Canberra is the capital of Australia and is located around 280 km southwest or a three-hour drive from Sydney. The city lies in the Australian Capital Territory, ACT, and has a population of about 380,000 inhabitants. It is Australia’s largest inland state and is the centre of the country’s political leadership with Parliament and embassies. The city, which in 2013 celebrated 100 years, became the capital as a result of the rivalry and conflict that existed between the two major cities Melbourne and Sydney. Both cities opposed the other to become the nation’s capital. It all ended with a compromise which meant that Canberra was built between the two and was declared the country’s capital. The city’s name is said to have derived from an old native spoken language, claimed to mean “meeting place”.
Canberra has a reputation for being a boring and lifeless city. But don’t let that stop you from visiting the capital. Canberra is a more peaceful city, lacking boastful skyscrapers that characterize other big cities. There is a variety of things to do in Canberra, especially if you are interested in local history and art. The city has several exciting museums. The sense of political power is prominent, and many of the people who live and work in the city are in some way linked to the political regime. One should not be deterred by the attitude that exists towards Canberra among the Australians. A visit to the city can lead to increased knowledge of Australia’s history and culture and a feeling of being in the political heart of the nation. Canberra is beautifully located next to Lake Burley Griffin and surrounded by four mountains. Its nature draws a big crowd. Not far from the city lies Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve which is full of wildlife and barren landscapes. And not to forget, the food. Try the filling calorie bomb FreakShake which became viral in 2015 at Cafe Patissez. Canberra is also a popular student city.
Sights and experiences
Discover and explore
Lake Burley Griffin is an artificial lake in Canberra that is about five kilometres in circumference. It is a beautiful lake that offers great chances for nice photographing, either by taking a bike tour around the lake or a sightseeing tour by boat, with for example M.V. Southern Cross Cruises (wotif.com/things-to-do/daily-sightseeing-cruise.a579507.activity-details).
A must when you are in Canberra is to climb either Black Mountain or Mount Ainslie or drive to the two vantage points on Red Hill. From the top of Mount Ainslie and Red Hill you have a fantastic view of Canberra and the slightly different triangle geography included in the city planning, and it is an obvious photo opportunity. Red Hill has a café for those with coffee cravings. On the top of Black Mountain you can for an entrance fee explore the Telstra Tower (telstratower.com.au) which is 195 meters high and also has a café. On the base of Black Mountain lies the very beautiful Australian National Botanic Gardens (anbg.gov.au/gardens) with its extensive collection of plants from different parts of Australia.
From Canberra, you can also reach the Snowy mountains in a couple of hours (snowymountains.com.au) if you want to go skiing, snowboarding or try other winter activities. During summer, guests can go fishing, hiking or cycling in the area.
Art and culture
A visit to the National Museum of Australia (nma.gov.au) can be very exciting for those who are interested in the history of Australia and its indigenous people. The museum is free of charge and is a social and historical museum with a focus on the culture of the indigenous people with depictions of the first Europeans in Australia. The museum also focuses on the nation’s interaction with the environment. After a visit to the museum, one might have gained a greater insight into the history of the aboriginals, and no one is likely to leave the museum indifferent.
History and parks
There are a lot of memorials for soldiers killed in war around Canberra. The memorial avenue Anzac Parade is lined with various war monuments and ends with the Australian War Memorial Museum (awm.gov.au). The museum is very well attended, and it is difficult not to be touched when you read the names engraved into the walls of over 100,000 fallen Australian soldiers.
For those interested in politics and the Australian government, one can visit the Parliament House with the opportunity to join in on free guided tours (wotif.com/discover/australia/australian-capital-territory/canberra.d6049663/canberra-parliament-house-tours). You can also visit the Old Parliament House, which is now the National Portrait Gallery. Outside the National Portrait Gallery is the still highly controversial Aboriginal Tent Embassy. It is not considered an official embassy but was created in 1972 in protest of Aboriginal land rights not being met.
Sports, entertainment and events
For those interested in science and technology, a visit to Questacon (questacon.edu.au) will give the opportunity to conduct various experiments in the spirit of science and technology. Questacon is perhaps mostly aimed at children, but even the older generation can appreciate a visit to the museum.
