The underrated capital of Australia is, in fact, a hive of vibrant culture, replete with a great raft of intriguing things to see and do. A young city in the scheme of national capitals, Canberra was established just over a century ago as a compromise between Australia's two largest settlements, Sydney and Melbourne. Neither would budge over which would be the capital of the fledgling nation, and so an entire new city was planned. Thus, Canberra is awash with inspiring recent history, but, if you only have two days to explore, what should you include in your itinerary?
The National Arboretum
Start your weekend by paying a visit to the National Arboretum, Australia's largest collection of both native and exotic plant life, from rare plants to towering trees. The 250-hectare site is home to four separate forests of varying fauna, each featuring fine examples of uncommon, endangered and significant trees.
Found high up on a hill, you'll be privy to breathtaking panoramic views that takes in the sky-piercing mountainscape in all directions. The Arboretum isn't all about trees though – be sure to take in a free guided tour of the outstanding Village Centre, where you will discover the miniatures marvels of the bonsai and penjing collections.
All that walking is bound to work up an appetite, so at the National Arboretum, a range of dining options are offered. Relax with a hazelnut latte in the Sprout Cafe, or enjoy an a la carte meal at the Conservatory restaurant. With all that exquisite scenery enveloping you, picnic opportunities are also ten-a-penny at the Arboretum. Children are also well catered for, with a nature-themed Pod Playground featuring huge acorn houses and banksia pods.
After you have had your fill of trees, head back down the hill and onto Old Parliament House.
Old Parliament House
Old Parliament House isn't particularly old – how can it be in city only 100 years of age? The powerful Australian political figures may have upped sticks and left the building long ago, but the establishment has shaken off the staid reputation that may spring to mind when imagining politics.
The Old Parliament House now houses the Museum of Australian Democracy, who have always put on a show in a wildly varying calendar of events – weekend high tea and Sunday afternoon music just two of them.
A family-orientated venue, Old Parliament House hosts experiences such as a children's treasure hunt, or offering the use of the Zine Lounge to teenagers looking to socialise or get creative. The building sometimes even goes back to its roots on occasion with Jelly Days, with professionals invited to make use of its stately offices for a few hours.
With the Old Parliament House dealt with, hop back into your hire car and head to the Four Winds Vineyard.
Four Winds Vineyard
Canberra is host to over 30 wineries, the cool climate lending itself to some fine vintages being produced in surrounding areas of the capital. Found just half-an-hour's drive from the city centre, Four Winds Vineyard is among the most exciting of the new cellar doors springing up about the region.
This establishment fosters a sense of the avant-garde, with furniture fashioned from old picking bins and wine barrels from ages past. On weekends and public holidays, the cellar door swings open for visitors to sup and sample of its award-winning vino, all whilst eating homemade pizza from the gloriously rustic woodfire oven. Purchase a couple of bottles of the good stuff and head back to your hotel to bring a fitting end to your first day in Canberra.
Australian War Memorial
The Australian War Memorial is a fitting tribute to those that died in the service of their country. A shrine, an extensive museum and an archive rolled into one, the Memorial exists not only to commemorate those that gave the ultimate sacrifice, but also to help Australians, especially the younger generation, acknowledge and understand what our country, and others, went through during various historical conflicts.
An establishment entrenched in education, the Australian War Memorial serves as an excellent venue to introduce your children to the fascinating, if sombre, experiences that our troops have gone through over the years. With ever-changing exhibits, the War Memorial represents a fine starting point to your second morning in Canberra – as much as a full day can be spent here exploring everything it has to offer. Pay your respects, and then head to the National Carillon.
The tall bell tower that is found out on an island in Lake Burley Griffin, the National Carillon features over 55 bells of differing sizes, making it, in fact, a gigantic musical instrument. The Carillon chimes every 15 minutes, with a longer tune played every hour. For the finest audio experience, stand within 100 metres of the tower, with a clear view. The elegant tones of the bell slip from the shaft of the tower, flowing across the languid lake in a musical beauty quite unlike anything else.
This rustic cottage existed even before Canberra itself. Tiny, and meticulously preserved, Blundell's Cottage is one of the only stone-built buildings left in the capital. The cottage itself harks back to a bygone age – it was the dwelling of farmhands that worked the surrounding lands.
Canberra seems to have grown around the cottage, the former paddocks being replaced with official buildings and residential areas. Open now as an interactive museum, Blundell's Cottage stands as a great memorial to those early pioneers of the Australian farming industry.