Canberra is a having a moment — and we suggest you check it out for yourself. Maybe it’s the colder winters (relative to the rest of Australia), but in recent years Canberra locals have been focusing on great coffee and fine food, using local produce and drawing on the many multicultural influences which spring from the character of the Canberra community. Combine the fine food with epic national capital buildings, big dollops of outdoor adventure around the lake, and amazing experiences of nature at your doorstep, and you have the ingredients that make Canberra so unique. Is your interest piqued? If so, here are our tips on what to see and do in the city.
Whether it’s walking, jogging or cycling you’re into, Canberra’s lakeside and parkland paths invite a reconnection with the land, water and sky. The early morning or late afternoon are the best times to catch the light dancing off the surrounding peaks, reflections on the lake, or to glimpse the fleeting colours of local birdlife. Pick up a free map of the cycle paths around the lake or the National Capital Authorities “Lake Burley Griffin Walk” map and guide at the Regatta Point Visitors Centre.
Make a deviation from the lakeside path to wander through Reconciliation Place from Questacon to the National Portrait Gallery. The still-unfolding story of Australia is showcased here both literally and in symbolic form through ancient and recent stories of the First Nations people, their enduring connection to country, and their struggle for rights. The artworks and stories start near the National Library. Pause as you circle around a small hill and continue on the path toward the High Court. You should take a quick look at the stories about the artworks before you go to introduce yourself to their hidden meanings.
Most people arrive at the gallery thinking all the real art must be inside, or scuttle along the main lakeside path missing the treasures just metres away behind the trees. Yes, there is plenty of exquisite art inside, but outside on the northern and southern sides of the gallery are some amazing art experiences which transport you to different worlds. Like “Heads from the North” floating above a pond (on the lakeside), or the ethereal “Within Without” by James Turrell (on the King Edward Terrance side of the gallery). Cross the bridge down across the water into what could be mistaken for a Mayan temple and immerse yourself in the blue water and red walls of another world peering up into light beyond.
The National Museum of Australia is a big place and a bit out of the way, but well worth a visit. Many visitors just have a quick and cursory look at more recent periods in the Australian story, but here’s a #localsknow tip: after getting your free map, turn right after the museum shop, head down the stairs, and take a shortcut across the courtyard and go directly into the First Australians gallery for the most captivating and informative experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in the country. You then have time to wander back though the other more recent chapters of the story of Australia, and perhaps have a snack at the lakeside café on the way back to the entry.
The Australian National Botanic Gardens house the world’s largest collection of Australian native plants. Grab your free map from the visitor centre then stroll along the main path past the unique and rather peculiar Aussie flowers, like the multi-coloured kangaroo paws, to arrive at the red centre garden. Over in the far corner there are some stone benches and a place to listen to some recorded ranger stories for a glimpse of life in the desert, which stretches across the interior of this vast continent. Then meander down to the rock waterfall and garden. Do you see any animals? Look again closely, because the grey-coloured water dragons blend in well with the rocks. If you see one you are likely to then spot a dozen or more of these watchful lizards.
Now cut across the Brittle Gum lawn and take the path into the rainforest gully. Timing is of the essence. Aim to be on the rainforest floor path between noon and 12:30pm, when the ultra-fine water misters come on to give the ferns a foggy, cool drink.
Stop for lunch at the Pollen Café with its range of scrumptious offerings. It’s a popular place with locals so get there as early as you can for a good table, or make a booking.
If you’re in Canberra on a Sunday, head over to the popular Old Bus Depot Markets near the Kingston Foreshore for a range of arts and crafts by local artisans, and enjoy some fresh juice at the food stalls. Next door is the Canberra Glassworks, open 10am to 4pm Wednesday to Sunday.
If you want to join a bunch of local beer enthusiasts to sample the best our craft beer makers have to offer, then Dave’s Brewery Tours is the way to go. If you prefer wine, there are 30 vineyard cellar doors within 30 minutes of the city centre. You can take a winery tour and sample the vines, or grab a free winery map at the visitor centre, hire a car and draw lots on who has to drive and miss out on too much wine tasting.
Head to the National Aboretum Canberra Village Centre, for lunch, a wander through the growing forests and, for the kids, the coolest playground in Canberra called “the Pod.” Be prepared to sit back and enjoy the mountain and lake views for a long time once the kids get into this place.