I know what you are thinking. Why visit Canberra? It’s been more than a decade since I last visited Australia’s Capital City and Canberra’s reputation as a sleepy, slightly backward town filled with politicians where nothing happens was firmly etched in my psyche, so shaking that perception was a tall order. Let’s just say I was less than receptive when the hubs first suggested a weekend in Canberra. I mean Canberra? What were we going to do for two days that could rival what Sydney offers? Well not only did I visit Canberra but I was suitably impressed. Canberra is a city shaking off its daggy reputation and reinventing itself to emerge as a sophisticated, cosmopolitan city where there is much to love. So leave your perceptions behind and come explore the wide variety of things to do in Canberra with me …
Let’s Get Social!
Canberra is an easy 2 1/2 hour run down the M5 from Sydney. We chose to go on two wheels (read more about that here) but four would work just as well. It’s 9(ish) hours by road from Melbourne so If you are coming from there or further afield you may wish to kick your weekend in Canberra off to a speedier start by flying into CBR. Most international passengers will need to transfer in Sydney (SYD). Read all my tips on getting a bargain airfare before you book and when you are ready compare all the airlines in one place through Expedia.
Where to Stay For Your Weekend In Canberra
Canberra is quite compact but if you are like me, you are going to want to stay near all the action. I suggest Canberra City or Braddon where well known brands and boutique hotels happily co-exist and many of my suggestions for things to do in Canberra (below) are on your doorstep. We chose the Novotel for our weekend in Canberra as it offered the perfect combination of location and value. Read my review of the Novotel Canberra to see if it is right for you. When you are ready to book head to Expedia or Agoda to grab the very best deal in town. Luxury Escapes is currently offering a fantastic deal on the Realm Hotel if you want to visit Canberra in 5 star style but it finishes on Wednesday so be quick.
Things To Do In Canberra
The list of things to do in Canberra is long and varied and there is something for everyone. Our long weekend in Canberra coincided with two fabulous annual events; Enlighten Canberra and The Canberra Balloon Spectacular. Enlighten is similar to Sydney’s Vivid festival but on a smaller scale. Visitors are dazzled by amazing light displays, wooed by cool live music and awed by live roaming entertainment. It’s a great night with something for all the family and many events are free. Visiting the nearby Noodle Markets (see below) is a must while you are in the area. The Canberra Balloon Spectacular is growing in size and popularity each year and now attracts balloons from around the globe. While I was not a fan of the 5am wake up on a sleepy Sunday morning, it was most definitely worth sacrificing a few hours of slumber for. Read more about our visit to the Canberra Balloon Spectacular here. The Canberra Comedy Festival is held at around the same time, so if you are lucky you could scoop the trifecta. Floriade showcases over 1 million flowers in bloom and is a must see if you visit Canberra in Spring. Every school worth its salt organises at least one excursion to Parliament and maybe you should too. If you want to see democracy in action go for question time. The Australian War Memorial is profoundly moving. Do the free guided tour to get the most out of your visit and make sure you place a poppy on the wall to honour all those that have paid the ultimate price for Australia’s freedom. If you are travelling with kids a stop at Questacon is definitely worthwhile and the National Portrait Gallery will inspire your inner artist. If sport is more your style, see the country’s best athletes in action at The Australian Institute Of Sport, catch a Canberra Raiders home game or take in Canberra’s premier horse race The Black Opal Stakes at Thoroughbred Park. Petrol heads will find their nirvana at Summernats each January, when circa 1800 street machines descend on Exhibition Park to party. For shoppers, the Canberra Centre will take care of most of your needs and the Handmade Markets are a nice why to spend a morning. For a night out with a difference check out the eclectic program at the Canberra Theatre Centre, you are sure to find something to appeal. A stroll or push bike ride around Lake Burley Griffin should be on everyone’s ‘to do’ list. If you don’t have your own bike, hire one for a few dollars from in front of the Novotel.
Make Sure You Visit Canberra Hungry
One of my very favourite things to do in Canberra is to eat! Our weekend in Canberra didn’t leave nearly enough time to try out all the fabulous dining options on offer. Far from being a culinary wasteland, Canberra has a lot to offer foodies. If you are driving in from Sydney, instead of stopping at the roadside Maccas for lunch like we did, grab this superb deal on Katers Restaurant at Peppers Manor House in Sutton Forrest which has been awarded consecutive chef’s hats since 2011 and serves up hearty fare in a lovely setting about half way to your destination. We had a fabulous Indian meal at Blu Ginger right in the heart of the city (see what I wore here). I highly recommend the Seekh Kebab and Lamb Shahi Gosht with a Cheese & Spinach Naan to mop up all the delicious sauces left on your plate. We couldn’t pass up an authentic paella washed down with a local wine from the Canberra Noodle Markets while we were at Enlighten. Don’t let the plastic plates, cutlery and wine glasses put you off, there is something for everyone from the 20+ stalls dotting the lawns and the communal central seating is conducive to striking up a conversation with a local. If it’s anything like Sydney you can’t go wrong with Jamie’s Italian. Munch on some polenta chips while perusing the menu and leave room for the Epic Brownie. A friend recommended Akiba for good Asian tapas (8 dishes for $45) and when I next visit Canberra I will be sure to sample the Turkish banquet from Ottoman, one of only 12 Canberra restaurants to score a prestigious chefs hat in 2016. When you have had your fill, stop in at White Rabbit for a sophisticated night-cap in a setting reminiscent of a 1920’s speak easy. If you are after a bargain make sure you check out these great Groupon deals before you go.
So don’t be so quick to write Canberra off! If it’s been a while since you have visited give it another go. Have you got any great recommendations for things to do in Canberra? I would love to hear about them in the comments below.
Until Next Time …
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