No trip to Canberra is complete without a visit to the most important building in town, Parliament House.
Parliament House is the meeting place of the Parliament of Australia. The building was opened on 9 May 1988 by Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, so as you can see, it’s quite modern in its design.
I would say that the grass ramps up the sides of Parliament House are its most distinctive and popular feature. As a kid I remember running up them and rolling back down again. Now sadly there is a fence that prevents you from reaching the top of the roof from the outside – it’s now required to go through the security check at the entrance, which makes complete sense!
The grass ramps actually recreate the shape of Capital Hill before Parliament House was constructed. Much of the building lies beneath Capital Hill, and current shape of the hill is very similar to its original form. Parliament House sits just four metres higher than the original hill.
Of the 4,700 rooms in Parliament House, many are are open to the public. It’s incredibly easy to just turn up at any time and visit Parliament House – no booking or tours are required. There is a short queue to get through a brief security check, and then you’re on your own to discover the house.
The security check leads you to the foyer with it’s gorgeous marble staircase. This room leads into the the Great Hall, which has a large tapestry on display. (If you’re wondering what happened with the scooter, we left it with the super helpful and friendly security guards).
While in the foyer, take a close look at the tiles on the floor. Some of them have tiny fossils hidden in them, captured while the blocks for the floor were being created. Can’t find them? As the helpful security guards who pointed them out to us.
Available for visiting are the House of Representatives chamber, which is decorated green, and the Senate chamber, which has a red colour scheme.
Take some time to see the fantastic art work on display in the rooms, including portraits of former Prime Ministers and important figures and documentary photography of the British Royal Family’s visits to Australia.
If you get hungry on your visit there is a light and bright cafe inside for casual dining.
Before leaving, take the elevator to the roof for an incredible view of Canberra. You can see the Australian War Memorial Memorial in the distance – from there you can also get an incredible view back the other direction of Parliament House.
Tips for visiting Parliament House with kids
Parliament House is extremely accessible. Strollers are fine to bring inside and there are elevators between floors.
Make it fun by running up and down the roof before going inside.
Look for the fossils in the floor in the main foyer.
Explain the rudiments of what Parliament House is for. We explained to our five-year-old that this is where “rules are made” for the country. She found that fascinating and it lead to questions like “what rules?”.
For older kids, the visit can be much more focussed on how Parliament works and how laws really do get made.
Don’t be afraid to bring kids of all ages inside. This is not some hushed library where kids have to be silent. They are very welcome to enjoy wandering around the building.
Parliament Drive, Canberra
Hours: Parliament House is open every day except Christmas Day.
Non-sitting days 9am-5pm, sitting days Monday-Thursday 9am-6pm
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby!