Nature, cycling, art trails … just a few reasons to plan a Canberra wishlist now

Balloons over Lake Burley Griffin.

Balloons over Lake Burley Griffin. Phoot: Events ACT

Far from being a dull workplace for politicians, Canberra ranked third on Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel, 2018 Top 10 Cities list.

Jam-packed with architecturally interesting buildings, culture, cool cuisine, and things to do outdoors – all within a compact radius – it’s got the added benefits of headache-free parking and less congested roads than bigger cities.

With travel restrictions lifting, it might be time to take in Australia’s most overlooked city.

  • Important: Australia’s post-coronavirus travel regulations vary by state. See up-to-date details here

1. Explore Lake Burley Griffin

Meandering through the heart of Canberra, the lake is the jewel in the crown of Australia’s most immaculate and well-planned city. It’s also the setting for many of the city’s tourist spots, activities and cafes.

Viewed from the manicured banks, sculptures, fountains, and small islands punctuate the smooth waters, which culminate to the east in the Jerrabomberra Wetlands. Walk, cycle, picnic or cruise the water in a kayak, rowboat or paddleboat.

2. Check out the icons

Ramble through some of the nation’s cultural treasures in the parliamentary triangle. There’s something awe-inspiring about exploring the country’s finest collection of paintings, crafts and sculptures at the National Gallery of Australia, our nation’s largest art collection. Admission is free.

Across the road, join a small-group experience at Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre (it’s a blast for kids), or jaunt through the National Rose Garden at Old Parliament House, now a museum of democracy.

At the Australian War Memorial, the solemn symmetry of two mediaeval stone lions and the Commemorative Courtyard with its Pool of Reflection, pairs with the sadness of the Roll of Honour – the names of 102,000 Australians who have died in war.

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A sombre moment at the Roll of Honour. Photo: Visit Canberra

3. Go cycling

From easy loops along the lake to the bushy Canberra Centenary Trail, some of the best cycling trails in the nation lie in Canberra. Cycling is the perfect COVID-safe activity – and bike hire is available at Cycle Canberra, which will deliver free to your hotel. Or hire through self-service rental station, Share a Bike.

Get the $5 Your Guide to Cycling in Canberra from the Canberra and Region Visitors’ Centre.

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Taking a break on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. Photo: Damian Breach/Visit Canberra

4. Sample the eats

There’s no end of outstanding contemporary dining, from the gourmet Japanese inspirations of Raku (don’t miss the spicy crisp tofu with avocado salsa and barley miso), to lauded modern Australian restaurants such as Aubergine and Rebel Rebel to local fave, Akiba.

Explore the flavours at Canberra’s city precinct, the Braddon food precinct (a few minutes from the centre of town) and the Kingston Foreshore (on the south side of the lake). Just don’t forget to book!

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Catching up at the Kingston Foreshore. Photo: Visit Canberra

5. Visit the wine country

About 140 small cold climate vineyards dot the countryside skirting the city.

Enjoy a glass of wine with scenic views of the Brindabella Hills on a tasting tour, served with truffles (in July), by firelight in winter or with jazz. You can also sip mulled wine with carol singers and all the trimmings at a Christmas in July lunch or dinner (adults: $85, children under 12: $30) at Pialligo Estate. In November, get your gear on and join the Grapest 5K Run – a five to 10-kilometre jog through a winery, followed by wine-tasting.

For more info and events specific to the season, see Canberra Wines.

6. Ramble through the gardens

Water dragons bask in the cinnamon earth of the Red Centre garden, among native grasses and paper daisies. It’s one of several themed habitats at the Australian National Botanic Garden, where you can stroll year round, discovering rock gardens, rainforest, butterflies, birds and more.

In 2020, Floriade, Canberra’s best-known annual event has been cancelled – although the bulbs ordered for it have already been planted across the city. Come spring, also pop into TulipTop Gardens – four heavenly hectares of tulips, bulbs and flowering trees.

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Floriade’s official display will be absent this year, but the bulbs will still flower. Photo: Martin Oliman Photography

7. Peek at the wildlife

Two wildlife sanctuaries – Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve (turtles, platypus, frogs, kangaroos and birds) and Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary (kangaroos, wallabies, echidna, birds) offer the chance to spot wildlife if you’re in the right place at the right time. Tidbinbilla is 40 minutes’ drive south-west of the city; Mulligans Flat is 34 minutes north-east.

Mulligans Flat also offers a twilight tour ($55 for 10 years-plus) and the chance to see nocturnal critters such as sugar gliders, eastern bettongs, frogs and micro-bats.

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Explore Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. Photo: Stuart Miller

8. Get high on the view

Hike through blackthorn bush, scribbly gum and stringybark forest on the one-hour (return) trail of Black Mountain Nature Reserve. At the top you’re rewarded with a panoramic view of the city, and the young plantings of the National Arboretum.

Take in the view from Mount Ainslie Lookout and the surrounding Brindabella mountain ranges – you can walk there from the Australian War Memorial.

Alternatively, splash out on a hot air balloon ride with Balloon Aloft.

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