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Insider Guide: We Explore The Best Of Canberra In 48 Hours

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Tom Goward | 24/03/2022

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Australia’s capital is often thought of as a bland home of politicians, diplomats and not much else. We have all heard the jokes about Canberra, somewhere you visit on the grade six interstate trip and never think of returning. But in recent years Canberra has started to drift from this stereotype, and now punches well above its weight.

Our small yet mighty capital is now home to funky hotels, a thriving dining scene, renowned museums and a quiet nature that’s easy to love. There’s something special about this modest, well-organised city and the beautiful countryside that surrounds the suburbia.

This article is the first in a new series of detailed travel experience guides for Flight Hacks. Here, you’ll find end-to-end coverage from the flight over, where we stayed, what to do, where to eat, and how you can extract the best value from your own trip to Australia’s capital. So, here’s our expert guide to making the most of a short Canberra getaway.

Getting to Canberra

Getting to Canberra is a breeze with road, rail and air options all within reach. Of course, flying is the transport of choice for most with Canberra Airport hosting an impressive selection of domestic routes. Except for Perth and Darwin departures, the flight to Canberra takes less than 2 hours.

 

Canberra Airpot Routes

The Flight Hack

Seeing we are called Flight Hacks, I thought it necessary to share how I was able to snag two Qantas business flights for $155 plus 10,900 points.

Qantas offers flights from my hometown of Hobart direct to Canberra. Although, I needed to be in Melbourne a few days prior, meaning direct flights were out the window. I also knew the direct flight had a high chance of being cancelled before my departure.

With that in mind, I booked an economy sale ticket on the direct service for $155 and used 10,900 Qantas Points to upgrade to business. Sure enough, a few weeks later I received an email advising my flight had been cancelled, meaning I could rebook onto a Hobart to Melbourne service, followed by Melbourne to Canberra a few days later. Because I had upgraded the previous booking, I was offered a seat in business for both flights.

Now, this is a risky move and could have quite easily ended badly, but as my plans were flexible I wasn’t too concerned about this. As they say – no risk, no reward.

With a flight value of $795 ($950 cost of business less $155 paid for economy), the value for redeeming 10,900 Qantas Points is seriously impressive at 7.29 cents per point.

Qantas business class meal Melbourne to Canberra (photo: Tom Goward)

Getting around Canberra

Being a planned city, everything is within reach in the capital. Both major rideshare services Uber and Ola operate in Canberra, and the short trip between the airport and city can be booked for $10 to $20 at most times of the day.

If you’d prefer to drive yourself, rental cars from the likes of Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz, Sixt and Enterprise are all readily available in the arrivals area of Canberra airport. Driving in the city and surrounding suburbs is a breeze, or at least I thought so compared to Tassie.

Public transport is available by way of busses and a single light rail line which runs along the city’s main thoroughfare, Northbourne Avenue, up to Gungahlin in around 25 minutes. Travellers can purchase a MyWay card at several newsagents and convenience stores, or opt for a single ticket. Like most public transport, holding a smartcard unlocks discounted fares, with each trip only costing a few dollars.

Tip: Our deals page has all the best rideshare discount codes and rental car discount codes!

Ovolo Nishi: quirky design meets inclusive luxury

Ovolo Nishi is the place to be in Canberra. The hotel takes its place in the NewActon arts and cultural precinct, overlooking Lake Burley Griffin. The building takes an innovative, sustainable design with 85 rooms ranging from a cosy 15sqm to spacious 60sqm abodes with separate sitting and dressing areas. Guests can choose between views of the hotel atrium or ‘sun’ rooms with an outside view.

Arriving at this upscale boutique hotel, I first notice the pineapple-shaped facade that is distinct throughout the city. So distinct in fact that when I later journey to the Mount Ainslie lookout, I can see my home away from home some 4 kilometres in the distance.

Ovolo Nishi Canberra
On entry, Ovolo Nishi is design-forward and perfectly blends art, texture, and natural materials for a stylishly cool welcome. After the brilliant reception staff found my booking it was down the edgy hallways which are lit at ankle height and feature wooden panels that jut out of the walls and ceilings. It’s an interesting design choice that I loved.

Ovolo Nishi Canberra Ovolo Nishi Canberra Ovolo Nishi CanberraOvolo Nishi Canberra (photo: Tom Goward)

I had been assigned an Original Sun room, which feels far larger than its 26sqm footprint. The artistic vibe continues from the rest of the building, with an interesting mixture of textures. The walls alone bare clay rendering, cork, concrete, reclaimed wood and natural fibres. Each room also features unique restored vintage furniture and original artworks.

