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Why Canberra is the new capital of cool

Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2018 guide has named Canberra as one of the top three cities to visit in 2018. Its third position makes it the highest ranking of any Australian city, ever. So, what makes Canberra so cool?

By Jennifer Pinkerton

There's no other place with a look or feel quite like Canberra. This pretty city, encircled by a sash of mountains, has "design" stamped into its DNA. An international design competition determined the blueprint for the city’s creation in 1911. Forward-thinking architect Walter Burley Griffin won, and explained to the world: “I have planned it not in a way that I expected any government authorities in the world would accept. I have planned an ideal city – a city that meets my ideal of the city of the future."

More than a century later, this outlook is fused into Canberra culture. The national capital's eyes are fixed on the future – as a recent burst of inner city creativity exemplifies. Over the last few years, two hip rejuvenated precincts – New Acton and Braddon – have sprung forth, along with some imaginative places to dine and drink, and a flurry of inspired architecture.

Experience the best of contemporary Canberra these four ways.

Explore Canberra's tasteful side

Step into NewActon

To stroll through NewActon – a neighbourhood wedged between the city centre and Lake Burley Griffin, and a mini planet of cool unto itself – is to feel like you've stepped forward in time. Luxury five-star accommodation Ovolo Nishi can take much of the credit for this effect. Located in the Nishi building – a sustainably produced, Japanese-inspired architectural masterpiece that had more 60 architects involved in its construction – it's home to a hotel lobby befitting a modern art museum. The aesthetically beautiful grand stair foyer leads not only to the hotel but to Canberra's restaurant of 2015, the stylish Monster. You'll also find a cinema, hot chocolate bar, art gallery, shops and underground bar in the building. But don't stop here; the rest of NewActon is also worth exploring. Highlights include coffee and smashed eggs at Mocan & Green Grout, South Coast oysters at A Baker, a massage at Soma Day Spa and cocktails at Parlour Wine Room.

Explore the microbrewery scene

Canberra's cool gets literal over the winter months due to its inland geography, so it’s lucky that cosying up inside a pub – with a good beer in hand – is a signature experience of this city.

For good ‘ol fashioned, yet decidedly new-age beers and burgers, head to Capital Brewing Co. + Brodburger in the new Dairy Road, Fyshwick area for a casual feed. Canberra’s hottest new arrival on the microbrewery scene, Canberra household favourites have partnered to deliver a taphouse, a beer garden, brewery games plus mouth-watering burgers from Canberra’s famed Brodburger.

Another of the city's best breweries is Bentspoke. From its modern space in the suburb of Braddon, complete with exposed beer machinery, Bentspoke has 18 beers on tap at any given time, from spiced ales and ciders, to traditional ales, American-style pale ales, a robust range of Indian pale ales, plus one-off special beers. Owner Richard Watkins ensures beer lovers are never bored. Try a half pint of the Sprocket (AUD$8) or the Brindabella Cider (AUD$7.50), the apples for which are crushed on site.Then raise a glass at other nearby microbreweries: the German-themed Zierholz Brewery and Canberra’s craft beer stalwart The Wig & Pen Tavern and Brewery. Also keep an eye out for beers made by local labels such as the Pact Beer Co and Capital Brewing Co while you're out exploring Canberra's food and pub trail. Or tag along on one of Dave's Brewery Tours

If you want to try something a little more... potent, we suggest heading to Bar Rochford - one of Canberra's best wine and cocktail bars. I was even voted Australia’s Best Bar in the 2017 Gourmet Traveller Awards. 

Join the party in Braddon

Breweries are not the only gems in the Braddon precinct. On the northern edge of the city centre, this artfully reborn suburb throbs with a chic, youthful strip of bars, cafés, shops, salons and more. For a hit of sweetness, vegans (and non-vegans alike) will delight in Sweet Bones, an organic café and bakery that melds rock-n-roll interior styling with the prettiest of cakes. It also serves rustic, healthy meals, such as the Buddha Bowl salad with quinoa, lentils and sprouts.  

From here, a short walk down Lonsdale Street lies Hopscotch, a bright yellow bar with an inviting beer garden out the front, and luscious, flora-lined walls inside.

An amble to the northern tip of Braddon delivers you to the black and angular Ori building. Its contours are designed to imitate origami folds. Dip into the Ori's community of shops. Try Itrip Iskip for fashion, Handsomepretty and Hive for homewares, Groomed for gentlemen’s grooming and the Frugii Dessert Laboratory for delectable gelato. Then settle in for dinner at one of Braddon's playfully resplendent eateries, such as Italian and Sons or eightysix

Wander beyond the city and get festive

Ten minutes drive from the city, a stone's throw from Scrivener Dam, behold the armadillo-style architecture that houses the National Arboretum's village centre: a café, shop and the best new view of Canberra. Let your children play inside two giant acorns at the village park, and take an amble around the Himalayan Cedar Forest planted on the property's northern corner.

The same distance away, on the shores of Kingston in the city's south, peek in on a glass-blowing demonstration at the restored Canberra Glassworks, then nosh on burgers at the hip Brodburger, a glass-encased diner.

After all that, it's time to pencil in your next trip to Canberra, timed to coincide with one of the city's new festivals. Pencil in the Truffle Festival and the Fireside Festival if you're a foodie, the You Are Here and Art, Not Apart festivals for young creatives and arts lovers, and the Festival of Ambitious Ideas and the Canberra Writers' Festival for some critical thinking.