The nation’s capital goes from strength to strength as an Aussie short break destination, and wraps fabulous cultural experiences, historical attractions, and out-of-this-world fresh produce and innovative dining into one compact package around the tranquil waters of Lake Burley Griffin. From the fast regenerating city centre, to café epicentre Braddon, the leafy parliamentary precinct of Barton, trendy Kingston and Manuka, you’re never far from something sensational to see or do.
Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Canberra.
8am: Do breakfast in Braddon
Get the day off to a great start the cool-café-breakfast-way in Braddon, just a stone’s throw north of the city centre. This is hipster-ville and packed with bustling cafes, eateries, and coffee roasteries. Check out Lonsdale Street Roasters, Barrio Collective Coffee, and one of our zen favs, Kyō Coffee Project, which is tucked down an urban laneway at the northern end of the Lonsdale Street strip.
9am: Go gallery hopping
Hightail it over the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge to the Parliamentary Zone which encompasses numerous key buildings, cultural attractions and landmarks. The choice is yours as to how you spend your morning. Visit the epic National Gallery of Australia and its fantastic collection of Indigenous art, the famous faces on display at the newly renovated National Portrait Gallery, the whiz bang world of science at Questacon, or perhaps the National Library of Australia, which holds intriguing specialist exhibitions. With the exception of Questacon, they’re free to enter. Grab a snack for lunch at any of their cafes.
1.30pm: Cruise Lake Burley Griffin
Wander down to the waterfront (just in front of Reconciliation Place) and climb on board the jaunty yellow Gull for an hour-long sightseeing cruise with Lake Burley Griffin Cruises. The cruise does a circuit of the lake and includes live commentary from owner/skipper Jim. He’s full of fun facts and you’ll walk away with a better knowledge of the capital’s history, and lakeside landmarks and monuments.
3pm: Pay your respects at the Australian War Memorial
War history is not everyone’s cup of tea, but everyone should visit the epic Australian War Memorial in Canberra, if only to sit for a spell in the central Commemorative Courtyard, with its glistening Pool of Reflection and Roll of Honour halls. Time stands still here, and the frenetic pace of the outside world quickly becomes a distant memory as voices recite the names of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. The surrounding exhibition halls feature emotive presentations on all the conflicts in which the Australian armed forces have served. The Last Post Ceremony takes place daily in the Courtyard at 4.45pm.
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5pm: Take in the view from Mount Ainslie
It’s a short drive from the War Memorial to the summit of Mount Ainslie which on a good day offers a commanding view of the entire city (on a damp day you may well find your head in the clouds, literally!). The Mount Ainslie Lookout is a fitting viewpoint from which to take in visionary architect Walter Burley Griffin’s masterstroke of urban planning. From the War Memorial far below you, Anzac Parade and Reconciliation Place on the far side of the lake cut a swathe to Old Parliament House and new Parliament House beyond.
7pm: Join the culinary revolution at Rebel Rebel
Rebel Rebel in New Acton is one of a number of new guard eateries setting the standard for innovative dining in the capital. The interior is stunning, with its sweeping roofline of reclaimed timber (which was also used to make the tables) and Scandinavian styling. Chef Andrew McConnell’s menu of Modern Oz honours time and place, and leaves an impression from the first bite. The small plates mean you can try a bit of everything. You’ll need seconds of the grilled prawns with bay leaf butter.
9pm: Find Molly
Fancy a nightcap? What was originally a speakeasy basement bar with a concealed door has moved to new second floor digs at the historic colonnaded Melbourne Building on London Court (the still suitably nondescript entry is on Odgers Lane). Step up into Molly’s world of 1920s glam, cool cocktails and on occasion, live jazz.
8am: Explore the Kingston Foreshore
The Kingston Foreshore redevelopment at the eastern end of the lake has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years and is well worth a look for the waterfront parks, public sculptures, promenades and bridged canals that are lined with cafes and restaurants. Follow the crowds to the best options for breakfast, including the uber popular Bean and Table on Trevillian Quay. If it happens to be Sunday, browse the eclectic wares at the Old Bus Depot Markets.
10am: See artists sweat for their craft at Canberra Glassworks
OK, so we haven’t brought you over here just to look at an urban redevelopment, as impressive as it is. The Kingston Foreshore is also home to Canberra Glassworks – Australia’s only cultural facility dedicated solely to glass art – which is housed in the capital’s oldest public building, the Kingston Power House. See resident artists in action in the Hotshop, before putting the finishing touches to their once-molten creations in the Coldshop. There are interactive activities and school holiday workshops for budding creatives. Browse in the design shop for a strikingly beautiful souvenir, and wolf down lunch at burger institution Brod, located behind the building.
1.30pm: Try some top local drops
There are 30 or so wineries within easy reach of Canberra, and while they’re all (bar one) technically located in New South Wales, the capital claims the wine region as its own. Wine not your tipple of choice? That’s OK, because craft brewing and micro-distilling are also on the rise. Dave’s Tours offers a ‘Capital Triple Treat’ tour, which takes in a winery, craft brewery and distillery. A guided tasting at each venue is included, and you’ll get to see more of the surrounding region as part of the deal.
6pm: Revel in fine food and wine at Rizla
You’ll have tried a Canberra reisling earlier in the day; now celebrate the return to favour of this fresh and fruity drop at fabulous Rizla in Braddon. There are lots of other options on the wine list, but these guys do love pairing rieslings with their culinary creations. Like the premises themselves (the kitchen is tiny and most of the seating is outside) the menu isn’t vast, but every dish is carefully crafted to bring exceptional flavours to the fore. Try a selection of small plates or put yourself in Chef’s hands with the ‘sort it out’ $60pp tasting menu.
Need a place to stay? Quality Hotel Dickson Canberra is perfectly positioned as a base for exploring everything the capital has to offer. Enjoy the comfortable and contemporary accommodation and onsite club facilities, including a restaurant, café, wine bar and lounge. Parking and Wi-Fi are both complimentary. Dickson is just a five minute drive from the city centre.
Cover image: Artetyerre, Billy Benn Perrurle, Alyawarr People
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has previously had the opportunity to travel the world as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten.