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Canberra Main pages Smaller areas Other links

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Canberra is the capital city of Australia. Home to the Parliament of Australia, The High Court, The War Memorial, several other national institutions as well as to all the Embassies for countries with diplomatic relations with Australia. The city has enough attractions to fill two interesting days for most people, but is a quiet city compared to Sydney or Melbourne.

Situated 3 hrs drive SW from Sydney and 7 hrs NE from Melbourne, its population is around 330,000.

Over 300 'Berrans are registered with CouchSurfing, the active percentage of them ever-rising.

Meetings & upcoming events/ activities

File:Lake Burley Griffin & Jet.jpg
Lake Burley Griffin & James Cook Jet

The Canberra group has recently started to hold come-togethers on a weekly basis. Every Thursday at 7pm we meet up at O'Malley's near Garema place to welcome our newbies, answer questions, get to know each other and have a good time [1].

Other gatherings have taken place at King O'Malley's in Civic All Bar Nun in O'Connor , Edgars Inn in Ainslie and debacle in Braddon.

Getting in and out of Canberra

There is an Interstate bus terminal (Greyhound and Murrays connect to Sydney, Melbourne and other destinations) in the middle of the city. It's located in the 'Jolimont centre' on Northbourne Avenue. A bus to Sydney can cost $15 if booked well ahead or $30 booked close to the date.

Canberra Airport is only a few kilometres from the city centre. There are buses between the city centre and airport each half hour before 7.30pm on weekdays or hourly on weekends. Alternatively, a taxi ride costs you approximately A$25. Qantas and Virgin Blue fly to most destinations from Canberra, while Tiger Airlines offers budget fairs to Melbourne.

There is also a train station in Kingston, but I must admit I've never seen a train arrive or depart from there. There are rumours that the train station actually connects to NSW and that there is a daily train that comes from Sydney, a connection to Goulburn and there have been alleged train journeys from Wagga Wagga.

Getting Around

Compared to big cities like Sydney or Melbourne, Canberra is pretty small. From the centre (Canberra City aka Civic) you can get to basically all the sights by foot though this may take some time.

A bicycle (or roller blades, for that matter), however, might prevent blisters and will prove useful on many occasions. Canberra likes to boast that it's the best Australian city for bikes - this may be true, but don't expect Netherlands-style bike paths/facilities/road rules. It's got a few more hills than Dutch cities, for one thing! However, if you're staying around the Civic/Inner North/Inner South, a bike is definitely a good way to get around, and there are a couple of places available to rent them. There are also "intertown" buses which run between the various town centres, which includes Civic, which have bike racks on the front. You can take your bike on these for no extra charge.

Even if you don't want to use a bike to get around generally, it's worth hiring one for an hour or two to go around the lake - well, around the circuit made by Commonwealth Bridge, Kings Avenue Bridge, and the paths on the south and north shores of the lake. This 'bridge-circuit' is walkable in about an hour and a half.

City buses are ok (as in, they exist) during the day. During nights/ weekends/ public holidays they're very limited though. Timetables under Solution: see above (walk or bike). You can buy Fare Saver tickets for 10 rides for A$22 at any newsagents' or pay per ride.

Canberra being a planned city (i.e. somewhat symmetrical) makes it very easy to navigate as long as you remember the axis' that start from Parliament House. A quick look at a map will give you an idea of what we're talking about.

There are sufficient opportunities for parking around the city centre, while on-street parking is possible nearly everywhere, sometimes (after work hours, on weekends) even free!

Taxis are an option due to the compact size of Canberra, but are best avoided if you are on a budget.

What to do? Where to start?

If you have no clue at all, Visit Canberra, Canberra Online and Canberra Citysearch will give you plenty of ideas for you stay!

For those who like to 'talk to people' and can't get hold of a the altar of knowledge that we CouchSurfers are, there is a Tourist Information Centre on Northbourne Avenue.

