Despite being Australia’s national capital, Canberra often gets overlooked by travelers in their hurry to experience big-ticket stunners like Sydney Harbour, the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru. But give this tidy little city a chance, and it’ll win you over with its cultural riches and beautiful bush setting.
Canberra is one of the world’s few completely pre-planned cities. While some may argue that this gives it a sterile, unspontaneous feel, Canberra’s graceful layout and landscaped gardens are what distinguish it. Well, along with Lake Burley Griffin, all those monuments and museums, and snow and sea within easy reach.
Day 1: Monuments, Museums and Man-made Lakes
Kick off your Canberra explorations with a visit to the ultra-modern Parliament House: if parliament is sitting, you’ll get to witness Aussie politics in full swing. If not, check out the large collection of Australian art on display, and a rare 1297 edition of the Magna Carta.
Heritage-listed Old Parliament House provides an interesting contrast, with its lovely rose gardens; across the road is the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, an important Indigenous landmark. High-tech, interactive displays and comprehensive coverage of Australia’s history, geography and people make the National Museum a must-see—as is the Australian War Memorial. A moving tribute to all the men and women who have served in combat, it comprises over 20 galleries and several areas for reflection. A series of striking military monuments line Anzac Parade, leading you to the shores of massive artificial Lake Burley Griffin, where a scenic walk will get your blood flowing.
Day 2: Galleries, Gardens and Gum Trees
After all that history, it’s time for some artistic relief! With a permanent collection of photographs, paintings and sculptures representing the people of Australia in all their diversity, and regular high-profile temporary exhibitions, the National Portrait Gallery makes for absorbing viewing. Nearby, the National Gallery boasts an unequalled collection of Australian art, as well as a fabulous international collection and annual blockbuster shows from around the world. At the wonderful National Botanic Gardens, you’ll see a mind-boggling array of native plants, arranged by ecosystem; for a fascinating insight into traditional bush medicine and food, don’t miss the Aboriginal Plant Use Walk.
Need an even bigger nature fix? Hit the road to rugged Namadji National Park, less than an hour’s drive from the city center. Here you’ll find sensational bushwalking trails, towering peaks, local fauna (including some very boisterous birds), and ancient indigenous rock art.
Day 3: Day-Tripping
Snow or sea—what’ll it be? Barely two hours southwest of Canberra, are the action-packed ski resorts of Thredbo and Perisher. Catering to novice and advanced skiers alike, as well as snowboarders of all abilities, Thredbo has the largest snow-making facilities in the southern hemisphere so you’ll never be short on powder.
As if the thrill of skiing and boarding its vast slopes weren’t enough, Perisher’s exceptional natural beauty magnifies the experience. Its sizzling nightlife, meanwhile, will make you forget how cold it is outside. Prefer a surfboard to a snowboard? The rolling waves (and lip-smackingly fresh seafood) of Bateman’s Bay are equally accessible from Canberra.