There are a lot of places on your Australian wish list. So many that it will take not one or two or even three trips Down Under to see all of them. It’s a huge country, after all. But despite mapping out possibilities from Western Australia to Queensland to Tasmania, there’s one Aussie place you continually overlook: Canberra.
The capital of Australia was created in 1913 as a compromise between the country’s two largest cities: Melbourne and Sydney. Both cities considered itself the most important Australian city, so a neutral territory (the Australian Capital Territory) was created in between the two. The entirely planned city—similar to Washington, D.C.—is located in Southeast Australia near the Brindabella Range. It straddles Lake Burley Griffin, an artificial lake. While it’s home to parliament, embassies, and universities.
Tours of Canberra should begin outside of the city. Drive the winding, eucalyptus-lined road up Mount Ainslie for a panoramic view of the city. Visit the Australian War Memorial to see the Roll of Honour, the Hall of Valour, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Follow ANZAC Parade, the wide main street, south over the Commonwealth Bridge. It leads to Parliament House, where you should see the Great Hall and the Senate chamber before going to the green roof for another great city view. Then spend the afternoon at the National Museum of Australia, a controversial museum that doesn’t shy away from Aboriginal issues. Don’t miss the embassies, including the semi-permanent Aboriginal Tent Embassy.
Most visits to Canberra end here. After seeing the historical sites and the monuments, many people head straight for the airport. But you shouldn’t. There’s another side—a hipper side—that few see. Check in at Hotel Hotel, a design hotel in the Nishi building on the northern side of the lake. With its bush shack vibe, the hotel wouldn’t look out-of-place in the Outback. Rooms have salvaged oak beds, clay walls, and wool tapestries. Pops of turquoise and orange brighten the dark spaces. Local artwork fills the gallery, an open fire flickers in the courtyard, and GoodSpeed bikes are ready for exploring.
Canberra’s restaurant scene is just as eclectic as your hotel. At Eightysix, the menu, which might include charcoal chicken and braised pork with kimchi, changes frequently. Dishes are crossed off the blackboard menu when they start running low. Pulp Kitchen is a European-style bistro that focuses on local cuisine and French wine. Dishes like beetroot tart and bouillabaisse are offered in appetizer- and entrée-sized portions. While classy Sage has a garden bar, seasonal tasting menus, and molecular gastronomy.
After dinner, sip a Japanese whisky at Hippo Co. The bar has a retro vibe and live jazz on Wednesday nights. Enjoy a view of the lights on the lake, frozen chocolate mousse, and Australian wine at the Parlour Wine Room. Or cross the lake again for a glass of rum at the Rum Bar. The hot spot has a baby grand piano, more than 200 rums, and an outdoor patio. This sleepy capital city seems to be a night owl.