Australia’s capital, Canberra, is a city of great importance. Diplomats brush shoulders with politicians in the halls of Parliament House, Olympians brim with ambition at the Australian Institute of Sports, while the Prime Minister names the Australian of the Year, every January 26th, in Federation Mall.
One of the world’s few planned cities, influenced by the Garden City Movement, Canberra is a place of beauty and sentiment. Bushlands wrap around the city’s focal point, Lake Burley Griffin – which stands proud alongside monuments like the National Museum, the Australian War Memorial and Anzac Parade in steadfast tribute to Australia’s history.
Canberra is also a great base from which to explore some of the country’s most treasured regions, such as the picturesque beaches of the New South Wales South Coast, and the famous Snowy Mountains.
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Canberra is a superb destination for foodies, with over 300 restaurants, cafes and pubs scattered throughout several suburbs. Fresh local produce and cool climate wines abound, offering Canberra’s dining scene a range of experiences, covering everything from upscale to casual dining, and culinary schools to take away joints.
As the home of Australian Parliament – a meeting place for business travellers and world leaders alike – Canberra hosts a number of fine dining options. At the foot of Capital Hill, overlooking Lake Burley Griffin, sits Waters Edge – Canberra's premier dining venue, featuring a menu loaded with well-handled seafood and regional wines. Set within equally evocatively historical surroundings (Old Parliament House) The Ginger Room is another of Canberra’s most touted upscale haunts, presenting a menu of excellent Australian cuisine with a radical Asian influence. Sage Dining Rooms is the city’s most acclaimed restaurant – consistently voted as the Capital’s best with an evolving menu full of fresh and innovative locally sourced produce plated up like artwork.
The contemporary nature and attitude of the city is reflected well in its dining scene. Boasting the best views in Canberra, revolving atop the Telstra Tower, Alto Restaurant makes for a great relaxed dining experience offering a menu of modern Australian dishes. Modern Australian is also on the menu at Debacle; served amid the unpretentious, laid back atmosphere at one of the city’s most bustling bars. Contemporary to the point of controversial, when Tilley's Devine Café Gallery first opened – in reaction to the hegemony of the old-boys-club mentality of Canberra – men were not allowed to dine without the company of a female… The gender rules have since changed, fitting the relaxed nature of the meals.
As common in both metropolitan and regional Australia, Canberra has a thriving Asian population and influence. Chairman and Yip dishes up seriously good Asian fusion cuisine with a focus on seafood and exotic fares. Dickson’s Ruby Chinese Restaurant deals in some of Canberra’s most authentic Cantonese cuisine. While the Griffith Vietnamese Restaurant is a favourite amongst locals, a testament clearly echoed on the restaurant’s walls – which are papered with autographs and recommendations from Australia politicians, including Midnight Oil front man turned Labor party frontbencher, Peter Garrett.
To gain the full picture of Canberra’s dining scene, explore into the suburbs. Suburban pockets like Braddon – an after-work playground for young professionals, Manuka and Kingston – two of Canberra’s trendiest suburbs, and Griffith – a well established shopping and dining precinct; are all lively settings for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Canberra’s retail scene is diverse and plentiful. Luxury boutiques vie for attention with department stores. Shopping malls tower into the sky shadowing street markets. While local designers work fast to put out new ranges in order to cater for the city’s four distinct seasons.
The CBD is the city’s fashion hub. The area’s biggest draw cards is the Canberra Centre – a commanding energy that hosts major department stores like Myer and David Jones, as well as an outstanding portfolio of national and international fashion labels. Outside paved pedestrian malls like City Walk, Petrie Plaza and Garema Place showcase an exciting array of boutiques and specialty stores, stocking everything for street fashion to designer shoes.
Just a few minutes' walk from the city centre, is Braddon – arguably Canberra’s hippest suburb. An after-work playground for young professionals, Braddon has an active bar scene and hosts an unusual line up of retailers. Retro fashions sit next to handcrafted gifts, galleries complement boutique book stores, while car yards strike a balance with hairdressing salons.
Manuka and Kingston also hold fame as two of Canberra’s trendiest settings. As the oldest shopping district in the Capital, built in the 1920s, Manuka and Kingston hosts a great array of retail stores – spanning everything from national to international designer labels, and antiques to exquisite jewellery. The suburbs are just a five-minute walk from each other.
Big brands at low prices can be discovered in Fyshwick, at Canberra’s outlet shopping mall Direct Factory Outlet (DFO). Offering a vast range of home wares, sporting goods and fashion at considerably reduced prices, DFO is a paradise for bargain hunters.
Stroll and shop, take to foot and explore Canberra’s many markets. The multi award-winning Old Bus Depot Markets (open every Sunday) are renowned for a mix of handcrafted jewellery, art, clothing, furniture and regional foods and wines. The Capital Regional Farmers Market (open every Saturday morning) offers an array of fruit, vegetables, plants, flowers, seafood, meat and cheeses. Find vintage treasures, second-hand books, jewellery, and international foods at the Gorman House Markets (open every Saturday). While the best in regional craft and produce can be found at the Hall Markets, on the first Sunday of each month.