In case you don’t know – Canberra is the capital city of Australia, not Sydney like some think. As it is the capital it is home to many ‘official’ buildings like Parliament House however, Canberra is more than this building that sits on a hill dominating the skyline. Read on and find out my suggestions on what to see and do on a 5 day itinerary of Canberra.
A brief history of Canberra
In the 1800s European explorers arrived in the Canberra area and in 1824 came the first European settlers who mostly claimed land and farmed. Then in 1901 when the Australian colonies formed the Commonwealth of Australia it was decided that a new capital was needed. Both Sydney and Melbourne wanted the honour but it was decided the new capital should be built in Canberra. Mainly because it was already settled and was good land for building a city on. So in 1908 a competition began to find a designer and then in 1912 an American architect named Walter Burley Griffin (1876-1937) won the competition. And Canberra as we know and love today was begun.
It should be noted that for thousands of years the indigenous Ngunnawal people lived in the Canberra. It’s believed the name ‘Canberra’ is derived from the indigenous word meaning ‘meeting place’. This is very apt as it is the meeting place of all the politicians who represent all the areas in Australia.
Where is Canberra
As you can see from the map, Canberra lies in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) which lies in New South Wales (NSW). It is about a 3 hour drive from Sydney, about 8 hours from Melbourne and about 2 hours from the NSW coast.
How to get to Canberra
Depending on where you are coming from there are a number of ways to get to Canberra. Canberra has an airport so you can fly from the major capital cities and other smaller towns with an airport. Another way is to drive to Canberra as it is linked by a number of roads and lies off the Hume Freeway that links Sydney and Melbourne.
Where to stay in Canberra
Canberra has loads of styles of accommodation to suit different budgets. There are a number of hostels, hotels, apartments and camp sites to stay at. All are in easy reach by local public transport to the major attractions in Canberra.
Budget option: Caravan Parks and Camping Grounds
Budget option: Hostels
Hostels have long provided cheap and comfortable accommodation. Canberra has a few of them including the Canberra City YHA which is conveniently located on .3km from the city centre.
Budget to Expensive priced Hotels and Motels
Hotels and motels are plentiful in Canberra. Some great deals can be found in the following which range from budget to expensive. They include but are not limited to: Mercure Canberra, Best Western Garden City, Mantra on Northbourne, Crowne Plaza, Hyatt Hotel and Rydges Capital Hill to name a few.
As this itinerary is for 5 days staying in an apartment which offers a kitchenette so you can cook your own food is ideal. Some centrally located apartments include Adina Serviced Apartments which are only 2.1km from the centre of town. Also Quest Canberra City Walk only .4km from the centre and the Citystyle Executive Apartments only .3km from the centre of town.
Once in a life-time great experience
Fancy sleeping with a tiger or feeding a giraffe from your balcony while staying in luxurious accommodation? Then the Jamala Wildlife Lodge might be an option for you. Check out their accommodation options here.
Best time to visit Canberra
As with most cities, any time is a good time to visit Canberra it just depends on the type of weather you like to explore in. Summers can be hot and dry with winters bitterly cold. No matter what weather, attractions are open.
How to get around Canberra
Canberra is an easy city to get around. It has a local bus service, bike hire and car rental. I found Canberra easy to get around by car. The roads weren’t too busy, they were easy to navigate and there was plenty of parking. If you don’t have your own vehicle I suggest you rent one. For types of vehicles and to compare their prices click here.
Another option is to take the free Culture Loop Shuttle Bus. This free bus will take you to some of Canberra’s best attractions so if you haven’t hired a car to get around I would definitely take advantage of the Culture Loop. Stops include Parliament House, Museum of Australian Democracy, National Library, Questacon, National Museum, National Capital Exhibition, Visitors Centre, National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra Museum and Gallery and the Canberra Centre.
Day 1 – Mount Ainslie and Parliament House
Mount Ainslie Lookout
First stop on this Canberra 5 day itinerary is to the Mount Ainslie Lookout. This is a great place to start your visit to Canberra as you will be treated to a panoramic view over Canberra. Even on grey and overcast days like when I was there it was still impressive! You can see over Canberra with views of Lake Burley Griffin and Parliament House clear highlights.
Parliament House on a grey day
Sitting on Capitol Hill is new Parliament House. You cannot miss this building which is a symbolic piece of architecture that was officially opened on 9 May 1988 by Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia. It’s principal structure is based on the shape of two boomerangs. These are topped with two axes. North-south and east-west and by an 81 metre high flagpole which is a lightning magnet if ever I saw one.
If you think the outside is impressive wait till you get inside. The building contains 4,700 rooms with many of them open to the public. Once you get through security you are free to explore large sections of the building and watch parliament in action. The main foyer is impressive with its marble staircase and leads you straight to the Great Hall with a large tapestry on display.
And the tapestry is this big!
Once you’ve seen the tapestry explore some of the other rooms such as the debating chambers of The House of Representatives which is decorated green. Then to the Senate chamber which has a red colour scheme. You can watch parliamentary proceedings from the public galleries at any time. A ticket is required for Question Time in the House of Representatives which happens 2pm on sitting days. Tickets, which are free, can be booked through the Searjeant-at-Arms.
