coaches. Otherwise, head 10km west of the city to the Pinnacle Nature Reserve, where you’ll find a very large population of Eastern Grey kangaroos.