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Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory

Photo by Jim Bowen

Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory Itineraries

Canberra Feast of Festivals

Canberra for Culture Vultures

Canberra for Families

Canberra’s Art, Design and Craft

Canberra’s Family Dining Scene

Canberra’s Indoor Family Activities

Canberra’s Outdoor Family Adventures

The Australian Story in Canberra

The heart and soul of the nation

It’s a national treasure often overlooked by the overseas visitor, but rich in culture and history and humming with a vibrant modern feel. Being the nation’s capital, Canberra is a city which many people think is sterile and full of public servants and politicians trading insults. These are people who have never been there.

As the seat of government, Canberra is different from other cities, but it wears its uniqueness with pride. Look beyond the stereotypes and you’ll find plenty to keep you amused, interested and entertained with many experiences you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.

It’s easy to get around, there are no crowds or traffic, but there is a very hip culture and a great food and coffee scene. The beauty of the man-made Lake Burley Griffin is matched by the natural beauty of the surrounding national parks and contrasted by the allure of the national galleries, museums and cultural icons.

Canberra is not far from the New South Wales beaches, close to the snowfields and surrounded by a well-established wine region. With easy travel from Sydney or Melbourne there’s no good reason why you wouldn’t go there.

Co-authored by Maurie O’Connor.


When To Go

With four distinct seasons, Canberra can offer something different throughout the year. Indoor or outdoor activities may depend on the time of year, but for the major attractions it doesn’t really matter when you go. The best weather in Canberra is either during autumn or spring. In both of these seasons, the colours will be spectacular. Winter and summer have their own special appeal.

How Much Time To Spend

If you only plan to be in Canberra for a day, then you probably won’t see much and you need to make a major decision on the points of interest that you find most appealing. We would recommend at least three days or more, depending on whether you want a food and wine, cultural, outdoor or family experience.

There is so much to see and do in Canberra and the surrounding district that a week may not even be enough. There is enough to keep you busy for a week or more, but Canberra is also a good base from which to explore and experience the nearby national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, vineyards, snowfields and countryside.

High and Low Season

There really isn’t a high or low season in Canberra but there are four distinct seasons and the time to visit depends on what’s on offer in summer, spring, autumn and winter. There are festivals and special events in every season and it also depends on whether your trip includes a visit to the snowfields in winter or some of the bushwalks and outdoor experiences in other seasons.

Weather and Climate

Canberra has a relatively dry climate with warm to hot summers and cool to cold winters. It’s often a stop for people heading to the snowfields, but it can also snow in Canberra in winter although not very often and not very heavily.  In winter there are many frosty mornings but the days are generally clear and sunny.

July is the coldest month with temperatures around 12 – 14 °C. In summer it can be as hot as 40 °C, but the average temperature is about 28 °C. The driest month is June and the wettest is October.

In Canberra, the seasons are more distinct than in most parts of Australia, and each season has something to offer in terms of what’s going on in the Capital. Anyone who bypasses Canberra in winter will miss out on the Fireside Festival and the Truffle Festival.

Our favourite time to be in Canberra is during autumn (March to May). The days are mostly sunny and maximum temperatures range from about 19 to 24 °C. The trees are vividly changing colour and it’s harvest time in the vineyards. The other great time is Spring (September to November), with similar temperatures, but when everything is bright and fresh and Floriade, the annual flower festival, is in full bloom.

There are long twilight periods in Canberra from September to May and in line with other States, daylight saving is observed in summer when the clocks are put forward an hour and it’s not dark till about 8.30pm.

Events and Holidays

Local Events & Holidays include:

March (2nd Monday): Canberra Day
June (2nd Monday): Queens Birthday
October (1st Monday): Labour Day
October (2nd Monday): Family and Community Day

National Holidays include:

January 1: New Year’s Day
January 26:  Australia Day
March/April: Good Friday and Easter Monday
April 25: Anzac Day
December 25: Christmas Day
December 26: Boxing Day

On public holidays, banks and post offices may be closed or open for limited hours.

