Things to do in Canberra: 20 reasons to visit Australia's capital city

1. VISIT: NEWACTON

If proof was still required as to how much Canberra has improved as a city in recent years venture no further than impressive NewActon. You could conceivably spend a whole weekend within this urban precinct. Aside from Hotel Hotel, the capital's edgy groundbreaking designer digs, NewActon also hosts some of Canberra's best restaurants, cafes, bakeries and bars such as Mocan & Green Grout and A.Baker. See www.newacton.com.au.; www.mocanandgreengrout.com; www.abaker.com.au; www.visitcanberra.com.au

2. STAY: HOTEL KURRAJONG

One of the best places to obtain a real sense of Canberra's heritage is the 147-room Hotel Kurrajong, historically as far as you can get from the Hotel Hotels of this world. The walls of hallways and public areas of the Kurrajong, which opened in 1926, are tastefully festooned with black and white historical photographs. There's even a replica of the battered old leather chair favoured by Ben Chifley, the post-war Labor Prime Minister. See www.hotelkurrajong.com.au

3. VIEW: TOM ROBERTS EXHIBITION

Tom Roberts, one of Australia's best-known and most admired artists is the subject of the National Gallery of Australia's latest blockbluster exhibitions. Not only was Roberts, who died in 1931, was one of the nation's most accomplished painters of landscapes and cityscapes, he was also regarded as Australia's foremost portrait artists. Among the works on display is Roberts' The Big Picture, his monumental depiction of opening of the first sitting of the first Federal Parliament in Melbourne in 1901. See www.nga.gov.au

4. REMEMBER: LAST POST CEREMONY

The Australian War Memorial has always provided one of the most persuasive reasons for a pilgrimage to Canberra and now it's created yet another compelling one. At the close of each day - 4.55 pm, to be precise - the Memorial conducts its moving Last Post Ceremony when the story behind the lives and exploits of one of the more than 100,000 Australians who sacrificed their lives in war is commemorated, followed by a haunting rendition of the Last Post. See www.awm.gov.au

5. QUAFF: COOL-CLIMATE WINERIES

Winemaking has actually been a feature of this region for 160 years though it wasn't until the 1970s that the industry really begin to establish itself. Today the countryside around the capital has 140 small vineyards, such as Clonakilla and Lark Hill. If you don't want to drive - so you can more freely sample varieties such as sangiovese, riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot and shiraz - you can always join a wineries tour or even hire an expert guide. See www.visitcanberra.com.au; www.canberrawines.com.au

6. EAT: LONSDALE STREET, BRADDON

A few minutes' stroll from Civic, Canberra's CBD, is the evolving Lonsdale Street eat-street strip in inner-city. Braddon. A rare gritty corner of the urban equivalent of a neat-freak, it's one of the liveliest parts of the city. Home to an eclectic collection of cool cafes, restaurants, bars and cafes, you'd be a coffee mug not to check it out. Lonsdale Street Roasters along with its Lonsdale Street Eatery is Canberra's signature hip cafes in town with terrific breakfasts, ambience and, of course, coffee. Melbourne, eat your artichokes hearts out. See www.lonsdalestreetroasters.com; www.italianandsons.com.au; www.visitcanberra.com.au

7. VISIT: NATIONAL ARBORETUM

Among Canberra's lesser-known and newest attractions, the National Arboretum is spread across a 250-hectare site hosting 100 fledgling forests from around the world, all planted to mark Canberra's centenary in 2013. The abroetum's centrepiece is a spectacular, armadillo-like visitors' centre affording stunning views of the capital. See www.nationalarboretum.act.gov.au.

8. TASTE: FREAKSHAKES

If ever you needed evidence that Canberra has well and truly, er, shaken off its status as the capital of the fun police then head to the fashionable suburb of Manuka. It's the home of the Freakshake, the crazed creation of Patissez, an unassuming bakery-cum-café located in a shaded space known as The Lawns in Manuka's shopping village. Now we know how bureaucrats acquired the nickname "fat-cats". See www.facebook.com/patissez.pty.ltd/

9. DINE: KINGSTON FORESHORE

It ain't Sydney Harbour but Canberra's artificial Lake Burley Griffin has been relatively neglected by citizens of the capital and visitors alike. That is, until the recent emergence of Kingston Foreshore, an ambitious apartment and dining development which is challenging NewActon as Canberra's haven of hip. Take your pick of the cafes and bars lined along the waters edge. See www.visitcanberra.com.au; www.lda.act.gov.au/kingston 

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10. TOUR: DIPLOMATIC CIRCUIT

Unique to Canberra, the missions of foreign nations are often represented in their own distinct architectural styles, threatening a diplomatic Disneyland, but some high commissions and embassies, such as the Finnish and Dutch missions, have chosen to eschew the gimmicky approach and invest in less obtrusive architecture. A fun self-drive tour of the Yarralumla diplomatic zone can be downloaded at www.nationalcapital.gov.au. See www.visitcanberra.com.au