Ovolo Nishi Canberra (photo: Tom Goward) Ovolo Nishi Canberra (photo: Tom Goward)
In-room tech is done well with a smart TV ready for streaming and an Amazon Echo by the bed waiting to give weather updates, stream music and even tell jokes on command. Lighting controls are easy to use, but even at maximum brightness parts of the room are left dark.

Views from the first floor weren’t anything to write home about but I was thankful for an opening window, something many hotels lack. A tasty chocolate brownie was also waiting in my room by way of welcome.

Ovolo Nishi Canberra (photo: Tom Goward) Ovolo Nishi Canberra (photo: Tom Goward)
Don’t want to leave the hotel? No worries! There is so much to do within the NewActon building. In addition to Ovolo’s restaurant Monster, there are several cafes, bars and restaurants within the complex. On the ground floor is Palace Electric Cinemas, next to reception is Roji Hair Salon, and outside is NewActon Bike Hire.
Ovolo also offers a 24-hour gym overlooking the lake, and with a free minibar and loot bag, they won’t sting you for clearing out the fridge.

Ovolo Nishi Canberra (photo: Tom Goward)
Tip: Use our exclusive promo code “Staycay15” for 15% off your stay at Ovolo! (no affiliate)

Monster Kitchen and Bar

Ovolo Nishi’s restaurant Monster says they are the only 100% vegetarian refined dining experience in Canberra. It’s an adventurous concept for a hotel and something that is very on-brand with Ovolo.

There’s a fantastic buffet breakfast served from 7am to 11 am daily. The buffet selection during my stay was impressive, with an assortment of hot choices alongside cold cuts, yoghurt, toast and cereal. In addition, smashed avocado or eggs on sourdough was made to order. Other menu items including barista drinks came at an additional cost while tea, filter coffee, water and juice was available at the buffet.

Ovolo Nishi Monster Kitchen and Bar (photo: Tom Goward) Ovolo Nishi Monster Kitchen and Bar (photo: Tom Goward)Ovolo Nishi Monster Kitchen and Bar (photo: Tom Goward)

In the evening, I was invited to try Monster’s set menu. This consisted of:

  • Carrot tapioca cracker with pickled baby onions and carrot crème
  • Sugarloaf cabbage sushi with crispy tofu
  • Edamame flan with broad beans, shiitake broth and baked kohlrabi
  • Tartare of bush tomato with crispy quails egg
  • Hokkaido pumpkin, almond veloute, Comté cheese and roasted seeds
  • Purple cauliflower steak and mushroom medley
  • Honey and buckwheat pudding
  • Elderflower and chi ice cream with orange blossom meringue

Ovolo Nishi Monster Kitchen and Bar (photo: Tom Goward) Ovolo Nishi Monster Kitchen and Bar (photo: Tom Goward) Ovolo Nishi Monster Kitchen and Bar (photo: Tom Goward) Ovolo Nishi Monster Kitchen and Bar (photo: Tom Goward)

Eating at a vegetarian restaurant isn’t for everyone, and honestly, I was apprehensive. But Monster is one of the better hotel restaurants I’ve been to, and I loved every moment of the experience. I’m a fan of their attitude towards being a vegetarian restaurant, in that they don’t try to make meat substitutes but instead, endeavour to create something different. Each course was interesting in its own right, and all were tasty and well portioned.

What to do in Canberra

Start your day in a hot air balloon

While the 4 am wake-up call isn’t ideal, a sunrise hot air balloon flight is well worth the struggle. Take to the skies with Balloon Aloft Canberra and watch the first rays slowly light up the horizon while the day unfolds on the beautiful city beneath you.

I’ll try not to talk up the experience too much, as balloon flights are weather dependent, and to my disappointment were unable to fly during my visit.

Get your culture on

Most will know Australia’s capital city is home to some of the best museums, galleries and monuments in the country. Check out the expansive collection at the National Gallery of Australia, the famous faces at the National Portrait Gallery, the exhilarating world of science at Questacon, and maybe even the National Library of Australia.

While you might not want to visit all of these, the National Gallery is one not to miss. Located on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, it is home to a huge collection of works from Australia and around the globe, including the world’s largest Aboriginal art collection. Time your visit at dawn or dusk, when James Turrell’s Within without lighting installation is most impressive.

Within without by James Turrell

Parliament House

Regardless of your interest or lack thereof in politics, Parliament House is a unique architectural masterpiece and national icon. While it isn’t a terribly popular activity, it is well worth a visit during a sitting week where the public can watch question time among other arguments. Anyone is free to watch the circus all year round except on Christmas Day.

Pay your respects at the Australian War Memorial

Time stands still in the Australian War Memorial’s central Commemorative Courtyard, with its glistening Pool of Reflection and poppy-strewn Roll of Honour. The immaculate structure is an emotive space that pays tribute to past conflicts, with surrounding exhibition halls an insightful experience that celebrates the achievements of brave Australians. The dramatic Lancaster bomber sound and light show and reconstructed homemade Anderson air-raid shelter are two exhibits not to be missed.

Spend the day outdoors

For a day outdoors, start by taking in sweeping views of Canberra from Mount Ainslie. It’s a short drive out of the city and on a good day is the perfect viewpoint to take in the design of this unique planned city. The main lookout is positioned above the War Memorial and looks straight down Anzac Parade towards Parliament House. To my delight, views also extended to Canberra Airport!

View from Mount Ainslie (photo: Tom Goward)
Next up head across town to check out Canberra’s National Arboretum, which is essentially a tree museum, and more interesting than I have made it sound. The Arboretum is a mosaic of living forests and gardens with over 44,000 rare and endangered trees across a 250 hectare site. Grab a seat by the window for a bite to eat at the cafe.

Canberra National Arboretum (photo: Tom Goward)
If you’re after even more trees visit the Australian National Botanic Gardens on your way back to the city. Designed cleverly to allow visitors to wander with ease through the world’s most comprehensive display of living Australian native plants. Again, the cafe is great.

Enjoy the lake

Lake Burley Griffin is the perfect spot for a morning walk. As a city centrepiece, this artificial lake is an integral part of Canberra’s design and sees several national institutions, parks and cafes occupy its shores.

If walking is not your style, bike and electric scooter hire is available just outside the hotel, Ovolo Nishi. Or perhaps you’d rather hit the high seas with Lake Burley Griffin Cruises, or go your own way in an electric GoBoat (no licence is required).

Lake Burley Griffin Canberra (photo: Tom Goward)

Embassy Drive

Here’s one you might not think of. In its role as Australia’s capital, Canberra hosts embassies and high commissions from around the world. The best way to experience the traditional and modern architecture from many countries is on a leisurely drive through Yarralumla and Deakin. Each building is vastly different, making for an interesting drive for those who love world travel and culture.

Drive around at your own free will, or follow the Canberra Tourist Drive 6 signs. The route begins at Capital Hill on the corner of Adelaide Avenue and National Circuit and leads into Yarralumla.

This is one of the more affluent suburbs and is home to the majority of the ACT’s diplomatic missions. Look out for the American, Chinese, Indian and Thai embassies.

Want more to do?

For more to do, why not check out some of the following.

  • Watch artists sweat over their amazing creations at Canberra Glassworks
  • Try some top local drops at one of the wineries within easy reach of Canberra
  • Get ethical and scope out the ultra-fresh local produce at the Southside Farmers Market in Phillip, every Sunday from 8am
  • Find out how Australia’s money is made at the Canberra Mint
  • Who knew there was a pink lake in Canberra? You can find the hidden natural phenomenon at Eardley Street in Bruce
  • Visit the flower and entertainment festival Floriade from September to October
  • Swim at the beautiful Gibraltar Falls, a 45 minute drive south of Canberra and 1 hour return walk

Where to eat in Canberra

Canberra is quickly becoming a foodie paradise. The city and surrounding suburbs are full of superb restaurants, from fine dining to chill cafes and everything in between. In pursuit of good food, stroll the city streets or try Acton, Braddon or Barton to find clusters of attractive restaurants, bars and cafes serving up cuisines from far and wide.

Breakfast in Braddon

It’s not hard to find a good coffee shop in Australia. Get the day off to a good start at one of many cool cafes in Braddon, a short trip north of the city centre. Take a stroll down the Lonsdale Street strip and check out the likes of Barrio Collective Coffee, Lonsdale Street Roasters and Kyō Coffee Project.

Lilotang

For a unique style of authentic Japanese cuisine that’s considered one of the best in Canberra, look no further than Lilotang. With a vast menu, quirky cocktails and fun interiors, it’s tough to beat.

 

 

Chairman and Yip

Try Chairman and Yip for some seriously good Asian fusion cuisine. Vibrant interiors and attentive service with modern twists on Cantonese classics is a recipe for success.

Pilot

Pilot is a small restaurant in suburban Ainslie, a 10 minute drive from the city centre. There is no a la carte dining here, but instead an everchanging 7 course degustation for all guests.

Rebel Rebel

Rebel Rebel has something for everyone and is well known for its delicious food and beautiful interiors. From poached eggs and a cappuccino in the morning to the grass-fed rib eye of an evening, Rebel Rebel has you covered. They even offer takeaway and double as a bottle shop.

