Australia’s Capital often sits in the shadow of nearby Sydney’s bright lights and beach life but I think the smallest state in Oz has big potential. So here’s how I spent 48 hours in Canberra.
The trip was a romantic weekend away all planned as a birthday surprise. I told my friends the plan and they all looked at me quizzically and said “That sounds nice but…why Canberra?”
It seems to me that the majority of people think Canberra is pretty boring and when you compare it to cities like Sydney and Melbourne, I can see why. But as a self-titled ‘country-city’, this teeny tiny Capital has the best of both – you guessed it – countryside and city life.
There are pristine parks, a stunning walk or cycle route along the water, galleries, museums, monuments and more to be explored.
Drive, fly or ride?
Drive! If you’ve got your own car then I say load it up and hop in because the trip is just beautiful. We plumped for renting a car instead of the train or flying and although it turned out to be a little pricier, it was the best suited mode of transport for a couple on a tight schedule. The hour long flights were bordering on $300 each round trip and The ‘Canberra Xplorer’, a direct rail service from the Sydney CBD cost $56 per person, one-way. We paid slightly more for the luxury of having a car but on top of all of the other freedoms having your own transportation has (such as singing full pelt to Beyonce), we were also able to make stops along the way and take in the sights that you can’t see from the air. You will pass by Lake George, skim the edges of numerous national parks and forests and have plenty of opportunities to drop by a cellar door for a cheeky wine tasting (or specialty coffees for the designated driver) which is a welcome stop on the journey. Such as…
Eling Forest Winery – This place is, in a word, beautiful. It’s set in the idyllic NSW landscape which gave me a shot of nostalgia for my native British countryside. We pulled up for brunch and treated ourselves to The Eling Breakfast, the likes of which I’ve never had the pleasure to taste before. A delicious take on a traditional English breakfast, we were fit to burst by the time we reached for our coffees and so satisfied was our hunger that we made it until the late evening until we were ready for dinner.
Around the corner from the cafe sat a cellar door where we sampled some wines and tried a sip of their famous Pigs Fly Apple and Pear Cider. After settling on a 6-pack of ciders (apparently nobody leaves without a bottle or two, and I understand why) and a bottle of the Semillon Sauv Blanc (always my first choice for Summer) we took our wares and full stomachs back to the car and continued on our journey.
Although sad to leave the road trip scenery behind, Canberra wasn’t too bad itself. After living in lofty Sydney, the bright open spaces of Canberra were a nice change. The nation’s Capital is the centre of Australia’s Government and is a business-centred place. A planned city, the buildings and roads are all very neat, orderly and…businessy. There are nice, well-kept gardens to compliment the nice, well-kept streets and buildings but very little character on first impression.
We stayed at Peppers Gallery, a beautiful little boutique hotel right in the heart of Canberra. Perfect for a romantic getaway, the clean, modern decor is simultaneously cosy and trendy. The lobby had a welcoming open fire and warm atmosphere which translated through the rest of the building. We dropped off our bags in our small but lovely room before heading out to experience the famous Floriade. A scenic walk along the water’s edge led us to this annual celebration of Spring with beautiful floral displays across Commonwealth Park as well as rides, live performances, kids areas and grub for everyone with food trucks offering everything from Jamaican jerk chicken to vegetarian Indian dosas. It was also our first encounter with the man we call ‘The Travelling Organ Man’ – actually called Rick Alabaster – an unusual character with his old-school Belgian concert organ Australian Fair. It was kitsch and funny and cute and not the last time we would see him.
After a long day enjoying the Spring ACT sunshine, we found ourselves thirsty and in need of a rest. We caught the free shuttle bus back into the city then headed on foot towards Braddon, the hipster suburb of Canberra, to find somewhere for a quick libation before dinner. We opted for Bentspoke Brewery, a quirky bicycle-themed microbrewery with a huge array of beers and ciders on tap. The decor was cute, the service was excellent and the pints (yes pints, not schooners!) were cold.
Ready for another feed, the Bicicletta restaurant on the ground floor of our hotel provided a beautiful evening meal for our first night in Canberra. Showcasing locally grown food, their menu changes to suit the season but is full of hearty Italian favourites, friendly Italian service and excellent wine pairings.
With only two days in Canberra, we wanted to be sure to see as much as possible. As lovers of museums, galleries and food, we planned our day around some must-see monuments. After indulging in some great local wine, we treated ourselves to the ultimate hangover cure – breakfast cocktails and a spicy, Central American focused menu at The Elk and Pea. The espresso martini was delicious and I was truly charmed by the staff, interior design and atmosphere of the place – it’s still up there with the best brunch spots.
The National Gallery of Australia is amazing, and you should definitely go and spend a couple of hours wandering around. There’s everything from Aboriginal art to Dada to The Impressionists and I was lucky enough to spy this little lady at the end of the day. It was a decadent moment. I’ve only seen two Degas bronzes in real life and both times my breath was taken away.
Entry is free with an optional special exhibition for a fee. Their adjacent cafe has some lovely coffee and cakes if that tickles your fancy. We then popped to the Australian War Memorial, a truly beautiful and moving monument and grounds at the foot of Mount Ainslie, part of the Canberra Nature Park. After getting teary eyed at the evening ceremony, we had run out of time to see the National Portrait Gallery, a real shame as I’ve heard it’s one of the best galleries in Australia.
As a final goodbye to Canberra, we drove up to Mount Ainslie Lookout to enjoy some scenery, an ice cream, an embrace and a panoramic sunset . It was a beautiful end to a romantic weekend and a new look at this giant, wonderful and weird country of Australia.