Over the past few years, the city of Canberra has been quietly making strides towards the title of Australia’s must-visit domestic destination. What was once merely the home of politics and bureaucrats is now a growing hub of culture, superb restaurants and trendy, inner-city neighbourhoods which rival the nearby cities of Sydney and Melbourne.
While international travel may be out of the question for Australians for now, what better time to rediscover our own backyard? Here’s how I recently spent the weekend in the nation’s capital.
There are numerous ways to travel to Canberra, with the airport only a short drive out of the city centre, as well as being connected by train and coach services. Being from Sydney myself, I chose to drive the three or so hours between Sydney and Canberra – and I couldn’t recommend it more.
For the drive, I was fortunate enough to do so in the Lexus UX250h compact SUV, aptly described as “built for discovery and adventure”.
The UX250h is a self-charging, hybrid-electric vehicle, which carries the pro’s of an electric car without the hassle of wondering where you’re going to charge it. The drive experience is exactly what you would expect from a premium SUV – it’s smooth, agile and balances impressive performance with remarkable fuel-efficiency.
Whilst the sporty silhouette may be the first thing to catch your eye, it’s the attention to detail in the driver’s seat that will truly impress. While the ‘UX’ in the name may be an acronym for ‘Urban Explorer’ it could just as easily refer to ‘User Experience’, because that’s exactly what this car offers. The model I drove was fitted with the Sports Luxury EP package, which includes ‘Head-Up Display’, projecting your current speed, the local speed limit and turn-by-turn navigation instructions onto the windscreen, making the drive on the Hume and Federal Highways a breeze.
You can discover more about the Lexus UX250h here.
THINGS TO DO IN CANBERRA
There is a host of cultural and historical monuments in Canberra. In fact, virtually everywhere you look there’s a nod to Australian history. As you may expect, central to all of this is Parliament House – quite literally located in the centre of the State Circle in Capital Hill. Although only officially opened in 1988, it boasts a clear view across Lake Burley Griffin to the Australian War Memorial – a shrine to the country’s gratefulness for military sacrifice.
However, it’s the cultural and artistic attractions which truly set Canberra apart. First and foremost is the National Gallery of Australia, located just a stone’s throw from Parliament House in Parkes. The NGA is one of the country’s largest art galleries, holding over 166,000 works by Australian and international artists. Expect to see works from the likes of Henri Matisse, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, René Magritte, Yayoi Kasuma and Jackson Pollock amongst the gallery’s permanent and revolving collections.
Next up, and just a short stroll away, is the National Portrait Gallery – a collection of portraits of noteworthy Australians. The collection itself is an eclectic mix of the “who’s who” of Australians past and present – you’re sure to recognise more than a few of the famous faces adorning the walls. The current exhibition – “Pub Rock” – is a particular must-see, charting scenes throughout the 70’s and 80’s and the people, places and sounds of Australian pub rock and its enduring impact on the national identity.
For some fresh air, the National Arboretum – a 250 hectare sanctuary of living gardens – offers incredible views across Canberra. The National Arboretum was established in 2005, in the wake of the 2001 and 2003 bushfires which devastated Canberra, and includes more than 100 different types of trees from all over the world. A standout is the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia, which includes dozens of rare and carefully cultivated Bonsai trees.
Over the past few years, the dining scene in Canberra has seen a boom – with a number of exceptional bars and restaurants making a case for the capital as the emerging culinary destination of Australia.
A short drive out of the city centre in the suburb of Narrabundah is XO – a restaurant which serves up South East Asian cuisine with contemporary flair. With a set menu that changes regularly, expect a mixture of pan-Asian delights and new musings on classic flavours.
Standouts include the Mapo tofu dumplings, served with a chilli dressing which adds exactly the right amount of kick to really make the dish sing. Elsewhere on the menu, the Asian bolognese with a 60-degree egg is an utter delight and although hard for me to pick a favourite dish from the menu, this one is hard to beat.
Also worth mentioning is the extensive wine selection, populated entirely by Australian wines from regions like the Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills and Margaret River. If you’re stuck for choice, the exceptional staff are well-versed in the selection and can suggest the perfect pairing for the current set menu.
Closer to the city centre, Rebel Rebel is anything but a simple providore. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, there’s a standout option for every taste, for every meal of the day, every day of the week and is located just a short stroll from some of the city’s best hotels near Acton.
When it comes to buzzy bars with exceptional atmosphere, you can’t look past Bar Rochford. Tucked away through a barely visible doorway in the Melbourne Building right in the city centre, Bar Rochford serves up delicious wines, well-crafted cocktails and an impressive food menu.
WHERE TO STAY
If you’re not already convinced to make Canberra your next weekend away, then a look at some of the city’s best hotels is sure to seal the deal.
Midnight Hotel, situated in the bustling suburb of Braddon, offers a contemporary blend of classic hotel experience with a stylish nuance that makes for an equally luxurious and exciting stay. Located just a few blocks north of the city centre, the suburb of Braddon has a distinctively ‘cool’ vibe. Expect to find favourites like Messina, Sonoma and Milky Lane alongside a host of upmarket restaurants, trendy bars and boutique stores which feel reminiscent of an inner city suburb of Melbourne or Sydney.
On the south side of the city centre, QT Canberra takes a prime position on London Circuit which overlooks Parliament House and Lake Burley Griffin and features a relaxed lounge bar and a Speakeasy. Nearby, the Ovolo Nishi is the ultimate blend of luxury accommodation, artistic influence and prime location. If the impressive architecture doesn’t blow you away, their list of hotel experiences will. From massages and fitness classes to haircuts and even a library, the Ovolo Nishi makes a solid case for spending some quality time within the hotel itself.
Across the lake, the Little National Hotel offers the boutique hotel experience in their cosy and affordable rooms. A favourite for the corporate travellers, this hotel shows that good things do indeed come in small packages.
Elsewhere around Canberra, there’s a picturesque selection of wineries, outdoor adventures and cultural experiences to enjoy. For more information on what to see, eat and do in Canberra, Visit Canberra provides curated guides on everything from the best places to snap a selfie to the city’s most impressive architectural sites.
Before booking, please check travel and health restrictions.