I heart Canberra, always have, always will. After leading a nomadic topsy turvy childhood, growing up in four different cities (Dhaka-Bangladesh, Armidale -Australia, Vancouver-Canada and Sydney- Australia, with many stop-overs in between) and changing schools seven times before the age of 12 (don’t even bother asking!) when my family settled in Canberra in 1995, this city finally provided me with the familiarity, stability and sense of belonging that I’d always craved.
And maybe because of that topsy turvy beginning, I’ve never really left Canberra, except a small interlude in Sydney in my early 20’s. As Australians, we know Canberra often gets a bad rep for being sterile, cultureless and a city full transient bureaucrats, BUT as we ‘Canberrans’ know, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Sure, it’s overrun with bureaucrats, including me! But so what? It just means we have a city full of politically engaged citizens who are truly aware of the privilege of living in the heart of democracy.
Also, unlike the big unplanned cities, where the CBD and surrounding areas often monopolise the best of its offerings, Canberra, through careful planning and active citizenship has created a rich sub culture within its various business and residential zones. And on that note, I’d like to bring you my favourites among Canberra’s various nooks.
1. Galleries! I’m hardly an art connoisseur, but I do love to look at beautiful, interesting things, and this city is the bomb when it comes to galleries. Not only do we house permanent collections from luminaries like Warhol and Pollock at the National Gallery of Australia, but there are wonderful local ventures like the Australian National Capital Artists Inc and the Canberra Contemporary Art Space which showcase works from local artists. My favourite among the local galleries is the Strathnairn Arts Gallery in Holt. Tucked away just past the residential streets in Canberra’s north, lies this magical little homestead that includes a gallery, cafe and a sweet little garden where the kids can run around and play.
My little one chillin at the Gallery
2. Coffee aka the elixr of life. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say we have some of the best coffee houses in Australia. Granted, that’s a bit premature coming from someone who’s only travelled to the major cities on the Eastern Sea Board, but seriously folks, the coffee here is gooood. My fave? Ona Coffee in Manuka, closely followed up Two Before Ten.
3. Markets. I love a good market, it’s a great way to meander around on a morning or afternoon, tasting beautiful local produce and stocking up on lovely handmade gifts and supporting your local suppliers. My local favourite would have to be the Old Bus Depot Markets in Kingston. It’s consistently listed as one of THE places to visit when in Canberra, and we locals know why. It’s housed in the beautiful, historic bus depot (hence the name) space and every week offers an array of food, foliage, arts, antiques, crafts and fashion to tempt even the fussiest of buyers. Another contender, the lovely Gorman House Markets, Ainslie, is definitely worth a visit.
One of the many talented stall holders at the OBD Markets, including my friend who makes wonderful handmade bags. You can find her stuff here.
4. Desserts. I love me a good dessert and Ricardo’s Cafe and Patisserie in Jamison, Macquarie, just about kills me every time (in a good calorie inducing kind of way). Ricardo’s offers an amazing range of cakes, macarons and pasteries, some of which come in the most intriguing shapes including swans, bombs and fruit. Intrigued yet?!
How do you like dem apples.
5. Fancy dining. I used to love fine dining, I still do sometimes, but with age comes money concerns (aka the dreaded MORTGAGE) or maybe it’s just perspective. In some ways I think I now prefer to spend my money at quality bistros or cafes, where I can enjoy beautiful food, in a relaxed atmosphere without having to worry about using the right utensils, but there are times, like an anniversary or special occasion where nothing short of linen napkins will do! My fave fancy dining place in Canberra is definitely Sage. I’ve been there several times over the last few years and the food has been consistently inventive and delicious. The last time I was there I saw Good Food Guide Editor, Joanna Savill, so you know it attracts serious foodies!
6. Architecture enthusiasts, be warned. I admit, architecturally Canberra isn’t exactly Florence, or Marrakech or even modern New York, but there are some great individual buildings and projects which are starting to develop a thread which I hope will one day create a unique architectural tapestry. My favourite building remains to this day, the beautiful sandstone Australian War Memorial. Not only is it a key tourist attraction but I think a place of great beauty, solitude and reflection for local citizens.
7. Shopping. I used to be such a clothes horse but for the same reasons as point five, I’ve definitely had to reprioritise the allocation of my budget. Despite this, I still love a good shop and one of my go to places is Landspeed Records. Yeah, that’s right, even though it’s a record store, there’s a clothing area out the back that stores sweet vintage and vintage-esque reproduction clothing.
8. Chin Chin. I declare I don’t drink, but I do love a good bar, because bars often have fabulous interiors, and that’s why I’m always happy to tag along with my friends and enjoy an OJ or two. The Hotel Hotel Bar in New Acton is one of many oh so hip bar/restaurants opening up in Canberra. I hear it has a very extensive and intriguing drinks list , but if you’re a non drinker like me, I’d still go for the interiors, it’s seriously dreamy.
Hotel Hotel, you so sophisticated. Photo credit
9. Shout out to the South side! I grew up in a land far away called Tuggeranong, which for those in the 90’s was kind of the equivalent of Gungahlin, the bright, new, shiny end of town, with big family friendly homes and lots of open spaces for play. Though it now appears to have a reputation as a barren, activity-less kind of place, businesses have started to invest again. The Tuggeranong Library will always host a special place in my heart, having spent many hours of study there, and the building itself is a beautiful art deco-esque structure overlooking the lake, where you can take the kids for story time and enjoy in good old fashioned book borrowing.
10. The great outdoors. This city has one of the best planned central hubs of any major city. The Parliamentary Triangle, surrounded by glorious Lake Burley Griffin in a haven for walkers and nature enthusiasts. When my little girl was young (she’s nine by the way, so being young is relative) we used to regularly hire one of those family rickshaw type bikes and paddle around the lake, or if we really wanted to be “at one” with nature, we’d hire a brightly coloured paddle boat and cruise around the lake, marvelling at the wonderful city we live in.
So that’s it, the ten things I love about you, Canberra. There’s plenty more I could list, but I’ll save that for my thesis (maybe, you never know!).
I’m fully aware there’s heaps of spaces in this fine city I’m yet to explore, however my top ten list is really just a start, and we’d love to hear from fellow Canberrans, previous visitors, and others, on the things you love about Canberra.
PS: This is definitely not a sponsored post!!
Until next time.