Despite being Australia’s seat of government and a hub for diplomatic dealings, Canberra often cops a bit of flack from other large metropolitan Australian cities. While it may not be able to compete with the effortless cool and faster pace of its trendier neighbours, Sydney and Melbourne, a weekend in Canberra is a thoroughly relaxed and refreshing affair.
The basics — Because Canberra is on the smaller side, you’ll find moving around the city a straightforward affair. However, a map doesn’t go astray if you’re planning on cycling or covering any distance. With four distinct seasons, you should carry water, a hat and sunscreen in the hotter months (Canberra temps hit the 40s), and bring layers or an umbrella in winter.
01. The airport
It’s hard not to gush about Canberra’s beautiful airport. Exceeding first impressions, the airport’s design is rather magnificent. With a sense of grandeur befitting a capital city, it still retains a sense of order and calm. When going through security there are ample bench spaces so weary travellers don’t have to try and unpack their laptop on a moving conveyor belt, reducing some of the usual air travel chaos. With free Wi-Fi and a reliable connection you can easily double-check your accommodation bookings as soon as you arrive. There’s also an Uber waiting area, and a taxi stand to help you get to your destination.
02. Getting around
Because Canberra is simple to navigate and has wide streets and ample cycle paths, cycling is a popular pastime here. With a paper map or Google Maps at your side, you can track your course easily. Aim to plot a course via the beautiful river. With shady trees and ample picnic spots and tourist attractions along the way, cycling is a great way to take in the beauty of this quirky capital. Buses are an option for when the weather turns unsavoury. For this, you can either pay cash or you can pick up a MyWay smartcard. MyWay cards can be purchased from a number of different outlets. Hop on to the Transport Canberra website for more information.
03. Keeping fit
Depending on what time of year you holiday, you may find the weather the most challenging part of working out; 40+ degree heat in summer will turn your workout into a sauna. Sunstroke warnings aside, Canberra has many wonderful tracks for jogging and cycling, or cool down with a swim at Cotter Bend or Pine Island.
Sleep — There are a number of solid options to lay your hat in Canberra. Being Australia’s capital, the city has to accommodate for all kinds — from diplomat to backpacker and everyone in between. Choosing where to stay offers you a different flavour of Canberra and a different neighbourhood to explore, so think about what you want to see and where you want to base yourself for the weekend before booking in.
Eat — While the city can be a bit slow to pick up on trends, Canberra’s hospitality scene is slowly maturing. There are a growing number of hotspots loved by locals and visitors as ambitious restaurateurs and visionary chefs make their mark on the city and seek to evolve the Canberra palate.
Offering a serene, fashionable setting with a touch of nostalgia, XO offers a luxurious dining experience in the capital. With intimate lighting and innovative South East Asian cuisine on offer, XO is approachable and warm, while also able to surprise.
16 Iluka Street, Narrabundah
Offering fresh, seasonal dining in a relaxed setting, Monster’s head chef, Sean McConnell, also happens to be the brother of the celebrated Melbourne chef Andrew McConnell. The menu is excellent, introducing diners to uniquely local ingredients (such as yabbies), and delicate, well-rounded mains. Tied to the lobby of Hotel Hotel, Monster’s interior is, naturally, also a delight.
25 Edinburgh Avenue, Canberra
Vegetarian-friendly and bursting with flavor, Parlour is home to a solid, sociable menu. A lively modern wine bar with cosy furnishings and Spanish cuisine, Parlour offer Instagram-worthy serves on artful dinnerware.
16 Kendall Lane, Acton
Coffee — Coffee isn’t just a beverage to Australians; it’s a point of adoration, competition and ongoing fascination. For coffee lovers loose in Canberra, planning where you will attain your coffee high is important. Not everyone here is a coffee master, but there are still plenty of choice places to pick up a sublime brew.
The Cupping Room
The Cupping Room are very serious about the business of making good coffee. Staff are full of knowledge about the coffee origins and processes and is owned by World Barista Champion 2015, Sasa Sestic. Photo by Seed Press Books.
1/1-13 University Avenue, Canberra
Mocan and Green Grout
Helping to define hospitality in the city, Mocan and Green Grout take pride in bringing Canberran talent to the fore. Delivering fair trade coffee and many delicious dining options, Mocan and Green Grout are on to something good.
1/19 Marcus Clarke Street, Canberra
Lonsdale Street Roasters
Driven by the desire to bring good coffee to the capital, Lonsdale Street Roasters offer coffee in many wonderful forms. Scoring a mention in Fairfax Media’s Good Food Guide for their food options, this small cafe packs a well-caffeinated punch.
23 Lonsdale Street, Braddon
Drink — Surrounded by many notable wineries, Canberra locals (and visitors) are in the right place for a drink. The capital boasts strong selections of aperitifs, wines, beers and spirits for those looking to wet their whistle.
A. Baker is a restaurant and bakery, proudly sourcing wine and other ingredients from local growers and producers. With a polished, industrial aesthetic and well-balanced offerings, A. Baker is the perfect little haunt. Wine connoisseurs who have their heart set on sampling more of Canberra’s unique offerings should head downstairs to explore the speakeasy bar — an intimate, quiet space with exquisite old marine lighting fixtures.
