As one of the youngest capital cities in the world, some might think Canberra had a bit of catching up to do. But in 2018, Canberra was listed among the globe’s hottest destinations when it ranked third on Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel.
Long the repository for national treasures, always a place where nature intrudes elegantly into urban spaces, Canberra now boasts exciting boutique precincts with gastronomic highlights and cultural must-dos. Just a three-hour drive from Sydney or less than an hour by plane, Canberra is the perfect short break destination, and you don’t have to look very hard to find exciting things to do.
WHERE TO STAY
Ovolo Nishi Hotel (formerly known as Hotel Hotel): Our favourite hotel in Canberra doesn’t do things by halves: expect the most dazzling design, the most capital location and the most wonderful staff. Ovolo Nishi is the latest addition to the NewActon cultural precinct, a hotbed of creative energy that houses brilliant dining spots.
Little National: Little National Hotel offers affordable luxury to all, with super tiny yet luxurious rooms. Set in the shadow of Parliament House, each of the 120 Little National rooms contains a super king bed, wall to wall window, luxurious bathroom, LCD television, in-room safe, bar refrigerator and complimentary WiFi.
QT: Like its’ sister hotels, QT Canberra offers sleek designer accommodations, ideally located in central Canberra, on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin.
WHERE TO EAT
Cupping Room: Hip, airy joint with outdoor seats & exposed rafters serving up boutique coffee & classic cafe fare.
Highroad: our favourite cafe in Canberra, launched by the team behind the Cupping Room, it’s an all-day cafe with the best coffee in Canberra. The interior has been given a completely fresh look and feel, and like the menu is "raw meets refined", mixing polished concrete with sandblasted wood.
Rye: Braddon's newest cafe addition, and is a buzzing brunch spot. Rye also offers healthy lunches and after work drinks and nibbles all with a bit of a Danish touch.
Pialligo Estate: Relax, sit back and take in the picturesque Pialligo Estate, a sensational food, wine and lifestyle destination on the banks of Canberra’s Molonglo River. The Estate incorporates the Garden Pavilions, an olive grove, vineyard, orchard, academy and market garden.
Poacher’s Pantry: what started as a small family business 28 years ago, Poacher’s Pantry has been built around a love of sharing good food with friends and family. From simple beginnings as an artisan smokehouse, the venue now offers the Smokehouse Restaurant, Wily Trout cellar door and farm shop.
It’s no coincidence that most of these dinner spots have an Asian-flair. For some reason, Canberra breeds a great modern Japanese restaurant!
Raku: Chef Hao San, who comes from Tokonoma in Sydney, has brought a new kind of Japanese dining to Canberra - sleek, super modern in the drinks and a delicious menu.
Akiba: our favourite restaurant for a casual yet upbeat night out. Think of Akiba as Japanese cartoon pop meets American barbecue. Must try: the bao buns and the eggplant. You won’t regret it.
Lazy Su: Lazy Su is distinctly Asian, it's fast, loud, rebellious, upbeat and confident. Inspired from a mashup of retro 80's American-Japanese-Korean pop culture, Asian eating houses and hawker vendors, food and drink are served up express and designed to be shared.
Eight-Six: This eatery was named after the act of crossing off or '86-ing' a dish from the menu ... have earned it a reputation as a must-do on the Canberra restaurant circuit. If a caramel popcorn sundae with peanut brittle, rich popcorn ice cream and a broken waffle cone sounds right up your alley, then you’ll love eightysix – a vibrant, modern restaurant located in the Canberra inner-city suburb of Braddon.
Bar Rochford: Bar Rochford, winner of Gourmet Traveller's 2018 Bar of the Year, is hidden upstairs in one of the capital's oldest buildings – the Melbourne Building. They're all about fine food, exciting wine producers and good jams. They pull records, sharp spirits and love good service. With a menu that's constantly changing you'll never tire of the offerings here.
THINGS TO DO
National Gallery of Australia: Delight in the art and world-class exhibitions on show at the National Gallery of Australia, on the shores of Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin.
Canberra Wine Region: Traditionally known for the Shiraz and riesling thanks to the cold climate, new-wave varieties include a much-lauded grüner veltliner from Lark Hill and tempranillo from Mount Majura Vineyard. Plus, the region is well served with quality cellar doors, good food and the capital city’s many attractions. Our top pick - Clonakilla.
Parliament House BTS tour: What's a visit to the capital without a bit of politics? Get into the Canberra bubble with the Parliament House Behind The Scenes tour. They vary every day depending on what's going on, so make sure you ask when making the reservation.
Australia's capital has a great network of walking paths and trails, and there are bushwalking options galore. From lakeside parks to nature reserves and forests, walking comes naturally in the bush capital.
Stroll around Lake Burley Griffin and enjoy the national attractions, cafes and parks you’ll find along the way. Do as the locals do and do the 5 km ‘bridge to bridge’ walk (Commonwealth Bridge to Kings Avenue Bridge).
Forty kilometres west of the city, the wetlands, grasslands and woodlands of sub-alpine Gibraltar Peak: Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve beckon. The pick of the 20 or so marked, verdant valley walks is the moderate-to-hard trek (three to four hours) up to the glorious, house-sized boulders of Gibraltar Peak. Expect to see glades interrupted by spiky grass trees, barely babbling creeks, plus impressively expansive views, once you reach the somewhat phallic boulders at the summit.
WHERE: The 8.2-kilometre return walk starts at Tidbinbilla Visitors Centre or Dalsetta. Mountain biking is allowed on formed trails.