A business trip to Canberra should not fill you with dread, the city that takes roundabouts to new heights is perhaps the best destination for business travellers.
I’ve a sure-fire way of irritating my Canberra friends when the mood takes me: I tell them the federal capital is dull and boring. They’re understandably offended by this outdated and inaccurate description. It may have been true 20 years ago but now this purpose-built city, designed by Walter Burley Griffin and home to 320,000 residents, deserves to bask in the national spotlight.
Numerous unique attractions, good restaurants, interesting neighbourhoods and an array of events drive surging tourism. Australians increasingly decide to make at least one trip to the ACT. For the rest – growing numbers of private-sector executives, lobbyists and bureaucrats who need to head there – a visit shouldn’t be dreaded. In fact free time, even during chilly winters, can be fun.
Getting around Canberra
Canberra International Airport (the name is more about ambition than reality) is compact and 6km from a hub called Civic. Taxis ($14 to $17 to hotels) and the Airliner Shuttle ($7) are just outside. Cabs are sometimes scarce, so sharing, with per-passenger fares reduced, is common. Key car rental companies are represented. Taxis are handiest for reaching meetings but the city has an extensive bus system. Many visitors drive from Sydney (280km).
Where to stay in Canberra
The Hyatt is ritziest; business-angled chains such as Rydges abound, along with apartment-hotel groups such as Medina, Quest and Saville. Most popular of corporate options is the clean-lined, central-city Novotel (from $170) with customary business services. Brassey (from $118) is a low-profile alternative in leafy Barton with a country-house ambience and favoured by cost-sensitive suits. Diplomat (from $146) is a well-appointed business-angled bolthole handy for Parliament and the important Manuka precinct. Pavilion (from $135), with its foliage-filled atrium, sits on Northbourne Ave’s hotel row near Civic and is sensible for longer-than-one-night stays with its choice of rooms or apartments. Olims (from $105) is a stylish National Trust-listed garden-setting historic property, but splurge an extra $24 for a spacious loft. Its homely, secure atmosphere makes it a female travellers’ favourite. On super-tight budgets, plain vanilla but spiffily clean Formule 1 is no-frills territory five minutes’ drive from Civic.
NOVOTEL // (02) 6245 5000, www.accorhotels.com
BRASSEY // (02) 6273 3766, www.brassey.net.au
DIPLOMAT // (02) 6295 2277, www.diplomathotel.com.au
PAVILION // (02) 6247 6888, www.pavilioncanberra.com
OLIMS //(02) 6243 0000, www.olimshotel.com
FORMULE 1 // (02) 6253 9020, www.accorhotels.com
Entertain clients in Canberra
A flawless choice: the Heritage-listed Hyatt’s Promenade with a Mediterranean-influenced spin on Mod-Oz, showcasing both seafood (though Canberra is 150km inland) and meat dishes. Political leaders love it. Buffet-style, it’s unstuffy and bustling with tables sufficiently spaced for confidential negotiations. Or there’s Axis, popular for business nosh with stunning Lake Burley Griffin views from its National Museum vantage point. Innovative and newish is award-winning Milk And Honey in Civic’s heart where I enjoyed an outstanding snapper fillet on a chorizo and vegetable crush, among many creations by sizzling chefs Simon Collett and Malcolm Hatch. Or, in good weather with associates who don’t need schmoozing, take an outdoor table for casual Italian (or just coffee and cake) at near-neighbour Tosolini’s. Manuka’s Julep Lounge twins an oh-so-fashionable cocktail lounge with a damned good Euro-style eatery. Memorable example: oven-roasted beef fillet on roasted garlic and lavender mash. While Promenade is “safe”, Julep Lounge is better if your companion is a foodie.
PROMENADE // (02) 6269 8810, www.canberra.park.hyatt.com
AXIS // (02) 6208 5176
MILK AND HONEY // (02) 6247 7722, www.milkandhoney.net.au
TOSOLINI’S // (02) 6247 4317
JULEP LOUNGE // (02)6239 5060
Things to do in Canberra
Canberra’s options are abundant. The National Gallery welcomes top-drawer travelling exhibitions but permanent exhibits encompass Australia’s modern, colonial and Aboriginal art as well as Europe’s Old Masters. The National Museum brings together exhibits putting Australia into context and explaining what makes us tick. The Australian War Memorial covers Australians in conflict, managing to attract far wider audiences than military history buffs. Questacon National Science and Technology Centre presents opportunities for button-pushing and hands-on experimentation, or join an informative tour of Parliament. Many visitors walk or jog along the edge of artificial Lake Burley Griffin (or rent a cycle and ride clearly-marked paths). With more time, explore Canberra’s wine trail (mostly in NSW), with over 30 cellar doors mostly within a half-hour’s drive of Civic.
NATIONAL GALLERY // (02) 6240 6502, www.nga.gov.au
NATIONAL MUSEUM // (02) 6208 5000, www.nma.gov.au
WAR MEMORIAL // (02) 6243 4211, www.awm.gov.au
QUESTACON // (02) 6270 2800, www.questacon.edu.au
PARLIAMENT // (02) 6277 7111, www.aph.gov.au
RENTALS & CYCLE // (02) 6248 7995, www.realfun.com.au
WINE TRAIL CANBERRA // 1300 554 114, www.canberrawines.com.au
Canberra’s jazz scene emits sweet sounds at Hippo Lounge Bar (where women travellers will feel comfortable). To graze or drink on impulse, the Manuka and Civic areas are best (though Civic gets a tad rough after pubs close; female visitors generally prefer Manuka). Little Brussels in Kingston is a mussels-serving hotspot in the popular Belgian beer café mould. One of my favourites, often packed with Australian National University students, is Civic’s cheap-and-cheerful Phoenix, with battered church-pew seats and scruffy couches. Live Irish music is sometimes featured here, with its more authentic feel than the capital’s many pseudo-Irish pubs. The grand-sounding Canberra Club is female-friendly and casual with out-of-towners gaining instant membership. Upstairs, the pokie section is easily ignored. Easy-on-the-purse club fare is offered, as well as one of the capital’s best bars. Best of all, a hushed library area has current publications (and free Internet access). Canberra Theatre Centre is a forum for drama, music and ballet, while the Canberra Symphony Orchestra performs at a variety of venues. Low-key Canberra Casino in Civic provides expected table games but no machines.
HIPPO LOUNGE BAR // (02) 6247 7555
LITTLE BRUSSELS // (02) 6260 6511
PHOENIX // (02) 6247 1606
CANBERRA CLUB // (02) 6248 9000, www.canberraclub.com.au
CANBERRA THEATRE CENTRE // (02) 6275 2700, www.canberratheatre.org.au
CANBERRA SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA // (02) 6247 9191, www.cso.org.au
1. Got a spare hour? Drive through Yarralumla’s embassy belt where many diplomatic posts display architectural styles of their nations.
2. Ask a politician to whinge about Canberra cabs. They’re often in short supply with longest waits at lunchtime and mid-afternoon.
3. Spread-out Canberra isn’t foot-friendly. Roads, smooth, broad and meeting at big roundabouts, cater poorly for pedestrians. Distances are greater than they appear. The ACT is bigger than many visitors imagine: getting to a meeting can easily rack up a $25 cab fare.