My favourite things to do in Canberra

13 February 2018


A few times a year, I'll get a text from a friend asking for Canberra recommendations ahead of a weekend visit. When Lou, a reader from the UK, sent me a message about her upcoming visit, it made me think of sharing some of my favourite places with you too.

So, here's my mini guide to Canberra. I've narrowed it down to the places Tony and I visit lots. They're the places we take friends and family when they're here to see us. It includes a heart-pounding hike, a hidden art installation, plus where to sample a cheeseburger-inspired spring roll:


Breakfast, brunch and coffee

Go for coffee at Barrio, a tiny cafe in Braddon that always has good vibes and hearty food. On a cold winter day, their ham hock toastie and a hot cocoa makes everything okay. They've just started opening at night on weekends for drinks and snacks, and it's worth keeping an eye on for their casual dinner events too.

We often take friends and family (or just ourselves) to Local Press on the Kingston Foreshore. It's right by the lake and has plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans. Head here if you have a busy day ahead, the meals are delicious and filling.

Then there's a series of diner-style cafes run by the ONA coffee house. Their newest one is Highroad in Dickson. The fit out is beautiful and Tony's always looking for an excuse to go. We'll often share a souped-up shake and some halloumi bites.  ONA On The Lawns in Manuka is especially good if you're brunching with kids. There's a little grassy area out the front that's great for dog-spotting and running around. My favourite book store, Paperchain, is nearby. There's also The Cupping Room near the New Acton precinct.

Or if stocking up on local supplies is more of your thing, visit the Ainslie IGA and pick up Bombolini doughnuts, The Muesli Bar's honey toasted granola, and some Three Mills bread. Recommending a supermarket might seem strange, but this one has a cult following (and an insane cheese wall too).


Dinner and drinks

If we're going out for dinner, Lazy Su is always our top choice. I love the music, the playful atmosphere, and we always order the Wagu cheesesteak spring rolls :) You only need two people to get the banquet, which serves up their greatest hits - they also have a vegan banquet.

We tend to skip dessert so we can head to the nearby Frugii for the best gelato and ice cream in town. My Dad always visits multiple times when he's in Canberra and they'll always have a seasonal flavour like Hot Cross Bun and Anzac Biscuit.

If my parents are in town and we want to take them somewhere special, we go to XO in Narrabundah. It's contemporary Asian food, and as an Chinese Australian, eating there is always an emotional experience. The food always reminds me of dishes I grew up eating. If you go - listen out for the medley of TV theme songs they play in the bathrooms, and order the soft serve for dessert.

There's also Pulp Kitchen in Ainslie, which has a cosy neighbourhood vibe while still being a bit fancy. We went for our most recent wedding anniversary and love its sister restaurant, eightysix. Sometimes we go after the movies just for the banoffee pie.

There are plenty of quick and filling options too - Locale in Deakin is our favourite pizza joint. We order the Locale, which has hot salami, blue cheese and mascarpone. Grease Monkey in Braddon serves up Mary's style burgers. We also love Thai Chiang Rai and Sammy's Kitchen in Kingston.

For drinks, Bar Rochford is refined and cosy - they have a fire in winter and the food is really good. If you're into craft beer, Capital Brewing is a relaxed place to spend a sunny afternoon. They also have a Brodburger van - Canberrans love Brodburger for unfussy burgers and hotdogs. And while we haven't been, the Pop Inn wine bar always looks pretty no matter where it's set up.


Places to visit

The city is surrounded by mountains, and climbing them can be a really nice way to start or end a day. The Mount Ainslie walk is probably the most popular, and it gives you a beautiful view of the city. The track starts off gently but you should save your energy for the stairs near the summit. The return trip takes about an hour or a little longer if you keep stopping to take photos :)

Out of all of the museums and galleries, the National Gallery of Australia is my pick. There's usually a blockbuster exhibition and a range of free shows. If the weather is nice, it's lovely to walk through the sculpture garden. I especially love the fog work. Just outside the entrance is one of James Turrell's sky spaces. You can visit it at any time but it's best viewed at sunrise and sunset, when a special light show plays. The optimum viewing times are posted here every day.

Other things we love, Here yoga studio in Downer, Palace Electric cinema in New Acton (get a hand-dipped choc top and head to Monster Kitchen & Bar  afterwards for a snack), riding around Lake Burley Griffin, and Tony's busting to try Go Boat.


Fun things for kids

Questacon is really popular with toddlers and young children - our friends buy an annual family pass. For smaller folk, we've spent some time at the Yarralumla Play Station in Weston Park. There's a mini train and an adventure playground.

The most impressive playground is at the National Arboretum. They've built giant acorns that sit on top of ladders of varying heights, which kids can climb into. Across town, Manuka pool has a sweet wading pool, and then there are free play spaces for kids at the big institutions like old Parliament house and the national gallery.

Lastly...

While you're in town, Her Canberra and Visit Canberra are great for getting a sense of what's happening that week. I also love Megan Sparke's Instagram account, especially when I'm looking for somewhere new to eat.

The city has plenty of festivals too. Enlighten is my favourite because there's a night noodle market and it reminds of when we first moved to Canberra :)  We also have a food truck festival and a hot air balloon festival.

Enjoy!

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