Time Zone

To check the local time in Canberra, click here.

Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) covers Queensland, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, and Tasmania. Central Standard Time (CST) is used in the Northern Territory and South Australia, and Western Standard Time (WST) is the standard in Western Australia. When it’s noon in New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria, Queensland, and Tasmania, it’s 11:30am in South Australia and the Northern Territory, and 10am in Western Australia.

All states except Queensland, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia observe Daylight Saving Time (DST) during spring and summer. At 2AM on the first Sunday in October clocks are advanced one hour. On the first Sunday in April at 2AM, clocks shift back one hour to standard time. However, not all states switch over to daylight saving on the same day or in the same week, so it pays to check if you are travelling at these times.

What To Pack and Wear

What to pack and wear depends on the season. Apart from your standard travel items, devices, medications etc., you won’t need much else. Canberra is a capital city and although not as big as Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane you can purchase nearly everything you may need. Don’t forget to pack an adaptor or two for Australian power points.

If you’re visiting in summer, it would be a good idea to wear sunscreen and a hat. In winter, you’ll need warm clothing and a good jacket.  There are few warm nights in Canberra and in autumn, spring and sometimes even in summer you may need a sweater or jacket at night. In summer the night time temperature is around 12 °C and in spring and autumn it’s around 7 °C.

What it Costs

Canberra is perfect for everything from a budget-priced family holiday to a luxury escape. Many of the national institutions have free entry and there’s a wide range of dining choices at all levels of the market.

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in $AU.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $20-70 per person
$$$ => Tickets $70 per person

Sleep
$ => Rooms less than $200 for a double
$$ => Rooms $205-300 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double

Eat
$ => $1-$35 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$ => $35-$80 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $80 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)

Shop
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $20-$50 per person
$$$ => Tickets $50 per person

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Fly the Friendly Skies

Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need them to be low, they’re high. And when prices drop, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.

But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.

Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.

That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings.

Have Car, Will Travel

Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping, and the major companies like Hertz, Budget, Avis and Europcar all operate around Australia, alongside smaller local companies that are worth investigating.

There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ‘em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.

Ride-sharing company Uber is relatively new to Australia and is currently under scrutiny by state governments where it operates.  It currently operates in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula and Geelong in Victoria, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

Rides are ordered through a smart phone app, it’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.

Insurance

Medical —Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.

Trip Interruption — For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.

Travel Delay — Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.

Baggage — Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.

Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.

Do I need travel insurance?

If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. Standard medical and travel insurance is advisable for travel to Australia. Divers including the Great Barrier Reef or other Australian diving destinations should also ensure they have the appropriate insurance.

How do I choose an insurance provider?

Do your homework — check around.

The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.

Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).

If you have pre-existing health conditions — Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.

Credit card insurance — If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.

The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.

For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.

Exchange Rates and Currency

Currency

Australian dollars come in $1 and $ coins, and $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes.  Each is a different colour, so they are easy to tell apart. Other coins are 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents and 50 cents. The $1 and $2 coins are gold, all the others are silver.

Prices sometimes end in a variant of 1 or 2 cents (for example, 52 cents or $1.78), a relic from the days before 1-cent and 2-cent pieces were phased out.  In these cases, prices are rounded to the nearest 5 cents, so 52 cents rounds down to 50 cents, and 78 cents rounds up to 80 cents.

Money, ATMs, Credit Cards

ATMs

If you get money from an ATM, you may incur charges (often $2 or $3 per transaction). Check with your bank before you leave home to find out which, if any, Australian banks will allow you to get cash without an extra charge. Many grocery stores, gas stations and major retail outlets let you get a limited amount of “cash out” when paying for your goods — this is an easy way to get cash while on the go.

Credit Cards

Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout Australia.  Visa and MasterCard are universally accepted in Australia; American Express and Diners Club are less commonly accepted, so it pays to check first. Always carry some cash, because some traders won’t take cards for purchases under $10 or $15.

