JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH KEELIE WILLIAMS FROM CANBERRA, AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY!
Keelie is one half of the travel blog, the Study Tour. At the Study Tour, Keelie and her partner Myles write about off the beaten path islands, national sandwiches, unusual modes or transportation and all manner of travel related topics. Keelie and Myles are about to head off on (another) year long jaunt around the world, so make sure you sign up to their mailing list to ensure you get updates on all their adventures.
Canberra is the capital city of Australia – although few international visitors know it exists. Canberra was chosen as the site of the capital city in 1908, and an international competition was held to design the city. Walter Burley Griffin won the competition in 1913, the year the city was officially named Canberra. Today it is a city of around 400,000 people, which is the site of many significant Australian buildings.
It is known as ‘the bush capital’ due to its natural bushland surrounding, where it is very easy to spot kangaroos in the wild!
When is the best time to visit Canberra?
Canberra is a city with four seasons, the temperature rises above 40°C in summer, drops below 0°C in winter (although it only rarely snows) and the leaves turn yellow and fall off the trees in autumn. The best time to visit is between late spring and early autumn. At this time of year, the weather is good, there are lots of festivals and events on and the locals are out and about (people tend to hibernate during the winter months or head off to the ski fields).
I’d recommend avoiding the time between Christmas and New Year, when many offices shutdown and the locals take the opportunity to travel. As a consequence, many restaurants and bars also close which can make the city feel a bit like a ghost town. If you do happen to be in Canberra during this time, check out the local newspaper, the Canberra Times, to find out what is open.
Which is the most convenient and favoured transport of Canberra?
Canberra was a city which was designed for cars, and you will find that you will have a much easier trip to the city if you have access to a vehicle. However, if that isn’t an option, Ubers are plentiful and affordable and there is also a tourist bus loop that travels between the city centre and some of the major attractions.
You can get from the airport into the city centre by taxi, Uber, bus or by hire car (most major brands have offices at the airport). The trip takes about 10 minutes by car and 20-30 minutes on the bus.
What are the top three must visit places in Canberra?
There are so many special places to visit in Canberra, but if you only have time to see three then make sure you go to Lake Burley Griffin, check out some embassies and see the National Gallery of Australia.
Many of Canberra’s most striking building can be found along the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. A popular way to see the lake is to walk around the centre of it, known as the bridge to bridge walk. Along this path, you’ll see the High Court, the National Library, the Carillion and the Captain Cook Fountain, to name just a few. If walking isn’t your cup of tea, you can always visit on boat, bike or segway. However, the locals never swim in this lake – so if you want to fit in, make sure you stay dry!
As the capital city, Canberra is home to a number of embassies and commissions. Unusually, Canberra encouraged countries to build their embassies in their home architecture styles, which has made for some very interesting streetscapes. You can take a drive or walk in Yarralumla to see some great examples, Papua New Guinea, China and the United States are worth a visit. Many of the embassies put on events throughout the year, where you can see inside the embassy and learn more about a country’s culture. Each year, the Thai embassy holds a food festival and the Finnish embassy opens their sauna, both events are very good fun.
There are lots of museums and galleries in Canberra, and you should definitely see at least one before you go. My favorite is the National Gallery of Australia which holds more than 166,000 works of art. Try and see the outdoor Skyspace by James Turrell at sunset. Other options include the National Museum of Australia, the War Memorial or the Portrait Gallery. All of these options are free (except for special exhibitions which are usually ticketed).
What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Canberra?
There are some amazing day trips just outside of the city centre, try Namadgi National Park for nature, the Canberra wine region for gourmet treats or Jervis Bay for a relaxing beach trip.
Namadgi national park is about a 30 minute drive from the city centre. It also borders Kosciuszko National Park and is so huge that it makes up around 46% land area of the Australian Capital Territory. Experience scenic views, long bush walks and beautiful birdlife in the park which is also a gold mine of boulders.
It’s a great place for hiking, picnic and camping spots. You could try the Yankee Hat trail to view Aboriginal art or the Square Rock or Booroomba trails to see impressive scenery and views. If you really want a big challenge, try tackling the Mt Tennent trail, a challenging 15km return trek.
Canberra has a fantastic wine region, which grows great cool climate varieties such as Pinot Noir, Tempranillo and Riesling. You can check out a cellar door or two (many are within an hour drive of the city centre) or drive to the many wineries in Murrumbateman. Also in Murrumbateman check out Robyn Rowe Chocolates if you need some sustenance on your trip.
Alternatively take a full or half day winery tour so you can really indulge yourself (Australia has strict limits on the amount of alcohol you can consume if driving). Many of the wineries have delicious onsite restaurants and there are nearby farm gates.
If you have time to travel further afield, then I would recommend a trip to Jervis Bay. While it is a three hour drive outside of Canberra, and requires crossing a state border, it is technically part of Canberra. A huge myth about the area is that it is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as having the whitest sand in the world (a category that sadly doesn’t exist in the book). Stop by one of the beautiful beaches (try Hyams beach for the almost-the-whitest sand), search for whales and dolphins or take a hike in the Booderee National Park.
What is the most celebrated holiday of the year in Canberra?
Canberra has heaps of festivals and events throughout the year. My personal favourite is the National Multicultural Festival which celebrates Australia’s cultural diversity, held over one weekend every February. There are over 300 stalls at the event, selling food and drinks from across the globe – you can have a Vietnamese bahn mi, Ethiopian injera, Tibetan dumplings and wash it all down with a Belgium beer all in one sitting! There’s stages spread across the city centre with demonstrations of traditional dances and bands playing all styles of music.
If that’s not your style, we also have Summernats, a popular car festival in summer; Floriade, a flower festival in spring; and in Autumn we have a Comedy festival, a folk music festival, Enlighten – an outdoor art festival which focuses on illuminations on cultural iconic buildings and the hot air balloon spectacular – to name just a few!
What is the most loved local food, savory and sweet of Canberra? Is it a vegetarian friendly city?
Canberra café Patissez developed the FreakShake which became so popular they had people flying over 10 hours just to get one. FreakShakes are a mash up of a milkshake and a dessert, which look oh so instagrammable. Make sure you visit hungry!
Canberra’s other favorite food is Brodburger which sells giant burgers with premium cheeses. There is almost always a line here, but you can out-smart the crowds by ordering online before you arrive!
Practically every restaurant is Vegetarian or vegan friendly, and there are heaps of vegan-only restaurants and cafes. Try Sweet Bones in Braddon for cakes or Kingsland in Dickson for all kinds of plant-protein creations.
Where to head for shopping in Canberra? Which is the local craft or souvenir of your city?
Most Canberrans shop in the local malls, the Canberra Centre is the largest and since it spreads across much of the CBD, it can be hard to avoid.
For something more offbeat, you could try the weekly markets at the Old Bus Depot. If you time it right, you can head to the quarterly Handmade Canberra market for quirky one of a kind items or The Forage for food trucks, wineries and breweries, both market events are very popular.
You will find lots of typical souvenirs at the museum and gallery gift stores, but for something a little different I recommend picking up something from a local artist. Canberra’s iconic bus stops have been turned into stubby holders by Trevor Dickinson and into earrings by Marisa Martin and David Tynan.
Which are the best streets of Canberra worthy of taking a stroll on?
Lonsdale street in Braddon is the street to visit for hip bars and restaurants. There’s always lots of new places opening, I recommend trying Zaab for Lao-Thai street food, Bacaro for a hidden wine bar experience or Italian and Sons for date night. You can also find some cool boutiques along the street if you want to do some more shopping.
The other street to check out is Wooley Street in Dickson, which is Canberra’s answer to Chinatown. You can get food from right across Asia here, including Korea, Japan, China, Thailand and Laos.
Can you suggest a place from where one can get the best view of the city?
The best view of the city is from Mount Ainslie, where you can get a really good sense of the city’s design. If you’re feeling active you can hike to the top of the mountain, otherwise it is just a short drive right to the top.
Would you suggest any shows in your city to drama, music or art lovers? Where can one spot street art in Canberra?
Canberra gets lots of big international acts, check out the local street press (BMA mag) to find out who is in town. For something for unique, try a show at the Phoenix bar or Smith’s Bookstore that tend to show local artists and more kooky productions.
There are a number of legal spots for street art in Canberra which have an ever changing smorgasbord of street art – you can find the one nearest to you online. Otherwise, wander the city centre where you will find several commissioned murals.
Would you recommend any local apps for food, transport or hidden gems in your city?
There are heaps of great Canberra based websites which cover restaurant and bar reviews, shopping, attractions and upcoming events. Check out HerCanberra, Out in Canberra, Riot ACT or the weekly what’s on column in the Canberra Times.
Do you want to give any suggestion/tip to tourists coming to Canberra?
Canberra has been called criminally underrated by the Lonely Planet, and a great mistake by one of Australia’s former Prime Ministers. The only way to know who is correct, is to come and see for yourself! My best advice is to start planning your trip today.