There are several clichés about Australia’s capital city – that there’s nothing to do, that it is entirely bushland or (as heard when talking to foreigners) that it is Sydney. As it turns out, none of these stereotypes are true. Introducing Canberra, Australia’s hidden gem. While it has a lot of high end options, I’ll be focussing on my area of expertise – the low end of the budget.
Being the capital city means that it has a plethora of galleries and museums, most of which are free. Highlights for the artistically inclined include…
- The National Library – currently holding a free exhibition of Chinese wonders, however its exhibitions swap around quite regularly. It is also a nice place to bring a book and have a read.
- The National Gallery – home to a massive free collection, as well as short term exhibitions (currently a Tom Roberts exhibit) that you do have to pay for.
- Canberra Museum & Gallery – a free Canberra themed museum, featuring many local artists as well as a permanent collection of Sidney Nolan artworks.
- Drill Hall Gallery – located on the Australian National University campus, this gallery is currently being refurbished, but it is due to re-open in May with a bunch of new artworks.
- The War Memorial – for those who are into Australian history, this one has a bunch of interesting artefacts. Try and get in early early though, or you might get bombarded by school groups!
Canberra is also full of beautiful natural highlights that can be explored on foot or by bicycle (which are available to rent in some hotels, the central bus station and at Lake Burley Griffin).
- Lake Burley Griffin is a short walk from the city centre. While the central area of the lake is filled with avid runners and lycra clad bike riders, if you travel a little further west along its shores, it becomes a lot more tranquil.
- The Australian National Botanic Gardens are also breathtaking, with all sorts of plants from tropical to arid. I haven’t taken any pictures there, but check out their Wikipedia page for an idea of what it’s like.
- Mt Ainslie can be seen from the CBD when facing north. While it looks large, it takes less than an hour to climb, and the view is entirely worth it!
Boasting the highest number of food establishments per capita in Australia, it’s no exaggeration to say that Canberra has a diverse range of food.
- The Food Co-op serves an organic vegan lunch every weekday. This usually comes in the form of a curry, soup or salad with a slice of sourdough on the side ($7 normally, $5 for students).
- The Burmese Curry Place only has 9 curries on offer, but they are notoriously tasty. This one is a favourite among local students ($8 eat in, $7 take away).
- The Mandalay Bus is a local institution that serves delicious Burmese inspired street food out of – you guessed it – a bus! It is open on Wednesdays to Saturdays, from the evening until late, and the service is the friendliest I’ve ever had (most meals are around $10, but there are no eftpos facilities, so remember to bring cash).
- Mee’s Sushi, another local favourite. It has three locations (one in Manuka, one in the city centre and one at the Australian National University), and it sells what is arguably the best sushi in Canberra (from $3.8 a roll).
Other Areas of interest
While Canberra is infamous for its abundance of concrete, the city is slowly evolving. The Nishi Building in New Acton, supposedly inspired by Antoni Gaudi, won the Project of the Year 2015 at the Building Awards in London. Also of interest is the Old Parliament House, Parliament House and the heritage listed suburb of Reid.
Perhaps due to its abundance of concrete, street art is rife within the city. Perhaps most famous is Abyss, who was rumoured to have been rejected from the Australian National University School of Art, but has since made a name for himself in his own right. His work is visible throughout Canberra, in alleyways, phone boxes, billboards and even rooftops.
Lonsdale Street in Braddon is home to Lonsdale Street Traders and The Hamlet, both venues hosting a variety of boutique food and shopping options. Another local favourite is the Old Bus Depot Markets every Sunday which are held, as the name suggests, in an old bus depot.
Will take around 3.5 to 4 hours from Sydney, depending on traffic conditions. Quality rest stops along the way include Goulburn (home of the Big Merino) and Marulan (be sure to check out the Meridian Cafe).
Cost: a tank of petrol.
Two main bus companies operate the Sydney-Canberra route are Murrays and Greyhound, each with their own pros and cons. Murrays is slightly more expensive, but with more comfortable seating and fewer stops along the way. Greyhound has free wifi, but takes a little longer and stops several times.
Canberra has a bunch of accommodation for business travellers, but is lacking in budget options. There is a YHA hostel in the city centre that is probably the best because of its location. Being in the city centre means you have to rely less on the notoriously irregular public transport, however if budget is a serious concern, Dickson Central is slightly cheaper.