Weekender's guide to Canberra, ACT

May 18, 2019 / By Mark Slater

Distance from Sydney: 3 hours' drive
Population: Approximately 380,000
Known for: National institutions and monuments
Information Centre: Canberra and Region Visitors’ Centre, Regatta Point
Online: Visit Canberra https://visitcanberra.com.au/
Top image credit - Lean Timms

Rated Australia’s most liveable city and home to nearly 400,000 people, Canberra is a thriving and dynamic tourist dream of unique attractions, understated elegance, scenery, restaurants, places to visit and things to do.

Meaning meeting place, Canberra is also known as the bush capital, an Australian national treasure, unique among Australia’s capital cities because of its inland location. 

Canberra is the centrepiece of Australia’s federal government. Designed by American architects Walter Burley-Griffin and Marion Mahony-Griffin in 1912, Canberra was forged from the limestone plains of the Molonglo Valley near Queanbeyan, New South Wales as a compromise between Sydney and Melbourne because the leading politicians of the day could not agree on which of those cities should be Australia’s federal capital. The Griffins modelled the iconic Parliamentary Triangle, which traverses the famous Lake Burley-Griffin, on Washington DC and Brasilia.


As Australia’s national capital and home to some of the nation’s most important national institutions, Canberra is its own reason for people to visit. An entire odyssey to Canberra can be consumed with excursions to the National Museum of Australia, Questacon, the magnificent Parliament House, the National Museum of Democracy (aka Old Parliament House), the High Court of Australia, the National Library of Australia, the Australian War Memorial, the National Carillon, the Captain Cook Fountain and the National Portrait Gallery, all within or near the Parliamentary Triangle.  


Apart from the Parliamentary Triangle, Canberra has a countless array of must-see attractions; the National Arboretum, the National Botanic Gardens, the National Zoo and Aquarium, the Canberra-Nara Peace Park, which celebrates the sister-city relationship with Nara in Japan, national embassies of countries from all over the world and Cockington Green, the renowned miniature tudor village. 


The best way to view Canberra and the surrounding region is by hot air balloon. On almost any morning of the year, balloons float like silent, bloated sentinels across the Canberra sky, the soundless traverse occasionally interrupted by the explosion of heated air which keeps each balloon aloft, or the excited voices of passengers.

If you prefer to view Canberra from the safety of solid ground, the lookouts on Black Mountain, Red Hill and Mount Ainslie are close to the city, easily accessible and provide stunning 360 degree perspectives. 


Canberra is a convention city as well as tourist destination, so it is a honey-pot for travellers of all means, whether they prefer low budget to 6-star accommodation or affordable a la carte to gourmet cuisine of almost every ethnic origin. It has been said that you could eat at a different restaurant every night for a year and not cross the threshold of the same restaurant twice.


With its perfect, temperate climate and so many opportunities for cycling, jogging, golf, bushwalking or just about any organised sport, Canberra is Australia’s activity capital. Just a few hours south, the ski fields of Mount Kosciuszko invite those who prefer skiing or snowboarding. Canberra is also home to the Australian Institute of Sport and teams in national sporting competitions, such as the GWS Giant (AFL), Canberra Raiders (National Rugby League), Brumbies (Super Rugby), Canberra Capitals (Womens National Basketball League) and Canberra United (W-League).


Allow time for a bit of regional travel. The nearby towns of Yass, Queanbeyan, Gunning, Gundaroo and Bungendore have plenty to offer inquisitive travellers. Away from the city, nearby national parks and reserves such as Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, Namadgi National Park and the Cotter Reserve not only host awesome lookout posts but a surfeit of opportunities for bushwalking, picnics and spying native wildlife. 

We think you should know: The Weekender's travel guides are independently written by real travellers. We do not receive any money from, or have a sponsorship arrangement with, any of the entities listed in, or referred to in this article.

So much more to explore - Canberra