A new look at old Canberra…


A new look at old Canberra

If you tell most Sydney-siders that you’re visiting Canberra, you’ll hear a resounding ‘why?’

After all, nothing happens there, right?

If you tell most Melbournians that you’re visiting Canberra and you’ll also hear the same ‘why?’

The place has no soul, there’s no urban, inner city scene, no hidden laneways, no decent coffee, and as for the food, well, it’s so mainstream….isn’t it?

Not anymore.

For those of us who have lived there, we know better. Canberra has always been a great place to live, but visiting there has always seemed a little, I don’t know, governmental.

Most people have a tick list that’s been formed from the memories of long ago year 6 and year 10 excursions to the capital- the War Memorial, Parliament House, the High Court. Where’s the food, the coffee, the edgy art and fashion? Seriously, how do people exist down here?

Canberra has a hipster side. It’s a side that needs good coffee, amazing locally sourced food, edgy design. It’s a side that wants to work, live, play or stay in sustainable architecture. And more people are in on the secret now.

interior roof detail
interior roof detail

It’s New Acton.


The old Acton, the original Acton, was the first property in the territory (that would become Canberra) to be resumed by the Commonwealth. According to some of the history, the Minister for Home Affairs, King O’Malley, disliked the English mannerisms of the tenant, Arthur Brassey, so his place was the first to be turned into offices and public buildings for the new capital. There’s an Irish pub in Civic named after King O’Malley. Just saying.


New Acton doesn’t feel like Canberra, although the glimpses of Lake Burley Griffin and the weird dome that is the old Institute of Anatomy remind you that you’re still there.


The architecture is a blend of old Canberra and new sustainable design. The entertainment and public space art is edgy and innovative.

The lounge area in Hotel Hotel
The lounge area in Hotel Hotel

The coffee and food alternatives would be at home in a Melbourne laneway, and there’s nothing hotel chainy about the accommodation options.

My point? Go off and do the normal Canberra things, check out the National Portrait Gallery, the political cartoons at the Museum of Democracy (Old Parliament House), pop over and see whatever is on at the National Gallery, see what’s changed at the War Memorial, and then explore something a little more happening.

It’s Canberra, but not as you know it.

Where we stopped off on the way


Fedra Olive Groves on the Federal Highway…for oil…of course. Don’t be put off by the name- Grandma’s Little Bakery.


Where we stayed

The Diamant at New Acton.

The rooms are comfortable, smart, and just big enough. Don’t make the mistake of taking a nanna nap, though- you won’t want to get out of one of these beds.

I love the room and hallway art, although my husband is a tad more old school and would prefer to see black and white photos of Lake Burley Griffin. Whatever.


I also loved the ceiling wallpaper. Hubby reckoned the white bits glowed in the dark, but I think that was more a result of the long afternoon session at Tongue and Groove (see below) and some good local pinot at A. Baker.

ceiling wallpaper
ceiling wallpaper

We checked in on Easter Saturday, so these little fellas were a lovely hello and welcome touch.

photo-81 Lunch


Lunch at the Canberra Yacht Club with my mother in law.

Nearly 20 years ago we had our wedding reception here. Now, the Yacht Club is owned by the Canberra Southern Cross Club, but the food isn’t RSL fare, nor is the dining room- despite the pokies behind the partition. You know that they’re there, but you can neither see nor hear them.

Although the food is comfortable, it’s nothing to write home about. The view, though, is one of the best in Canberra.

You could say that this is a view with food, and a perfect spot to take the kids…or the mother in law.


Where we drank

A lengthy afternoon session at Tongue in Groove at North Quarter in Civic with some Sydney friends. It all got just a tad messy.


Date Night

the front entrance to A.Baker. Check out the planter boxes & kitchen garden
the front entrance to A.Baker. Check out the planter boxes & kitchen garden

A.Baker at New Acton.

The decor is industrial chic, and the menu is produce driven and more than a tad adventurous.

We shared charcuterie to start- some lonzo (a cured meat, similar to prosciutto but coming from the pork tenderloin and meltingly good) and a black truffled salami that we inhaled as well as tasted.

Main meals for me was rag pasta with local mushrooms, house smoked ricotta and hazelnuts. It was easily the best pasta I’ve eaten all year. Hubby had the smoked Dutton Park duck breast, Jerusalem artichoke, braised red cabbage with chestnut dumplings. he said it was memorable. After sampling it, I had more than a little meal envy happening.

The locally grown pinot noir (Lerida Estate at Murrumbateman) was a good match.


We were back in the morning for brekky- slow poached eggs and artisan sourdough baked on the premises…



Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

7 thoughts

  1. I think I’ve mentioned before that I quite liked living in Canberra. Except everyone was from somewhere else and often disappeared on weekends. I also didn’t find it to be particularly friendly and probably felt more alone there than I did in a myriad of overseas countries. But… it had a lot to offer we locals AND visitors. Of course it’s changed a lot since I lived there back in the 1990s (and even more since I last visited from the look of your pics!)

    1. I was lucky when I moved there after Uni I had both friends from school living there & the Bank I worked for had a busy social calendar. As a result, I found Sydney harder to break into when we moved back here- I think because everything is so hard to get to here.

  2. Next time, go to the Yellow Mandalay Bus in Haig Park for late dinner. Food is awesome and certainly shows another side to Canberra most visitors miss. They had a painting day there not long ago where local artists just set up around the bus area to paint. Some even onto the bus.

  3. I find this post reassuring Jo as we are house sitting in Canberra for 3 months, July to October and every one is saying “What!!!!”

      1. I’m expecting it to be cold, but being a Pommie I can handle that. We have plenty of warm clothes with us, and I’m looking forward to it.

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