You'll find more than just politics in the Australian capital. Head there for a long weekend and make the most of your time with this three-day guide.
By Cole Latimer
What to expect
- Explore 50,000 years of Australian history
- Discover an unexpected foodie paradise
- Stay in luxury accommodation
- Time: 3 days
- Distance: 37 kilometres (23 miles)
- Transport: car
- Nearest major city: Canberra
- Price: $$$
See the highlights of Australia's capital city on this three-day trip to Canberra. Delve into the country's history and experience some of Canberra's creative culture before you hit the road to the surrounding bushland of Namadgi National Park. The best ways to explore Canberra are by bicycle and car.
Day 1: The sights of Australia's heartland
Watch as the sun rises above Lake Burley Griffin, and Australia’s political heartland begins to move. Then tuck into an all day breakfast at Space Kitchen. Delve into the nation's history at the Australian War Memorial and the National Museum of Australia, which has exhibits and artefacts spanning more than 50,000 years. Then head to Parliament House for a free 40-minute guided tour (daily at 9.30am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm and 3.30pm) and see how the country is governed, or take a behind-the-scenes tour, which runs every non-sitting day for a small fee. Hire bikes to weave throughout the city and around the lake. Cycle Canberra can deliver bikes to your hotel or to the lake.
Try a scoop of gelato at the Frugii Dessert Laboratory, which offers rotating flavours such as lemon myrtle, cardamom, aniseed, raspberry pavlova and salted butter caramel. Work it off in the National Arboretum, where you can take part in a guided walk learning about the five Bs – bees, bugs, beetles, butterflies and birds – in the forest, or download an augmented reality app for holograms, soundscapes and information snippets about the arboretum. If you're visiting over a weekend, don’t miss the Old Bus Depot Markets (Sundays 10am to 4pm) in Kingston, where you can pick up handmade goods and a great range of clothing and accessories. Stay overnight at Jamala Wildlife Lodge, sleeping in a Giraffe Treehouse and waking up to five-metre (16-foot) tall neighbours.
Day 2: Art and science
Kick off your second day at Penny University, a modern take on a 17th century coffee house, where you can indulge in an all day breakfast such as banoffee croissant French toast or za’atar eggs. Spend the morning discovering Canberra's artistic side. Start at Tocumwal Lane in the city centre to see the superhero-inspired works by leading graffiti artists. Afterwards head to the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) and learn about the country's Aboriginal history. Walk around the Aboriginal Memorial – an installation of 200 hollow log coffins from Central Arnhem Land, and explore the NGA’s collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, which spans more than 7,500 works, and is the largest collection in the world. From here it's a five-minute walk to the National Portrait Gallery, where you can see famous Australian faces on canvas. Free 30-minute tours are offered daily at 11.30am.
For lunch, head to Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets (open Thursday to Sunday) and sample a delicious spread of fresh produce, seafood and baked goods. If you're travelling with family, dedicate the afternoon to Questacon, which features more than 200 educational and interactive exhibits dedicated to science and technology. Here you can feel the force of an earthquake, ride a six-metre (20-foot) freefall slide or play a harp with beams of light. Alternatively take a stroll through the Australian National Botanic Gardens, where you can follow a number of walking trails past planted gardens and colourful native plants, and through a stunning rainforest gully and bushland. Spend the evening at Ovolo Nishi, one of Australia’s most acclaimed boutique hotels. The architecturally designed entrance is made from more than 2,000 pieces of recycled timber, and the hotel has a gallery, library, day spa and gym. Enjoy dinner at Monster Kitchen and Bar, dining on dishes such as liquorice-cured duck breast and blood pudding, followed by a nightcap at underground bar Black Market.
Day 3: Enjoy the outdoors
Wake early for a hot air balloon ride above the city. Tours depart at sunrise, last between 45 minutes and one hour, and have the option of breakfast. Afterwards hop in a car for the 45-minute drive to Namadgi National Park – home to an abundance of native wildlife, bushwalking trails and excellent fishing. There are 160 kilometres (100 miles) of walking trails to explore the park, ranging from easy 15-minute strolls to all day bushwalks. Maps are available at the Namadgi Visitor Centre for a small fee. Learn about the rich local Aboriginal history of the Ngunnawal people and explore archaeological sites dating back 21,000 years. On the fringe of Namadgi National Park is Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, where you can take ranger guided tours, or walk the one-hour Birrigai Time Trail to the Birrigai Aboriginal Rock Shelter, one of the oldest rock shelters in the area. A number of picnic sites are dotted throughout the park, so pack food before you go.
After lunch, walk, cycle or drive to the lookout at Mount Ainslie to get a bird’s-eye view of the city, Lake Burley Griffith and Parliament House. A popular walking trail up to the lookout can be accessed from behind the Australian War Memorial. If you're visiting during September or October, spend the remainder of the afternoon walking among rows of colourful blooms at Floriade - the largest flower festival in the Southern Hemisphere. Hungry? Head to Fyshwick for a beer and a burger at Capital Brewing Co, then cap off the evening with cocktails at Molly, a 1920s-inspired bar specialising in whisky and rum-based concoctions.
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