Don’t forget to call your debit and/or credit card company before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. If you don’t do this in advance, you risk having your card denied/declined when you try to use it in a destination far from home. You should also call your company immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card — which doesn’t make sense if they are lost or stolen. So make a note of them and store them where you’ll have easy access.

Recently, companies have been issuing cards with embedded chips that prevent counterfeit fraud. Banks and merchants that don’t offer the chip-and-PIN technology are beginning to be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details on your specific cards.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

Tipping is always appreciated, but is not widely practiced or expected in Australia. It is usual to tip around 10% to 15% or round up to the nearest A$10 for a substantial meal in a restaurant, but certainly not mandatory. Some taxi passengers round up to the nearest round figure in a cab, but it’s okay to insist on every bit of change back. Tipping hotel porters and housemaids is sometimes done, but no one tips bar staff, barbers, massage therapists and spa employees or hairdressers.

Other costs:

Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and chemist shops (pharmacies/drugstores) will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.

Transportation

Canberra lies between Sydney and Melbourne and all forms of transport are available to get you there. The best option for travel to the city and for getting around it, is to have a car. Once there you may often feel like you’re going round in circles – who said anything about political backflips, it’s just a lot of roundabouts.

Driving in Canberra is very easy and there is relatively little traffic. Even peak hour is not too bad and with kids it’s a good way to get around. You don’t have to go very far to get to most attractions.

Getting There

It’s relatively easy to get to and from Canberra, whether by road, rail or plane and it’s an easy stop between Sydney and Melbourne. Canberra is a short drive from the main freeway between the two cities.

By air you will need to take a domestic flight if you have arrived on an international flight at one of the major airports. There are regular daily flights from all the capital cities. The flight from Sydney is just under an hour and it’s about one hour from Melbourne. Canberra airport is only about 15 minutes from the city centre by taxi or shuttle bus.

There are daily train services to and from both Sydney and Melbourne and a regular bus service from Canberra rail station to the city centre. A number of coach lines offer daily services between Sydney and Melbourne and from Canberra there are also coach services to the Snowy Mountains, the South Coast and various country locations.

Canberra is about 3 hours by car from Sydney. There’s plenty to see on the way and a hire car will serve you well to explore the Canberra region. The journey from Melbourne by road is about 7 hours but, with what’s on offer along the way, you may be doing it in stages.

Getting Around

Public transport in Canberra is limited, the main form being ACTION busses, which network the city – fares are reasonable and daily tickets are available. The saving grace is that the city is relatively small and taxis can be used to visit the main points of interest, although Canberra taxis are expensive. Uber also operates in Canberra.

A rental car is the best alternative for ease and flexibility. You should be aware that, unlike other cities, Canberra roads follow a circular pattern rather than a grid pattern and there are many roundabouts which often present a challenge for visitors. Traffic jams are not very common so getting around by bus or car can be relatively quick and easy.

There are some great cycle and walking paths, especially around Lake Burley Griffin. Canberra is a cyclist’s paradise and if you don’t have your own bike you can hire one or even hire a Segway – an interesting experience in itself. You can also hire a paddle boat on the lake or take a cruise boat. Seeing the city from the water can be one of the best ways to experience Canberra.

Canberra doesn’t have one of the red Hop-on, Hop-off busses that you’ll see in other cities, but it does have the Canberra City Explorer doing the same job and covering all the main attractions. A day ticket costs $30.

Transportation Hubs

Canberra is divided into Town Centres and each has a bus terminal that feeds into the central one in Civic. ACTION busses run an express service between the five Town Centres.

The main coach terminal for interstate and country services is located at the Jolimont Centre, on Northbourne Avenue, right in the heart of Civic. All the major coach lines operate from here.

Canberra Airport is about 15 minutes from Civic (the local term for the city centre). There is an Airport Express shuttle bus and the fare is $12 one way or $20 return. All the major rental car companies operate from the airport.

The Canberra railway station is in the suburb of Kingston. Regular bus services operate to Civic and some coach lines operate to destinations outside Canberra. Taxis are also available but there are no rental car facilities at the railway station.

