Australia’s capital is neatly set out in an orderly grid, with orderly civilians, and oversized, not-to-scale roundabouts. It was once a very ordinary place, yet modern day Canberra has evolved into a place worth the eight hour road trip from Melbourne (with various stops for sustenance and leg stretching). The main reason for our trip was an amazing Hotel that we’d read about online. Surely it could not still be the yawn inducing place I remembered as a child? It’s not. Yes, we Canberra. Here are five things we loved about Australia’s Capital Territory.
Faced with the prospect of a 16 hour return trip of driving over a long weekend, I set about with some good planning to maximise quality time and make each calorie laden moment count. Each of us made a wishlist and from that, our itinerary was generated, meeting everyone’s needs and wants. Anything outside of that, like the Embassy drive or the annual Floriade event, would be a bonus.
01 | Hotel Hotel, New Acton precinct
An aesthete’s dream. Hotel Hotel is frighteningly expensive, so we spent our first night at a perfectly adequate AirBnB property. That said, I know that we (Tinks and me) laboured through Day Two’s activities, secretly counting down to check-in time at our ‘uptown’ lodgings. Hotel Hotel is a stunning landmark, a declaration to us Melbourne types that CANBERRA HAS ARRIVED. It has the feel of a world class design sanctuary. After all, it’s described on the website as ‘a collaboration between designers, artists, artisans and fantasists.’ Of course, Hotel Hotel wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste – it’s no Holiday Inn, my dears. Instead it sits distinctly apart from any mainstream series of hotels that I’ve seen. Dark hallways lead to divinely industrial accented rooms, with Aesop products on tap in lavish bathrooms. The beds are amazing with decadent linens, luxuriant robes and in room iPads.
The staff were upbeat and friendly (all appeared to love working there). Nothing was too much for them. Our only gripe was not being able to dine at Monster Kitchen & Bar because it was fully booked, and even though it was merely one example of me being frightfully disorganised during the entire trip, I still believe there should be a way that hotel guests can be accommodated over the general public. The alternative was a below average Italian bistro within the NewActon precinct. Luckily, the cocktails and conversation at Parlour dulled the pain, and had us looking forward to retreating to those rooms of fantasy.
02| National Gallery of Australia
The National Gallery of Australia is architecturally grand, with beautiful grounds, and striking angles and lines in every direction. Parts of the gallery were closed for refurbishment, but we got to see Pollocks ‘Blue Poles’ (tick), and skip around some extraordinary rock art mixed with marble, gold and mirrors. It was awe-inspiring and free.
03 | National Arboretum Canberra
Now this is a great reason to have a car in Canberra. The National Arboretum Canberra is about 6km from the civic centre, at the western end of Lake Burley Griffin. There is a pod playground for kids, lush gardens with spectacular views, forests, and the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection, lookouts, outdoor sculptures and more. It’s another free activity, so save those dollars for the good Hotel (Hotel).
04 | Ivy & The Fox, Acton
Set within the grounds of Australian National University at Old Canberra House (built in 1914), Ivy & The Fox is a beautiful spot for a long lunch under the trees or on the deck looking down through the gums to Lake Burley Griffin.
05 | Silo Bakery + Cafe, Kingston
With stunning reviews from the NY Times and SMH, Silo Bakery + Cafe was a ‘must visit’ destination in Kingston. The place is very cosy (read: tiny), and though I managed to resist the delicacies above, it took some work (I was naively saving myself for crazy big sundaes from Patissez the next day – it didn’t happen). I’m sure there were ancient grains in my bircher muesli, which was no doubt soaked overnight in cloudy organic apple juice, and you get the picture, but I would definitely return, for the love of pastry and custard, and tarts in general.
Also recommended: Parliament House, take a tour around the different embassy buildings – it’s as good as you remember as a kid!, Patissez – home of the Freak Shake Sundaes! – be prepared to wait at least an hour, ONA on the lawns.