Predestined for great beauty, Australia’s capital is a city of contrast and conformity. It began with the looks of a British garden. Now, represents a large collection of Brutalist art and architecture. If you look beyond the obvious façade, you will find a variety and identity. It is the mix-and-match of modern Aussie society.
One of the tricky questions our Geography teacher liked to quiz us on was
‘What is the capital of Australia?’
‘Sydneeey!’ we would say with cheerful certainty.
That was an easy trap. As children growing up in the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War, Canberra, indeed, was not a place we knew much about.
When, more than thirty years later, I visited Canberra for the first time, I was shocked to find how much the city resembles Sofia, the capital of my country of origin. The winter in Canberra with its leafless trees and under-zero-Celsius degrees and the city embellished with so many buildings in Brutalist style, that combination was something I never expected to find in Australia.
The naivety of the newcomers, you would say! For the four years since I live in Australia, the country never ceases to surprise me.
Here are my suggestions for what to do in Canberra, no matter if you visit for the first time or not.
Cafes & Drinks, and Dining Out in Canberra
Two Before Ten Hobart Place
1 Hobart Place, Canberra ACT
Start your day well in one of the best cafes in Canberra.
The lovely staff will welcome you to this bright and cosy but equally quiet café in the heart of the city. Even on a crispy-cold winter morning, this place will warm you up with its ambiance and the quality of food and drinks.
This café is part of a larger business with a great vision. They roast their own coffee so you can bet on a variety of choices that will satisfy even the most sophisticated ‘specialty’ coffee aficionados.
Turkish Pide House
97-99 Corinna St, Philip ACT
Doesn’t really matter if you are visiting Canberra in summer or in winter, the Turkish Pide House at Corinna St is a place to savour the food that comes rich in flavours and blessed with Mediterranean-style nutrition. Traditionally, Turkish food is hearty but not heavy. As a Bulgarian by origin, I have knowledge and appreciation for it.
When I lived in Bulgaria, my friends and I loved to cross the border to the nearby Edirne in Turkey for a day of shopping and dining out. The food was delicious but the ambiance did matter as well.
This particular Turkish Pide House in Canberra has succeeded to transport that food quality, atmosphere and hospitality from Turkey to the other side of the world. It is a travel experience on its own.
Wee Jasper Distillery
6494 Wee Jasper Rd, Wee Jasper NSW
At the time of our trip to Canberra, the distillery was closed due to building new premises. However! We could see what jewelry of a location this is. With tables right on the banks of Goodradigbee River, the distillery is one of these places that bring peace and joy instantly. Just like a quick injection bringing much-needed well-being infusion into your bloodstream.
For updates on where they are at with the building and opening their doors, check their Facebook page. Love gin? Definitely get in touch with them directly.
While this is not technically Canberra or even in the Australian Capital Territory but in New South Wales, I will recommend you get out of the city and do the day trip. This is a farming country, but not as you have seen it in the other states.
Sightseeing in Canberra
National Portrait Gallery
King Edward Terrace, Parkes ACT
The impressive collection of portrait art in this national gallery is as unique as varied. Represented through different media, the faces of famous and ordinary Australians are looking straight at you, with their beauty, vulnerability and pride, all on display. Looking at their facial expressions, but also their body language, and reading their stories is a discovery of its own. Even more intimate are the self-portraits.
The roads between Empire Circuit and Forster Circuit in Yarralumla
If your interests lay anywhere between politics, world cultures and architecture, you should do the Embassy Drive. It is a discovery of its own as many countries have made a significant effort to display their power and culture through an architectural statement. There are almost eighty embassies and high commissions in Canberra. From them, around ten to fifteen are truly impressive and they are all in close proximity. The High Commission of South Africa, the Embassy of Papua New Guinea, and the Embassy of India are among those with the most expressive architectural styles.
Red Hill Lookout
Red Hill Nature Reserve
Probably the best place for getting a mental picture of Canberra and seeing how the Garden City concept was envisaged is from the Red Hill Lookout. Just a short drive from the city but a whole new perspective that you could not have if not on the hill.
Early in the morning, the sun is just at the right place for shining light above this green landscape that varies with hills and valleys. Housed between them is a city of peace and quiet, some say even boredom. But along that, you find a reality of its own, like nowhere else in Australia.
Because of its cold climate and surrounded by mountainous landscapes, Canberra feels fresh and welcomes with its green hug. The Australian Alps being just a few hour’s drive away, the capital of Australia offers road trips that you would not have anywhere else in the country.
Shopping in Canberra
Dirty Janes Canberra
80 Collie St, Fyshwick ACT
If you like finding unique shops when you travel, this is one of them. Between original gifts to antiques, visiting Dirty Janes is an adventure of discovery of its own. All your senses will be stimulated.
From the little charming coffee shop at the entrance, through the abundance of visually pleasing objects and the high quality of materials and workmanship (these feel good on the touch) to the cute and somewhat mysterious from the afar little barn-like nursery in the front yard, you will be enchanted. As you can imagine, you will need time to enjoy all that.
Of course, there are so much more things to do in Canberra, but I hope this list with help you get started exploring Australia’s capital. Enjoy your time, be curious, and never be content with the obvious!