Discounts and Passes

The 3inFun ticket gives you a 25% discount for three of Canberra’s attractions – the AIS, Cockington Green and Questacon and a free return visit to one of them within 12 months. Book online at www.3infun.com.au

Check out www.groupon.com.au for a range of discounts on dining, accommodation and attractions.

Some of the attractions and venues in Canberra will offer a discount for members of the National Roads and Motorists Association (NRMA), RACQ, RACV and many other motoring associations.

Living Social and Last Minute often have a range of deals and discounts available. Check out their websites.
When you drive into Canberra check out the Canberra and Region Visitors Centre at 330   Northbourne Avenue for any deals or discounts that may be going at the time. They have free WIFI.

Tickets

Admission to most of the public museums, galleries and national centres in Canberra is free. Some events, concerts, special exhibitions and film screenings at these venues require paid tickets. Apart from the blockbuster exhibitions, in most instances where tickets are required there is no problem obtaining them at the venue on the day.

Background

Canberra, as Australia’s capital, is younger than the nation itself and the smallest capital city, but it punches way above its weight. Its facilities, public spaces, memorials, galleries, museums, food scene, coffee culture and hip vibe give it a relaxed and modern feel.  There are four distinct seasons which all hold different attractions for the visitor.

Many Australians lampoon Canberra for the hot air coming out of Parliament House, the number of public servants and the liberal laws on the sale of pornography and fireworks, but ironically most of the people who criticize the Capital haven’t been there. It’s such a liveable city that many who move from interstate end up staying in Canberra, captivated by the small-city, lot-happening atmosphere. You definitely won’t get stuck in the traffic chaos of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne and with a proliferation of cycle paths, Canberra is almost Portlandish.

Hints, Tips and FAQs

Hints

When driving into Canberra stop off at the Canberra and Region Visitors Centre, located at 330 Northbourne Avenue, which is the main thoroughfare into Civic, the city centre, if you are entering the city from the north. Here you can get a lot of assistance and information on attractions and accommodation, as well as find out about any concessions, deals or special events during your stay. It’s open 9-5 weekdays and 9-4 weekends and public holidays.

Yes, you can drink the water. Canberra water comes from the snowmelt and rainfall into the surrounding Namadgi National Park which flows into the Cotter River.  Canberra is the first major settlement in the catchment so drinking water originating in Namadgi is some of the finest of all Australian cities. It’s safe, clean and regularly monitored. It’s great tasting water and it’s not polluted.

Canberra Airport is frequently affected by fog, especially on winter mornings, often resulting in flight delays. Be aware that this is a possibility travelling to and mostly from Canberra, so don’t make your schedule too tight. Late afternoon travel is the best.

Visit Canberra when Federal Parliament isn’t sitting. If you are worried about politicians, schedule your visit for when they are back home in their electorates. Then, Canberra is more relaxed, the airport is quiet, there’s less traffic than normal, it’s easy to get a taxi and the restaurants aren’t full of little caucus groups. However, in reality you’ll be lucky to ever see a politician.

Pee for free. Canberra is well serviced by free public toilets, not just in shopping centres but in all public areas, parks and national attractions. If you hold on long enough you can even consult the National Public Toilet Map on line at toiletmap.gov.au/Find/ACT/Canberra. This is true – would I take the piss?

Tips

Canberra has much more to offer than most people think and you’ll need enough time to see the many attractions, sample the food scene and just soak up the atmosphere. So don’t limit your stay to one day or even two. Canberra is also a good base from which to explore the local region.

Don’t go out for dinner on Sunday night.
Canberra has a great food scene but very few restaurants are open on Sunday night. There are some notable exceptions, such as Water’s Edge, but often hotels and clubs are the best option on Sunday night.

A great way to see Canberra is from the air
and the best way to do that is from a hot air balloon. March is the month of the Canberra Balloon Spectacular, one of the biggest and most colourful balloon festivals in the world. This is a real sight but with numerous companies offering ballooning, you can venture up yourself at any other time throughout the year. Looking down from that basket on a clear, crisp Canberra morning is a sight you simply won’t forget.

