With a growing roster of outstanding restaurants, buzzing bars and contemporary hotels, Canberra is more than just Australia’s political capital.
Underrated, underestimated and utterly unmissable – Canberra effortlessly combines small-town charm with cutting-edge cool, giving travellers more reason than ever to uncover the city’s remarkable secrets. A visit to Australia’s capital is a guaranteed vote for an incredible time: fun-loving families will fall in love with the city’s wealth of attractions, gourmands are surrounded on all sides by wineries and some of the country’s most innovative kitchens, while those who love a good explore will relish getting lost among the region’s extraordinary national parks. While other Australian cities might jostle and bicker for who is number one, with an abundance of things to do, it’s quiet Canberra that takes the throne.
Here’s our must-read guide to where to eat, drink, stay and play in Australia’s glorious capital.
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Eat: Dine like a local
With countless awards and Good Food Guide Chef’s Hats, Aubergine is remarkable and humble in equal measure. The restaurant’s commitment to intimacy and elegance is reflected in everything it does, from the high-ceilinged décor to the menu, updated daily and serving contemporary Australian haute cuisine backed by the best available local produce. There’s something magical about excellent chefs presenting flawless work, and at Aubergine that wizardry is mysterious, marvellous and beguiling. Amateur sommeliers will be enchanted by the restaurant’s award-winning wine list, boasting more than 500 labels.
Those looking for the ultra-cool will find much to love at Inka, which serves Japanese-Peruvian fusion among vivid clay carvings and sleek stone tabletops. The culinary tradition goes back over a century, the result of Japanese labourers journeying abroad to build Peru’s railroad. Inka celebrates those stories, taking you on a journey to bold Latin American flavours, perfectly paired with Japan’s signature excellence. Don’t miss the Hokkaido scallops, cooked in aji panca chilli and pisco, or any of the smoky delights served from Inka’s traditional robatayaki grill.
A unique and unaffected celebration of all things Australian, Corella specialises in scrumptious sharing plates served with a native flair. Foodies will feel nostalgic for the restaurant’s Euro-style interior and unabashed love of 80s-inspired cookery. Highlights include the saltbush focaccia, served with a healthy spread of Vegemite-infused compound butter, and the Queensland Spanner crab, plated with smoked eggplant, chilli oil and pangrattato breadcrumbs. Those after Australiana in a glass won’t be able to go past the small-batch Bundaberg old fashioned, with macadamia, wattleseed, ironwood, maple and chocolate.
Drink: Not your typical tipple
Braddon is quickly becoming one of Canberra’s trendiest places to drink, and leading the charge is BentSpoke Brewing Co. It’s a beer lover’s paradise with a glass for everyone – a versatile 18 brews are on tap, ranging from the effortlessly sippable’Easy,” the brewery’s mid-strength ale, to the rich “‘Big Nut’ black Imperial Pale Ale, which features layers of roasted coffee and nut flavours finished with bright hops. The interior is sleek, industrial and no-fuss, and that philosophy follows into the brewery’s food menu, offering delicious pub classics inspired by, and sometimes infused with, their best brews.
It doesn’t get much cooler than Molly’s Bar, a secret speakeasy hidden behind nondescript doors in Canberra’s historic Melbourne Building. Its Prohibition prowess means you’re in for a night of faultless service, classic American cocktails and smashing bebop – the speakeasy hosts live jazz acts almost every night of the week. Of special interest to mixology sleuths is the Old & Rare cocktail menu – exquisite drinks showcasing vintage and uncommon spirits. If you’ve studied the difference between absinthe and Herbsaint or dream of drinking in New Orleans, Molly’s Bar is the place for you.
Always ready for a glass of riesling? Charming wine bar Rizla is the best place to become acquainted with the Queen of the Grapes, boasting almost 15 pages of excellent Australian and international wines and a grand selection of perfectly paired plates. Lighter, crisper rieslings will pair well with the tuna tartare, while heavier pours are a match made in heaven for seared snapper, romesco and fennel. While the restaurant is unabashedly in love with rieslings, it also offers a selection of superb reds, whites and sparkling wines, while the pared-back cocktail list is sure to impress.
Stay: In capital city style
Urban luxury meets stylish designer hospitality at Ovolo Nishi, nestled in Canberra’s wildly creative NewActon hub, surrounded by unique art galleries, hip bars and glamorous eateries. It’s got everything you need to explore the city’s quirky underbelly, with complimentary bicycle hire making outside adventures a breeze. If you’re hungry, take a table at the irreverent and sprawling Monster Kitchen and Bar, which showcases local produce and serves delicious vegetarian plates, or feast upon the hotel’s help-yourself lolly bar.
Tucked beside the stunning Lake Ginninderra in Canberra’s north-west, only 20 minutes from the heart of the city, Abode Belconnen is the perfect lakeside escape for travellers seeking serenity. With each apartment featuring a kitchenette, espresso machine and access to the hotel’s onsite No.10 Restaurant + Bar and Abode Pantry, this stylish apartment stay offers an idyllic place to rest and relax after knocking off a couple of adventures on your ‘things to do in Canberra’ list.
Appreciate the finer things in life? A stay at Abode Kingston, nestled in Canberra’s swankiest suburb, might be just what you need. It’s an incredible launch pad for exploring the city’s iconic monuments and vibrant dining scene, and only a short bike ride from Capital Hill, the Kingston Foreshore and Parliament House. If you find yourself peckish, the hotel’s convenient Abode Pantry offers a wide selection of snacks and healthy meals, satisfying any craving at any time of the day.
Play: A hub for culture, food and fun
With so many things to do in Canberra, you’ll want to stay for at least a couple of days. Less than an hour’s drive from the big city, natural paradise Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is your best chance to glimpse wallabies, kangaroos, koalas, emus and the prismatic corroboree tree frog. Featuring nature treks for walkers of all capabilities, the park offers a small range of tours – guided by park rangers – that give visitors the chance to learn more about the land’s heritage and cultural significance or explore preserved wetlands and eucalyptus forest. It’s the perfect walkabout for wanderers of all ages.
With more than 145 vineyards and three dozen cellar doors within an easy drive of the city, the Canberra Wine Region shouldn’t be missed. First planted in the 19th century, the wine region sprawls across three unique wine districts, each with its own terroir, and offers visitors an incredible array of dazzling drops. If you’re overwhelmed with possibilities, Canberra Winery Tours offers full- and half-day tours, each the perfect way to explore this sommelier’s paradise.
Romantics at heart will cherish the chance to picnic on Lake Burley Griffin with GoBoat. You don’t need a boat license to skipper your own vessel on Canberra’s dreamy centrepiece. Boats are available for up to eight people and are the perfect way to gain a whole new perspective of the city or to uncover the secrets of the Molonglo River region. You can even sail around Government House at Yarralumla, home to the Governor-General and visiting royalty.
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Looking for more inspiration? Read Weekends Away: Reconnect and Take a Nature Escape to NSW