As you walk around the building there are some interesting things to see. I particularly liked the painted portraits of all the Prime Ministers of Australia. Next were the exhibits of the 1297 edition of the Magna Carta and the original of Michael Nelson Tjakamarra’s Possum & Wallaby Dreaming, which features on the Australian $5 note. You can also take the lift up to the roof and walk on the lawns up there. Don’t forget to look up to the flagpole and out along the axes. You can get great views of the Australian War Memorial backed by Mount Ainslie.
If you don’t want to explore by yourself take one of the free guided tours lasting around 40 minutes. These depart from the desk in the foyer at 9.30am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm and 3.30pm. Once you have seen all there is to see, head to the coffee shop where many of the staff who work at Parliament House often go for lunch or a break. Who knows who you might see!
Day 2 – Australian War Memorial, Old Parliament House
Australian War Memorial
Poppies along the Honour Roll
Day 2 on this Canberra 5 day itinerary is spent at The National War Museum. I suggest budgeting to stay the whole day because it is very interesting with lots to see and to learn – well I think so, but I do love history!
Walk along the honour roll in the commemorative garden and place a poppy. Go inside and walk around the different war exhibitions where you will see many authentic pieces from the battlefields of World War I, World War II and other wars. Each war has its own dedicated area with many inter-active displays. I particularly enjoyed the area where they house the planes.
When you need a break go upstairs to the coffee shop. If possible, stay for the ceremony at 4.55pm which includes a story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour and finishes with the Last Post. Very emotional!
Day 3 – ANU, High Commissions/Embassies and Old Parliament House
This morning drive around the Australian National University (ANU). You don’t have to do this but I found it fun. Then onto the suburb of Yarralumla which is home to nearly 80 embassies and high commissions. You will be treated to traditional and modern architecture from many countries. See the spectacular traditional design of the Chinese Embassy and the long-house style of the High Commission of Papua New Guinea. Look for the Mexican Embassy’s giant shingle roof and the United States Embassy built in a modified Georgian style. The traditional Cape Dutch style architecture of the South Africa High Commission contrasts with the striking design of the Thai Embassy Royal. See how many countries you can name! Watch out for the security guards – they will be watching you!
Old Parliament House
I Object, Old Parliament House
Old Parliament House is formerly known as the Provisional Parliament House. It was home to the Parliament of Australia from 1927 to 1988 when it all moved to the New Parliament House. You can visit Old Parliament House which I highly recommend as today it houses the Museum of Australian Democracy. Basically you will find the history of Australian politics shown through interactive displays. Not into politics? Sound boring! There is a small entrance fee ($2 for adults, $1 for children, $5 for a family of 4) but it is well worth spending the money.
Besides the history you can visit the different rooms inside the building including the House of Representatives and the Senate which are off the Kings Hall. Plus there are meeting rooms, press room and the Prime Minister’s Suite. There is even dress ups for the kids which mine enjoyed. You can also stand on the steps outside which were the scene of the famous speech by Gough Whitlam after he had been sacked as Prime Minister.
Day 4 – Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), Black Mountain Tower
Australian Institute of Sport
Test your stamina on an interactive display
Day 4 on my Canberra 5 day itinerary is for sport lovers who will enjoy the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). It was opened in 1981 and is situated on a 66 hectare site providing athletes who come to train there with state of the art facilities. I highly recommend you go on one of the tours which are led by the athletes themselves who are training at the institute – I wonder who you will get! As you walk around the different areas of sport, the gyms, the pools, the badminton courts you might see some of Australia’s best athletes and possibly some international ones too. You can also participate in some of the interactive displays such as testing your stamina on a road bike.
Telstra Tower, Black Mountain
Overlooking Canberra is the Telstra Tower at Black Mountain. It is Canberra’s iconic telecommunication tower rising 195.2 metres above the summit of Black Mountain on which it is built. You can visit Black Mountain and go up to the top of the Telstra Tower and maybe have a refreshment while experiencing 360 degree panoramic views of Canberra and its surrounding countryside. I spent most of my time enjoying a coffee and the views from the inside viewing deck however, there are two outdoor viewing platforms. I preferred to stay inside as the day I visited it was very cold and extremely windy.
Day 5 – Cockington Green
Walk amongst the miniatures
Today is day 5 on this Canberra 5 Day Itinerary and there is still so much you could see and do. Here are some suggestions. Cockington Green is a miniature village that both young and old would enjoy. Everything is a miniature – the castles, the trains, the people, the soccer pitch, the cricket green and even Stonehenge.
Not wanting to walk around miniatures there are other things you could choose to see including: National Museum, Cockington Green, Questacon, Royal Australian Mint, National Gallery, The Lodge, Zoo, Tidbinbilla Deep Space Communication Base to name a few. Or you might have had enough sight seeing and prefer to shop till you drop. So use this day to choose something that is of interest to you. For some inspiration visit www.visitcanberra.com.au.
So there you have it, my Canberra 5 day itinerary to help you make the most of your time. As you will find it is quite a vibrant, exciting and interesting city to visit. I’d love to hear your thoughts on Canberra in the following comment section.