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Cycling Canberra: the must-do ride for seeing the sights

Alia Parker's picture
Cycling around Lake Burly Griffin Canberra, Australia. Cycle Traveller

As we cycled through Canberra the other week, we were reminded what a bicycle friendly place the nation's capital is. From the moment we entered the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) at the north to exiting at the south, there were bike paths everywhere, and cyclists too. Just seeing the hoards of bikes parked outside the Australian National University was marvelous.

As we rode, it struck me just how well connected all the major tourist attractions are to bike paths – indeed, cycling is the absolute best way to see the city's sights. So I thought I'd outline a route you should try next time you visit Canberra. It's a fabulous ride, following the 30km of bike paths that line the shores of Lake Burly Griffin.

A planned city

Canberra is Australia's largest inland city, but it wasn't always the case. In fact, the city didn't even exist until, in 1901, the newly federalised Australia needed a capital. Of course, Sydney wanted to be the kingpin, and so did Melbourne, and who would be game to put noses out of joint by picking one over the other – especially since there were many in the colony that weren't sold on the whole idea of being one big happy country.

Parliament House, Canberra, Australia. Cycle TravellerSo a site, strategically located away from the coast up in the Great Dividing Range, halfway between the two major cities, was selected as the perfect place in 1908. Still, the land was in New South Wales (NSW), so the a new Territory – the ACT – was created so as not to hurt the Victorian's feelings (oh, and for political reasons too).

Prior to that, Canberra had been an important meeting point for the indigenous peoples of the region and it remains Ngunnawal country. Archaeological evidence suggests the first peoples lived in the area for at least 21,000 years.

So with a site selected, a competition was held to design the new city. It was won by Chicago architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin and construction began in 1913.

At the centre of their design was a man-made lake, created by damming the Molonglo River. Around its shores nestled the capital's most important buildings, including Parliament House. However, the lake itself wasn't completed until 51 years later in 1964 due to a few little hurdles – say, two World Wars, The Depression and a bad drought.

The rides

Lake Burly Griffin Canberra Cycling Map. Cycle Traveller

Lake Burly Griffin would have to be one of Australia's most famous lakes, with its iconic fountain and view across to Capital Hill. The lake offers up a plethora of changing views as you make your way around, with little bays and architectural structures uncovered at each bend.

If you haven't got a bike with you, pick one up at a Spinway Canberra bike share bike or hire one from Mr Spokes Bike Hire on the shores of the lake.

Also, make things easier for yourself and print out this Cycling Lake Burly Griffin Map. It's pretty much impossible to get lost on the lake, but the map will help you find all the places you want to visit along the way.

As you can see, the lake is divided into three separate bike routes, giving you options on how far you want to ride. All three rides combined come to 30km.

The Central Loop: 5km

National Museum of Australia, Canberra. Cycle TravellerThis is the section to ride if you want to get up close to Parliament House. The loop takes riders from Kings Avenue Bridge to Commonwealth Avenue Bridge via what's known as the Parliamentary Triangle. There you'll find Capital Hill, Old Parliament House and its Museum of Australian Democracy, the Questacon science museum, the National Gallery of Australia and its sculpture gardens, the National Library of Australia, and of course, plenty of cafes.

The Western Loop – 16km

This is the largest of the loops, taking riders past the National Museum of Australia, the National Zoo and Aquarium and the Government House Lookout. There are a number of nice cafes along the way, and you can even pull up and hire a paddle boat to get out on the lake itself.

The Eastern Loop – 9km

Bikes on buses in Canberra, Australia. Cycle Traveller

A nice ride that runs past the Kingston Foreshore precinct and through the Jerrabomberra Wetlands Nature Reserve. It makes a particularly good ride on Sundays when the food and art markets at the Old Bus Depot are on. The ride takes in the lovely Bowen Park and the Canberra Glassworks, which gives glass blowing demonstrations on Sundays and Wednesdays. And of course, there are more cafes.

Other cycling friendly stuff

You can pretty much get to almost anywhere you want in the ACT on a bike path, so check out The Canberra and Queanbeyan Cycling and Walking Map for more info. Alternatively, if your legs are getting a little tired, many of the buses in the ACT can carry two bicycles on a rack fitted to the front of the vehicle.  

And if you're looking for something social, definitely hit up the region's bicycle user group Pedal Power for a social ride. And for more general info, head to the Visit Canberra website's cycling page.

Images from top: 1. View from the path around Lake Burly Griffin, Canberra. Source: Visit Canberra. 2. Cycling Canberra map download. 3. Parliament House. 4. National Museum of Australia. 5. Bike rack on the bus.

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