With microbreweries, award-winning designer boutique hotels and strong restaurant game, Canberra ain't the beige capital it used to be.
For most people who grew up in Australia, primary school excursions left you thinking that Canberra was all about politicians and roundabouts. Years later, that concept couldn't be further from the truth. Over the last few years Australia's capital city has had quite the food, drink and culture revolution. Spend a weekend in Canberra and you can wander through breweries, eat at spectacular restaurants and cafes and stay the night at what we think is one of Australia's most beautiful accommodation spots. In partnership with Singapore Airlines and VisitCanberra, here's your guide to spending a weekend in Canberra.
The Cupping Room.
EAT AND DRINK
After cruising up the Hume Highway, you'll want a refuel, in the form of a damn good coffee. Get started at The Cupping Room, on University Avenue. Run by boutique roastery Ona, this specialty coffee house is focused on ethics, paying 20 percent above fair trade rates for its beans and developing close relationships with farmers. Meanwhile, among the indie boutiques and idiosyncratic of Braddon — Canberra's capital of all things alternative — you'll find Nookie Espresso Bar, dotted with hand-knitted blankets, teeny-tiny stools and macrame. Their beans come from cult, Wollongong-based roasters Blacksmith.
When you're ready for a mid-morning bakery treat, get yourself to Silo Bakery and Cafe in Kingston. Collapse onto a wooden banquette before starting on the hard bit - making your choice from the massive array of cakes and pastries in the cabinet. Everything is made onsite from scratch. Macaron tragics should take a worthwhile detour to Fyshwick, to sample Dream Cuisine's creations, while vegans can get their sugar fix at Braddon's Sweet Bones.
While you're in Braddon, visit BentSpoke Brewing Co., a microbrewery and taphouse combing beer with bicycles. Up to 21 brews — from 'Tour de Brune' Belgian IPA to 'Double Shot' Coffee IPA to 'Brindabella', a hand-pressed apple cider — are on tasting at any one time. For more Canberra craft beer goodness, keep an eye out for newcomer Capital Brewing on shelves and menus — their cellar door isn't open to the public yet but will be down the track. Later on, if you're looking for a small bar to kick back in, try recently-opened Bar Rochford for a quiet glass of wine among vinyls and pot plants, or Molly for a speakeasy atmosphere in a former bank vault lined with booths.
Come lunch or dinner, some of the tastiest Italian in the ACT is found at Italian & Sons. This fun-loving place champions old-school warmth and traditional regional cooking. Dig into potato gnocchi with wild rabbit, Pinot Grigio and rosemary ragú, and pecorino tartufato, or your pick from the simple pizza menu. If something more posh takes your fancy, there's a bunch of hatted restaurants, led by Aubergine, where head chef Ben Willis has held onto two hats for five years with his local produce-driven wonders. Make a long afternoon — or evening — of it and take your time over the seasonal tasting menu if you can.
No visit to Canberra is ever complete without a wander through the National Gallery of Australia's enormous spaces and epic works. There's always a temporary exhibition that draws crowds — right now, Diane Arbus's powerful, post-war photos are on display. Until April 17, travel deep into French history without leaving Australia by visiting the Versailles: Treasures from the Palace exhibition. It's loaded with paintings, golden furniture and Louis XIV's personal belongings. Plus, Questacon's pretty much next door, in case you'd like to revisit those school excursion memories.
Given Canberra's hilly surrounding and super-planned structure, it's a good idea to get your bearings by visiting a local lookout. Mount Ainslie and Black Mountain, home to the Telstra Tower, are the most popular. But, if you're keen to beat the crowds, try Red Hill in the south, or Mount Pleasant, where you'll find the grave of General Bridges, the only Aussie soldier who died in Gallipoli to have had his body returned to his homeland.
Lake Burley Griffin is also well worth exploring. Stick to the shore with a self-guided walk, between the National Capital Exhibition, the Canberra and Region Visitors Centre and Blundells Cottage. To move at a faster pace, hire a bike from Good Speed or, if you're feeling brave, get on the water with a yacht or dinghie from Canberra Yacht Boat Club Hire. A wilder adventure is to be had at Namadgi National Park, which is about 40 kilometres south-west. Day hikes include the seven-kilometre Granite Tors track, covering giant-sized granite boulders, wildflowers (in spring and summer) and views of Orroral Valley, and the six-kilometre Yankee Hat walk, which takes you past an ancient, indigenous rock art site.
One of Canberra's best new(ish) stays (and best known) is Hotel Hotel. Opened in 2014, it's a self-described 'collaboration between designers, artists, artisans and fantasists', inspired by 'transience' and 'romance', rather than 'swank'. Each and every one of the 68 rooms is unique and is categorised according to feel: choose from 'Cosy', 'Original', 'Creative' or 'Meandering'. What they have in common is their references to the classic Aussie bush shack. Think clay walls, beds made of recycled oak, oversized rain showers, found objects and artworks.
Another designer option is the QT Canberra. Like its Sydney counterpart, this 205-room hotel hinges on the fun and unexpected, but, here, the design is inspired by politics. Walking into the dark, marble-lined lobby, you'll notice famous world politicians portrayed in left-of-field, neon-lit portraits, as well as a TV screening major historic moments. Some rooms come with views and Lake Burley Griffin is just a stumble away.
To luxuriate in five-star comfort and a New York-style aesthetic, without paying top dollar, book a stay at Airbnb listing Manhattan. This two-bedroom, open-plan apartment sleeps four and comes with beautiful furniture, as well as cracking city views. There's a pool, spa, gym and undercover parking for two vehicles. Or, for a less-pricey, yet schmick and convenient Airbnb stay, check out this Sub-Penthouse one-bedder.
Book a flight to Canberra with Singapore Airlines — the airline flies four times a week from Wellington to Canberra from only $370 return.