Brodburger

The best flame-grilled burgers in town can be found at Brodburger. With three locations across Canberra, it’s not hard to see why this is a local favourite

Booking your Canberra stay

Of course, the best part of booking a holiday for anyone who’s into frequent flyer points is finding the best deal and earning the most points possible. Let’s take a look at how you can maximise your Canberra getaway.

The flight

I’ve already touched on the flight hack above, but this deal is hard to come by unless you spend an unhealthy amount of time researching flights.

For most, your best bet is a business class redemption. Here’s how your one-way redemption options stack up to Canberra:

Adelaide

  • Qantas economy: 8,400 Qantas Points + $66 taxes
  • Qantas business: 27,600 Qantas Points + $66 taxes
  • Virgin economy: 11,800 Velocity Points + $46 taxes
  • Virgin business: 23,500 Velocity Points + $46 taxes

Brisbane

  • Qantas economy: 8,000 Qantas Points + $68 taxes
  • Qantas business: 18,400 Qantas Points + $68 taxes
  • Virgin economy: 7,800 Velocity Points + $49 taxes
  • Virgin business: 15,500 Velocity Points + $49 taxes

Darwin

  • Qantas economy: 12,600 Qantas Points + $78 taxes
  • Qantas business: 41,500 Qantas Points + $78 taxes

Hobart

  • Qantas economy: 8,400 Qantas Points + $94 taxes
  • Qantas business: 27,600 Qantas Points + $94 taxes

Melbourne

  • Qantas economy: 8,000 Qantas Points + $61 taxes
  • Qantas business: 18,400 Qantas Points + $61 taxes
  • Virgin economy: 7,800 Velocity Points + $44 taxes
  • Virgin business: 15,500 Velocity Points + $44 taxes

Perth

  • Qantas economy: 12,600 Qantas Points + $65 taxes
  • Qantas business: 41,500 Qantas Points + $65 taxes

Sydney

  • Qantas economy: 8,000 Qantas Points + $65 taxes
  • Qantas business: 18,400 Qantas Points + $65 taxes
  • Virgin economy: 7,800 Velocity Points + $43 taxes

Car hire

While car hire isn’t a necessity in Canberra, if you decide to hire a car, Canberra airport is home to six rental car companies. Here’s what you can earn at each:

  • Avis: 4 Qantas Points per $1
  • Budget: 4 Qantas Points per $1
  • Europcar: 3 to 6 Velocity Points per $1
  • Hertz: 4 to 6 Velocity Points per $1
  • Sixt: 3 to 6 Velocity Points per $1
  • Enterprise: no points earn

Tip: Our deals page has all the best rental car discount codes!

The hotel

You can’t go past Ovolo Nishi for a superb Canberra getaway. For the best price and free inclusions, we recommend booking directly with Ovolo Nishi.

Try our exclusive promo code “Staycay15” for 15% off your stay at Ovolo! Flight Hacks is not affiliated with Ovolo Hotels.

The best credit cards for this redemption

Ready to earn thousands of bonus frequent flyer points and book your own Canberra getaway? Check out some of the best credit card offers below, which will easily cover return flights for two – with points to spare!

Amex Qantas Ultimate

Receive 120,000 bonus Qantas Points and $450 travel credit when you apply online by 27 April 2022, are approved, and spend $3,000 on your new Card within the first 3 months. Offer available to new Card Members only.

This card covers 652% of the Qantas business class flight cost from Melbourne to Canberra!

See the Amex Qantas Ultimate offer in detail here!

NAB Qantas Rewards Signature Card

Earn up to 110,000 bonus Qantas Points plus a reduced annual card fee of $295 for the first year with a new NAB Qantas Rewards Signature Card! Points will be awarded on a tiered basis – 90,000 bonus Qantas Points when you spend $3,000 on everyday purchases in the first 60 days and 20,000 bonus Qantas Points after 12 months.

This card covers 597% of the Qantas business class flight cost from Melbourne to Canberra!

See the NAB Qantas Rewards Signature offer in detail here!

Amex Velocity Platinum

Receive 100,000 bonus Velocity Points when you apply online, are approved, and spend $3,000 on your new Card within the first 3 months. Available to new Card Members only.

This card covers 645% of the Virgin business class flight cost from Melbourne to Canberra!

See the Amex Velocity Platinum offer in detail here!

Tom was invited as a guest of Ovolo Nishi. Additional images thanks to Ovolo Nishi, the National Gallery of Australia and Balloon Aloft Canberra.

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Tom Goward

Senior Editor and Chief AvGeek at Flight Hacks

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