Local’s guide: Canberra

Aerial View Canberra Canberra my nrma locals guide
Aerial View Canberra Canberra my nrma locals guide

Whether you’re a cultural connoisseur, a nature lover or a foodie, you’ll find plenty to do – and no traffic jams to slow you down – in rapidly evolving Canberra.

  • Take in the views from Red Hill
  • Browse the National Portrait Gallery
  • Try a great coffee at Lonsdale Street Roasters
  • Enjoy sunset cocktails at Mind Garden Bar
  • Find great shopping in the Ori Building

Word is out. In recent years, our humble national capital has transformed into one of Australia’s most surprising and compelling urban destinations – and it’s getting better every day. Fast growing Canberra still boasts the world class museums and galleries that have been drawing visitors for decades, but now there’s a truly impressive food scene, a thriving independent arts community and an increasing array of comfy accommodation, too. An easy three hour drive from Sydney, it’s a brilliant weekend destination, and with an abundance of wildlife and unspoiled tracts of bushland, it’s the perfect place to decompress.

Where to eat

In a city populated by university students and ambitious government players, it’s perhaps no surprise that coffee is serious business – and seriously good. Start by checking out two of the best caffeine purveyors. The first of which is the hip Lonsdale Street Roasters, which kick started Canberra’s in house bean roasting trend about five years ago. And then there’s locals’ favourite, The Cupping Room, on the fringe of the Australian National University (ANU), which specialises in single origin coffee, and also does a mean French toast with rhubarb, strawberries and caramelised coconut cream.

The restaurant scene has lately grown at a staggering pace. Some of the buzziest venues are in New Acton, a trendy enclave sandwiched between ANU and the lake. At the cosy Mocan and Green Grout, everything is cooked in an island kitchen in the centre of the dining room, so you can see dishes such as broccolini served with Gorgonzola, buttermilk, radicchio and smoked almonds take shape. Pastry addicts should not miss A. Baker, which supplies baked goods for most of the area.

Canberra’s cool bar scene is one of its best kept secrets. For sunset cocktails, head to Mint Garden Bar, which uses herbs grown on site. Nightcaps should be taken at Bar Rochford, hidden on the first floor of the city’s historic Melbourne Building.

Pressed for time? We've done the hard work for you and named the best places to eat in the Canberra CBD as well as Canberra North.

Where to play

Floriade is an annual month-long celebration of spring in the heart of Australia's capital, which sees almost 500,000 visitors flock to Canberra during September and October to take in the sea of flowers alongside Lake Burley Griffin in Commonwealth Park. Featuring more than one million blooms, Floriade has earned the title of the largest flower festival in the Southern Hemisphere, and includes a program of horticulture workshops, music and entertainment.

It’s no secret that Canberra is full of heavy hitting cultural institutions, all of which are worth a visit. But if your time in town is limited or you want to avoid the crowds, consider skipping the bigger venues and opting instead for the National Portrait Gallery. Its permanent collection is compact yet hugely entertaining and its temporary exhibitions lean towards the unusual. Afterwards, stroll alongside Lake Burley Griffin to the National Gallery’s Sculpture Garden, an often overlooked gem that inspires feelings of awe and serenity in equal measure.

For a dose of nature and great views of the surrounding hills, head to locals’ secret Red Hill, in the suburb of the same name. From here you can take in the city’s monuments and also see for miles over the suburban Woden Valley. If you have kids in tow, try the National Arboretum for outdoor walks and activities, including the Pod Playground.

Tap into the vibrant contemporary arts scene at Ainslie & Gorman Arts Centres, twin institutions just north of the city centre that host a wide range of performances and workshops. Alternatively, head to the leafy suburb of Lyneham and catch a gig at the cutting edge, mixed use arts space, The Front Gallery and Cafe.

Still looking for inspiration? Go hot air ballooning, do the Illawarra Fly walk and so much more. Simply choose your adventure by unlocking exclusive Member discounts to your favourite attractions and experiences in Canberra.

Where to shop

Begin your journey in hip Braddon, where the Ori Building has become a hub for forward thinking retail. Grab homewares and gifts, many of them locally made, at bright and airy Handsome Pretty, find womenswear at Assemblage Project, splash out on runway attire at Rebel Muse and pick up homemade ice cream at Frugii Dessert Laboratory. Wander over to Landspeed Records – a local music institution and also stocks band T-shirts and vintage gear.

Further afield, in lakeside Kingston, check out Muse, a new bookshop and cafe hybrid with sophisticated picks and prized local tomes. If you’re in the city on a Sunday, Kingston’s Old Bus Depot Markets are unmissable for a dizzying array of goods that will appeal to the whole family. Nearby, the shop at the Canberra Glassworks offers a stunning range of unique, artisanal objects, and hosts kid friendly make your own workshops. If you have time, take a short drive out of town to Pialligo and drop in to the gorgeous flagship store of Bisonhome, a ceramics and homewares brand with an international following.

Where to stay

The stately Hotel Kurrajong Canberra dates from 1926 but a recent head to toe renovation has made it one of Canberra’s smartest looking and best equipped places to stay. Quietly positioned close to both Old and New Parliament Houses, and within walking distance of some of the capital’s best eateries in Manuka and Kingston, the property is a smart base for those who value convenience. The lobby and restaurant are steeped in 1920s charm, while the 147 guest rooms pair old and new with Art Deco furnishings, white plantation shutters, espresso machines and flat screen TVs.

TFE Hotels also offer a range of hotels and serviced apartment accommodation options in Canberra. Properties include Adina Serviced Apartments Canberra, James Court, Adina Serviced Apartments Canberra, Kingston, Adina Serviced Apartments Canberra, Dickson, and Vibe Hotel Canberra Airport. 

And don't forget, Members can enjoy 10 percent off any stay under four nights, or stay for four nights and only pay for three. As well as free wifi and 15 percent off drink and dine at Hotel Kurrajong Canberra and TFE Hotels.

ibis Styles Canberra Eaglehawk is the gateway to the ACT region and provides the ideal ‘value for money’ Canberra accommodation solution. Set among 30 acres of landscaped native gardens and bushland, complete with free roaming kangaroos who visit daily, the property provides a spacious and casual resort style atmosphere. While ibis Styles Tall Trees Canberra offers a four star experience in a fresh contemporary setting, elegant accommodation in Canberra. Accommodation includes oversized executive, deluxe and family hotel rooms and stylishly standard rooms in a convenient and quiet location.

NRMA Members can save up to 20% on the best available room rate at ibis Styles Canberra and ibis Styles Tall Trees with late check out, as well as 10% off food and beverage*. Simply use the promo code: 'NRMA' when booking. *T&C's apply.

NRMA Members can also save on car hire in Canberra at SIXT with 15% off daily rental rates.

Save 20% on ibis Styles Canberra hotels

NRMA Members can save up to 20% on the best available room rate with late check out, as well as 10% off food and beverage*.