If you’re still of the mindset that Canberra is just a place of politicians and museums, it’s time to get with the times. Canberra has brushed off this sleepy reputation and is climbing up the ranks of Australia’s coolest cities.
With a buzzing foodie scene, world-class art galleries, laneways of shops and markets, surrounding wine country and microbreweries – the nation’s capital has more to it than meets the eye. And certainly, more than enough to fill a weekend getaway.
However, often what draws us to the city most is Canberra’s thriving events scene. The calendar of activities continues to grow and flourish – even in the midst of a pandemic.
So, we’ve checked out what’s on for the weeks ahead and made the call: now is the time to plan a trip to Canberra. Whether that be for a weekend or a whole week, you won’t be short on things to do. Here’s what we recommend (you can thank us later).
What’s on in Canberra
Enlighten Festival | 26 February – 14 March, 2021
Coming up this month is Canberra’s fabulous annual Enlighten Festival. Held across 17 days, the festival will see the city come alive across five hero events. There are free and ticketed options, however you’ll need to register your interest for both.
To kick off the festival, Enlighten Illuminations will run from 26 February – 8 March, where large-scale light displays will be projected across Canberra’s star attractions in the Parliamentary Triangle. Live music and food will also be available at Bentspoke Beer Garden and Enlighten Alley for those that register.
From 6 – 14 March, wake up early to see the skyline littered with hot air balloons floating across the city during the Canberra Balloon Spectacular. Celebrate local creativity as Lights! Canberra! Action! returns on 5 March showcasing Canberra’s talented filmmakers. Pack a picnic rug for Symphony in the Park on 7 March and relax to the sounds of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra who will be taking to the stage with BABBA to perform ABBA’s greatest hits. Then, join the Canberra Day festivities as the city celebrates its 108th birthday on 8 March.
Botticelli to Van Gogh: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London | 5 March – 14 June, 2021
This highly-anticipated exhibition hosted at the National Gallery of Australia showcases a collection of works by some of Europe’s most revered artists, including Titian, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Velázquez, Goya, Turner, Renoir, Cézanne and Gauguin.
Art lovers will be able to swoon over 500 years of art in 60 paintings, including renowned works like Van Gogh’s much-loved Sunflowers 1888. It’s the largest group of works ever to travel outside of Britain in the National Gallery’s 192-year history. Many of them have never been on display in Australia before. So it’s certainly not an exhibition you want to miss.
Canberra Craft Beer & Cider Festival | 20 March, 2021
Taking place on the grounds surrounding Mercure Canberra, the Canberra Craft Beer & Cider Festival will feature breweries from across Australia along with live entertainment, food stalls and kids’ activities.
The Festival will be held in two ticketed sessions where attendees can try up to 250 craft beers and ciders, taste their way around gourmet food stores, meet the brewers, and partake in beer and food matching demonstrations. Book your tickets here.
Australian Love stories | 20 March – 1 August 2021
Experience the National Portrait Gallery’s Australian Love Stories exhibition in person (it’s currently a virtual expedition) and delve into the themes of love, affection and connection, in all their guises. Be captivated by more than 200 artworks including photography, painting, works on paper, small sculpture, and even an immersive glass installation.
Canberra International Music Festival |30 April – 9 May, 2021
The annual Canberra International Music Festival is back for another year featuring ten days of music around the theme ‘The idea of Vienna’. Discover Canberra’s cultural treasures, while listening to new works and diverse voices from local artists.
How to spend your spare days
Autumn is a beautiful time to be in Canberra. Events aside, there are plenty of ways to make the most of the last days of warm weather.
Start at Lake Burley Griffin, where you can stroll or cycle your way around, stopping at Canberra’s famed attractions such as the National Museum of Australia, where you can learn about the nation’s history; or Commonwealth Park, a beautiful setting for a picnic.
If you’re into photography, or simply love the colours of autumn, pay a visit to the National Arboretum. Check out The Forest Sculpture Gallery and the landscaped gardens which will gradually change from green to vibrant oranges and reds.
