Welcome to the ANU, and welcome to Australia’s Capital – a city that is no longer “up and coming” but has well and truly up & come.
While you may currently doubt your seemingly courageous move (as I must admit I once did), and are concerned by the disconcerting confusion of your family and friends, fret not. For while it is often regarded as being no match for the trendy, hip and ever-competing Sydney and Melbourne scenes, and at first glance might not appear as culturally or architecturally savvy as some historical European or Asian cities, you will soon find Canberra to be a city like no other.
I urge you live locally in your new home by unleashing the energy and enthusiasm of your inner-tourist. Soon, you will be utterly refreshed by the prominence of the colour green, the roads encompassed by landscape and more landscape and city views miraculously entailing fewer than fifteen skyscrapers. Yes, Canberra is small. Yes, you could probably circumnavigate the “CBD” in twenty minutes by foot. And, yes, your fellow local is highly likely to be a politician, public servant or another Uni-goer. But it is all of these factors and more that collectively make for an exciting, rejuvenating and ultimately satisfying place to call home.
I begin my “Guide to a New World” by encouraging you to follow and be inspired daily by @visitcanberra ‒ you will never find yourself at a loss for ideas of new places to explore, shop and inevitably “brunch” as frequently as all true blue Aussies love to. Recognising the contentiousness of such a statement, I remain inclined to say that Canberra’s coffee shops, cafes and restaurants certainly rival the fine dining and culinary culture so proudly boasted by Melbournians & Sydney-siders alike. With assistance from the never-disappointing @breakfastincanberra you can satisfy your brunch cravings at the deservedly popular Cupping Room, Local Press, Eighty-Twenty, Penny University, Autolyse, Urban Pantry and Fox & Bow, amongst many others. There are more, I promise, and they sure do give their Australian competitors a run for their money. Brodburger is the go-to burger joint, with its gourmet creations averaging approximately twice the size of your everyday burg. Be sure to order in advance though and enjoy your meal alfresco-style, perched on Brod’s neatly mowed front yard, picnicking alongside the other Canberrans who know how to avoid an hour-long wait. Lonsdale Street is your no.1 destination for a more special (pricey) meal out ‒ offering the infamous eightysix, Elk & Pea, Chez Fredric, Vitis eatery, and Italian and Sons ‒ all very charming and atmospheric dining experiences worth visiting. You also can’t miss Lonsdale’s food truck hub, The Hamlet, which provides great outdoor vibes, music and food ‒ ranging from Mexican and Peruvian to Greek and American. For some innovative Asian infusion head to Akiba or Soju Girl, and for those HuffingtonPost famous milkshakes, a “freakshake” at Patissez is most certainly a must. Do it for the gram at least! Finally, as the sun sets (or doesn’t), do try to venture beyond Mooseheads for a drink or two, at Lucky’s Speakeasy, Parlour, Hippo, Molly, Honkytonks and/or Hopscotch.
Despite the lack of a London-style Oxford Street shopping experience, or brands found in the oh-so fashionable Singapore and Milan, Canberra Centre in Civic will provide you with an adequate dose of retail therapy. For quirky and tasteful gifts, head back to Lonsdale Street, where you will find independent fashion, jewelry, homeware and gift stores like itrip iskip and wildwood. For all your fresh food needs, go on an outing to the Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets (Thurs-Sun) Capital Regional Farmers’ Market (Saturdays) and the Kingston Old Bus Depot Market (Sundays) ‒ all of which are on-par with Barcelona’s La Boqueria market and Hugh Grant’s personal favourite: Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill. On your days off from the books, get cultured at the National Gallery of Australia, National Portrait Gallery, Questacon, National Museum of Australia, and the very moving Australian War Memorial. And finally, when Spring arrives, make sure you join the thousands of Australians that flock to your new home town for the tulip and flower extravaganza that is Floriade.
Canberra’s essentially untouched landscape offers great spots for hiking, strolling, picnicking and anything in-between. Instead of climbing the Harbour Bridge, climb Black Mountain ‒ for free! It is home to the notorious Telstra Tower ‒ not too dissimilar to Le Tour Eiffel you might have seen on a postcard ‒ and a perfect spot to watch a sunset with friends. Alternatively, Mt Ainslie’s climb offers spectacular panoramic views of the city and Parliament in all their glory. You must at least once join the morning and afternoon streams of fitness-inspired individuals who walk, cycle and run around the manmade Lake Burley Griffin, before March arrives and for nine sunrises you have the opportunity to instead sit down, as the lake sets the stage for Canberra’s Hot Air Balloon Spectacular. Add the Arboretum to your list of outdoor destinations, and for a pleasant picnic, try the Nara Peace Park or the bays of Yarralumla and Deakin, where you can watch the sailboats and dragon boats pass you by. Our very own multipurpose ANU campus itself provides many perfect picnic spots underneath the numerous willows, which are especially abundant in the surrounds of Fellows Oval. Very conveniently, the National Botanic Gardens are also only a few minutes’ walk away from campus.
My intention is not to distract you (completely) from the studies that await you. I may know my way around the Capital, but I’m afraid I am still learning to navigate myself through the Uni game. What advice I can offer, however, is to utilise and support your friends (all-nighters are far more entertaining with company), to do those readings everyone dismisses as unnecessary, and to at least watch your lectures if you can’t find the willpower to actually attend. Combine your learning with good caffeine at the ever-bustling Coffee Grounds near the gym, or at the ANU’s ex-best-kept-secret Ivy and the Fox (if you can find it). The National Library of Australia is a personal favourite for its view of the lake, numerous outdoor working tables, and café on the terrace. So get keen, get exploring, and don’t let those assignments get you down! For at the end of the day, University isn’t all about the high distinctions and lab reports – it is about maximising experience and grasping every opportunity beyond the walls of Manning Clarke. And whilst you might move on to the Big Apple, to Hong Kong or Berlin next, you will never, ever regret doing Canberra right.