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With Canberra being the political centre of Australia there are several national attractions that are worth a visit. Listed below are a few of them that should be on the list for any first-time vistor.
The National Capital Exhibition - tells the story of how Canberra, one of the world’s only modern purpose-built cities, came to be. A visit to the centre should only take ½-1 hour and at times can be full of school children but is nevertheless a great place to get some background on the city. The National Capital Exhibition also sits on the edge of Lake Burley Griffin making areas nearby a great spot for a picnic lunch. In Sept-Oct Floriade is held in the nearby Commonwealth Park and a walk through the tulips would also be another great option.
Parliament House – situated in the centre of the nation's capital, the building is renowned for its impressive architecture, landscaped gardens and collection of Australian contemporary art. When Parliament is sitting, visitors can observe question time at 2pm from the public galleries. However, most visitors simply take in one of the free guided tours that run every 30 minutes. Self guiding brochures and audio-guides are available in English, French, German, Japanese and Chinese.
The National Museum of Australia – explores what it means to be Australian in one of the most interestingly designed buildings in Canberra. The museum is devoted to the stories of Australia and Australians, exploring the key issues, events and people that have shaped and influenced our nation.
For anyone with kids, Questacon (The National Science and Technology Centre) is a must. Questacon has seven different exhibition galleries with more than 200 exhibits and they change regularly. Kids love the one where you experience an earthquake and see lightning made before your eyes. More recently they have added exhibitions where you can free fall for six metres or take the whole family on a virtual roller coaster ride. By being hands-on it really is a great place to learn through fun.
For the best views of Canberra a visit up to the top of Black Mountain is a must. From the lookout on top of Telstra Tower you can see Parliament House and Lake Burley Griffin. With 360 views sometimes you can even see further. A number of walking tracks also surround the tower if you are interested in the outdoors.
A visit to the Australian National Botanic Gardens is definitely worth while. The gardens are devoted entirely to plants native to Australia with 6,800 species over a 40 hectare site. The site is designed so that you can wander through a number of Australia’s habitats including plants of the rainforest, the desert, the mountains and more, in specially created ‘climatic zones’. This garden truly is one of the finest collection of Australian flora in the world.
National Gallery of Australia - home to more than 100,000 works of art and world-class art exhibitions. One of its best known paintings is Blue Poles. The National Gallery of Australia 's collections include works of art across four main areas: Australian art, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, Asian art and international art.
Old Parliament House – where you can delve into Australia ’s political past. Old Parliament House was home to Australia 's Federal Parliament from 1927 to 1988. Today, the heritage building offers tourists a glimpse into Australia's fascinating past with a program of guided tours, exhibitions and other engaging activities for all age.
National Library - Usually has free, interesting small exhibitions on. Also, the cafe and outside balcony are well worth a visit - great view of the lake. Excellent, reasonably priced meals and snacks and a very food Canberra wines list by the glass. An excellent place to go for a quiet meal or coffee. Try the very large cups of hot chocolate - delicious!
National Portrait Gallery - Newest of major galleries, interesting collection of paintings and photos of famous Australians. Nice cafe balcony overlooking the lake.
Royal Australian Mint - 5-7 minute drive from the city centre, interesting look at how coins are made and you can 'mint' your own one dollar coin - great for kids and adults.
Murrumbateman wine region - 30 minute drive from city centre, fantastic wines and cellar doors offering free tastings. Some of the cellar doors have cafe/restaurants offering food paired to the wines they produce. A great way to spend a day.