Things to do in Canberra

By Carla Grossetti

Hot air balloons are floating over the lake burley griffin in Canberra during sunrise.
Hot air balloons are floating over the lake burley griffin in Canberra during sunrise.
Looking for things to do in Canberra? It's Friday evening and there's a real buzz around the al fresco cafes in Kingston, one of the buzzy new precincts that has helped transform Australia's national capital. No longer derided as a city with a starchy, white collar vibe, there's a dynamism to Canberra that makes it a top destination for a weekend away.

While annual events such as Good Food Month, the Truffle Festival and Floriade are popular drawcards, the city chosen by Lonely Planet as the 3rd Best City in Travel for 2018 is also on the map as a top spot for a weekend away. MiNDFOOD takes a look at a few of the things to do in Canberra over the weekend.

Top things to do in Canberra

Here’s how to spend 36 hours in Canberra:

3 pm There are a lot of boxes to check on a visit to Canberra. Start with the National Gallery of Australia, where you can admire pre-Raphaelite masterpieces on loan from the Tate. First-time visitors should also check the National Portrait Gallery and Parliament House off their must-do list.

5 pm The legacy of American architect Walter Burley Griffin is everywhere thanks to his innovative urban planning, use of reinforced concrete, wide tree-lined avenues that radiate from the city’s symbolic centre and cycle ways that necklace around the lake. Take a walk around the NGA to admire the many varied sculptures dotted around the gardens.

6 pm Amble down to Joe’s Bar for a Bitter Pig, a cocktail using pancetta-washed bourbon as the base. The moodily-lit bar nods to Canberra’s Brutalist architecture with its centrepiece, a custom concrete curtain that also lends a sense of drama to the space. Claim a stool at the bar to eavesdrop on the colourful conversation between the two Labor Party heavyweights in the corner.

7 pm In suitable weather, you can sit on the sunny terrace at the East Hotel until your table at Agostinis is ready. Once you step inside the restaurant you commit to feasting with metre-long pizzas here a must if you’re with a group. The beguiling cast of Italian-accented waiters add to the good-time vibes here as does the fact you overlook the action in the kitchen.

10 pm It’s the butt end of the evening. You can either pop into Muse, where you can flick through some beautiful cookbooks, or bunker down in your luxurious suite, upstairs at the East Hotel.  Tiptoe into the foyer, which is decked out with mid-century inspired furniture, in order to raid the complimentary jars of chocolate freckles.

Things to do in Canberra: Hot air balloons
Hot air balloons are floating over the lake burley griffin in Canberra during sunrise.

Saturday morning

8 am It’s a little-known fact that you can get around Canberra very easily without a car. Start your morning right by getting a jolt of coffee in your KeepCup at Muse and taking a vintage bike — they are complimentary at East Hotel — to nearby Silo Bakery for a plate of chilli jam eggs with tomato and a baguette to go.

10 am Canberra, blessed as it so often is with blue skies, is also boastful about its proximity to nature. Fired up on espresso, you can bike or hike to the top of Mt Ainslie, take a kayak tour around Lake Burley Griffin, or join the flora explorers at the National Arboretum and National Botanic Gardens on the lower slopes of Black Mountain.

Noon Braddon is another key ‘burb that has helped change Canberra’s fortunes.  After becoming properly caffeinated at The Cupping Room, head to Baked on Mort for ‘bragels’ to take to Commonwealth Park for a picnic. If you’re a fiend for a burger go for a jaunt back to Kingston where you can rub shoulders with plaid-clad hipsters waiting for The Capital burger with the lot. It’s worth it.

3 pm Pialligo Estate is a farm located on the banks of the Molonglo River about 10 minutes from Canberra’s CBD. The 28 ha farm presents like a mini food bowl; the award-winning Estate supplies food for its award-winning restaurant and has a vineyard, olive grove, smokehouse, herb gardens, farm shop and market onsite.

6 pm The entrance into Aubergine has to be one of the most-trafficked areas of Canberra. This two-hatted restaurant is one of the city’s swankiest options for eating out and it receives the attention it deserves. For a study in contrasts, head to Hippo Co for a nightcap where you will meet bed-haired millenials waxing on about their arts degrees.;

Sunday morning

7 am Having an esky in the car is a good policy on the drive down to Canberra. Just down from the East Hotel, in Kingston, is where you will find the Old Bus Depot Markets. Rise early and head straight to the food stalls, which sprawl throughout the industrial building.

11 am The immense collection of books in the National Library  of Australia is as impressive as the building itself. The tiered layout gives visitors the feeling they are on a journey. Don’t miss the Nan Kivell Room, which is panelled with red cedar, and the room dedicated to Asian Collections, clad in grass paper. The library is open on weekends.

Noon The Old Canberra Inn is one of the earliest licensed pubs in the Canberra region and is a great place to refuel before rejoining the hum of the highway. The building – built in 1857 – predates the city itself and its recent refurb was sympathetic to the building’s history. Head to the inn for pub classics with a twist like a chicken burger slathered in Sriracha sauce or Cajun chicken sewers with chimichurri.  

Read more: The best things to do in Melbourne right now



Let us keep you up to date with our weekly MiNDFOOD e-newsletters which include the weekly menu plan, health and news updates or tempt your taste buds with the MiNDFOOD Daily Recipe.