Wear layers of clothes. Canberra is cold in the winter but days are often sunny. The summers are hot but evenings cool down. In both autumn and spring there are beautiful mild days but you’ll need a sweater or light jacket in the evening.

FAQs

What is the best time of year to visit Canberra?

With temperatures between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius, autumn (March to May) and spring (September to November) not only offer good weather and a colourful setting but a host of events and festivals. Winter and summer also hold many attractions. Actually it’s good all year round – the only difference is how much clothing you’ll need.
In school term times, there are often groups of school kids touring the major attractions. It’s not a big issue but you should be aware that you could encounter school groups.

What is the best spot on the Lake?

Lake Burley Griffin is a man-made lake that acts as the centerpiece of Canberra. Its foreshores are a recreational paradise for both locals and visitors with parkland, numerous cycle paths and walkways, free barbeques and picnic spots all around its 22 km circumference. For a commanding view of the lake and the Captain Cook Memorial Jet shooting water 140 meters into the air, one of the best spots on the lake is Regatta Point. Have lunch or a coffee in the café and visit the National Capital Exhibition Centre. At the right time of year this is where you’ll also see some great fireworks displays.

Commonwealth Park is nearby and also the site of Floriade, the annual flower festival in spring. It’s a fantastic place to relax and meander, while the kids investigate the play equipment. Weston Park, on the western side of the lake, is a great place for picnics, ducks, swans, swimming and water sports and the kids will love the adventure playground and the miniature railway. At sunset the lake is magnificent and there is no better place to be than Aspen island listening to the chimes of the world renown Carillion. Ringing out across the lake, this is one of Canberra’s landmarks and one of its treasures.

Can we see any wildlife in Canberra?

Canberra is not called the bush capital for nothing. Apart from what you’ll find at the Canberra Zoo, the ACT mostly consists of national parks, the biggest being the Namadgi National Park, where birds and native fauna of all kinds abound. But you don’t have to leave the city to see kangaroos and other wildlife in their natural habitat. Any morning and evening, mobs of kangaroos will be grazing along Majura Road leading to the airport and at Campbell Park near the Defence Department Offices. Head up Mount Ainslie, hang out near Government House or venture into the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve and you’ll see plenty of kangaroos.
The old joke about kangaroos hopping down the street really is true in some parts of Canberra.

Can I get into licensed clubs without being a member?

There are many licensed clubs in Canberra who will sign in visitors from interstate or overseas on ID verification of their visitor status. Clubs offer a range of food choices and drinks and a variety of entertainment. There are some clubs that will ask you to join up as a member, usually only a few dollars, but check first. The biggest clubs are the Hellenic, the Tradies, the Southern Cross, Labor clubs and Vikings, as well as the Casino Canberra.

Where do they hide all the petrol stations in Canberra?

Bloody good question! Canberra is different to other cities. The service stations are not very prominent nor on main roads, but head to town centres or the suburban shopping centres, usually signposted as “Dickson Shops” or “Ainslie Shops” or whatever. Every suburb has a block of shops somewhere in the middle and this is usually where you find the service stations.

History

With Federation in 1901, the Commonwealth of Australia was declared and a search for the site of a national capital began. The Australian Capital Territory was declared in 1911 and a competition began for design of the city. It was won by American architect Walter Burley Griffin with drawings drafted by Marion Mahony Griffin. The city was officially founded on 13 March 1913. Controversy has continued to rage as to how well the Griffins’ vision and design for the city has been implemented.

The site of the city centre was originally a sheep station called “Canberry”, settled by Joshua Moore after the area was first explored by Europeans in 1820. The name was probably based on an Aboriginal name for the area, “Kamberra”, supposedly meaning “meeting place”. The region was home to the Ngunnawal people for well over 21,000 years before European settlement.

Up to the time that Parliament House opened in Canberra in 1927, the Australian Parliament met in Melbourne. The city has continued to grow and in 1989 the Australian Capital Territory, an area of some 2,400 square kilometers around the city, was declared a self-governing territory. A new Parliament House atop Capitol Hill opened in 1988 and with its gigantic four-pronged flagpole dominating the landscape it is one of Canberra’s prime tourist attractions.

