The statistics bear it out – Canberrans are having more visitors than ever before!
According to the latest tourism research figures, just over a million people out of the record numbers who visited Canberra in the 12 months up until September 2018 were visiting friends and relatives.
This means that not only is Canberra proving to be an increasingly attractive drawcard for visitors but that residents are becoming very busy hosting those visits.
But where are the best places to take visitors to Canberra? Should we be expanding our repertoire and where do we take repeat visitors?
Region Media spoke to the Acting Manager of the Canberra and Region Visitors Centre, Robert Smethills, to get his expert insights into the most popular places to take visitors to Canberra. He found it hard to narrow it down, but below are the 10 most popular places – not necessarily in order.
“The War Memorial is the number one rated attraction on Trip Advisor in Canberra but also in Australia,” said Mr Smethills. “You could go to the War Memorial time after time after time and see completely different things.” Mr Smethills said that a “uniquely different” experience to take visitors to is the Last Post Ceremony which is held at 4:55 pm every day (just before closing at 5 pm) and includes singing the national anthem, a citation of a soldier’s war history, the laying of a reef and the sounding of the Last Post. Click here for the Australian War Memorial’s opening hours and here to find out about special events.
A visit to Parliament House, the home of government, is very attractive to visitors, according to Mr Smethills. “It’s such a beautiful building,” he adds. Mr Smethills advises taking visitors on one of the five free guided tours of the House of Representatives and the Senate which run daily. Click here for details and here for other visitor information including opening hours.
Mr Smethills said that the National Museum of Australia and the National Gallery of Australia (referred to below) are the two public institutions in Canberra which “really have the big blockbuster exhibitions that bring people into town”. The National Museum is currently hosting the British Museum’s Rome: City and Empire exhibition until 3 February, as well as regularly offering a range of family activities and tours and experiences. Click here for visitor details – general admission is free.
Australia’s national art gallery is hugely popular with visitors, with its current ‘blockbuster’ exhibition, Love and Desire – Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces from the Tate Gallery in London running until 28 April. Visitors can also explore the gallery’s permanent collection of more than 160,000 works of art and the outdoor attractions such as the sculpture garden. General admission is free – click here for opening hours and other details.
“It’s such a lovely place to catch the city under lights and is open until 10 pm,” said Mr Smethills about the popular tower, which rises 195 metres above the summit of Black Mountain. “You can get a really good view of Canberra.” The tower has both indoor and outdoor viewing platforms and provides 360-degree views of Canberra and surrounding areas. The cost is $7.50 for adults and $3 for children and pensioners. Click here for opening hours and other details.
The National Arboretum has really taken off as a popular place to take visitors for a coffee or meal and to enjoy the views or walk through the trees. It features 94 forests of rare, endangered and symbolic trees. Mr Smethills names the views, the “fantastic” Pod Playground and the bonsai collections as being among the popular drawcards. Click here for opening hours and other details and here to find out about upcoming special activities.
“Questacon is a fantastic place to be hands-on with the exhibitions,” said Mr Smethills. He said the air-conditioned building is also great for families on hot days. The science and technology centre has eight interactive exhibitions which feature more than 200 hands-on experiences. Favourite visitor attractions also include the science shows, free-falling down the six-metre slide, experiencing an earthquake and Mini Q for the little kids. The cost is $23 for adults and $17.50 for children. Click here to see the latest science shows on offer, opening hours and other details.
“One thing that is really quirky at the moment that a lot of the locals are getting into are the GoBoats on the lake,” said Mr Smethils.”You can cruise around the central basin and look at the cultural institutions from the water.” He also suggests pre-booking fish and chips from Snapper at the Canberra Yacht Club to eat on board. Canberrans and their visitors can hire the self-drive, electric picnic boats for $95 for one hour, $169 for two hours or $239 for three hours and have up to eight people on-board. Click here for all the details and here to find out more.
Mr Smethills said Tidbinbilla is an easy 40-minute drive from Canberra’s CBD and is a great place to see “lots of natural flora and fauna in a natural habitat”. Apart from the abundant wildlife and birdlife – including koalas, kangaroos, emus, reptiles and more – the attractions include walking tracks, ranger-guided activities, the Nature Discovery Playground, and great picnic spots. It costs $13 for a vehicle to enter the reserve ($8 concession). Click here for opening hours and other details. Canberra Urban Adventures recently also started offering wildlife encounter/e-bike tours of Tidbinbilla.
“What Canberra’s really become known for now is local products and produce,” said Mr Smethills. “We quite often send people out to the wineries whether it’s at Murrumbateman, Lake George or Mount Majura.” There are 140 vineyards and more than 30 cellar doors within 35 minutes’ drive of Canberra. Canberrans can take their visitors out to local wineries for wine-tasting, meals and special events or decide to join an organised wine tour.
Mr Smethills said there are also a vast array of other attractions which Canberrans can take visitors to ranging from the National Zoo & Aquarium to brewery tours and segway rides or e-bike rides around the lake.
“The perception of Canberra just being the home of Parliament House and the War Memorial is changing,” said Mr Smethills. “There is a diversity of experiences.”
“Canberra has four different seasons and so you can see Canberra in four different lights.
“A lot of the attractions change their exhibitions frequently. It gives you more reasons for repeat visitation.
“You’re coming to a place which lives and breathes and experiences different things throughout the year.”
If you’re after more ideas about where to take visitors, Mr Smethills advises that your first port of call should be the Canberra and Region Visitors Centre at Regatta Point
“Our staff have an immense amount of knowledge about what’s on around town,” he said. The visitors’ centre also sells local products and produce and tickets to current attractions.
Where do you like to take friends or family when they visit Canberra? Let us know in the comments below if you know of any other places that are really popular with visitors.