Canberra's top design hotels: Design in the capital

Australia's design hotels are embracing all that is eclectic, chic and unique, with the nation's capital leading the charge.

The design hotel movement in Australia is pulsing ahead, embracing all that is eclectic, chic and unique, while eschewing the drab sameness of large chain properties. Canberra is at the forefront of this creative swell.

HOTEL HOTEL

Hotel Hotel is a key anchor of Canberra's award-winning NewActon​ cultural precinct. Located in the NewActon Nishi building, a "radically" sustainable and responsible mixed-use area, the 68-room hotel is a leader in eco-architecture and green design. Designed by Fender Katsalidis Architects, with Japanese influences, accommodations are built from recycled timber and concrete. The interior design is rich with reclaimed oak, natural fibres, restored mid-century furniture and an urban definition of luxe style.

Monster kitchen and bar is many things to many people, serving breakfast from 6.30am (think house-made crumpets with honey), lunch and shared plates from noon to10pm (Moonlight Flat oysters, jamon serrano) and a late-night menu starring the famed yabby jaffle with horseradish and creme fraiche. The cocktail bar comes alive at the witching hour.

See hotel-hotel.com.au.

QT CANBERRA HOTEL

The former Rydges Lakeside hotel site was given more than a makeover – call it a significant refurbishment and major attitude adjustment – to emerge two years ago, Cinderella-like, as the 205-room QT Canberra. The fifth QT property in Australia has been an instant hit in pollie-town, embraced for its irreverent attitude and eclectic luxury design (Nespresso and Malin+Goetz​ in every room). Creative food director Robert Marchetti​ has had fun with Capitol Bar & Grill, rolling out a menu worthy of the city's fat cats and expense accounts: there are old-school favourites such as the prawn cocktail, the "I only have a minute" steak, and "a little on the side ... dishes". In Lucky's Speakeasy, deejays shake off the budget blues, while the Barber Shop offers a close shave Don Draper would endorse.

See qtcanberra.com.au.

LITTLE NATIONAL HOTEL

Love at first stay; prepare to fall for recently opened Little National Hotel. Proving small and streamlined can make a big impact, 120 compact rooms over two floors sit high atop Realm Precinct's modernist car park (from the outside, you'd never guess). Minimalist sensibilities create a soothing monochrome palette. Prime views of Parliament House show just how close the hotel is to the epicentre of power.

The super-king-size beds are sublimely comfortable, the free Wi-Fi is lightning-fast, the cable channels seem endless and the breakfast offering at Buvette is deliciously memorable (the French restaurant at adjacent sister property Hotel Realm is serving Little National guests while the hotel builds its own cafe). Service is warm and confidently relaxed, and the room rates are a steal. In short, everything you need and nothing you don't. With plans to expand the brand to other states, is this the future of small design hotels? Let's hope so.

See littlenationalhotel.com.au.

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HOTEL REALM

Little National Hotel's five-star big sister is located directly across the road on National Circuit. Part of the brilliant Realm Precinct created by Doma Group (the family-run construction company decided to build and operate some of Canberra's hottest new hotels and restaurants: sparks are flying), the property has quickly become one of the most popular hotels in Canberra.

All Realm rooms, suites and penthouses are equipped with Malin+Goetz luxury bathroom products, Nespresso machines, Smart TV, Foxtel and super-fast Wi-Fi. Many rooms boast views of Parliament Circle icons.

Executive chef Fabien Wagnon​ has brought a wealth of international experience to the hotel's restaurants, including French bistro Buvette, Japanese powerhouse Lilotang​, wholefoods cafe Maple + Clove and the broad appeal of Ostani lounge, bar and restaurant.

Go beyond Canberra and get back to nature

Whether it's bushwalking and rock climbing or nature spotting and wine tasting, Canberra's surrounds offer a great day out for the family.

Other facilities include the state-of-the-art Evo Health Club and lap pool, wellbeing centre Mudd the Spa and Kundalini Hair.