Today the Australian Capital Territory is home to about 380,000 people. Situated between Sydney and Melbourne and with most of the landscape national parks, Canberra has become a major tourist destination for Australians and international visitors. With its cultural landmarks and institutions such as the Australian War Memorial, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Library of Australia, the National Museum and Lake Burley Griffin, it offers the visitor a helluva lot for such a small place.

Culture

With some of Australia’s biggest museums and art galleries, Canberra can well claim to be the cultural capital as well as the political capital. There are also many smaller art galleries, craft markets, theatres and cinemas as well as a thriving music scene and a broad range of dining.

Compared with other cities in Australia, Canberrans, about 50% of whom are public servants, generally have a higher level of education and income and this tends to translate into what the city has to offer in its range of cultural events, one of the biggest and best being the Multicultural Festival in February. As home to all the national embassies, Canberra has a very culturally diverse population with about 25% of its population born in 180 different countries.

Etiquette

Canberrans, like most other Australians, are generally polite and courteous. At the same time, they are casual and have a firm sense of social equality, meaning that everyone tends to be treated the same no matter how much money you have and what title you may hold. Do not talk down to waiters or taxi drivers to whom most Australians chat freely. The term ‘mate’ is used freely to address someone whose name you don’t know.

Do not try to mimic Australian accents especially on meeting people. A handshake and ‘how do you do’, is what’s expected. Australians are generally direct and easy-going, but don’t try to jump a queue and do make sure you observe the road rules.
Tipping is not done except in restaurants if the service and/or the meal is good. If they do tip or leave a gratuity, most Australians round up the bill or just leave the change. If someone buys a round of drinks it is expected that you will reciprocate.

In Canberra, smoking is not allowed in bars, restaurants and other public places, whether outdoors or indoors. Some places have designated smoking areas but mostly you have to find a spot away from everyone.

Cuisine

With more than 460 restaurants listed in the Australian Good Food Guide, Canberra is a delight for the diner with a vast array of cuisines on offer. There is everything from food trucks, a bustling café scene, a big range of reasonably priced ethnic restaurants, cool bars and fine dining establishments.

Almost every style of cuisine is available, from Chinese, Thai, modern Asian and Japanese, to Italian, French, Turkish and lots more. Like everywhere else, the trend in Canberra is towards casual dining with simple but tasty offerings made from local high quality, preferably organic, produce. Canberra also has some very good bakeries and is fostering an innovative craft beer scene, along with a growing preference for barbequed and smoked meats.

Canberra has a vibrant café and coffee culture with precincts like Manuka, Kingston, New Acton and Braddon absolutely bustling on Saturday and Sunday mornings. When it comes to café culture Canberra can even give Melbourne a run for its money.

Religion

Australia is generally regarded as a secular nation but upholds the right of religious observance in its Constitution. According to the Census the population is still predominately religious, but a growing number of people are identifying as having no religion. In Canberra that trend is higher than the rest of the country.

Just over half the people in the ACT identify themselves as Christian, but 29% state that they have ‘no religion’.  Other than Christianity, the most common religions in Canberra are Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism.

Language

English is the language of Australia, but beware, this is Australian English. All you have to worry about is the Australian accent and the tendency to string words together, drawl and use strange colloquiums. For example, if you see a sign by the side of the road saying, “Fisho at the Servo”, it means that there is a man with a van parked at the next service station (gas station) selling fresh fish.

Australia is very culturally and linguistically diverse and there are many people for whom English is their second language. For instance, in Canberra, there are 11,000 Chinese language speakers. But English? – No worries mate.

Recommended Reading

Canberra by Paul Daley
Canberra’s Best Bush, Park and City Walks by Marion Stuart
Canberra Then & Now by Geoff Page
Cycling Around Canberra by Bruce Ashley

Art

Canberra is the home of Australian art with the National Art Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Canberra Museum and Gallery, the Aboriginal Dreamings Gallery and the Canberra Contemporary Art Space providing a feast of traditional, contemporary and Indigenous art. There is also a host of small galleries including the ANU School of Art Gallery, the Beaver Galleries and the Drill Hall Gallery.

