The capital of Australia has finally grown into that 'capital' role, with monuments to make you pause and think, and a fistful of exciting museums and galleries.

Canberra, as a city, has undergone a massive transformation in the last few decades. All the pieces of its design puzzle, which were once a little scattered, are now locked in place. These days, it has a clutch of top-rated cultural attractions, and increasingly appreciated wide-open spaces, and a 'big-outdoors' feel.

The National Museum of Australia is probably the cream of the crop of attractions, with its bold design, cleverly laid-out exhibits, and enthusiasm for breaking the mould.

Less obviously exciting, but acting as vital guardians for Australia's historical culture, are the National Archives Of Australia – where history is counted in the millions of its accessible documents and records – and the National Library Of Australia, whose books form only part of the collection. Thousands of posters, maps, theatre programmes and photos, collected over more than a century, make it a living multimedia resource.

Canberra's most popular museum isn't actually one. Questacon, the National Science And Technology Centre, throws away the glass-cases and fusty printed-labels for a fully-immersive, totally interactive experience, taking you to the wilder fringes of science and technology. The National Gallery of Australia lets you get a little more contemplative, with a set of unequalled collections, when it comes to Australian and Aborigine sculpture and paintings.

The central masterpiece of Canberra these days, though, is its Parliament House. Big, bold and full of Australian brash (as well as its politicians), it dominates the centre of Canberra. Its gigantic Australian flag, and long low 'boomerang' building, are cleverly integrated into the city's important viewpoints. Here is where you can see democracy in action, as much of the building, is accessible to the public.

If you want to see the political stage of a bygone era, the nearby Old Parliament House has been preserved and turned into a Museum of Democracy. Only ever meant as a temporary home for Australia's politicians, its no-nonsense design (and approach to politics) won it a special place in the Aussie heart. That's also something that can be said of the Australian War Memorial, which is an equally poignant place of remembrance for New Zealanders. A sombre reminder that capital cities sometimes have to play that worthy role, as well as the flashy one.

Guide to Exploring Canberra

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