Australia’s capital has shrugged off its sedate image for a cool new vision

Not so long ago, Canberra was thought to be the sole domain of politicians and public servants — more akin to a business centre than a holiday destination. But with its centenary celebrations in 2013 came a shot of cred. New and revived precincts boasting galleries, eateries and design hotels give visitors and local residents new focal points for after-hours entertainment, while the much-lauded galleries, wide green spaces and stunning public architecture are as impressive as ever. Whether its outdoor activity you’re after — the local residents are big fans of running and cycling around Lake Burley Griffin — or a taste of the nation’s history and culture, you should add Canberra to your must-visit list.

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Flights to Canberra

Things to do

  • Design discovery

    Design discovery

    The New Acton Precinct is a hub for contemporary architecture, arts and food. Head to Monster Kitchen and Bar opens in new window in the foyer of the uber-cool Hotel Hotel for cocktails, before going across the street for a rustic meal at industrial-chic A Baker opens in new window (there’s often music or films in the courtyard too). Chill with a massage at Soma Day Spa opens in new window or catch a movie at Palace Electric Cinema opens in new window.

  • Face of a nation

    Face of a nation

    The National Portrait Gallery opens in new window — designed by Johnson Pilton Walker and opened in 2008 — is absolutely stunning, but the exhibitions of paintings and images of the people who built Australia by leading Australian artists and photographers are also incredibly inspiring.

  • Northern star

    Northern star

    Just north of the CBD is the hip and evolving ’burb, Braddon. Dotted with cafés, bars and restaurants, and home to the new Ori building, an ultra-modern retail complex on Lonsdale Street, it’s a great spot to spend the afternoon exploring. After hours, have a pint of brewed-on-premises ale at BentSpoke Brewing Co opens in new window, then walk down to Eightysix opens in new window, where the chefs serve stunning mod-Oz dishes in vibey surrounds.

  • To market

    To market

    Each Sunday, people flock to the Old Bus Depot Markets opens in new window, where there are stalls packed with locally designed jewellery, fashion and homeware, as well as collectibles, flowers, produce and multicultural fare. When you’ve shopped to dropping, head to neighbouring Canberra Glassworks opens in new window, where you can watch artists blow creative pieces and tour the facilities.

  • Walk Lake Burley Griffin

    Walk Lake Burley Griffin

    Canberra is a city for people who like the great outdoors, and central to its landscape is this manmade body of water. Surrounded by walking and cycling tracks and boasting beautiful parks with flocks of squawking cockatoos, it’s a brilliant spot to relax. Take a one-hour lake cruise opens in new window (adult $18, child $9) to see it all, including the famous Captain Cook Memorial Water Jet, from another angle.

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Airport information

CBD 8km

Travel time: 10 minutes

Taxi: Approx AUD $26

Bus: Once every hour. AUD $12 one way; AUD $20 return. Journey takes about 20 minutes.

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When to go

Its inland location means Canberra, unlike much of Australia’s eastern seaboard, has four distinct seasons. Summer (Dec-Feb) is dry and hot, and winter (Jun-Aug) often very cold. Spring (Sept-Nov) and autumn (Mar-May), however, are blessed with temperate, sunny days perfect for exploring.

Spring is a very popular time of year, when visitors arrive from around the country to explore Floriade, a month-long festival (Sept-Oct) celebrating the arrival of the season. The city also tends to be busier during Parliamentary sitting times opens in new window and when major travelling exhibitions arrive at the National Gallery of Australia opens in new window.

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Getting around

Action Buses opens in new window links major attractions and events to the city and major town centre interchanges. You can use the MyWay smartcard prepaid ticketing system or cash. It’s not a very big city, so taxis aren’t expensive and your hotel will book one for you. Cycling is also very popular, and many hotels offer bicycles for guests to borrow. Otherwise you can rent one from Mr Spokes Bike Hire opens in new window.

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