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Canberra, Australia’s purpose-built capital, is often overshadowed by the bustling urban centers of Sydney and Melbourne. However, this meticulously designed city offers a unique blend of political, historical, and cultural experiences that are well worth exploring. Two of the most significant landmarks in Canberra are the Australian War Memorial and Parliament House. These sites are not just architectural marvels but also carry profound historical significance that offers visitors a deeper understanding of Australia’s heritage.

The Australian War Memorial: A Tribute to Sacrifice

Historical Significance

The Australian War Memorial stands as a solemn tribute to the men and women who have served in Australia’s military forces. Officially opened in 1941, the Memorial’s purpose is to commemorate the sacrifice of those who have died in war or on operational service. The idea for the Memorial was conceived during World War I, as a way to honor the fallen soldiers. Today, it continues to serve as a poignant reminder of the cost of war and the importance of peace.

Architectural Marvel

Designed by architect John Crust in collaboration with Emil Sodersten, the Australian War Memorial combines Byzantine and Art Deco architectural styles. Its grand domed structure and extensive gardens create a serene and reflective atmosphere. The Memorial’s central feature is the Hall of Memory, which houses the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier. This space, adorned with stunning mosaics and stained glass, is dedicated to all Australian soldiers who have lost their lives in combat.

Must-See Exhibits

The Australian War Memorial is not just a place of remembrance but also a comprehensive museum with numerous exhibits:

  • The Commemorative Area: Featuring the Roll of Honour, this area lists the names of over 102,000 Australian servicemen and women who have died in conflicts.
  • ANZAC Hall: Showcasing large-scale exhibits such as historic aircraft, tanks, and personal stories of war.
  • The Discovery Zone: An interactive area for children to learn about military history through hands-on exhibits.

Visiting Tips

When visiting the Australian War Memorial, plan to spend at least half a day to fully appreciate its offerings. The Memorial also conducts daily Last Post ceremonies, a moving tribute that provides a moment of reflection and remembrance. Ensure to check their website for any special exhibitions or events during your visit.

Parliament House: The Heart of Australian Democracy

A Symbol of Democracy

Parliament House is the epicenter of Australian politics and the symbol of the nation’s democratic values. Opened in 1988, it replaced the Old Parliament House and represents a modern approach to governance. The design by Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp Architects was chosen through an international competition and embodies the principles of transparency and openness in government.

Architectural Highlights

Parliament House is an architectural masterpiece. Its design cleverly integrates with the surrounding landscape, with much of the building constructed underground. The iconic grass-covered roof allows visitors to walk above the Parliament chambers, symbolizing that the people have the ultimate authority over their government.

  • The Great Hall: Known for its impressive tapestry depicting a eucalyptus forest, symbolizing Australia’s natural heritage.
  • The Members’ Hall: Featuring a stunning water feature and providing access to both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
  • The House of Representatives and the Senate Chambers: Both are open to the public when Parliament is in session, offering a glimpse into the legislative process.

Engaging Experiences

Visitors to Parliament House can engage in various activities:

  • Guided Tours: Available daily, these tours offer insights into the history, architecture, and function of the building.
  • Public Galleries: Visitors can watch live parliamentary debates and proceedings from the public galleries.
  • Exhibitions: The Parliament House Art Collection features works by prominent Australian artists and regularly hosts temporary exhibitions.

Visiting Tips

Plan your visit to coincide with a parliamentary sitting day to experience the lively atmosphere of Australian democracy in action. Entry is free, and guided tours provide a deeper understanding of the building’s significance. Check the Parliament House website for schedules and any special events.

Combining the Two Landmarks

A visit to Canberra is incomplete without exploring both the Australian War Memorial and Parliament House. These landmarks provide a balanced perspective on Australia’s history and governance. The Australian War Memorial offers a poignant reflection on the sacrifices made for the nation, while Parliament House embodies the democratic ideals and legislative processes that shape the country.

Practical Information

Both landmarks are located within a short drive of each other, making it easy to visit both in one day. Canberra’s well-planned layout and efficient public transport system make getting around straightforward. There are also plenty of dining options and green spaces nearby, allowing for a comfortable and enriching day of exploration.


Canberra’s Australian War Memorial and Parliament House are not just tourist attractions; they are profound representations of Australia’s past, present, and future. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a political junkie, or simply a curious traveler, these sites offer invaluable insights into the fabric of Australian society. Make sure to add these landmarks to your itinerary when you explore Canberra, and experience the depth of heritage and democracy in Australia’s capital.

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