15 Edinburgh Avenue, Canberra
Hippo Bar is a snug little spot with American Midwest-inspired interiors (think cabin in the woods), and a strong selection of whiskeys and spirits on hand. Offering unique cocktail concoctions and a solid range of gins, Hippo is easy to enjoy.
1/17 Garema Place, Canberra
Serving roasted chestnuts and heated cognac in winter, and boasting an impressive selection of spirits, Molly is a local institution and worthy mention. With a speakeasy theme, Molly plays with the notion of being a prohibition-era bar. Their website offers coordinates which lead you to an unmarked door. A heavy wooden door then conceals the inner cosiness of the bar inside. With knowledgeable staff and a relaxed atmosphere, Molly is one of Canberra’s finest hidden assets.
35-37 London Circuit, Canberra
Shop — We hate to break it to you, but Canberra is not exactly a shopping destination. However, don’t think of the city as retail barron. There are still a number of independent retailers which are deserving of acclaim and your patronage. In Canberra, shopping is all about knowing where to go.
Offering simple, beautiful ceramics and a mixture of rugged and elegant textiles, Bisonhome is a homewares and design store with tasteful offerings for space. Adored by Canberrans, Bisonhome will see your luggage expand. They also recently celebrated their 20th birthday, proving the brand’s longevity.
6/8 Beltana Rd Pialligo, Canberra
A not-for-profit design store and gallery, Craft ACT highlight the talents of local Canberra artists and designers. With jewelry, ceramics, glassware and stunning homewares on display, the space’s slogan: ‘Shop local. Buy unique.’ is well and truly fulfilled and offers shoppers a snapshot of local design.
Level 1, North Building, 180 London Circuit, Canberra
Old Bus Depot Markets
Boasting an eclectic mixture of artisan goods, local produce and art, visiting the Old Bus Depot Markets are an important ritual for many locals. Open every Sunday from 10:00 to 16:00, the markets take place in an industrial old bus depot which has been transformed to welcome local crowds and new visitors.
21 Wentworth Avenue, Kingston
See — Canberra is a great city to play tourist in. Home to Australia’s Old Parliament House and with a good selection of old and new galleries, the city is not short on attractions and sites. Being a small city, most noteworthy attractions can be visited in the space of a day, so plan out a few favourites and get out there and explore!
National Gallery of Australia
Canberra’s flagship art gallery, housed in a handsome Colin Madigan-designed bunker, offers a well-curated permanent collection alongside blockbuster exhibitions. The gallery’s store offers a snapshot of the contemporary Canberra art scene, and the neighbouring Portrait Gallery acts as the perfect partner.
Parkes Place, Parkes
Between the sun-baked raw beauty that is Canberra’s natural landscape, and its plentiful concrete brutalist architecture, the city’s unique aesthetic is worth spending time appreciating. Hiring a bike and cycling to the city’s galleries and cultural institutions is the perfect way to kill two birds with one stone and enjoy the best of the city’s sights along with Canberra’s great outdoors. The Australian Academy of Science’s Shine Dome and the National Gallery (above) are among our favourites.
While we already have dedicated three recommendations to ‘drink’, for those who haven’t quite got enough of a local taste for wine, we recommend you go straight to the source. Hire a car and venture out of the city for a chance to explore some of the area’s plentiful wineries. Helm Wines, Lerida Estate and Lark Hill Winery are just a couple of the local favourites.
Families — Canberra is a city well-equipped for families and kids. With plentiful green spaces and lots of family-friendly facilities and events to explore, it’s an easy place to bring the kids for a mini adventure, without feeling like you’re missing out on more adult fun.
Stromlo Forest Park
A free space where you can hire out mountain bikes and BMXs, Stromlo Forest Park is close to the city while also being beautifully scenic. With myriad pathways, tracks and jumps to try out, the park is also close to Lake Burley Griffin. Breathe in the fresh air and burn some energy at the same time.
While the name might sound like a medieval fairytale, Questacon is a uniquely Canberra science and technology museum. With interactive exhibitions, displays and programs about the world around us, Questacon is educational, hands-on and memorable. For kids who are curious about the world, prepare to spend a decent amount of time here.
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
The Glassworks offer wonderful items to marvel at and even purchase, but did you know they also host classes? Held on the first weekend of every month and designed for kids over 14 (and adults) to learn how to glass blow, make glass beads and try their hand at glass engraving, each class offers something a little bit different. Photo by Wendy Dawes.
11 Wentworth Avenue, Kingston
Events — When planning a mini break to Canberra, try to time your trip so you are able to take in some the city’s many varied events and activities. Whether you’re into food or balloons, Canberra has something for you.
The ActewAGL Canberra Show
The National Multicultural Festival
Canberra Balloon Spectacular
Canberra Comedy Festival
National Folk Festival
Groovin the Moo
Canberra Truffle Festival
World Curry Festival in the City