We'll admit that we were a little (pleasantly) surprised when Lonely Planet named Canberra number three in its 'Best in Travel 2018' list. Then we remembered all the trendy spots that have transformed this city into a foodie and culture vulture's heaven (and not just a hub for politicians and ANU students). Intrigued to see what all the fuss is about? We've found the coolest things to check out on a weekend away in Australia's capital.
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Melbourne may hold the monopoly on hipster-friendly cafés and restaurants, but Canberra is starting to give it a run for its money (pun intended). One of the city's newest and most stylish precincts, NewActon in the CBD is the place to go for brunch or sunset drinks (Parlour Wine Room and A Baker are fabulous options). There's also culture to be soaked up here, with the fascinating Nishi Gallery located just next door to Parlour.
For another trendy suburb, hit up Kingston (10 minutes south of the city centre). There's a heap of quality coffee spots here to get caffeinated and its Art Precinct on Wentworth Avenue is where you'll find some of the city's most beautiful architecture (the precinct centres around Canberra's historic industrial buildings).
If it's a mood-lit hideaway with top-notch tipples that you're seeking, take a trip back in time and visit Lucky's Speakeasy at QT Canberra. Situated right in the heart of the city, the bar promises expertly made cocktails and a good night out.
Head just up the road and you'll stumble across another must-visit, The Highball Express. A colourful Cuban-themed bar with equal measures party and chill, at this trendy spot you can also master the art of mixology in a masterclass.
If you like your bars on the slightly grungy side, dive (again, pun intended) into Hippo Co. just up the road. With enough stag heads, timber panelling and red brick to keep Ron Swanson happy, this masterfully masculine bar offers whiskey tastings with a side of old-world charm. Nightcap, anyone?
Canberra has made a name for itself in the world of fine dining, with an array of sophisticated restaurants opening their doors in the past few years. A bit of a must-visit for serious foodies, Aubergine in Griffith is a multi-award-winning option where the regularly evolving menu focuses on fresh produce and modern-Australian flavours. Book a table before you leave for Canberra.
Looking to share? Temporada in the CBD plates up pretty-as-a-picture tapas that you'll want to hoard for yourself. What about devilishly good desserts? Visit eightysix in Canberra's hip Braddon precinct for the most indulgent (and elegant) sundaes you'll find anywhere.
Luckily for travellers, Canberra has done the hard work and put all its main museums and galleries in the one place. The essential triangle, as it’s called, features the National Portrait Gallery, the National Library of Australia and the National Gallery of Australia, plus a little place called Parliament House.
Whether you’re serious art-lovers or looking for an interesting day out, take a peek at the NGA's list of exhibitions and you'll probably find something that appeals to you. Highlights to look forward to? Culture vultures will be impressed by the upcoming American Masters 1940-1980 exhibition, showcasing the likes of Jackson Pollock. Couples partial to a little glamour will love the upcoming Cartier Exhibition, featuring dazzling pieces including Grace Kelly's engagement ring and a tiara worn by Queen Elizabeth II and Kate Middleton.
Book yourselves a room at the cooler-than-cool Hotel Hotel in NewActon and take a happy snap of its hidden secret garden from the interior of your room. #LushLife
Tick off another Canberra essential experience and grab yourselves a coffee at the award-winning Ona. Sourcing premium quality ethically produced coffee beans straight from farmers, these coffee connoisseurs own a few spots around Canberra. Head to its Insta-ready Ona Cupping Room in the CBD and find a comfy spot, or order a take-away and explore the city, snapping a selfie with your cup in the foreground (of course).
If you're not content to spend your whole stay in the city, Canberra's outer regions have plenty to discover. Take a drive out to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve (40 minutes south of the CBD) and spot Canberra's big five: wombats, koalas, emus, wallabies and (if you're lucky) platypuses. Pack your camera and good walking shoes.
Want more wildlife? Drive just 10 minutes west of the CBD and feel as if you've ventured into Africa at Jamala Wildlife Lodge. Here, you can glamp in a treehouse where inquisitive giraffe wander over to say hello. There are also bungalows available where the only thing separating you from lions, cheetahs, tigers, brown bears and Malaysian sun bears is a (very thick) glass wall.
Of course, if you're more into wine than wildlife, Canberra's wine region (35 minutes' drive north of the CBD) has a lot to offer – 140 vineyards and 30 cellar doors, in fact. Wind your way along the region's scenic route and stop wherever takes your fancy. One last tip: fit in time for a meal at Poachers Pantry Smokehouse Restaurant. If its sprawling views of vineyards and Marino sheep aren't enough to enchant you, the food (featuring traditionally smoked meats) certainly will. Thank you for smoking.
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