Lovers of symmetry, symbolism, and architecture will love Canberra (pronounced Can-bra, with the accent on the "Can," not Can-behr-a). Unlike most other Australian cities that grew up organically around pioneer settlements, there is nothing haphazard about the nation's capital. Not only is it Australia's only completely planned city, even its location, rising unexpectedly from the surrounding high grass plains, shimmering and heat-parched in summer and often dusted with snow in winter, was by careful design. It is a city surrounded by bush and farmland, earning it the nickname the "Bush Capital," although that may hint more at its relative remoteness (every other major city in the country is on the coast) than at the wild and rugged peaks of the snowy mountain wilderness on its doorstep.
Prior to Federation in 1901, Canberra was just a large sheep station called Canberry. Post-Federation debates on possible locations for the new seat of government raged for a number of years -- both Sydney and Melbourne believed they were the natural seat of power -- so in a magnificent compromise, the new Commonwealth Parliament decided to put an end to the bitter rivalry in 1908 by simply choosing a point between the two cities, declaring the sheep station they found there to be the new national capital. Thankfully, they decided to call it Canberra (from the local Aboriginal word for "meeting place") rather than "Sydmelperadbrisho" or the equally silly "Meladneyperbane," both dreadful amalgamations of the names of each of the other capital cities.
In 1911, an international competition to design the new city was held. More than 130 entries were received from around the world, and the winning entry was submitted by Chicago architect Walter Burley Griffin and his partner, Marion Mahony Griffin, a design based on a series of geometrically precise circles and axes. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) was declared on January 1, 1911. It became a self-governing territory in 1989.
Fast-forward almost 100 years and the city remains true to the Griffin's original "garden city" vision, with tree-lined streets and buildings set in expanses of grassed parkland. The streets radiate out in a wheel-and-spoke design from Capital Hill, rather than following a traditional grid design. Trouble is, unless you live there, the circular roads can be confusing, and almost every Australian you meet that has been to Canberra will tell you how easy it is to get lost there.
Most of the 340,000 people who live here are civil servants of some type. And most visitors come simply to see Canberra's amazing range of museums, including the National Museum of Australia, the Questacon science museum, and the National Gallery of Australia. But dig a little deeper and you'll find many more aspects to Canberra, such as a thriving festival and arts scene and an emerging food and wine culture, with 30 of the country's best cool-climate wineries less than 30 minutes drive from the center of the city.