Lonely Planet named Canberra as the third best city to visit in 2018, and it’s no wonder given the diversity and quality of things to do in the capital. Whether you’re looking for fine food, wine, culture, shopping or an outdoor adventure entertainment, Canberra has plenty to offer do on your next visit.
Canberra autumns are filled with crisp mornings perfect for hot air balloon rides. Over nine days the Canberra Balloon Spectacular fills the city’s skies with more than 30 hot air balloons from around the world. The balloons feature stunning patterns and out-there shapes. Book a ride in one, or watch from the ground. Old Parliament House, 18 King George Tce, Parkes 2600. 132 281. enlightencanberra.com. 6.15-10am. Free to view. Mar 9-17.
Spend a day exploring Canberra’s top museums and gallery shops. Start at the National Gallery of Australia (Parkes Pl E, Parkes) before heading to the National Portrait Gallery (King Edward Tce, Parkes). While there, visit the Curatoreum for a tasteful souvenir. Discover Australia and beyond at the National Museum of Australia (Lawson Cr, Acton) or see science come alive at Questacon (King Edward Tce, Parkes) and take a slice of it home at Q Shop.
The chic neighbourhood of Braddon is just outside the CBD and home to hip design, art and homewares stores like Bisonhome (G14/27 Lonsdale St) the Hive (58/30 Lonsdale St) and Handsome Pretty (64/30 Lonsdale St). The inner-city suburb is also known for its food – try Sonoma Bakery (1/21 Lonsdale St), Tipsy Bull (2/5 Lonsdale St) and dessert laboratory Frugii (57/30 Lonsdale St).
Canberra is every wine lover’s best-kept secret. The region is filled with viticulturists, with 140 vineyards and 30 cellar doors, most of which are within 30 minutes’ drive of the city. We’re talking cool-climate wine country here, with plenty of pinot noir, merlot, shiraz, tempranillo and sangiovese produced. Skip the hassle of designating a driver – local guides and tours will ferry your around the vineyards while you taste their splendour.
Start your Saturday night right with a drink at Bar Rochford (1/65 London Cct, Canberra). Housed in one of Canberra’s oldest buildings, the A+ wine bar is effortlessly cool, with LP records on the wall, a roll-down specials list on brown paper, early hip hop on the stereo, and super lovely staff. Canberra might not have experienced prohibition, but it hasn’t stopped Molly (Odgers Ln, Canberra). This speakeasy is well worth visiting for a cocktail – if you can find it that is (look for the wooden door).
NewActon is Canberra’s most innovative cultural precinct, where excellent urban design meets art, food and shopping. The modernist timber interior of the Nishi Grand Stair (25 Edinburgh Ave) is a sight to behold – best enjoyed with a local wine at Cellar Door (it features a different local winemaker regularly). The precinct is also home to the popular brunch (and lunch and dinner) spot, Mocan and Green Grout (1/19 Marcus Clarke St).
Bright, sunny days in Canberra mean one thing: bridge-to-bridge walks on Lake Burley Griffin. The leisurely five-kilometre walk starts at Commonwealth Bridge and takes you around the lake, taking in sights like the Captain Cook Memorial Jet and the National Carillon, finishing at Kings Avenue Bridge. Feeling weary afterwards? Drop into Bookplate café at the National Library of Australia (Parkes Pl, Canberra) for a pick-me-up.
Canberra is home to a thriving café culture. Ona, the coffee shop founded by 2015's World Champion Barista, Sasa Sestic (4 Palmerston Ln), is a relaxing, grassy spot for a cup of the good stuff and you can buy your favourite blend at the shop afterwards. In the city, head to the Cupping Room (1/1-13 University Ave, Canberra) for Ona coffee and a seasonal menu. Or head to Dickson for a cup at Highroad (Cnr Cape & Woolley St, Dickson). The minimalist, muted interior is as pretty as their meals – for a naughty breakfast try the sticky date French toast.
Pack your baskets, bags or nanna-approved tartan shopping trolley into the car – we’re off to market. Discover the edible bounty of the nation’s capital every Saturday at the Capital Region Farmers Market (Exhibition Park, Mitchell) where you can stock up on fresh produce, meat, smallgoods, dairy and baked treats. Or support local artisans at the Old Bus Depot Markets (21 Wentworth Ave, Kingston) every Sunday where you’ll find everything from handmade fudge to jewellery.
Make use of Canberra’s low pollution levels and clear skies to explore the universe. Mount Stromlo Observatory is one of the best locations – it’s the headquarters of the Australian National University’s research school of astronomy and astrophysics. The observatory welcomes starry-eyed members of the public, hosting stargazing evenings regularly. Mount Stromlo Observatory, Cotter Rd, Weston Creek 2611. 02 6125 0230. 8am-6pm. Free. Daily.