Canberra is an interesting place. It’s not somewhere that’s high on the tourist list, but with extended time in Australia, it’s worth a visit. About 3.5 hours’ drive South of Sydney, it’s both a University town and the Political Hub of Australia.
It’s an interesting mix.
But I have to admit: I have always been on the fence when it came to Canberra. I found it … dare I say… boring. Sadly I don’t think I’m the only one.
Having grown up in a small country town in Australia, a quiet town is always welcome to me. I enjoy quiet places. I love the vibe of a small town, the community feel I get.
While Canberra is a major capitol city, it feels a lot more like a big country town.
As a city, you’d expect it to be lively. And it is. It’s just done behind the scenes. It’s done with class and intention. The few times we’ve been, we’ve found no traffic congestion to speak of. A multitude of excellent museums and restaurants are readily available for your pleasure and it sports a great outdoor lifestyle. Walking and biking trails are abundant throughout the city and its plentiful green spaces.
For most major cities, quiet and peaceful is hard to come by. Sydney is brash and tends to be full of itself. Melbourne on the other hand think they are better than Sydney and for some things they are….but only with some things. (What can I say: I’m from Sydney. There’s a healthy rivalry between the cities)
I mistook Canberra’s laid-back vibe as boring, but nothing could be farther from the truth. You just have to go deeper.
Canberra seems to have the work/life balance thing worked out. It provides amazing experiences for those who work their asses off, offering them a quality life that would make any city green with envy.
While staying in the suburb of Belconnen, only ten minutes from the Parliamentary Zone, we looked out from our seventh-floor apartment toward Lake Ginninderra. As the clock ticked past five o’clock, many sailboats and kayaks appeared on the water. We could see people walking around the perimeter of the lake enjoying the fresh air. Once the sun goes down, the city quiets. Tucked into side streets are bustling restaurants offering a wide range of cuisines.
Being in the capital of Australia, the museums and galleries are all here. The National Gallery of Australia (NGA) houses indigenous art, works of Monet, Degas, and Warhol as well as special exhibitions.
The NGA is an example of how this city brings the wonders the world to this pocket of Australia. One our visit, the Palace of Versailles had loaned some of their ‘trinkets’ to the NGA. If you’ve never travelled, or been to Versailles in person, it’s a lovely way to get a feel for the opulence and history of the Palace.
My favourite museum and, in my opinion, one of the reasons every tourist should visit Canberra, is the National Museum of Australia.
This museum does an amazing job of presenting Australia’s history. It not only represents European settlement, but has a huge section dedicated to Indigenous life. It shows Australian life as it once was and the direction of its future. It’s hands on and tells the story, which I find many museums fail to do. In fact, I find the Indigenous section of the NGA hugely disappointing because it fails to tell the story along with the artwork which, if you know anything about indigenous artwork, it’s all about the story.
We’ve visited Canberra many times now. When Nat was younger we would always visit Questacon, an interactive Science museum. It’s an amazing museum for kids (young and old). It was one Natalie would often talk about as one of her favourite places in Australia.
Some great markets are on offer too, including the Old Bus Depot market that offers both culinary delights such as locally made olive oils and vinegars. Along with fruits and vegetables and baked goods. Additionally, it offers a variety of artisan made wares, which always sucks me in. I love the variety at this market. But, sadly, it’s only open on Sundays. The key is to get there early. It’s almost as if the whole of Canberra comes out and makes a day of this market.
Whatever your interest – sport, arts, history – it’s all here in Canberra. It’s just quietly tucked away.
Recommendations: First and foremost, stop at the Tourist Information Centre and find out what’s happening at the beginning of your stay. They are super informative. Or, visit their website for the latest exhibitions and recommendations.
- Hire a bike, ride around Lake Burley Griffin.
- For amazing views of the Australian Capital Territory, head to Black Mountain (Telstra Tower) or better yet, go to Mount Ainslie if you want to see better views for free (frugal filly here!)
- If you’d like to save some money on your stay in Canberra, we suggest staying in a AirBnb in Canberra. We compared the two for a week stay and saved over $300 staying in an AirBnb, more if we decided to stay in the Civic Centre.
- For great Sunday markets, try the Old Bus Depot Markets. We’ve visited a few times now and always find some yummy dish or some handmade items. (Scarves and earrings are always my thing!) Be warned, all of Canberra comes out for this market it seems. Parking can be a challenge so get there early!
- Tandoor Indian Restaurant, Belconnen – the best naan I’ve ever tasted!
- Turkish Halal Pide House – there’s nothing like a good kebab!
- Tikka Take – amazing ‘fast food’ Indian but a relaxing vibe, should you wish to eat in.
Must see Museums:
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