If you want to see it all happening, visit the Ainslie Arts Centre dedicated to everything musical and the Gorman Arts Centre where you can see professional artists at work. Both are located together a short walk from Civic. If you like glass and you want to see glass artists at work visit the Canberra Glass Works located in the old Kingston Power House.

Canberra is home to an intriguing collection of public art works located in parks and open spaces but particularly around Lake Burley Griffin. A life size statue of Prime Minister Robert Menzies by artist Peter Corlett walks by the lake, but the one we love is The Other Side of Midnight by Anne Ross, located in Civic.

Movies

There are six main cinema centres in Canberra showing all the latest movies. If you happen to be a movie buff, there is also the National Film and Sound Archives, whose beautiful Arc Cinema is also one of the venues for the Canberra International Film festival, held every year in November. The Canberra Short Film festival has been going for over 20 years and is held in September.

Music

There is a lot of music being played in Canberra and with everything from rock, rap, jazz and classical to blues and bush music, all tastes are catered for. The Canberra Theatre Centre is the venue for many concerts featuring Australian and overseas entertainers, everyone from Diana Krall to Icehouse to the Ten Tenors. The National Convention Centre and the Street Theatre also have a full program of concerts and musical events featuring local, national and overseas artists.

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra plays a number of concerts throughout the year, their outdoor ones being the most popular. There are also many other outdoor music events in Canberra including the Summer Sounds Concert Series, the Symphony in the Park at Stage 88 in Commonwealth Park and for DJs who want to mix it up there’s the Art, Not Apart Festival.

There are around 60 venues in Canberra hosting live music but for the younger set check out Civic’s Academy, Phoenix and the Hippo and Transit Bars, all offering a weekly line up of rock, blues, electronic and DJs.  The Polish Club also has a great line up of rock bands.

For more mellow stuff check out Tilley’s Divine Café, The National Press Club, the Canberra Southern Cross Club, the Merry Muse or the Abbey and if it’s a bit of the Irish you’re after, get into King O’Malley’s or P.J O’ Reilley’s.

Grab a copy of the free BMA Magazine for your regular gig guide.

Soundtrack for a Road Trip

If you’re up for a nice bit of satire, then check out The Canberra Song on YouTube and also Merrick and Rosso’s Canberra Song (however, a language warning). Tripod also have a very funny song called Killer Kangaroos in Canberra.

On a more serious note you can make your own playlist from iTunes. Start with the Canberra Raiders Rugby League song – We’re the Bad and Mean Green Machine – and then Judith Durham’s Australia’s Canberra and Geoff Williams’ Canberra ACT. Any playlist has to include the Whitlams’ song, Gough, for a reminder of the historic events of 1975 in Canberra. The band Lavers have a great song called Meet Me at the Merry-go-round, significant because that’s where everyone meets in Civic.

Way back in 1938 Jack Lumsdaine, the man who wrote Our Don Bradman, recorded a song called Canberra’s Calling You and the Canberra music tradition has never looked back. People may not remember that the Doug Anthony All Stars and the Falling Joys were Canberra bands – make sure you add them to your playlist.

When You Am I belted out A Nervous Kid, he was “clueless and free in the ACT”. It’s subliminal but it ain’t criminal when Los Capitanes ramp up with Surfin’ ACT. Los Caps are Canberra’s very own high energy ska band.

Canberra has a thriving and diverse music scene and you can pick up tracks from some of the ACT’s best, including Alchemist, Fun Machine, Safia, Wives, Super Best Friends, TV Colours, Hands like Houses and Peking Duk.

Websites and Maps

www.visitcanberra.com.au
www.tourism.act.gov.au
www.canberratourism.com.au
www.enlightencanberra.com.au
www.floriadeaustralia.com
www.experiencecanberra.com.au
www.actmapi.act.gov.au

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