March 23, 2023
13 mins Read
Looking for the best things to do in Canberra? Well, a weekend in the national capital is now, more than ever before, an extremely exciting proposition. If you want to stay indoors, then its bars, breweries, restaurants, galleries, museums and boutiques will keep you happy in the rain or sunshine.
But this eminently liveable city is also known for its great outdoors. Whether you’re tackling one of Canberra’s stunning walks, stopping to smell the flowers during Floriade, hiring an e-bike to zip around the lake, or enjoying brunch al fresco.
Forget whatever preconceived notion you have of Canberra. Residents will tell you it’s an extremely liveable city with lots of fun things to do. Here are just are few of them.
Lake Burley Griffin has become the shining jewel in Canberra’s crown. And while big-hitting attractions such as its galleries, museums and architectural landmarks are on everyone’s radar, super-smart travellers are also exploring corners of Canberra that are less well-known from cycling trails to playground picnic spots and swimming pools.
One of the best things to do in Canberra is loop around the lake on two wheels. Places such as NewActon Bike Hire and Cycle Canberra have options to suit a range of riders. Adrenaline junkies can head out of town with experienced guides from Mulga Bicycle Tours, while families can look into Share A Bike, which has child bikes and bike trailers. Cycle City Hire will take keen cyclists via shuttle bus to tackle the Stromlo Forest Park. You can also hire a scooter from Beam or Neuron to whiz around the water.
There are a plethora of places to take children under the age of 10 when visiting Canberra. The Pod Playground and Forest Sculpture Gallery are great to explore. These popular Canberra attractions are adjacent to the National Arboretum, a living mosaic of forests and gardens with more than 44,000 rare and endangered trees across a 250-hectare site. There are also several places to picnic such as the Bonsai Garden and designated barbecue areas that offer views over Canberra’s cinematic landscapes.
Canberra can cook over the summer. So there’s something to be said about its swimming pools. Manuka Pool was the first public swimming pool in Canberra and this Art Deco beauty is a great place to go in the height of summer. In addition to providing puddles of shade for a picnic, the recently refurbished pool (which opened in 1931) has a toddler pool for tiny tots. Canberra Olympic Pool will appeal to teenagers as it has the city’s only diving board. The Australian Institute of Sport is a world-class facility on the fringes of Canberra, and you can swim in the 50-metre and 25-metre heated pools.
There are a number of notable mid-century modern buildings in Canberra that are worthy of a visit in their own right. If the style of the buildings looks cohesive, it’s because they were mostly designed by architects from the Federal Capital Commission. Time your visit to coincide with the Design Canberra Festival, in September, which runs small-group architecture tours of iconic Canberra buildings. Use Parliament House as your starting point, then loop to the War Memorial and National Gallery.
You will find a lot to inspire in Canberra, a city that centres around music, dance, museums and theatre. Culture vultures converge on the nation’s capital whenever there’s a show or exhibition they want to see. There are more than 30 galleries in the nation’s capital to find inspiration, including kid-friendly spaces such as Questacon and the CSIRO Discovery Centre.
The National Museum of Australia is located on Acton Peninsula, a finger of land that juts out into Lake Burley Griffin.
You can take a guided tour or wander solo through the many exhibitions that present a range of rich and diverse Australian stories.
The new Great Southern Land gallery tells a uniquely Australian story. Take a tour to get an introduction to the museum highlights.
The National Gallery is regarded as one of the best museums and art galleries in Canberra. It has more than 166,000 words in its permanent collection, which strikes the perfect balance between old, new, modern and masterpiece.
Defo spend a day in the oft-overlooked Sculpture Garden, which includes works by Henry Moore. The National Gallery has one of the world’s largest collections of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art.
In a state of only 390,000 people, the fact that the ACT has 10 chef’s-hatted restaurants is very impressive. The great news is you can dine out every night of the week and still have reasons to return!
From family-friendly restaurants to restaurants designed for romance, here are the hatted restaurants that should be on your hit list: Onzieme, Mu Omakase, Italian and Sons, Terra, RAKU, Bar Rochford, XO and Pavilion Dining at Pialligo Estate. Pivot toward Pilot in Ainslie if only two hats will do.
Food trend forecasters would never have predicted that an over-the-top milkshake would make Canberra a must-visit for Instagrammers. While some fads fade away, the freak shake remains. It’s that remarkable. But there’s a lot more on the menu at Patissez in Manuka. For instance, the crispy corn and zucchini fritters and Tijuana tacos have been trying to elbow the freak shake out of the way since 2016 (when the craze took off).
Watch the artists perform their magic forming everything from one-off figurines to vases and glasses in the working studio dubbed the Engine Room at Canberra Glassworks. You can take a free heritage tour of the Kingston Powerhouse, which celebrated its centenary in 2015 or sign up for a class designed to fire up your imagination.
Experts in the field conduct state-of-the-art workshops that demonstrate how to mould glowing glass into amazing shapes and colours. Sign up for a sample session on weekends where you can learn to blow, fuse and sculpt your own paperweight (in 20 minutes) or a tumbler (40 minutes).
