The Australian capital city is celebrating its centenary this month. Here’s where to stay, play and catch all the action. Australia’s capital has an image problem. It’s often described as boring. In fact, ‘Canberra’ is used as shorthand for the federal government of the day.

“Canberra resembles a display city,” says 26-year-old, young-adult-fiction writer Jack Heath. “When I was growing up, the beautiful lakes, museums and galleries were often silent and empty, as though waiting for the owners to move in.”

That’s changing now, Heath says. “Musicians come from around the world to perform here and famous writers attend our festivals, plus it’s not uncommon to see hordes of revellers flooding towards the night spots. Part of me misses the quiet, but this city is too good not to share.”

Must See

The seat of national government, Parliament of Australia, also known as ‘the big house on the hill’, is well worth a visit. Admire the grey-green marble pillars in the foyer, reminiscent of the colour of eucalypt leaves. If Parliament is sitting, watch politicians in action (book advance tickets if you want to catch Question Time). If speeches don’t appeal, take the lift to the roof to admire the view, then walk (or roll) down the hill’s grassy slopes.

There’s something of interest or amazement for everyone at the National Museum of Australia. At the entrance hall, discover the first car to drive around the continent — a dainty yellow 1923 Citroën. “The museum offers a unique opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in Australia’s past,” says its director Andrew Sayers.

The Glorious Days: Australia 1913 exhibition (from 7 March) will transport you to the heady days of a young nation, ambitious to build a ‘glorious future’. Michael Milton has won six Gold Paralympic medals and holds the record as Australia’s fastest skier with a disability, but he has fallen in love with bikes.

The Canberra native runs adventure and cycling tours through his company Bigfoot Adventures; his night bike ride around Lake Burley Griffin is a beautiful way to see the city, its citizens at leisure and its monuments, both up close and reflected in the lake.

Local Bites

Sasha Trpkovski, co-owner of Hippo Bar and Honkytonks and, has seen the city’s dining and bar scene become more casual and diversified over the past decade. Here are his suggestions.

One: Try the tapas at Playground Martini & Tapas Bar. The bar looks like a log cabin and has a rope matrix hanging from the ceiling. Huge blackboards on the walls list the food and wines on offer.

Two: It’s a bar, a restaurant and a gallery. Soju Girl is adept at blending elements, both in its cocktails and in its innovative Thai and Japanese-influenced dishes. Chef Derek Brown’s experience living overseas shows in his Asian-fusion share-plate dishes.

Three: The cafe-style Ellacure serves modern Italo-Australian food and the menu is ever-changing. Breakfast or brunch on the terrace (above the restaurant’s herb garden) is quite popular with the locals.

Four: Old-fashioned service matched with modern Italian cuisine is a great combination at Mezzalira Ristaronte, where chef Pasquale Trimboli’s degustation menu of signature dishes matched with local wines is a revelation.

Bedding Down

From intimate boutique gems to luxe offerings, the city of Canberra is second to none when it comes to having a wide range of lodging options.

Versatile: The aptly named 158-room Hotel Realm offers spacious five-star hotel and suite-style accommodation, conference facilities, a pumping tapas bar as well as a more formal restaurant.

Funky: The new kid on the block, East Hotel complements its sleek modern rooms with enthusiastic staff, high-tech fittings and a notable restaurant, Ox, with a menu of vintage wines and rare whiskies.

Arty: In the exciting precinct of New Acton, close to the Australian National University, the 80-room boutique Hotel Diamant displays modern art in a building stylishly refashioned from early 20th-century lodgings.

Heritage: The art deco, five-star Hyatt Hotel Canberra, with its luxe rooms, elegant courtyards and period-style furnishings, is a restful zone close to the action of the Parliamentary Triangle.

Tailored: Find stylish rooms, long-stay apartments and the Malamay restaurant at the Burbury Hotel. Guests can also access the Realm’s spa and other facilities.

Neighbourhood Watch

On the slightly gritty northern end of the CBD, Lonsdale Street, in Braddon, is fast evolving into a hipster strip. Here scuba-diving and bike shops have made way for Lonsdale Street Roasters, Canberra’s premier temple for coffee worship.

The Elk & Pea Eating House, Canberra’s pioneer cafe-to-bar establishment, serves Argentinean street food with coffee during the day and drinks at night. Pay a visit to the recently launched Lonsdale Street Traders, a converted warehouse that is now home to a collection of independent retailers, such as Elseware, which offers eclectic homewares. Retro bikes, an organic bakery and hair salons also feature in the mix.

Cultural Gems

Year-long centenary celebrations have already kicked off in Canberra, but it’s during the March long weekend (9–11) that the party will reach fever-pitch. Revisit the roaring ’20s with a Kick Up Your Heels dance at the historic Albert Hall, join the “longest bubbly bar in the world” on Lake Burley Griffin’s foreshore (bookings required), attend the premiere of Andrew Schultz’s Centenary Symphony concert and check out the Handmade Market for these and many other events). Also visit the National Film and Sound Archive , which is housed in an art deco gem — once an institute of anatomy — and preserves Australia’s audio-visual heritage.

Don’t Leave Without...

Savouring political controversy and a masterpiece of 20th-century art by viewing Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles at the National Gallery of Australia. The painting caused a furore when it was purchased in 1973 (“$1.3 million for dribs and drabs” moaned one newspaper). Walk or cycle at least part of the special 150-kilometre Centenary Trail that showcases the ‘Bush Capital’.

Hot-air-balloon flights take off every day (weather permitting) from the lawns of Old Parliament House. From 9 to 17 March a Balloon Spectacular will feature balloons of all shapes and sizes from all over the world. And at the end of the day, the Australian War Memorialfarewells visitors with a poignant ceremony: a bugler playing the Last Post or a piper playing a Lament. 

Q&A with a Local

Distinguished astrophysicist and winemaker, professor Brian P Schmidt was a joint winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Physics. At the ceremony, he presented the King of Sweden with a bottle of his Maipenrai pinot noir.

What do you like about Canberra?

It is incredibly easy to live in. It has bike paths everywhere. It’s green and has most of the things you want in a city — and only 360,000 people. We have first-class wineries, the Brindabella Ranges and a wildlife reserve  It has the big and the small, all in one package.

How long have you been running your vineyard?

We moved out here [near Sutton] in 1999.

Why pinot noir?

I wanted to focus on red wine and, from a climatic point of view, pinot noir was the natural fit. I’ve been very pleased with the way things have turned out.

Your recommendations for restaurants?

For sophisticated country dining, Grazing is just down the road from my farm. Also check out: Italian and Sons for casual but very good Italian; The Chairman & Yip for great service and tasty Asian-Australian cuisine; and Sage and Aubergine for contemporary, sophisticated dining.