Standout museums, food, shopping and nature – Australia's understated cool capital
Often thought of as the demure domain of politicians, Canberra can be overlooked as a holiday destination. But there’s plenty of cool in the capital. Buzzing shopping and dining precincts, world-class galleries and museums, and leafy lakeside spaces are just a few reasons to make the trip.
Time your visit with one of the capital’s events – whether it’s a seasonal food festival or a major touring exhibition at the National Gallery – to make the most of your time. When you’ve finished enjoying the city life, you can encounter Australian wildlife in nature reserves like Tidbinbilla, just a short drive from Canberra.
Things to do: Canberra
Museums and galleries
It wouldn’t be a trip to Canberra without visiting one of the capital’s outstanding national collections. The National Museum of Australia tells the story of the country, with impressive exhibitions highlighting Indigenous cultures and histories. The National Portrait Gallery puts faces to Australia’s prominent names in an architecturally stunning space. Or head to the National Gallery of Australia to view works by local and international artists. Be sure to check out the gallery’s new Australian Garden and take a moment to reflect inside James Turrell’s Skyspace Within without light installation.
Image credit: Greg Brave / Shutterstock
Walk Lake Burley Griffin
Both a playground and a place to relax for Canberrans, Lake Burley Griffin is simply known as ‘the lake’ by the locals. At the heart of the city, Lake Burley Griffin is edged by walking and cycling tracks, with leafy parklands and waterside restaurants perfect for pit stops. You might even spot a kangaroo here. A lake cruise in the warmer months provides a great introduction to Canberra. Or hire a GoBoat for sightseeing your own way.
Just north of the city centre, Canberra’s popular Braddon precinct is dotted with cafes, bars and restaurants, and is home to the iconic Ori Building retail complex on Lonsdale St. This is a great area to spend a few hours exploring quirky boutiques and design stores in between lunch and coffee breaks. After hours, there are plenty of options – from tasting the brewed-on-site beer selection at BentSpoke Brewpub, to dining on modern Australian cuisine in sleek surrounds at eightysix.
Image credit: VisitCanberra
Nature and wildlife
Not far from the bustling capital are some of the region’s best nature experiences. A 45-minute drive from the centre, Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is a valley of eucalypt forests, wetlands and grasslands, home to a host of native Aussie wildlife and significant sites for the Ngunnawal people. Look out for wallabies, koalas, platypus, lyrebirds, emus and much more on one of the many walking trails. Even closer to the city is Black Mountain Nature Reserve, where a bush walk is rewarded with views across Canberra.
Image credit: VisitCanberra
Festivals and events
Whether you’re into music, movies, sport or sewing, there’s bound to be something happening when you’re in Canberra, with a mix of festivals and events happening throughout the year. Planning a trip in spring? Don’t miss the fabulous Floriade Festival, where more than one million flowers put on a colourful show from 11 September to 10 October. With markets, live music, talks and other entertainment, there’s also enough action to keep the family entertained beyond the blooms.
Image credit: Martin Ollman Photography
Distance to city centre 8km
Taxi A taxi will take around 10 minutes and cost about AUD $25.
Rideshare Uber, OLA, Shebah, Glide and GoCatch have services to and from Canberra Airport. Pick-up is in the Express Pick-Up car park.Back to top
When to go
Its inland location means Canberra, unlike much of Australia’s eastern seaboard, has four distinct seasons. Summer (December–February) is dry and hot, and winter (June–August) often very cold. Spring (September–November) and autumn (March–May), however, are blessed with temperate, sunny days perfect for exploring.
Spring is the most popular time of year, when visitors arrive from around the country to explore the month-long Floriade Festival, celebrating the arrival of the season. The city also tends to be busier during Parliamentary sitting times and when major travelling exhibitions arrive at the National Gallery of Australia.Back to top
Transport Canberra buses link major attractions and major town centre interchanges. Pick up a MyWay prepaid smartcard or buy individual tickets at ticket vending machines. Cycling is also very popular – many hotels offer bikes for guests to borrow, and there are several bike hire options. It’s not a very big city, so taxis aren’t expensive. Car hire is also an option.Back to top