Australia’s purpose-built capital shows its cool side
Not so long ago, Canberra was thought to be solely the 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 street cred. New and revived precincts boasting galleries, eateries and design hotels have given visitors and residents alike 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 locals 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.
Things to do
The New Acton Precinct opens in new window is a hub for contemporary architecture, arts and food. There's plenty here to fill a day with hip urban action: chill with a massage at Soma Day Spa or catch a movie at Palace Electric Cinema, then head to Monster Kitchen and Bar 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 (there’s often music or films in the courtyard too).
Face of a nation
The National Portrait Gallery opens in new window building — 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.
Just north of the city centre is Canberra's hipster haven, Braddon opens in new window. 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 quirky boutiques and design stores. After hours, get your craft beer fix at BentSpoke Brewing Co, then walk down to eightysix, where creative chefs serve stunning mod-Oz dishes in vibey surrounds.
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
Canberra is a city for people who like the great outdoors, and central to its landscape is this manmade body of water, named for the man who designed the city. 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 to see it all, including the famous Captain Cook Memorial Water Jet, from a new angle.
Distance to city centre 8km
Taxi A taxi will take around 10 minutes and the fare is about AUD $25.
Bus Transport Canberra opens in new window routes 11 and 11A service the airport with frequent departures Monday to Friday, less frequent on weekends, to the city bus station. The journey takes around 30 minutes and costs around AUD $5.
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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 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.Back to top
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.Back to top