Lonely Planet voted Canberra as the third best city in the world to visit in 2018. Yippee! They say on their website that it’s “criminally overlooked” and “packs a big punch for such a small city”.
Canberra has a laid back, quirky feel about it and it’s not what you would expect of the seat of Australia’s Federal Government. From the lookouts of Red Hill, Mount Ainslie and Black Mountain, you can barely see the houses for the trees. People are often surprised when they arrive in this sprawling bush capital of Australia. You won’t find too many tall buildings. It’s a city of leafy suburbs, tree-lined boulevards, underground power so no ugly overhead power lines and a huge array of more than 80 parks and reserves which serve as the Canberran’s recreational playground for activities such as cycling, hiking, walking, orienteering, swimming, boating and all other kinds of sports as well as lazy picnics, BBQing and celebrating!
Canberra was my home for 34 years and as a child, I lived in Dr Barnardos for almost 5 years in the 1960s during which time we met the Queen Mother. We had to practise our curtsies and needless to say I felt very nervous on the day but it all went off without a hitch. During our free time, there were no electronic gadgets or the internet to preoccupy us and we spent most of our time outdoors. Some weekends, we’d venture out on our own and go for long walks here, there and everywhere, without adult supervision, and I was around 11 years of age. It was safe to do so in those days. We were a bit naughty though because sometimes we’d trek out to farmland behind the racecourse (about 5km each way) and before we set out, we’d pool our pocket money to buy cigarettes which we’d share between us and smoke in a dried-up yabby pond. Because there was no-one around to catch us …
Canberra is a city which was planned from the get go after Walter Burley Griffin from Chicago won an international competition for the design of Canberra in 1908. The foundation stone was laid on Kurrajong Hill (now Capital Hill) on 12 March 1913 and this date is celebrated annually as Canberra Day. When I first came to Canberra in 1963, the population was a mere 70,000 and grew to around 400,000 in 2018.
If you’re a foody, it’s a gourmet’s delight as there’s no shortage of hipster bars, charming cafes and trendy restaurants throughout the city and suburbs, producing good quality food. It’s also home to the winners of the 2015 and 2016 World Barista Champions. Many cafes roast their own beans and Canberra has a real coffee culture. If coffee’s your thing, check out some of these:
- . Lonsdale Street Roasters 7
- . The Cupping Room
- . Good Brother
- . Two Before Ten
- . Beess and Co Café
- . Silo Bakery
- . Ona Coffee
- . Harvest
- . Jamossa
- . Two Hands
The city experiences four distinct season. Summers are hot, winters cold (but often sunny) and autumn is my favourite time of the year when the city presents a vibrant display of glorious colour. The weather, I believe, is also at its best during this time. Spring days are fresh and crisp and a major drawcard during this time is the spectacular Floriade in Commonwealth Park which began in 1988 and has become Canberra’s most iconic annual tourism event and Australia’s premier spring festival. More than 1 million bulbs are planted and each year there’s a different theme. It’s a time for cultural celebrations, artistic displays, food and wine, horticultural workshops and entertainment.
Other festivals include:
- . The Truffle Festival over winter
- . The Canberra District Wine Harvest Festival in autumn
- . Street Machine Summernats Car Festival during first week of January
- . The National Folk Festival in April
- . The National Multicultural Festival in February
- . Canberra Balloon Spectacular at Enlighten Festival during Canberra week
Lake Burley Griffin is a man-made lake and is the centrepiece of the capital. Canberra has a multitude of other attractions such as the Australian War Memorial, the National Gallery, Old and New Parliament Houses, the National Zoo and Aquarium (where you can spend the night up close and almost personal with giraffes, tigers and other wild animals), the National Arboretum, Cockington Green, Royal Australian Mint and Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve where you’ll see kangaroos and emus and you’ll also find the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex. The list of attractions are endless and too many to name. Visit https://visitcanberra.com.au for more information.
Canberra is well located – just a 2 hour drive to the beautiful Australian south coast, 2.5 hours to the pristine Snowy Mountains region and a perfect year round destination, 2.5 hours to Sydney and about a 6 hour drive to the cosmopolitan city of Melbourne.
You can easily spend a week or even two, exploring and tasting your way through this city which has been hiding in plain sight.
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- Image 1 – Malcolm Tredinnick from Sydney, Australia, Lake Burley Griffin and Black Mountain (53347407), CC BY 2.0
- Image 2 – 2007-01-23 20-18-13 ParliamentHouseComet, CC BY-SA 3.0
- Image 3 – Bidgee, City Centre viewed from Mount Ainslie lookout, CC BY-SA 3.0[O1] [O2]
- Image 4 – On Unsplash
- Image 5 – KTWPhotography, Surrounds at the Australian National Library, CC BY-SA 4.0
- Image 6 – Batsv, Autumn in Canberra (01), CC BY-SA 4.0
- Image 7 – Leo Bild, Autumn on Lake Burley Griffin, CC BY-SA 2.0
- Image 8 – Percita Dittmar from Canberra, Australia, Old and New Parliament House Canberra (437591204), CC BY-SA 2.0
- Image 9 – Percita Dittmar from Canberra, Australia, Balloon and National Carillon (437591836), CC BY-SA 2.0