An Expert’s Guide To Canberra
Turns out the capital has plenty to offer.
Prepare to experience one good thing after another in Canberra. Because whether it’s world-class wining and dining, iconic national treasures or breathtaking natural beauty, everything is just moments away.
If you’re after a break that’s packed with variety and is only a few hours’ drive or plane ride away, we’ve got the pick for you: Canberra.
If you’re a Canberra sceptic (thanks to memories of a lacklustre school trip or too many nights spent yelling at the TV screen during Question Time), we don’t blame you. But times are changing, and the capital has changed a lot, too.
Hear us out: Canberra has more restaurants per capita than any other city in Australia. Bundle that with more cultural institutions, unique events and exhibitions than you can poke a stick at, and you get the picture.
We’ve teamed up with a few Canberra tastemakers – chef Ben Willis from Aubergine, editor Amanda Whitley from Her Canberra and Hotel Hotel creative coordinator and Nishi Gallery manager Sunita White – to get the low down on why you should choose to spend your precious annual leave days in the capital.
Read on and weep, friends.
If You Like… Wining And Dining
If you don’t like food and drink (WHO ARE YOU?), move along. For the rest of you, take note: Canberra is fast becoming a hotbed of emerging culinary creativity. It’s a movement lead by chefs who’re passionate about their city and their craft, working hard to generate the recognition Canberra’s drinking and dining scene deserves.
“Canberra has improved dramatically in the last couple of years, and it will only get better and better,” says Ben Willis, one of the city’s most talked-about chefs, known for his popular Canberra restaurant, Aubergine. “It’s made Canberra a more enjoyable place to live and be proud of. There are coffee roasters, wine makers and craft beer brewers that are killing it at a world-class level.”
If you’re a diehard foodie, Willis recommends XO restaurant in Narrabundah for a night out. “It’s just a relaxed place with great modern South East Asian food. I particularly like the duck risotto. It’s got shredded duck leg, baby king brown and porcini mushrooms and a herbal broth – it’s a killer winter dish.” Where do we sign up?
If you’re more of a ‘liquid dinner’ person, Willis suggests checking out Bar Rochford on London Circuit for a drink or two. “It has a great vibe, an interesting selection of skin contact wines and great bar food,” he says. Located in the iconic Melbourne building, Bar Rochford offers drops from Mada Wines. Run by Hamish Young, the small-batch wines are dedicated to showing off the unique grapes of the Canberra region and surrounds. Perch on a bar stool – upholstered in the same green vinyl used in the House of Representatives – and enjoy a glass or two, or grab a bottle to take away and enjoy at home.
If You Like… Culture, Culture And More Culture
As we head into spring, Canberra becomes a hive for culture fiends, pulling them in with a vibrant arts, food and entrepreneurial culture, and some of the best institutions in the country. “We are the place to be if you want to explore Australia’s history and culture,” says Amanda Whitley, who runs Canberra lifestyle bible, Her Canberra. “The national cultural institutions are a must see.”
Remember the booby whale hot air balloon? Australian artist Patricia Piccinini returns to Canberra as part of Hyper Real, a provocative mixed-media exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia, that explores what being human really means. There’re towering giants, genetically engineered babies, weird sculptures and even virtual reality presentations – it’s hyperrealism on speed.
Other cultural events at the top of Whitley’s list? The Forage’s spring event on 21 October, where some of the region’s best street food and live music will pop up on the grounds of Little National Hotel in Barton. Then there’s the region’s Truffle Festival, a must for foodies. And don’t miss NightFest, which runs over two weekends in conjunction with Floriade. It’s a cornucopia of live music acts, renowned comedians, cutting edge DJs, night markets and roving entertainment.
Sunita White works as the creative-coordinator for Hotel Hotel (a work of art in itself) and is at the forefront of Canberra’s arts community through the hotel’s Nishi Gallery. She also points visitors looking for a taste of the arts to the National Gallery of Australia. “At the moment they are exhibiting Defying Empire – the third national Indigenous art triennial – with works from 30 contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. It’s a really powerful exhibition about past and current identity,” she says.
If You Like… Seeing Cool Stuff With Your Eyes, Or Making Cool Stuff With Your Hands
Canberra’s art scene is thriving right now – artists at all levels (emerging to established) are picking up what the city’s putting down in terms of events, workshops and galleries big and small. “The city has a strong local craft community, so there’s always a local exhibition to go to,” says White. “There’s Bilk Gallery in Manuka, Glassworks in Megalo in Kingston, KIN Gallery in Braddon and Craft ACT in the city – all with amazing local and international artists working with different materials.” Check out Kin Gallery’s jewellery making classes if you feel like getting crafty.
If You Like… Getting In Touch With Nature
In a nutshell, Canberra is a near-perfect result of big city convenience meeting country town charm. You can poke through cultural institutions, shop up a storm and enjoy world-class cuisine, but you can also unwind next to an expansive lake and forget about the ‘main drag’ completely – all in the same day.
Check out the National Arboretum, one of the city’s most underrated gems. It’s home to over 44,000 trees from more than 100 countries in 94 forests, and one of the world’s largest living collections of rare, endangered and significant trees. We’re pretty sure this represents the best picnic spot in the whole country, but you should definitely judge that call yourself.
If animals are more your thing, Canberra’s got you sorted in that department, too. There may not be kangaroos bouncing around Parliament House when you go, but take a quick drive out of the city centre and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the wildlife. The best way to take it all in? Hire a bicycle and ride around Lake Burley Griffin a few times – see how many black swans you can spot.
Lead image: Bar Rochford/Facebook
From art to culture, food to festivals, Canberra has it all in spades. Find out more here.