I moved to Canberra, willingly, in 1988. I say willingly, because the most common response one gets when one talks about moving to Canberra is “why”?
Generally speaking people only willingly move to Canberra if they want to work for the Australian Public Service. Although naturally, there are exceptions…
I moved to start a job- my first graduate position after Uni. That was, however, just an excuse.
The real reason was, of course, a man.
The man didn’t last past a few months, but I stayed nearly five years. I met my husband there and we returned to Canberra when it was time to do the whole get married in a white-ish dress thing.
In that nearly five years that I lived there, I grew to love it- as most people who move down tend to do once they peel away the soul-less layers of what is a town created purely for the purposes of government. Although naturally, there are exceptions to the grow to love it bit too…
Although we’ve been in Sydney for 20 years now, we still head down a few times a year- ostensibly to visit family, but also to escape Sydney.
So, given that we’re driving down tomorrow, a Friday Five with a difference- the top 5 things I love about Canberra.
1.It’s not Sydney.
Seriously, this is important.
Getting out of Sydney- especially when the humidity is hanging around like a dirty cloak of hot air- is a physical relief. Sydney can be relentless. The traffic, the hassles, but more importantly, everything about business as usual that Sydney represents.
And, with the M7, from our place it’s an easy 3 hours to Dickson Noodle House.
2.Which brings me to…food.
There are some surprisingly good restaurants in Canberra. I say surprisingly, because most are tucked away.
Take a wander through Manuka or Kingston, venture away from Northbourne Avenue and look beyond what’s in front of you.
There’s a great food scene happening in the city now at North Quarter- at the Northern end of the Canberra Centre. Don’t dismiss Braddon (Italian & Sons is one cool trattoria), and have a look at what’s happening around Acton.
A wander around the West Row block (off London Circuit in the city) will take you past some more treasures. I love Mezzalira.
Aside from the afore-mentioned Dickson Noodle House- our first stop on every trip, my favourites are:
Ottoman Cuisine– in Barton. At the higher end of the price scale in Canberra, you will still be paying a lot less than you would for a similar menu in Sydney. It’s worth every penny. The menu is Turkish/Med and is honest food, really well executed. Set in one of the original buildings in Barton, the setting is opulent and sophisticated- & absolutely gorgeous on a summer evening with the tinkle of water from the fountains and the smell of the roses drifting in.
The Ginger Room– at Old Parliament House. Set in the old Senate Dining Room, the décor remains true to its art deco origins. The menu changes regularly, but remains French/Vietnamese in style. Well worth the effort. (Ed note…disappointingly the Ginger Room is now closed. Ginger Catering now have a couple of venues at The National Aboreteum.)
Silo Bakery- in Kingston. A Saturday breakfast, brunch or lunch must. Be prepared to wait for a table, be prepared to squeeze into any available slot, be prepared to eat brilliant bread. If you’re there around lunchtime, try a cheese platter with it. And a glass of red. My husband tells me the pastries are divine- I don’t eat sugar, so I’ll take his word on that.
3.Parliament House- both of them
It sounds cheesey, but you have to. Where else in the world can you loll on the grass that covers the building where government is taking place. Without being arrested, that is.
New Parly House is marbled magnificence. Do the tour and check out the tapestries, the houses of government (here in Australia we have the House of Representatives and the Senate…but contrary to popular belief, no President).
I love the portraits of the old Prime Ministers. My favourite two portraits coincidentally belong to my two favourite Prime Ministers. Clifton Pughs’ portrait of Gough Whitlam (below) remains my absolute fave.
The old, or original, house is also worth a visit. OPH we call it now. The Café in the House has a great lunch and afternoon tea menu.
4.Other free stuff
One of the most surprising things about this city is just how much of it is free to visit.
OPH now has a small entrance fee, but Parliament House, the War Memorial, the National Art Gallery (NAG), the National Portrait Gallery (NPG), the Australian Museum, the National Library and countless other places are taxpayer funded, so are free.
Make sure that you make time for a walk around the Sculpture Garden of the NAG. Speaking of which, a walk around the lake will take you past most of these places. Or hire a bike- there are plenty of bike paths.
The NAG nearly always has a blockbuster exhibition (by admission charge), and the NPG and Library often have other smaller (usually free) exhibitions as well.
5.Other fun stuff
Kids love Questacon for hands on how does it work stuff, and the Australian Museum, for the same. The Institute of Sport is a bit of a drive, but an essential visit. Again, kids love the interactivity and hearing about the training life of an elite athlete.
Between the NPG and Questacon is Reconciliation Place. Take a walk through. It feels like spirit to me.
For me a weekend visit is not complete without my Sunday morning visit to Kingston Bus Depot Markets. Don’t expect cheap tat here, it’s a gourmets and artisans paradise.
By car it’s around 3.5 hours to drive from Sydney. Buses run regularly from Central Station to the centre of Canberra. Naturally, being the nations capitol, you can fly in from all states.
Families are best sticking to the Novotel or Crowne Plaza in the city, but there are some great apartment options in Northbourne Avenue and in the suburbs of Kingston and Manuka.
Check out wotif.com for great last minutes specials.
For something really special, the heritage listed Canberra Hyatt combines 1920s grace and art deco touches with 5 star service and amenities.
Hotel Realm, in the parliamentary triangle in Barton is walking distance to Ottoman. It’s slick, chic and perfect for business travellers.
Diamant Boutique Hotel is an edgy addition to the urban village that is Acton. Urban Village, edgy and Canberra- all in the same sentence? Yes, really.