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Australia's capital city, Canberra, had a difficult birth, punctuated by political infighting, wars and the Great Depression, but it is now a thriving modern city which, together with its surrounds, makes up Australia's Capital Territory. Canberra lies 95 miles (150km) in from the East Coast, by road 175 miles (280km) from Sydney and 415 miles (660km) from Melbourne.
Like most capitals of the world, Canberra boasts an architectural heritage in its civic and Government buildings, but Canberra is also blessed with some of the loveliest surroundings of any national capital. There are more than 30 Australian artistic and cultural institutions located in Canberra, ranging from the Australian War Memorial to Parliament House, surmounted by a colossal stainless-steel flagpole and set in 23 hectares of gardens. In the centre of Lake Burley Griffin, the impressive Captain Cook Memorial Jet shoots a six-ton column of water 482 feet (147m) into the air, while on the shore the National Gallery of Australia houses the country's premier public art collection spanning about 5,000 years of international art.
Canberra is also known for its spring festival, Floriade, when the parks and gardens surrounding Lake Burley Griffin explode with colourful displays of massed tulips and other blooms. The city, with its many parklands, is especially beautiful in spring and autumn.
On average Canberra has seven hours of sunshine a day all year round, which, together with a low rainfall average, makes this a fine holiday destination. Summer weather in Canberra is generally hot and dry with mild easterly and north-westerly winds prevailing. Nights become cooler when autumn sets in, and winter is characterised by the arrival of numerous cold fronts. Temperatures may be lower in winter, but the sun still shines most of the time. October is on average the wettest month, though rainfall is minimal.
Public transport is limited to buses and because Canberra is spread out, with meagre weekend services and no transport after about 10pm, visitors are best off with a car. There is plenty of parking at the tourist sites and the road system is excellent and uncongested; to hire a car drivers must be 21 years of age and hold a valid driver's license, sometimes in conjunction with an international driver's permit. The Action bus company routes cover most tourist attractions from four town centre bus interchanges: City, Woden, Tuggeranong and Belconnen. A day bus pass is available from bus drivers or the tourist information centre. Cycling is also a popular means of transport in Canberra and there is an extensive network of bicycle paths around the city. Taxi ranks are available in most major areas of the city.
English is the official language of Australia.
The Australian Dollar (AUD) is divided into 100 cents. Banks and bureaux de change exchange most foreign currencies. Travellers cheques are also welcome everywhere, but banks take a small commission and it is better to take cheques in major currencies (e.g. US dollars or Euros) to avoid additional charges. Credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are freely available throughout the country. Banking hours are generally 9.30am to 4pm Monday to Thursday, and 9.30am to 5pm on Friday, but some banks offer extended hours and some are open on Saturday mornings.