Guide to Canberra
Find a mix of history, art and the outdoors in Australia's capital city.
By Georgia Rickard
Canberra might be smaller than Sydney to its north and Melbourne to its south, but there's still plenty to discover. The small town vibe means it's easy to get around and the locals are eager to share the best of their food, wine, beer and attractions. Within the city limits you'll find museums, galleries, breweries and modern architecture, but just minutes away lies the quiet nature of mountains, valleys and everything in between. It's no wonder the locals here love the lifestyle and landscape.
In Canberra, we breathe incredibly fresh air and can escape to the countryside in less than 15 minutes. The lifestyle is relaxing and feels good for the soul.
- Immerse yourself in the arts at renowned galleries and local craft markets
- Feast on gourmet cuisine in a number of dining precincts
- Celebrate the city's many festivals
How to get there
There are 14 international flights to Canberra each week. Daily flights from Singapore to Canberra are available with Singapore Airlines, and daily flights from Doha to Canberra are available with Qatar Airways. There are also frequent domestic flights from major Australian capital cities. Canberra is a three-hour drive from Sydney and an eight-hour drive from Melbourne. There are plenty of scenic routes if you like to get off the beaten track and visit one of the many country towns along the way.
Things to do and top attractions in Canberra
Sip wine and spirits around Canberra
Canberra's reputation as a culinary destination is relatively newfound. In the past ten years Canberra has found its own culinary identity based around an emerging cool climate wine region and an explosion of local craft beer. Make your first stop the Bentspoke Brewing Co. pub, where you'll find a wide range of beer and cider available, all brewed on site. Next, indulge in the fresh beers and burgers at Capital Brewing. Here, you'll find seasonal varietals, tap room releases and the mouth-watering aromas of Brodburger's flame-grilled menu. A short drive from Canberra's city centre will bring you to beautiful wineries like Lerida Estate, Mount Majura Vineyards and Capital Wines. Book a night in the bell tents at Naked Cubby Co.
Dine at Canberra's best eateries
Canberra's dining scene serves up excitement from coffee through to cocktails. Head to ONA Coffee to try a particularly excellent flat white. Grab a hearty lunch (available Tuesday to Friday) of pasta and pizza at Italian and Sons, or spice things up at XO. For dinner, take your pick from several top-notch restaurants, including eightysix, Monster and Aubergine. End your evening with a nightcap from one of Canberra's bustling bars, like Molly and Hippo Co.
Shop at the Old Bus Depot Markets
Canberra's large student population and flourishing media industry has resulted in a lively creative scene, and one of the best ways to experience this is at the weekly Old Bus Depot Markets. From hipster clothes and homewares to delicious organic produce and excellent coffee, the markets are packed with interesting things to buy, eat and sample, and are a wonderful place to socialise with locals every Sunday from 10am to 4pm. The handmade ice cream at Home Made Sweet Delights is a standout. If it's not market day, head toward Lonsdale Street, Braddon, where you'll find locally designed art, jewellery, homewares and fashion on a lively strip.
Stay at a design hotel
Several headline hotels have opened recently in Canberra, in particular Ovolo Nishi, a moody, retro-Australian luxury hotel located in the architecturally beautiful Nishi building. Nearby is QT Canberra, a playful, politically themed five-star stay with a designer pop-art aesthetic. Little National is a sophisticated 120-room affair of polished concrete and minimalism, while five-star Hotel Realm is essentially its own lifestyle precinct, encompassing several upmarket restaurants and bars.
Escape to nature near the city
The heavily forested valley of Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is only 40 minutes from Canberra, but it teems with wildlife, including emus, kangaroos and cockatoos. Even closer to the city (20 minutes away) is Uriarra Crossing. Walk, picnic or fish on this short, lovely section of the Murrumbidgee River's epic 1,600-kilometre (994-mile) journey from the Australian Alps. If you really want to get up close and personal with wildlife however, consider a stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge. This incredible hotel - located within Canberra's National Zoo and Aquarium in the centre of the city - has bungalows with glass walls that look onto animal enclosures, and suites in treehouses, with balconies that overlook the zoo's giraffes.
Explore beautiful galleries
As Australia's capital city, Canberra houses many of the nation's most important art, including a priceless collection of Aboriginal art. The National Gallery of Australia is Australia's pre-eminent public compiler of art, housing more than 7,500 Australian, Asian and Aboriginal artworks across 13 different galleries. Nearby is the very cool National Portrait Gallery, featuring a wildly varied body of portraiture (from Mick Jagger to Barry Humphries), which originally came into being as a temporary exhibition called Uncommon Australians.
See democracy in action at Parliament House
Australia's Parliament House is a gorgeous example of modern architecture, which was only unveiled in 1988. Visitors can take a free guided tour through the building every day at 9.30am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm and 3.30pm. When Parliament is in session you can watch Question Time (from 2pm onwards), at which government ministers are questioned by other members of parliament. The building also houses a number of exhibitions and public galleries.
Admire the stunning sights of Floriade
The annual Floriade festival takes place over the course of one month between September and October each year (exact dates vary), and attracts flower lovers and garden experts from around the world for its colourful displays. Across 8,000 square metres (two acres) of inner city parkland, more than one million bulbs bloom into gorgeous, carefully synchronised displays of colour and texture in what is Australia's biggest celebration of spring. It's accompanied by a lively program of night-time entertainment, and beautifully illuminated flowerbeds, during Floriade NightFest. Entry to see the flowers is free for the entire month.
See the National Arboretum
If you appreciate the beauty of nature, Canberra's gorgeous National Arboretum is also worth a visit. This 250-hectare (618-acre) patch of land was decimated by bushfires between 2001 and 2003; the city held a nationwide call out for architects to redesign the area. The chosen design features 100 forests and 100 gardens focusing on threatened, rare, and symbolic trees from around the world along with Australia's national bonsai tree collection. The Arboretum also plays host to a café and restaurant, many picnic areas and several Instagram-worthy pieces of public art, including an enormous sentence from a well-known Australian poem, My Country, scrawled across the landscape in letters that stand taller than the average adult.
Drift over a dreamy lake
Canberra's Lake Burley Griffin is a pretty expanse of water used for leisure activities including yachting, kayaking, paddle boating and hot air ballooning. There are few cities on earth where ballooning is consistently available - but Canberra's grassy areas ensure that it is available regardless of wind direction. Take a ride with Balloon Aloft or Dawn Drifters. Alternatively, hire a bicycle and tour the lake's 35-kilometre (22-mile) perimeter - an easy pathway which will take you past cafés and attractions such as the National Gallery of Australia. There are many cycling pathways around Lake Burley Griffin, and Cycle Canberra will even deliver bikes to your hotel. If you're eager to get out on the water, set sail in one of GoBoat's electric picnic boats.