Six of the best: Canberra museums

NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY

The number of familiar faces in both painting, photography and sculpture here make this the most entertaining and accessible of Australia's art galleries. Among the 1400 movers, shakers and celebrities shown at any one time, you'll find everyone from captains Arthur Phillip and William Bligh to Deborah Mailman and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, who looks serene and fetching in blue. Current temporary exhibits take a look at the processes and preliminary sketches behind making a portrait, and at rock bands of the 1970s and 1980s, including some brilliant photographs of live gigs in pubs and clubs. See portrait.gov.au

AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL

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Australian War Memorial (credit Visit Canberra)1

Australian War Memorial. Photo: Visit Canberra

Beyond the memorial side to this monument, you'll find exhibition galleries that add context for your visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They house a Lancaster bomber and various other classic aircraft, midget submarine and Gallipoli landing boat. The Gallipoli campaign and its role in defining Australia's sense of nationhood is well explained, as is the importance of air power in the Pacific during World War II and the Korean War. The regular sound-and-light shows are impressive, so too the dioramas of key Australian battle sites such as Lone Pine, Pozières and Ypres. See awm.gov.au

NATIONAL DINOSAUR MUSEUM

National Dinosaur Museum (credit Visit Canberra)
Roar with the dinosaurs at the National Dinosaur Museum at Gold Creek Village. You??ll find lots of animatronic dinosaurs as well as models and skeletons on display. The team??s passionate dinosaur experts are on hand to answer any questions. Touch a genuine 150 million-year-old dinosaur bone and view and purchase fossils, minerals and crystals.
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You can touch a genuine 150 million-year-old dinosaur bone at National Dinosaur Museum. Photo: Visit Canberra

What child – or adult for that matter – doesn't love a good dinosaur? You'll find 23 complete dinosaur skeletons at this museum in northern Canberra, and hundreds of related fossils, some unique. You're even allowed to touch some of the gigantic bones, skulls and authentic fossilised dinosaur dung. Beware the sensor-activated animatronic beasts that spring to life as you walk past. Afterwards the kids can run wild in the recently revamped outdoor space, which has a dinosaur-themed playground and is dotted with replica dinosaurs including a triceratops, tyrannosaurus and other less-known (but delightfully spectacular) species. See nationaldinosaurmuseum.com.au

QUESTACON

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Questacon's Mission to Mars (credit Questacon)2

Questacon's Mission to Mars. Photo: Questacon

Questacon is part of the National Science and Technology Centre and normally offers great family-friendly exhibits, from earthquake and lightening simulators to a bubble projector and an air-hockey game with a robot. Until they reopen post-COVID, you can still visit the Mission to Mars tour experience, which is devoted to the potential and challenges for human exploration and settlement on the red planet, and what that might entail. You can also learn about current missions to Mars, and pick out the solar system's largest volcano and deepest canyon on the high-resolution surface of the huge Mars globe. See questacon.edu.au

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AUSTRALIA

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Gallery of the First Australians at the National Museum of Australia (credit Richard Poulton)

Gallery of the First Australians at the National Museum of Australia. Photo: Richard Poulton

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This should be the museum of choice for families with diverse interests, since it covers topics from AFL to the history of agriculture and the latest in Australian scientific research, with plenty of hands-on activities to appeal to kids and a self-guided trail for the very young. You'll learn all manner of things, such as how Aeroplane Jelly was created in a Sydney bathtub – although even the museum can't resolve the disappearance of Harold Holt. All our icons are covered, from Phar Lap to Play School, cricket to convicts, Evonne Goolagong Cawley to Fred Hollows. Brilliant. See nma.gov.au

MUSEUM OF AUSTRALIAN DEMOCRACY

Learn about democracy at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House
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Museum of Australian Democracy (credit Visit Canberra)1

Learn about democracy at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House. Photo: Penny Bradfield

Okay, this museum isn't exactly a hoot, but you'll find the stories it tells surprisingly absorbing. It's hunkered inside Old Parliament House, allowing you to get a stickybeak at the architecture on a free building history tour, and a look inside the now-retro, refreshingly modest Prime Minister's Office, which was used by Whitlam, Fraser and Hawke. Changing exhibitions cover aspects of government and democracy; current ones investigate journalism and the free press, the erosion of trust in politicians, and the significance of the first visit to Australia by Queen Elizabeth in 1954. See moadoph.gov.au

Brian Johnston travelled at his own expense.

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