If you are sports interested, sporting events often take place, such as Australian football on the StarTrack Oval or ice hockey at Phillip Swimming and the Ice Skating Centre. You can also join a guided tour of the Australian Institute of Sport where several of the Australian stars train (wotif.com/things-to-do/australian-institute-of-sport-tour.a256936.activity-details).
If you are in Canberra during a time when your country normally holds a specific festival, check if the embassy is arranging any similar event in the area. Most embassies are available on Facebook and Twitter. These events might be a fun opportunity to meet and socialize with other fellow countrymen in the area.
Shopping and nightlife
Canberra city centre has everything from large supermarkets to smaller clothes shops and a shopping centre. Several restaurants, bars and nightclubs can be found in the nearby blocks. Many of the restaurants and bars lie close to each other, providing choices in plentiful. If it is Friday or Saturday evening and you are part of a group planning to dine in a restaurant, it is wise to make a reservation. For those who like chocolate, a visit to the café and chocolate maker Koko Black, (kokoblack.com) is a hot tip.
If you want to socialize with new people, the largest bar in Canberra, Uni Pub, (unipub.com.au) is a natural meeting place. Sometimes events are held at the bar in the evenings, and on weekends it turns into a nightclub. There are several nightclubs in Canberra for those who want to go dancing, such as Academy, Mooseheads Pub and Nightclub, and Meche. The nightclubs have different orientations and events, there is something for everyone. More information about nightclubs can be found on the website Outincanberra (outincanberra.com.au). It is good to know that a foreign driving licence is not always accepted as an ID document to enter a night club. In those cases, a passport or an Australian ID card is a must.
Studies and work
There are two universities in Canberra, the Australian National University ANU and the University of Canberra, as well as several higher education institutions. The universities offer a variety of courses and programs, and ANU ranks high among the world’s universities. There are several campuses scattered around the city, which means that Canberra is teeming with students. Student life is very prominent and much of what is happening in the city is somehow linked to the universities. As a student, there are plenty of opportunities to engage in a variety of committees or student organisations. If you want to experience a genuine student life and love socializing with other students, Canberra is a great choice.
For those who want to work, take the opportunity to look for a job in any of the shops, restaurants or cafés found in Canberra.
Good to know
For help and for finding information about activities and sights in Canberra, you can visit the Canberra and Region Visitors Centre at 330 Northbourne Ave, Dickson ACT. They can help you with everything from accommodation, tips on what to do in Canberra, where to eat and various events going on in the city. More tips can be found via wotif’s website (wotif.com/things-to-do/search?location=Canberra%2C+Australian+Capital+Territory).
It is good to know that if you need to renew your passport, in some cases your birth country’s Embassy in Canberra is the only place in Australia where you can do this. To find out more, contact your embassy.
Warnings and preparations
The weather in Canberra varies greatly during the year. During summer, it can be very hot and dry while winter brings minus temperatures at night. The difference between day- and night temperatures can be substantial. A tip is therefore to bring warm clothes. As soon as the sun goes down, the temperature tends to do the same.
You should avoid walking alone in the evenings in dark places in Canberra since the risk of being subjected to crime are increased. If you are out late and need to get home all by yourself, a taxi is to recommend.
Getting here and getting around
Canberra has its own airport and a range of flights to choose on (wotif.com/Flights). A simple and inexpensive way to get here is, however, to go by bus. Bus company Murrays (murrays.com.au/default.aspx) serve the routes Sydney to Canberra, South Coast to Canberra and Wollongong to Canberra with several stops. It is also possible to travel by bus from and to Sydney airport. It is easy to book tickets online, but the company often sell tickets at the bus station. Buses stop at Jolimont Centre, a bus station in the heart of Canberra. Buses run frequently and are a convenient way to get to and from Canberra. The bus company Greyhound (greyhound.com.au) also run to Canberra from various locations in Australia, though not as often as Murray’s. Tickets for Greyhounds can be booked online, or at the bus station usually.
Worth knowing is that allowed baggage is limited when travelling with both bus companies and if you have a lot of luggage or multiple bags, check the restrictions before your trip. Or you risk not being allowed onto the bus. You can also travel by train to Canberra from Sydney and Melbourne, among others (nswtrainlink.info), (vline.com.au/home).
To get around Canberra, it is advantageous to have access to a car (wotif.com/Car-Hire), but otherwise you can use the local buses. Tickets can either be purchased by cash on the bus or pre-purchased. More information about the local buses can be found at Visit Canberra (visitcanberra.com.au/getting-around/buses).
The easiest and cheapest way to get around in Canberra is to cycle, which is a very common means of transport in the city. It is possible to rent a bicycle in several places, two examples can be found on this site: (visitcanberra.com.au/getting-around/cycling). If you are staying for a long period, you can buy a used bike at a reasonably cheap price from for example the Green Shed (thegreenshed.net.au) or in a regular bike shop. It should be noted that it is law in Australia to use helmets and bicycle lights when it is dark at risk of otherwise having to pay a fine.
There are several hostels and various forms of hotels in all price ranges in Canberra (hotelscombined.com/Place/Canberra.htm). Several of them are centrally located on Northbourne Avenue, which is the main street that goes right through Canberra city centre. It is also possible to book a hotel or hostel a little outside the city centre, closer to various attractions. It is an advantage to be out in good time when booking. As the political governance of Australia meets in Canberra, it can be useful to bear in mind that, when parliament has meetings, there is a great risk that many accommodations are fully booked.
If you live for example in a camper, there are several campsites near Canberra. Most campsites require reservations.
If you study in one of the universities, you can search for accommodation on a campus through the university. There are several different campuses in Canberra and staying on a campus is a good idea if you want to experience full-scaled student life. Depending on what the university has to offer, it is possible to search for accommodation in a corridor or shared apartment. There are also campuses that offer full boarding. The cost varies depending on the campus and what type of accommodation you are looking for.
A Saturday in Canberra
08:30 – Morning with views
After breakfast, it’s time to hike to the top of Mount Ainslie to explore the view. With some luck, you might spot a kangaroo or two on the way up. On the other hand, if you instead have bad luck you might see a brown snake, one of the world’s most venomous snakes, so keep an eye on where you put your feet. Once at the top, enjoy the amazing view of entire Canberra and take photos before going back down.
10:30 – Historical Memorial
Next stop will be the Australian War Memorial. Go on a trip back in time as you walk along the ANZAC Parade and look at the military monuments on both sides of the street. The monuments have placards where you can read about the wars and the various events the memorial was built in memory of. Maybe even your home country is mentioned somewhere. The Parade ends with the Australian War Memorial Museum.
13:00 – Long lunch in a cosy neighbourhood
Enjoy a lunch at one of the cosy restaurants in Canberra. If you want to see more of Canberra, you can stop in one of the suburbs to have lunch, perhaps the oldest and very popular suburb Manuka. Would you like something extra for dessert? After all, it is Saturday. Visit Patissez at 21 Bougainville Street in Manuka and order a FreakShake (visitcanberra.com.au/eat-and-drink/570484da36a4afec313c3f1c/patissez-manuka), probably the most powerful and wacky milkshake you will ever have in your life.
14:30 – Museum visit
The afternoon is spent at the National Museum of Australia. The museum delves into the Australian history with a focus on how the nation emerged and its relationship to the environment. Stories of people’s destinies are told in a poignant and vivid way.
19:00 – Asian flavours
Time for dinner at one of the restaurants in Canberra city centre. There are several restaurants to choose from to suit your liking. For example, Akiba at 40 Bunda Street (akiba.com.au) serves a cavalcade of Asian cuisine. Or cheap Vietnamese food from iPho (ipho.net.au/menu) at 66 – 68 Bunda Street.
21:00 – Bar visit at the end of the day
The last thing you do for the day is to order a drink at one of the many cosy bars found in Canberra city centre. If the weather permits, selected a table on an outdoor terrace, where there is heating during colder periods to keep you warm. Check out what’s happening in town at (outincanberra.com.au/section/nightlife).