Museums and galleries are special places where precious items are held, preserved and displayed, and people can go along and enjoy them up close and personal. Here are some of our suggestions that will educate, inform and entertain you. When you’re choosing where to live, study or holiday, Canberra is a great choice if you enjoy history or art or simply delight in learning something new.
The nation’s capital has some pretty special museums. Starting with the Australian War Memorial, the passion and love that has gone into this national asset is quite something. Wander through one or more of the museums in Canberra and you’ll get a sense of not just history but the fabric of society that makes Australia what it is today.
There is arguably no more solemn and meaningful place for Australians to pay respects to fallen soldiers than the Australian War Memorial. With over 102,000 of them honoured with names on the wall, the monument is a moving place to visit. It features a beautiful Pool of Reflection and Eternal Flame plus an imposing copper dome that stands sentry against the Canberra sky. The Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier is here too. Symbols representing life – flame and water, light and shade, flowers and stone – are all around. You are invited to place a poppy in one of the niches on the Roll of Honour as a mark of respect.
The War Memorial warrants a visit of several hours in order to see it all. The Sculpture Garden is where you’ll find precious gifts of sculpture as well as fascinating statues of famous figures such as Simpson and his donkey, a tribute to the WW1 stretcher bearer. Visit the Hall of Valour and the Hall of Memory and don’t miss the sound-and-light show over in Aircraft Hall. The list of Current Exhibitions is regularly updated.
Set on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, the National Museum of Australia showcases the diverse and interesting stories of Australia and the people who have made it what it is today. The museum’s magnificent exterior was designed to depict a series of knotted ropes, symbolising the coming together of Australians’ stories.
You can take a guided tour, opt for a self-guided tour or download an app that feeds you information about the exhibits as you approach them. There’s even a Kspace AR Trail which features augmented reality technology and encourages kids to search the museum to find characters from the Kspace games.
Discover artefacts and displays across categories like colonial, conflict, indigenous, agriculture, childhood, industry and work, and crime. Learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and their history dating back millennia. The museum is open every day except Christmas Day and general admission is free. Entry fee is required for special events and exhibitions.
A trip to Canberra is not complete without a visit to Old Parliament House, the former seat of the Australian federal government. Now known as the Museum of Australian Democracy or MOAD, it invites visitors to tour the building and see how the politicians used to go about their business. Walk through the corridors of power, explore the 1920s architecture and learn the significance of the various halls and rooms. Open from 9am to 5pm daily except Christmas Day.
At Questacon, your kids can explore Australia’s scientific and technological aspects. There are over 200 interactive exhibits where children can roam, touch, investigate and play. Imagine lifting off in a rocket, or discovering how a vortex of air can move objects around. There’s a free-fall slide, a creepy spider exhibit, a Japanese theatre and exciting live shows. Adults love Questacon as much as kids do! Open 9am to 5pm daily except Christmas Day.
Even if you’re only a sometime art lover, the art galleries in Canberra have plenty to offer. See some of the world’s most famous works or get along to a tiny gallery where portraits are the specialty.
The National Gallery of Australia is the home of Australia’s national collection of visual arts. More than 170,000 works of art are on display across four main categories: Australian art, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, European and American Art and Asian art. Go along to see Prince Charles’ watercolour paintings, Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles, Monet’s Waterlilies and Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly. Kids and kids at heart will love Skyspace, a major permanent installation by American artist James Turrell. It’s an incredible and gigantic viewing chamber that brings the visitor into a dome to sit on benches and look at the sky through a circular hole. Open 24 hours a day, it can be experienced at night too. It’s said that “the notion of light takes on a decidedly religious connotation”. Open 10am to 5pm daily (except Christmas Day), the gallery is free to enjoy. Entry fees apply for some exhibitions.
Over 3,500 works are held at Canberra’s National Portrait Gallery, depicting people who have contributed to or influenced the shaping of Australia as a society. At any given time, around 400 drawings, photographs, paintings, prints, sculptures, textiles and self-portraits are on display. The gallery is small and intimate and the atmosphere welcoming and calm. See portraits of various Prime Ministers, racing identities, famous Aborigines, cricketing great Sir Donald Bradman, former Governor-General of Australia, Quentin Bryce, Aussie cycling great Cadel Evans, cosmetic heroine Helena Rubinstein and surgeon Charles Teo, among many others. Admission is free and the gallery is open from 10am to 5pm every day except Christmas Day.
The archive of Australia’s audiovisual heritage, the NFSA’s collection numbers nearly three million items! From phonograph cylinders and wire recordings through to records, compact discs, photos, posters, TV, radio and film, it’s all there, along with memorabilia and stage/screen props. Experience a sense of nostalgia as you make your way through the exhibits. Keep an eye on the Events page to see what movies and other exhibits are coming up.