Australia’s capital city has always been the place you go to for the museums, or more specifically, Questacon, during a year five excursion. Although, in terms of being a holiday destination, the ACT has always been low down the ladder.
In recent years though, Canberra has seen an uptick in popularity among visitors, even ranking third in Lonely Plant’s Best In Travel 2018, and is currently the destination most Aussies are searching for, according to Tourism Research Australia.
The small, cosmopolitan city has a thriving arts scene and a surprisingly diverse, ever-evolving dining scene. Canberra’s speakeasies could rival most in New York, and while its nightlife is not world-renowned, local venues still know how to cater for the late-night crowd. During the day, explore the city, venture out to the wine district to sip on cool-climate Shiraz, or hike the many trails around the city.
There are plenty of unexpected moments to be had here, so here are seven reasons why Canberra is cooler than you think.
Its Dining Game is Strong
There’s a reason why people are raving about Canberra’s restaurants. From a wine bar hidden in a historic building to a bustling Asian barbecue and a degustation delight, a lot is happening. Bar Rochford in the Melbourne Building is a wine bar, but they serve up seriously delicious fine dining—sans the grandiose. Here, it’s about exciting wine, good food, and dimly-lit green booths, with flickering candles in wine bottles.
Whereas during the day, you’ll find venues such as Parlour, serving big plates of seafood spaghetti for $20, or Rebel Rebel’s small plates, including sugarloaf cabbage, croquettes served with prawn head aioli, and beef tartare—perfect for sharing.
Meanwhile, Akiba is a late-night haunt on Bunda Street, whipping out a raw bar, dim sum, and Asian barbecue. We say whip because it’s fast-paced in this restaurant. As soon as you arrive, you’re absorbed into the fun and exotic feel.
You will also find more food adventures in the other suburbs, including Braddon Precinct and Fyshwick, where you can get a burger and beer from Capital Brewing Co. Verity Lane Market is a great place to dig into Italian and Japanese cuisine, as well as cocktails from the bar.
Canberra’s Wine Scene Pushes Boundaries, Including Cool-Climate Shiraz
Ironically, most of Canberra’s wine district is in NSW. Murrambateman and Lake George are the central regions that produce some of Canberra’s favourite tipples. However, for the local secrets, we suggest leaving it up to a local.
Van Du Vin offers wine tours based on your preferences, or if you’re up for it, ask for five of the best wineries to visit, and they will take you to the gems, known mainly by the locals. These include a cellar door housed in an old classroom and a husband and wife-run vineyard, pouring some of the best sparkling whites and reds.
Nathan, owner and founder of Van Du Vin, is a wealth of knowledge regarding wines in Canberra, but his Spanish wine knowledge is just as intriguing. Enjoy a tasting at Brindabella Hills Winery and a two-course lunch with valley views. Other wineries to add to your list include Pankhurst Wines, Yarrh (opt-in for the food pairing), Gallagher Wines, and Helm Wines.
The Braddon Precinct is Home to Edgy Architecture and Art
Just a few minutes walk or scoot from the city centre is Braddon Precinct, an edgy neighbourhood home to coffee shops, local homewares, and a funky dessert laboratory called Frugii, serving a scoop of hot cross bun gelato and other homemade flavours. Stop by Pop Canberra, a locally curated store showcasing some of Canberra’s best local creators, from Enigma Chocolates to Canberra Distillery spirits and Bison Ceramics.
If you’re hungry, head to Grease Monkey for burgers, beers, and shakes. Haig Park Village Markets is also a great way to meet the local farmers, bakers, and artisans. Don’t forget to track down the Pop Inn at one of the parks surrounding the city centre for a glass (or bottle) of local wine, a charcuterie board, and views of the city and beyond. It’s only open on weekends, from 2.00pm to 7.00pm.
You Can Float Over the Lake in a Hot Air Balloon
Is there a better way to start the day than floating peacefully above a lake to watch the sunrise over a mountain? It’s also one of the best ways to view the city’s architectural wonders and design. Balloon Aloft is Canberra’s original balloon ride operator, and they offer multiple flights a day, almost every day. Of course, flights are weather dependent, so you will have to call the morning of your flight to see if it’s optimal flying conditions.
Once you get there, you can see and maybe help set up the balloon. Once the balloon is filled with hot air, jump in the basket and watch the ground slowly disappear. Depending on the winds, the flight path will take you over the lake and land in the fields, where a champagne toast awaits. There’s an opportunity to step inside the balloon, and you get to help pack it all up before being taken back to the hotel.
Enjoy a Picnic Lunch on Your Own Boat
In Canberra’s Kingston Foreshore district, you can hire a carbon-neutral, electric boat to cruise Lake Burley Griffin. GoBoat is the operator, and unlike most other boats, you don’t need a license—just a 15-minute safety and instruction demonstration. The boats are easy to operate, so anyone can drive them.
It’s also $99 for the hour or $189 for two hours. You can also bring your own picnic, or they can organise a little picnic surprise for you, complete with captains’ hats. Each boat fits up to eight people, and dogs are welcome aboard. Cruising the lake is a great way to see Canberra’s different districts and landscapes. You also get to see the city’s icons from a new angle.
Stay in Edgy Boutique Hotels
Sure, there are dozens of nice hotels in Canberra, including the Hyatt, but for a little je ne sais quoi, opt-in for the boutique hotels. QT Canberra also has all the luxuries of a 5-star hotel, but the pop-chic theme makes it quirky and unique. Much like their other hotel locations, QT Canberra’s rooms are furnished in a monochromatic palette, with pops of colour, a world-class restaurant, and a bar for nightcaps or late-night bites. Lucky’s Speakeasy is a must-visit.
Another hotel brand known for being cool is Ovolo. Situated in the NewActon precinct, Ovolo Nishi only has 68 rooms, but each is spacious and flooded with light. The industrial style is rustic but still fresh, with textured concrete walls and warm woods. Downstairs is the Monster Bar and Kitchen, which serves a continental breakfast or a la carte option during the day, and a vegetarian feast, with a touch of fine dining at night.
Admire Art Collections From Around Planet Earth
Go on a museum and gallery crawl to see the blockbuster exhibitions at the national galleries and museums. The National Gallery of Australia is always displaying new works from international and local artists. The National Portrait Gallery is also a great place to explore Australian art.