I’ll admit it, I haven’t met a single backpacker so far who has told me they have been to Canberra, or that it is on their list of places to go. Even some of the Australians I have met so far, haven’t even been. So after a week of job hunting and feeling a bit blah about everything, I decided to pack up Bertha (my backpack) and head off on a weekend getaway to the ACT and see what Canberra had to offer. I’m not going to lie, my expectations were pretty low, I mean I’d literally not heard a single thing about the place. But, I figured that as it is the capital city it had to have something going for it.
There wasn’t a load of options when it came to hostel accommodation in Canberra, in fact when I checked Hostelworld, I had a grand total of two options. I went with the Canberra City YHA. It was higher rated, in a better location and I know I tend to have good experiences staying at YHA’s. I managed to get a weekend deal through the YHA website, which included two nights accommodations, daily breakfast and a full days bike hire for $99. The hostel was nice enough, and on the empty side, which made a nice change coming from Sydney.
I checked my Lonely Planet guide before heading out, and it was without a doubt the smallest section in the whole guide book. I also went looking for inspiration on Pintrest and good old Google, but there weren’t a load of blog posts or guides available. I was so pleasantly surprised by just how much there was to do and see in Canberra.
Big Red Explorer Bus
A bit like your average hop on/hop off bus, except on a smaller scale, and much more personal. Michael was my driver and he was amazing. It takes you to all the main galleries and museums that you would want to see, as well as around the embassies, and down ANZAC Parade. Canberra is definitely a city where you need wheels, 2 or 4, so this is the perfect solution. The only downside of it, is that you don’t get long between pick ups, so you have to race through places. If you have more time you can make your ticket into the two day pass and solve this problem.
Without a doubt, one of the best things I saw in Canberra. This isn’t just a memorial, it is also a museum dedicated to conflicts from WW1 onwards including recent conflicts. It is not only incredibly poignant but full of interesting information about smaller battles that happened within larger conflicts. As well as this there are planes and a Japanese submarine to look at too. If you go towards the end of the day you can be there to experience them play the Last Post, which I imagine would be extremely moving.
National Library of Australia
Honestly, I was a little disappointed by this, the NSW State Library is magnificent and this one just didn’t quite live up to my hopes. They had an exhibit all about 1968, and also a permanent exhibit both of which were interesting.
National Portrait Gallery
I really enjoyed looking around here. There was a great mixture of photography and more traditional painted portraits, all of which were stunning. Definitely recommend stopping in for a look around.
National Art Gallery
The main draw for me here was the Cartier exhibit, which I happily paid $28 to see. It was absolutely stunning, and being able to see the tiara that Duchess of Cambridge wore on her wedding day was amazing. Sadly, I didn’t have time to look around the rest of the gallery, as I had to hop back on the Big Red Explorer, but it was pretty huge and looked amazing, with a good mix of art.
This was my final stop of the day, and I really enjoyed being able to wander around and enjoy all the art that was displayed. I stopped off at the Queens Terrace Cafe for lunch, which I would highly recommend, not just for the food but also for the amazing views of the Old Parliament House, ANZAC Parade and the War Memorial.
Lake Burley Griffin
Hire a bike and cycle around this spectacular manmade lake that is at the heart of Canberra. Choose from the East, West or Central Basin, or if you’re feeling sporty, you can tackle all three. The views are stunning and it’s the perfect way to see the city from a new perspective.
I took the coach from Sydney with Murrays, and it was a painless three and a half hour journey straight through. I went with Murrays as it was cheaper than the train or flying. And the same price as Greyhound, except they had a lot more departure options daily. It cost me $38 each way. I was also really lucky both ways as they didn’t charge me extra for having a second bag – thanks guys!
Don’t take a backpack when exploring the galleries and museums. It is a huge pain, as you have to leave it in the cloakroom every time, which is free of charge, but still annoying.
Time your visit
Visit when parliament isn’t in session. Accommodation and transport is much cheaper. As well as this, the city is a lot emptier and getting into restaurants is so much easier.
Either a car or a bike, or a ticket for the Big Red Explorer are needed to best experience Canberra. There are a lot of things to see just outside of the city, vineyards and mountains but you’ll need wheels to get there.