11. STAY: VIBE AIRPORT HOTEL CANBERRA HOTEL

It's the airport hotel you're having when you're not quite having an airport hotel. The 191-rooms Vibe Airport Hotel is Canberra newest hotel and with the centre of the city a short-drive away it makes for a viable general accommodation choice. Designed by BatesSmart, the Melbourne-based architects behind that city's Federation Square, the hotel's lobby is a knockout. Channelling the Guggenheim New York, the floors of the hotel curl around an atrium like a series of sleek white ribbons. See www.vibehotels.com.au

12. VISIT: OLD PARLIAMENT HOUSE

Even though these days it bills itself as the Museum of Australian Democracy with regular, related exhibitions, Old Parliament House's real appeal lives in its ability to provide a snapshot of smaller, perhaps simpler Australia (even though it was the scene of our greatest constitutional crisis). Even the perfectly-preserved Prime Minister's office, complete with wonderfully retro furnishings, is not much bigger than a generously –sized suburban lounge room. See www.moadoph.gov.au

13. EAT: RESTAURANTS

Outside of the main state capitals Canberra is Australia's next best food town, perhaps eclipsing even the smaller Hobart. Nine Canberra restaurants -  Aubergine, Capitol Bar & Grill (at QT Canberra hotel, Courgette, eightysix, Malamay, Ottoman Cuisine, Temporada and Water's Edge and Monster Kitchen and Bar – receive one or two hats in the 2016 edition of The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide. See www.goodfood.com.au; www.visitcanberra.com.au

14. VISIT: NATIONAL BONSAI AND PENJING COLLECTION

Next door to the visitor's centre at the National Arboretum is the curious and easy-to-overlook National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia, the country's largest. Bonsai is the art of growing miniature trees with penjing the equivalent though with tiny simulated landscapes. See www.nationalarboretum.act.gov.au

15. STAY: LITTLE NATIONAL

Once a epicentre of characterless apartment hotels designed to satisfy the public servant market, Canberra, is now home to some of the most interesting accommodation in the country. The latest example   is the 120-room Little National. Built on the top two floors of an inconspicuous carpark, this zen-like hotel, part of a Doma Group campus of properties including Hotel Realm, features tiny, though ingeniously-designed and a planned cool café. See www.littlenationalhotel.com.au

16. TASTE: PIALLIGO FARMOUSE

The 2015 Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide awarded this rustic winery-cum-restaurant-cum-smokehouse complex on the outskirts of Canberra one hat. And you have to doff your hat to this establishment which is set to give the perhaps better known Poachers Pantry at Halll a run for its mortadella. See www.thepialligoestate.com.au; www.goodfood.com.au

17. VIEW: ART

Inside the Nishi Building, which houses Hotel Hotel, you'll also find the eponymous Nishi Gallery, conceived as a "blank space" for artists and curators to display all types of visual art. And, at the restored Canberra Glassworks (formerly the historic Kingston Powerhouse) you can team glass-blowing with burgers at the hip Brodburger, a popular glass-encased burger joint. See www.newacton.com.au/nishigallery; www.canberraglassworks.com; www.brodburger.com.au

18. VISIT: NATIONAL ZOO AND AQUARIUM

One of Canberra's most surprising attractions, the National Zoo and Aquarium is located on the outskirts of town. The zoo's most unique feature is Jamala Wildlife Lodge comprised of accommodation which allows visitors to stay overnight, in considerable hotel-style comfort, in the company of the attraction's residents which include lions and bear. See www.nationalzoo.com.au

19. SHOP: OLD BUS DEPOT MARKETS

Now over 20 years old, Canberra's cavernous bus depot markets provides a great opportunity to commune with the capital's citizens at their most relaxed moment as well as a chance to fossick for bargain clothing, homewares and jewellery. Open every Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm, the Old Bus Depot Market even features its own food hall. See www.obdm.com.au

20. VISIT: MUSEUMS

Museums? You want museums? You've come to the right town. One of the best additions to the capital's museum scene in recent years has been the National Portrait Gallery. Not only is a venue for the portraits of more than 400 Australians (and the odd Pom, such as Captain James Cook) it's also one of Canberra's best-designed public buildings. Then there's Questacon which features 200 kid-friendly interactive exhibits as well as the engaging National Museum Australia. See www.visitcanberra.com.au; www.portrait.gov.au; www.questacon.edu.au; www.nma.gov.au

Traveller's top four must-dos:

1. Visit the NewActon urban precinct 

2. Watch the Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial

3. Eat along Lonsdale Street, Braddon

4. Visit the National Arboretum 

Anthony Dennis visited Canberra as a guest of Hotel Kurrajong, Vibe Airport Hotel Canberra and Little National Hotel.

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