Then, eat, drink and shop your way around the city, starting with the Canberra City precinct (also known as ‘Civic’). In this hub of theatres and events, you’ll also find a range of designer shops, cuisines from around the world and bars to suit all tastes.
For something more edgy, head to the innovative design hub that is NewActon Precinct. ‘Industrial cool’ is the vibe here and the must-do’s include getting a coffee from Mocan & Green Grout café; visiting the quirky Nishi Gallery; dining at local favourites such as the Italian restaurant Bicicletta; and catching a film at Palace Electric Cinema.
Next on the list is Braddon, where you’ll find Canberra’s eclectic inner-city street art, trendy dining and boutique shopping. Head to Lonsdale Street – that’s where the action lies and where, after a day of shopping in The Ori Building, foodies gather at trendy cafes such as Rye, and line up for burgers at Grease Monkey.
Where to stay
Stay in Braddon at Mercure Canberra
Mercure Canberra, centrally located in Braddon, is one of the city’s oldest and most-loved hotels. Having opened in 1927 as the Hotel Ainslie, the Mercure Canberra is steeped in history. Even after a recent $8 million refurbishment in 2019, the hotel has maintained many of its original features, combining the charm of early federation architecture with modern facilities.
Along with 129 rooms, the hotel boasts an impressive internal courtyard, gymnasium, three flexible meeting rooms, two stunning fish tanks and complimentary off-street car parking.
Cultural Getaway Package: includes overnight accommodation, full buffet breakfast and one ticket per person booked to Botticelli to Van Gogh: from the National Gallery, London exhibition. Available from $165 per night. Find out more.
The ‘Beer Fest 2021’ package: includes overnight accommodation, a 4-pack of award-winning Sydney Brewery beers, entry to Canberra’s Craft Beer and Cider Festival (held at the hotel) and breakfast. Available from $149 per night. Find out more.
Stay in the heart of the city at Novotel Canberra
Centrally located in Canberra’s city precinct, Novotel Canberra is within easy reach of many of the city’s top attractions. Nearby, you’ll find the Australian Institute of Sport, Questacon, the National Gallery of Australia, Parliament House, Stromlo Forest Park, Canberra Stadium and plenty of food and shopping venues.
On days that you feel like staying in, Novotel Canberra comes with an indoor pool, spa, gym and a sauna to keep you entertained.
If you’re travelling with little ones you’re in luck as accommodation and breakfast are free for two children under 16. There is also an entertainment and a play area in the lobby, children’s menus and kids’ activities available from reception.
Van Gogh Exhibition – Cultural Getaway Package: includes overnight accommodation in a Standard Queen Room or Standard Twin Room, daily breakfast and timed entry tickets to Botticelli to Van Gogh Exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. Available from $229 per night. Find out more.
Take-Two with Accor: It’s time for a take two – rediscover Canberra with ALL – Accor Live Limitless. Available from $155 per night. Find out more.
National Zoo and Aquarium Package: includes overnight accommodation, breakfast, and general admission tickets to the National Zoo and Aquarium. Book your room and receive two adult passes to the National Zoo and Aquarium valued at $94. Find out more.
Stay in New Acton at Peppers Gallery Hotel
For accommodation with a touch of history and heritage, try Peppers Gallery Hotel Canberra. This luxury art-deco boutique hotel is located in the contemporary hub of New Acton, just a short walk from Lake Burley Griffin.
All rooms feature work desks, MicroCloud bedding and air conditioning, and the hotel is home to a full gymnasium, Library Bar and the award-winning Bicicletta Italian restaurant.
Stay outside the city at Mercure Canberra Belconnen
Don’t like the busyness of the city but still want to be close enough to travel in for the day? Mercure Canberra Belconnen, in the in the town of Belconnen, is about a 10-minute drive from Canberra’s CBD.
Nearby, you’ll find the Canberra Labor Club, Westfield Belconnen, University of Canberra, Australian Institute of Sport and GIO Stadium. As well as everything you need at the hotel including a modern gym, restaurant and bar, guest laundry, lobby lounge and onsite parking.