See hotelrealm.com.au.

HOTEL KURRAJONG

Originally designed by Commonwealth Architect John Smith Murdoch as a hostel to house Canberra's first public servants, Hotel Kurrajong is steeped in capital history. Prime minister Ben Chifley lived in a modest room on the second floor throughout his term in office and if the hotel's walls could talk, they'd tell tales of deals done and political battles won and lost.

Completely refurbished and relaunched in 2015 by NRMA and TFE Hotels (the Aussie-owned company behind Vibe Hotels and Medina Serviced Apartments), the art deco-inspired luxe interior designs by Andrew Parr ensure clever references to the building's history, without a slavish devotion to its heritage. On the exterior, little has changed in almost a century.

See hotelkurrajong.com.au.

VIBE HOTEL CANBERRA AIRPORT

With plans for Canberra Airport to begin welcoming international arrivals from September, a slick upgrade and expansion to terminals and facilities is under way. As part of the new-look hub, the 191-room Vibe Hotel Canberra Airport opened its doors, 50 metres from the terminal, in November. The branding is similar to other Vibe hotels – including Rushcutters Bay, Gold Coast and Darwin – with some fun twists. Standard accommodations are referred to as Lower Deck Rooms, while deluxe rooms are First Class. Helix Bar & Dining, helmed by Michael Chatto (formerly of Italian & Sons in Braddon and Sydney's Fish Face) is brimming with capital produce. And while guests can watch planes landing, they won't hear them, thanks to robust double-glazing.

See tfehotels.com.

EAST HOTEL

Those in the know will tell you East Hotel's location – an equidistant three-minute walk to the shops and cafes at Manuka and Kingston – is the chicest in town. Easy access to the city's most sophisticated neighbourhoods and interesting landmarks is assured, on a tree-lined residential block with parks and jogging tracks nearby.

Slick, contemporary design and bold use of colour in studios and spacious apartments has created accommodation with the welcoming ambience of a European lifestyle design hotel. Fabulous king-size beds, the by-now-almost-obligatory Nespresso machines and fully equipped kitchens makes the East's apartments feel like cosy homes. Installation art is displayed in the lobby on a 10-metre projection wall, currently featuring local photography.

Business and government travellers have given the East their seal of approval, with families also impressed by dedicated Kids Cubby apartments: bunk beds, games, beanbags, kids' minibar and Xbox 360 were designed with happy kids in mind.

See easthotel.com.au.

THE AVENUE

With the gentrification of the Braddon city-centre precinct, it was only a matter of time before a stylish new hotel joined the single-origin coffee roasters and craft brew pubs. The Avenue is that hotel, Canberra's newest five-star hotel in the heart of the city.

Named for its position along Northbourne Avenue, the elegant property offers guests a choice of hotel rooms, spa suites or self-contained apartments, all decked out with modern luxe touches (rainfall showers, high-end bathroom amenities) and well-curated interior design with high-impact colour pops.

The hotel's signature restaurant, Marble & Grain, has styled itself on a European steakhouse, with soft leather chairs, wood panelling and a feature marble bar creating a grown-up ambience. Offering three separate menus (bar, lunch and dinner), there's plenty of seafood, pork and lamb from which to choose, although regulars will advise meat lovers not to pass up the opportunity to feast on the buttery-soft wagyu sirloin.

See avenuehotel.com.au.

Kristie Kellahan was a guest of Hotel Kurrajong.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

visitcanberra.com.au.

GETTING THERE

Qantas and Virgin Australia fly to Canberra from Australian cities, including Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. See qantas.com and virginaustralia.com.

A new international terminal, set to open in September, will link Canberra Airport to the world. See canberraairport.com.au.

The drive from Sydney takes three to three and a half hours. See hertz.com.au for car rental.

See also: 20 reasons to visit Canberra

See also: What to do with kids in the capital

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