You know you're in for the touristy stuff? Great! Canberra has a small lot of awesome museums and galleries as well as interesting parliamentary buildings to gaze at, roam through, walk on (!), take pictures of or take in any other way you like:

You get beautiful (camera) views of 'Greater Canberra' from the top of Black Mountain (the one with the tower/ antenna on it). Sunsets from Mount Ainslie (behind the War Memorial) are stunning. Good opportunity for panorama-pictures of the capital as Mt. Ainslie is on the Parliament House--Lake Burley Griffin--War Memorial axis. If you walk up Mt. Ainslie before sunset you'll see armies of kangaroos, maybe even an echidna if you're lucky, and hear sulphur-crested cockatoos and kookaburras tell their stories.

The above-mentioned Lake-circle is a great way to spend a whole day. Start from Commonwealth Park (or anywhere else, really, it's a circle) and walk anti-clockwise (or clockwise) over Commonwealth Bridge. Take a turn right to wander between embassies of far-away countries or left to visit the National Portrait Gallery in Old Parliament House. Walk up (or down) the lawns on top of Parliament House, have a picnic in the Rose Gardens, admire the really, really strange architectural features of the High Court of Australia, drop off you kids at Questacon before strolling through the National Gallery of Australia, then have a coffee at the restaurant in the Sculpture Garden. Take King's Bridge back to the north side of the Lake, see the National Carillion, Blundell's Cottage and the bottom end of ANZAC parade before you arrive back at your starting point. If you forgot to pick up your kids from Questacon you should do that now! Otherwise decide whether you feel like seeing the War Memorial today or tomorrow and find out where you want to go for dinner as you'll undoubtedly be very hungry!

You may also be interested in Canberra's surroundings as a wine region: the area around Murrumbateman is especially suitable for unannounced cellar-door stops. Just make sure to agree on who holds the honour of being designated driver before you start off!

If you are more of a beer-fan: in Fyshwick there is a German-style brewery called Zierholz that produces delicious, German-style (go, figure) beer. The owner may agree on showing you around, if you give him a call beforehand! An adjacent restaurant (with all his creations on tap) is due to open in March 2008.

For the more outdoor-sy types, the ACT offers a wide range of activities. There is a great variety of walking tracks less than an hour's drive from the city, in Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve and Namadgi National Park. Both places offer guided walks where you are introduced to the Indigenous heritage along the path as well as the flora and fauna. As already mentioned, Canberra is very bike-friendly and you will also find plenty of challenging mountain bike courses, if you're more into up-and-down. Horse-fans will be delighted by the equestrian trails winding through the bushland, while water-rats can take a dip at either one of the many public swimming pools (AIS, Civic, Dickson, Belconnen to name a few) or a billabong (such as Pine Island, Point Hutt Crossing and Kambah Pool).

If you're more of a watcher, you'll certainly enjoy cheering on a local rugby league (the Canberra Raiders) or rugby union team (the Brumbies) at Canberra Stadium, shout your lungs out at an AFL (Australian Rules Football) game at Manuka Oval, have a relaxed day at an international cricket game or lose some money on horses at Canberra's Thoroughbred Park.

When to visit?

Canberra has four distinctive seasons:

Every Spring, the stunning Floriade festival is a huge event that draws 350,000 people each year to admire pictures consisting of flowers (mainly tulips), following a certain theme. Other festivals during this beautiful season include the Canberra Nara Candle Festival and Wine, Roses and all that Jazz as well as several sporting events.

Summers are warm/ hot (depending on your definition) and can be very dry. In January, car fans get their lot at Summernats Car Festival in Exhibition Park and of course there are big celebrations (including a free concert on Parliament Lawns) on the Australia Day weekend. In February the Canberra Multicultural Festival takes place on and around Garema Place in Civic. There are different acts and events for a period of 10 days and some of them are FREE! Also, it involves what's called 'Food and Dance Spectacular' and is basically a one-day international food fair. Don't miss out on it! The Fringe Festival and Tropfest, a short film festival, take place in February, together with the European Film Festival.

