Hanging Branches of a Willow, originally uploaded by bexadler.

For the most part, Canberra is a typical capital city. Many of the people who work here do not live here, which makes for a poor nightlife. That also means that most of the typical backpackers don’t find it fun or interesting. If there aren’t parties to attend every night, then what does the city have to offer, right? As it turns out, Canberra has quite a lot to offer if you’re interested in history, art, or culture.

The first thing I noticed about Canberra – and the thing that made me immediately fall in love with this city – was that there is plenty of public art. Interesting statues decorate many walkways and street corners. Of course there were also numerous museums, monuments and memorials to view as well. Many of the main sites are situated along the banks of Lake Burley Griffin, which also happened to be my chosen running spot while in Canberra. The lake, pictured above, has numerous weeping willows and flowering trees on its banks, along with the Floriade, which I wrote about yesterday. Probably my favorite part about running along the lake, though, was seeing the variety of birds, including the exotic (to me) black swans of Australia.

Because many of the monuments and museums are on the lakefront, I used my morning runs to scope out what I wanted to come back and see later in the day. On my first morning here I ran along the lakefront and saw the National Museum of Australia across the water from me. The building is eye-catching in that it is colorful and asymmetrical, which of course meant I had to go there as soon as possible.

Near the Entrance of the National Museum of Australia

The museum, much like the city itself, has only been around for a short time (it opened in 2001). It is designed to give visitors a very thorough history of Australia since it was discovered by Captain Cook, and includes a large section about the Aborigines. After having gone through the entire museum, reading the history of both the Aborigines and Europeans, I came to a movie called “The Apology.” It was a recording of Prime Minister Rudd’s apology to the Aboriginal people of Australia for the many crimes committed by settlers. The speech was given in 2008, which goes to show just how recently Australians have begun to accept their native people. I was so moved by this exhibit and the film that I was crying by the time I walked out.

I seriously believe that anyone who visits Australia should make a trip to this museum to gain a better understanding of just how big of an impact Captain Cook’s discovery had on this continent. You will learn about the invasion of non-native species and the later attempts to eradicate these introduced species (think rabbits, water buffalo, cane toads, etc.). And you will also learn about the many extinctions that have occurred in the past two hundred years – the Tasmanian tiger being only one that I’d never even heard of prior to visiting this museum – in addition to the human history covered in the exhibits. Personally, I’d recommend giving yourself two days to explore this museum as it’s a lot of information to take in and you’ll want to read everything (if you’re anything like me).

I’d also recommend going to Parliament House if you’re ever in Canberra. I hadn’t planned to go because it sounded a bit dull for me, but the building is very beautiful and there are free tours that only last about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on whether the Senate/House is in session. You can also go sit in on a session of Parliament if you’re interested (I was not).

Parliament House

Best part about Canberra? As with Washington, D.C., all the monuments and museums in Canberra are FREE. After having paid anywhere from $12 to $45 to visit the attractions in Sydney I was grateful for a couple of cheap-o days – and to see such awesome stuff too! The one thing I had really wanted to see but didn’t get to was the National Mint.

Cheap-o Traveler Tip: There are advertisements everywhere here for those hop on, hop off buses. They cost $25-35 depending on where you buy your tickets. It’s the biggest rip-off ever (in my opinion). You can get an unlimited day pass for the city bus for only $7.60 and they go to all the major monuments.