Lake Burley Griffin is not just for gazing at over a cocktail from one of the city’s busy bars. Although we thoroughly endorse a bar crawl around the nation’s capital as a fun option. But you should also consider earning those pina colada calories by hiring a canoe, kayak, row boat or paddle board from providers such as GoBoat Canberra and Capital Paddle. Pick up a bike from Canberra Electric Bikes and do a lap of the lake, which curves around Capital Hill.
You can whet your whistle on an elegant wine, bold brew or hand-crafted spirits thanks to the next-gen winemakers, brewers and distillers who take advantage of the city’s cool climate and pristine water supply.
BentSpoke is one of the best brewpubs in Canberra for a tipple or two. The brainchild of Champion Australian brewers Richard Watkins and Tracy Margrain, this brewery has opened up a production-scale facility to cater to demand. Crack open a Cranking IPA or Barley Griffin to get into gear. You can also include Brew Nation and Capital Brewing Co in your pub crawl.
Winemakers in the Canberra District use the crisp, cool climate and regional terroir to their advantage to craft complex and elegant wines. The first vines were planted in the region in the 1840s and re-emerged in the 70s thanks to some fine work by scientists at the CSIRO.
Start at Helm Wines, where you may be lucky enough to meet Ken Helm, one of the region’s pioneering winemakers. There are now three distinct wine regions in the area, news that will certainly please serious oenophiles who can drop a few pins in the map app to meet the makers at their cellar doors.
Blood Orange Gin, French Earl Grey Gin, and Old George Reserve Whisky are just some of the drinks that will attract spirit geeks to The Canberra Distillery, just 10 minutes out of the city centre.
Lean into the experience of visiting Big River Distilling Co. with a tour and tutored tasting with founder and distiller Clyde Morton. Australia’s first certified organic spirits company is also in Canberra and it’s where you will find The Antipodes Gin.
The food markets in Canberra are so good that it’s worth travelling with an esky to stock up on artisan goods and fresh produce.
The iconic Old Bus Depot Markets is one of the best farmers’ markets in all the land. There’s also the new Haig Park Village Markets in Braddon and The Little Burly Market on the lake.
Grab breakfast or brunch before heading to the Hartley Hall Markets on the first Sunday of the month. The Handmade Market is another hip, happening hub for lovers of food and design markets. The Pialligo Market Grocer, Poachers Pantry and Urban Providore Food Boutique are also top spots to pick up gourmet foods.
Shopping in Canberra is a cinch. It’s brimming with boutique stores, local homeware shops, major department stores and fashion brands. The Canberra Centre is the largest shopping centre in the city, and you can browse happily here without the crowds. In addition to Zara, H&M, Muji and Myer, the Canberra Centre has also opened a new dining precinct dubbed Tiger Lane. You will also find malls all over Canberra, from Westfield Woden to Westfield Belconnen and Southpoint in Tuggeranong.
If your main objective is to go thrift shopping, then best don your crocheted beanie and join Canberra’s cool crowds for a fossick. Whether you’re wandering a weekend market or hitting up some of the op shops that specialise in second-hand clothing, you will surely find something to suit. Bounce between Dirty Janes Canberra, the Designer Op Shop Emporium (DOSE as it’s known in Canberra) and Material Pleasures, which specialises in upcycled clothing.
From flower festivals to get-togethers with boujee vibes, and performances in the great outdoors, here are a few key events and festivals in Canberra.
One of the best times to visit Canberra is during the Canberra Balloon Spectacular held in March. Book a hot air balloon ride during the nine-day festival to revel in 360-degree views over the city and beyond to the Brindabellas.
If you’d prefer to stay grounded, you can still enjoy the spectacle of seeing the colourful balloons drift across the skies.
Canberra’s roster of events and festivals rotates with the seasons.
There’s the picturesque Floriade in spring, the tantalising Truffle Festival in winter, Canberra Folk Festival, Canberra Moon Festival, Canberra Writers Festival and the Canberra Comedy Festival. There’s also the Canberra Running Festival for fitness fanatics.
The choice for keen walkers and hikers is off the charts. Here are some of the best hikes and walks in Canberra.
Pack your boots. Pull your socks up. There are more than enough mountains to climb in Canberra. You can take a self-guided hike up Black Mountain and Mt Ainslie, or return to conquer the southerly Red Hill in autumn when leaf peeping is at its best.
Tackle the easy Dairy Farmers Hills Circuit in the National Arboretum for 360-degree city views. Mt Taylor Zig Zag is another easy trail.
Got something to prove? Tackle the Centenary Trail, which is a whopping 145 kilometres long. One Tree Hill is a manageable 90-minute return walk with views over the Brindabella Mountains. One of the ultimate ways to show respect to the Ngunawal people of Canberra is to join Dhawura Tours for a walk on Country in Mt Majura or Namadji National Park.
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