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Canberra travel guide: Your next best holiday

Canberra is a little city with a big heart, where you’ll discover more than you expect. With exciting activities, top tier dining venues, day trips, and more, here's why Canberra should be first on the list for your next trip.

Dreaming of your next trip? Whether you’re a foodie on the hunt for Australia’s best brunch, a history buff hoping to learn more about the country’s past, an artist looking to get lost in a gallery, or an adventure traveller who can’t get enough of the outdoors, Canberra is bound to delight.

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Why go? Interesting things to do in Canberra

From outdoor adventures to cultural tours to wining and dining, you might want to plan a bit more time in Canberra than you think. Whether it’s your first time visiting or your 50th, these are Canberra’s can’t-miss activities.

Explore the outdoors

Canberra’s architect, Walter Burley Griffin, planned the city with natural spaces in mind. Tucked between mountain ranges and set on the Molonglo River, you can easily escape urban life and explore the city’s natural surroundings. Wander through the National Arboretum Canberra, where you’ll find thousands of rare trees and sculptures tucked within its trails.

Follow the trail from behind the Australian War Memorial to venture to the top of Mount Ainslie for panoramic views of the city—it’s part of the Centenary Trail that loops 145km around Canberra. Or, if you prefer to stay on the water, spend your days SUPing, kayaking or paddle boating across Lake Burley Griffin. For the less adventurous, take a leisurely lake cruise or steer your own course on an electric-powered GoBoat picnic boat.

A popular trail among locals and travellers alike, the top of Mount Ainslie reveals panoramic views of Canberra—it’s especially spectacular at sunset. Photo: VisitCanberra

Tour iconic buildings

Watch democracy in action in Canberra, where new ideas blend with tradition. Visit Australian Parliament House and choose between guided tours centred around architecture, the political process, and Indigenous parliamentarian perspectives.

The Museum of Australian Democracy, at Old Parliament House, features a range of family-friendly exhibits focused on Australia’s interesting history. Every evening, a Last Post Ceremony takes place at the Australian War Memorial, commemorating a fallen service member.

MOAD hands on learning Canberra
Hands on learning at the Museum of Australian Democracy. Photo: VisitCanberra

Learn about science and history at the city’s museums

Canberra’s museums are bound to satisfy even the most curious of travellers. At Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre, the team makes learning about geology, astronomy, physics and more fun through the use of interactive science exhibits. The National Museum of Australia is also a top pick for those who want to connect with Australia through displays of objects that revolve around our social history and culture.

For those who want to go way, way back, a stop at the National Dinosaur Museum is a must to see fossils and replicas of the continent’s most ancient inhabitants.

Selfies with these prehistoric creatures are an essential part of any trip to the National Dinosaur Museum. Photo: VisitCanberra

Admire artwork at Australia’s top galleries

Canberra’s open spaces seem to spark inspiration, as shown by the many art galleries and museums found throughout the city. Perhaps there’s no better place to highlight this than the National Gallery of Australia, a stunning gallery with more than 160,000 works of art in its national art collection. To admire more than 60 art pieces painted by Europe’s greatest artists, visit Botticelli to Van Gogh: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London—it’s exclusive to Canberra and showing until 14 June 2021.

At the National Portrait Gallery, a selection of more than 1,000 portraits of prominent people who have impacted Australian history, is displayed. You can also catch its current exhibition, Australian Love Stories, until 1 August 2021. Contrasting the big galleries is the quaint Gallery of Small Things in a suburban backyard which reveals tiny treasures with fine artworks. And if you want to create a souvenir to take home, visit the Canberra Glassworks, a museum that highlights Australia’s best glassworks and invites visitors to give glassblowing a go themselves.

Drink and dine through the city

You won’t go hungry on your trip to Canberra, a culinary capital. Start your day with a hot cup of coffee from a cafe on Lonsdale Street in Braddon before settling in for a big brunch at Local Press Café on the Kingston Foreshore. Restaurants featuring farm-to-table dining, vegan delights, and local classics are all available, though you might need to book a table in advance. For sightseeing with snacks, join the Eat Canberra Food Tour. When it’s time to unwind, tuck into Canberra’s iconic bars like the city centre’s Bar Rochford which serves some of the region’s best wine alongside stunning food.

KYO Coffee Shop
Start your day with a cup of coffee at KYO Coffee Project on Londsdale Street. Photo: VisitCanberra

Amazing hotels in Canberra

From modern hotels with amenities galore to chic boutique stays with only the essentials, these are some of the best hotels in Canberra to check into.

Ovolo Nishi

Found inside one of Canberra’s most interesting buildings, Ovolo Nishi is and artistic and cultural delight. Each room is tastefully designed with stylish furniture and original artworks, combining cosy with cool. Each stay includes breakfast, wifi, minibar access, and guests can mingle amongst free drinks at the hotel’s social hour. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes nearby (including its own vegetarian Monster Kitchen and Bar), though you can opt for an apartment room with a full-size kitchen.

Jamala Wildlife Lodge

Tigers and bears might be your dinner companions at Jamala Wildlife Lodge, a five-star resort at the National Zoo & Aquarium. Each stay funds conservation and breeding programs, and guests can sleep next to incredible animals like tigers, giraffes, sun bears and cheetahs—with a window separating your room from the animals’ enclosure.

Located near Ovolo Nishi in NewActon and within walking distance of some of Canberra’s best attractions, Peppers Gallery Hotel offers modern rooms in its historical building. Choose between rooms, suites, and one, two and three-bedroom accommodations, all with original artworks decorating their interiors.

Forrest Hotel and Apartments

Forrest Hotel and Apartments is a quiet getaway found in Manuka, a spacious suburb with plenty of top tier dining options. Rooms are cosy and quiet, and all guests have access to shaded barbecue courtyards. Each stay includes on-site parking, limited wifi, and air conditioning. Choose between single rooms or one or two-bedroom apartments.

Canberra road trip ideas

When it’s time to venture further afield, there are plenty of things to see on Canberra’s outskirts. Take a trip out to some of the 100+ vineyards and 40+ wineries within 35 minutes’ drive from the city centre.

You’ve got to try the shiraz at Pialligo Vineyard. Photo: VisitCanberra

For prime wildlife watching, head to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, just 45 minutes away by car. Within the reserve, you might spot echidnas, emus, kangaroos, or a shy platypus hidden among the snow gum woodlands, grasslands, and wetlands. Tidbinilla Nature Reserve once provided shelter during the Ice Age, with the Birrigai Rock Shelter being one of the oldest inhabited rock shelters in the world.

One hour away from Canberra’s city centre is Namadgi National Park, a reserve that’s recovering from the 2020 bushfires. The park is opening in stages, though visitors can currently walk along the Bicentennial National Trail, the Cotter River, and camp at multiple scenic spots. Admission to the park is free.

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