The Top Things to Do and See in Canberra, Australia

Mount Ainslie and Lake Burley Griffin are two must-visit destinations in Canberra, Australia
Mount Ainslie and Lake Burley Griffin are two must-visit destinations in Canberra, Australia | © CulturalEyes - AusGS2 / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Karmi Chan
17 September 2020

Australia’s arty and innovative capital, Canberra, was purpose-built in the 20th century, chosen for its location between the major cities of Sydney and Melbourne. One of the world’s newest capital cities, Canberra is brimming with attractions and places to visit, from Parliament House to Canberra National Park. Culture Trip rounds up the top 12 here.

Parliament House

Building, Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
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The facade of the Federal Parliament Building, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
© Phillip Minnis / Alamy Stock Photo

The heart of Canberra and Australian politics, Parliament House, is free to visit and an absolute must-see when in the capital. Take a tour of the incredible building, watch law-making and debates in real-time, and admire amazing artwork and historical documents, including a copy of the Magna Carta from 1297. You can also head up to the roof to see the giant Australian flag — about the size of a double-decker bus — and grab a drink in the cafe and gardens.

Namadgi National Park

Natural Feature, Park
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© Carole Lloyd / Alamy Stock Photo
About 40km (25mi) southwest of Canberra, Namadgi National Park is part of the Australian Alps, with unique and varied terrain, including rugged mountains, lush forests and alpine meadows. Encompassing 46 percent of the ACT, Namadgi is home to some of the country’s most incredible flora and fauna, including wallabies, wombats and hundreds of species of birds, as well as Aboriginal rock art. Head to Booroomba Rocks for some epic views over the city.

National Museum of Australia

Museum
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Interior of the The National Museum of Australia in Canberra, ACT, Australia. Main hall and restaurant.
© Wiskerke / Alamy Stock Photo
One of the best things about visiting Canberra is that admission to most museums, galleries and attractions is free — and the National Museum of Australia is no exception. A true architectural landmark, the museum is shaped a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, representing the idea of stories coming together. Reflecting Australia’s long and varied history, the museum focuses on indigenous history and culture, the nuanced history of European settlement, and the interaction of people and the environment.

National Gallery of Australia

Art Gallery
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National Gallery of Australia
© Bethan Herbert / Alamy Stock Photo
Another not-to-be-missed Canberra attraction, the National Gallery of Australia is a world-class establishment, striving to enhance and deepen the public’s understanding of visual art. Free to visit, and with over 100,000 inspiring and innovative pieces from across the world and arguably the best collection of Australian and indigenous art in the country, the National Gallery should be on the top of everyone’s list, whether they’re into art or not.

The Australian War Memorial

Memorial, Museum, Shrine
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The Commemorative Courtyard at the Australian War Memorial. Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia. Image shot 04/2011. Exact date unknown.
© The Australian War Memorial
The Australian War Memorial is a beautiful and educational shrine dedicated to all Australian lives lost during every war the country has ever participated in. Featuring informative and engaging archives documenting the Australian experience of war, the Australian War Memorial aims to illustrate the enduring impact warfare has on society, from indigenous conflicts to the Vietnam War and modern-day peacekeeping missions.

Australian National Botanic Gardens

Botanical Garden
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© Travelscape Images / Alamy Stock Photo
On the lower slopes of Black Mountain, the Australian National Botanic Gardens are home to an extensive collection of native plants from across the country, including orchids, gum trees, ferns, fungi and plants that are threatened in the wild. As well as providing a serene oasis to enjoy, the plants are also used for extensive biology and plant classification by local scientists, and the gardens are as educational as they are beautiful.

Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre

Museum
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© travellinglight / Alamy Stock Photo
A huge hit with kids and grown-ups alike, Questacon is Canberra’s celebrated National Science and Technology Centre. Using a combination of cutting-edge technology in its exhibits, such as caged lightning, an earthquake lab and a gravity well, Questacon aims to make science fun and visually stimulating for everyone.

Old Bus Depot Market and Capital Region Farmers Market

Market
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© Travelscape Images / Alamy Stock Photo

The rather unusual old bus depot has become one of Canberra’s most loved attractions. Located in an old bus depot on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, the Old Bus Depot Market is the place to be every Sunday, with over 200 stalls selling everything from vintage fashion to food and crafts. It’s also a great place to kick off a walk around the Kingston foreshore, or to grab a coffee before making a loop of the lake. If food is more your scene, don’t miss the Capital Region Farmers Market every Saturday morning, where you can stock up on local produce and try everything from empanadas to cannoli.

Lake Burley Griffin

Natural Feature
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© Will Steeley / Alamy Stock Photo
One of the best things to do in Canberra is to go for a walk around Lake Burley Griffin. Named after Walter Burley Griffin, an American architect who won the competition to design Australia’s capital city, the tranquil lake sits in the centre of Canberra, with many of the capital’s most popular landmarks located along its shores or just a short walk away.

Black Mountain Tower

Architectural Landmark
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Telstra Tower Black Mountain and Lake Burley Griffin Canberra ACT Australia aerial
© David Wall / Alamy Stock Photo

Also known as the Telstra Tower, the Black Mountain Tower sits on the summit of Black Mountain, just outside the capital. The highest point in the ACT, the 195m (640ft) tower has become one of Canberra’s best-known landmarks, offering incredible panoramic views over the city and the ACT from its indoor and outdoor viewing platform. Visit during the day for epic mountain views or at night to see all the city lights twinkling down below.

Canberra National Park

Natural Feature
Map View
© Ozimages / Alamy Stock Photo

To the northeast of the city, Canberra National Park is home to both Mount Ainslie and the Jerrabomberra Wetlands, one of Canberra’s best-kept secrets. Head to the top of Mount Ainslie for even more panoramic views over the city and Black Mountain, and to the Jerra wetlands to see diverse bird and plant life. Home of the local Ngunnawal people for over 25,000 years, the wetlands are also one of Canberra’s most important places for cultural tours and events, including bush tucker and storytelling tours.

Canberra Space Centre and the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC)

Museum
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© Steven Tritton / Alamy Stock Photo

Part of NASA’s Deep Space Network, the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC) is located in the Tidbinbilla Valley, about 35km (22mi) from the capital city. Featuring a vast network of satellites designed to support interplanetary space missions, the CDSCC is also used to observe, detect and monitor signs of life in the solar system and the greater universe. Located on the grounds of the CDSCC, the Canberra Space Centre gives visitors a chance to learn about the history and future of space exploration and Australia’s role in it. Featuring a 3.8-billion-year-old moon rock, plenty of cool space memorabilia, and the most recent images from across the solar system, this is one of Australia’s only space museums, making it well worth the visit.

Additional reporting by Cassie Wilkins

These recommendations were updated on September 17, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.