Autumn is lovely but can be damp - The local rugby games (rugby union and rugby league) are fun events. This year, Canberra turns 95 and from 8 March there will be all sorts of activities and events going on under the theme of Celebrate Canberra, with Celebrate in the Park as the next 'big thing'. On 15 March Skyfire, an amazing show of fireworks synchronised to music will be held on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. In April, the Baloon Fiesta Australia will take place on the front lawns of Parliament House. On the first weekend, the Canberra District Wine Harvest Festival will take place at various venues throughout the wineries and in May the Canberra International Music Festival will rock the capital for a week.

Winters are chilly - by Australian standards! Temperatures will be below zero most nights but will increase quite rapidly to at least 10, 15 degrees during the day, and you will be rewarded by a bright blue, cloudless sky. Events include sporting activities (AFL, Kanga Cup Youth Soccer Tournament, National Capital DanceSport Championships, UCI Mountain Bike World Cup Round) as well as Vivid, Australia's first ever national photography festival, and Fireside Festival, which revolves about firesides, flavours and friends.

For more detailed information, look here or here or here.

Canberra is a good jump-off point for an Aussie skiing experience as regular buses run upto the resorts and hire of all gear needed may be included in the price.

What else?

Kingston and Manuka's cafes usually have wifi and the city (often called Civic) is starting to have some hotspots pop up. Canberra Airport is a wifi hotspot. The National Library is an option if you need internet access. There is also an computer gaming centre on the Sydney Building in Civic which which you could use.

For cheap eats try 'Chinatown' Dickson on the northern side of the lake. In the block betweek Cape St, Wooley St and Badham St you'll find everything your Asian-craving tummy desires: possibly the best laksa in the world at Dickson Asian Noodle House, great vegetarian (Vietnamese) dishes at Au Lac, Turkish pide and baklava at Turk'Oz, and generally plenty of Chinese, Italian, Indian and even Ethiopian!

In Civic you will find that many restaurants/bars have very affordable lunch specials. The Burmese Curry House on the Sydney Building near the Civic bus interchange will fill you with curry and rice for just $7, before 8pm!

Some restaurants/pubs come up with great deals on certain days of the week:

  • Edgars Inn in Ainslie has a A$13 burger and beer deal on Mondays
  • debacle in Braddon offers 2-for-1 pizza on Mondays and Tuesdays
  • Thirst Wine Bar and Eatery in Civic has 2-for-1 Thai mains on Monday and Tuesday
  • Babar's Cafe and Bar in the Canberra Centre (Bunda Street) has 2-for-1 pizzas on Wednesdays

For a comprehensive list of restaurants, pubs and cafes try Out in Canberra, YourRestaurants or browse the above-mentioned tourist information pages.

Thursday, Friday & Saturday nights are the biggest night on the town, most clubs have a cover charge on Saturday nights. If you would rather sit and talk over a beer your options in the city include King O'Malley's, PJ O'Reilley's and the Wig & Pen. More fancy cocktails and atmosphere can be found at Muddle Bar or Hippo Bar.

Nightlife hotspots (in no particular order): Kingston's "Green Square", Manuka's "Minque nightclub" and Northbourne Avenue in Civic

Jumping off Commonwealth Bridge is good fun, not even 15m so not too crazy. The only thing: you certainly don't want to swim in Lake Burley Griffin which is unfortunately dirty and smelly! This still leaves the option of jumping onto the concrete path or road but this is generally NOT RECOMMENDED!!!

Watch out for swooping magpies (black and white, crow-sized birds) during their mating season in spring! Especially if you are on a bike!

If we can't host you

Studying in Canberra

5 major tertiary institutions:

CS Ambassadors in Canberra

At the moment, Alice is the only City Ambassador but she will hopefully soon be accompanied by another already very supportive and productive crew member. Application pending...

If all goes wrong...

If you find yourself in a real emergency situation, here are some places where you might find help:

  • the general emergency number in Australia is 000. You will be directed to an operator who then connects you to Police, Ambulance or Fire
  • from mobile (GSM) phone you can dial the international 112
  • for translaters in over 10 languages, call 13 1450 (24/7) or (02) 6205 3333 for healthcare interpreters (during business hours)