Don’t listen to the nay-sayers. The truth is that the nation’s capital rocks.
Canberra is home to national museums and art galleries harbouring prestigious collections. It has a cool café culture and a growing bar and restaurant scene, and it stages exhibitions and multi-cultural events throughout the year, including the spectacular Floriade.
The city has embraced the cycle-path, including one that circumnavigates Lake Burley Griffin, while the nearby mountains offer bushwalks, more strenuous hikes and winter sports.
Canberra is home to a NASA space observatory, the National Arboretum, the Australian War Memorial and the grass-roofed Federal Parliament building, all of which are open to the public. On top of all that, it is an elegant and carefully planned city, with wide, grand, tree-lined boulevards and dramatic and sweeping view corridors that join its urban heart and with its rural environs.
Friday Evening: Head for funky Asian-inspired bar-bistro Soju Girl in the city centre (it’s popular, so book ahead). Among the stand-out smaller dishes are crispy pork in palm sugar caramel, and squid in red dragon paste, while the larger dishes include Ma Po (spicy Szechuan tofu with shitake mushrooms), lamb massaman curry and chicken katsu in house kimchee with pineapple caramel – all delicious. Wash it all down with a house cocktail, chilled Sapporo beer or Kung Foo rice lager.
Limited time, lots to do, so get organised … over baked eggs, rose-scented granola and great coffee at Mocan & Green Grout, a hip little ethical café on the edge of the city centre (free-range eggs, sustainable seafood, fair trade coffee, local and seasonal produce). It’s Manhattan cool with a northern California folky touch. Grab a stool at the green stone cooking bench and watch the chefs at work among bowls of fruit and jars of fresh herbs, jams and relishes.
For art fiends the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery will take up most of your Saturday. The former’s permanent collection has Impressionist and Surrealist works from Europe, a considerable Australian representation (of course) and some Pop Art classics, plus a temporary Roy Lichtenstein exhibition until January 27. The latter has portraits of numerous Australian luminaries, including some very recent works. There are also several smaller galleries dotted around town (see www.visitcanberra.com.au for details).
If you are after a history hit, the Parliament House daily guided tour (www.aph.gov.au) is well worth it, and if you have time you can add on a quick look around the Museum of Australian Democracy, which is housed in Old Parliament House. My personal favourite is the National Capital Exhibition,which very clearly explains Canberra’s somewhat unconventional birth and development.
If you can’t go a day without exercise, then rent bicycles (www.capitalbicyclehire.com.au has locations around the city) and pedal your way around the lake, through the leafy suburbs or further afield.
There’s a reason there are lots of good restaurants in Canberra – politicians and diplomats like to eat well! There’s a frenzy of Asian food down near the Australian National University in Acton, one of the best spots being Mr Shabu Shabu (Japanese) where you are brought raw meat and vegetables and a bowl of broth boiling on a flame. You end up doing your own cooking but it’s fun and delicious.
If you fancy tasty pub grub and good beers, head for Public in Manuka (pronounced Mar-na-ka, by the way), and if you are after something a bit more intimate but still lively, slide into a leather booth at Ox in the East Hotel in Kingston. There’s also a new Jamie Oliver restaurant in town – Jamie’s Italian.
In summer, why not put together a picnic with great fresh produce from the Fyshwick Markets (see Shop), take a blanket (don’t tell the hotel!) and have a romantic sunset picnic in a lakeside park, such as the one by the International Flag Display near the National Library.
Have breakfast at Ona Coffee in Manuka, then take a stroll beneath the big gums and fir trees in pretty Telopea Park to the Kingston Powerhouse on the lake foreshore. Inside you’ll find the Canberra Glassworks, where you can watch live demonstrations of artists blowing glass. Canberra has quite a glass-scene going on and it is truly amazing to watch these guys doing their thing in the purpose-built “Hot Shop”. You need to book in advance … and ask if you can have go yourself.
You can also stroll around the Old Bus Depot markets that are held here every Sunday.
Canberra – FACTFILE
Brand new design hotel is opening soon called Hotel Hotel.
In the meantime, The Brassey, in Barton, is good for heritage accommodation, while the Burbury, also in Barton, and East Hotel, in Kingston, offer more of an executive stay. Alternatively, you might want to check out renting an apartment (www.visitcanberra.com.auhas suggestions).
Soju Girl, Northboune Avenue, Civic.
Mocan & Green Grout, Marcus Clarke Street, New Acton South.
Mr Shabu Shabu, Shop 6/35 Childers Street, Acton.
Jamie’s Italian, 125 Bunda Street, Civic.
Public, cnr Flinders Way and Franklin Street, Manuka.
Ox, East Hotel, 69 Canberra Avenue, Kingston.
Ona Coffee, off Bougainville Street, Manuka.
As well as Public and Soju Girl (see Eat) both of which are good for a drink with or without food, you might want to check out Debacle on Lonsdale Street in Braddon and the Wig and Pen English Pub on Alinga Street in Civic.
Take a stroll up Lonsdale Street in Braddon, which is fast becoming a hip shopping precinct with eclectic fashion outlets and hot designer stores.
The Fyshwick Markets are perfect if you are planning a romantic lake-side picnic. There’s also a phenomenal bottle shop there called Plonk, with a truly global collection of beers and ciders.