Whistle-stop Canberra

Rachel had just three hours prior to the budget lockup in which to see the sights in Canberra. Her whistle-stop tour shows you how to see some of the best that our nation’s capital has to offer when you are pressed for time.

Total distance walked: Three kilometres (although this can be cut down quite significantly if you cut through some of Canberra’s beautiful parks, instead of sticking to the footpath).

Total time: three hours without the portrait gallery, four hours if you choose to include this stop

From the airport
The easiest way to get from the airport into the heart of Canberra is to take a taxi. There is a taxi rank outside the front of the airport, and the 15-minute ride should cost around $25 during the day. You could also take the Airport Express Bus, which departs from a marked stop outside the arrival hall. The bus departs once an hour (although the timing during that hour is quite random), and tickets cost $12 one-way, although the closest stop to your walking tour (the YHA stop) will drop you a solid 25-minute walk from your first destination.

National Library of Australia
As a book lover, the National Library of Australia had to be the first stop on my list. I had imagined soaring bookshelves and dusty tomes as far as the eye could see. Instead the National Library is a modern, clean building with only a portion of its books on display for the public. While I wasn’t as drawn in by the aesthetic of the building as I’d imagined, the gallery in the National Library is truly magnificent. The artefacts on show, from an ancient and crumbling map of the world to early drafts of The Silver Brumby (complete with editing mark-up) were more than worth the trip, and entry to the gallery is completely free.  You could easily lose half a day just wandering through the different exhibitions, but for a quick stop, I would recommend Gallery 1, as it has a bit of everything. The bookshop near the entrance also offers one of the better souvenir collections of Canberra’s tourist sites.

High Court of Australia
After leaving the library turn left and walk less than 100 metres down to the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, where a pedestrian and bike path will lead you on to the High Court of Australia. From the outside the High Court looks more or less like a concrete and glass prison, but inside the architecture is quite stunning. The geometric lines feel more suited to an avant-garde art gallery than a law building, but it is worth going out of your way just to stand in the awe-inspiring Public Hall. High Court sittings are open to the public, so if you happen to be visiting on a day when the court is sitting, you could go in to watch the proceedings if you have a few spare hours.

National Portrait Gallery
For those not pressed for time, include a stop at the National Portrait Gallery on your way to Old Parliament House. Entry is free, and you can go around all of the works and read all the plaques in about an hour.

Old Parliament House
The Museum of Australian Democracy in Old Parliament House costs $1 for concessions and $3 for full-priced entry. The small payment is well worth it, as the entire building has been preserved as it was when in use, up to 1988. You can see the cramped secretary’s quarters, including all the machinery used in the day, as well as the House of Representatives Chambers, the Opposition Party rooms and the Prime Minister’s Suite. If you are pressed for time, turn to your left at the top of the stairs and take a walk through the Prime Minister’s Suite, as this is one of the more fascinating and detailed exhibition spaces.

Parliament House
If you are feeling fit, Parliament House is a one-kilometre uphill walk from Old Parliament House. You will have to pass through security to see the inside of the building, but the hill on which Parliament House is situated offers stunning views across Canberra, so it is worth the climb even if you don’t have time to go inside.

Click here to see a walking map of Rachel’s whistle-stop tour of Canberra.