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Let’s talk about how underrated Canberra is. The city, known mostly for being the home of Parliament and many of the main cogs of Australian government, sometimes gets an unfair rap for being a sleepy town. But that is far from the truth. Inside and outside the city limits lies an amazing number of things to do and see, all within a few short hours’ drive by Canberra hire car.
Canberra is a wonderfully well-planned city, with broad boulevards, idyllic lakes, and plenty of leafy parks to take the family and enjoy a picnic or leisurely afternoon in the sun. As befitting of the nation’s capital, its museums, art galleries, and even the airport are first-rate. Furthermore, its inland location amid national parks, nature reserves, and the Australian Alps, means that its citizens are blessed with plenty of fresh air and open, green spaces teeming with native wildlife. Cheap car hire in Canberra can bring you to these attractions on your own schedule, whether you’re fitting something fun in between business or are in the ACT on holidays.
Take advantage of the excellent toll-free roads and ample parking by renting a car in Canberra with DriveNow. With access to a Canberra car rental or campervan, you can experience Australia’s capital in style and comfort, and most importantly at your own pace. Only the roundabouts will you slow you down in this city – one per every 1,000 Canberrans, according to a 2016 report!
A discount hire car in Canberra enables you to make the most of your visit and explore all of the world-class attractions and events this underrated city has to offer. Read on for tips on exploring this jewel of the ACT. Discover our top accommodation choices, the best places to dine out, and absolute must-do activities during your stay.
Hopefully you’ll also have time to check out some of the great aspects of the nation’s capital. Get in touch with the country’s past by visiting the breathtaking Australian War Memorial, drive to the National Gallery of Australia, or take in the scenic landscapes along Tidbinbilla road on your way to the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex in Fyshwick. Canberra is also just a few hours from the snow.
Compare Cheap Car Hire in Canberra with DriveNow
You can take the headache out of finding a great deal on car rental in Canberra by using DriveNow’s simple online comparison tool, all at no cost to you.
Over the past 10-plus years, we’ve developed strong relationships with some of the biggest suppliers in the world, including Europcar, Budget, Thrifty, Avis, and Hertz, to bring you the latest deals on cheap Canberra hire cars. We present deep rental car listings, affording you the opportunity to easily compare and contrast vehicles, and identify the best hire car for your travel needs. Enjoy the convenience of being able to search listings from Canberra’s city branches all in one place.
Your own vehicle gives you the freedom to explore the city at your own pace, regardless of how or why you’re in Canberra. Perhaps you’re travelling for business and need to bounce from location to location for meetings.
Why Book Canberra Car Hire with DriveNow?
- We only partner with brands you know and trust
- Free booking service with no fees or charges
- 100% Australian Owned and Operated
- Assistance from our locally based reservations team is a phone call, chat session, or email away
- Impartial and instant rate comparison – see how each rental company stacks up
- No credit card details required and In most instances you only pay upon collection of the vehicle
- Drive-away rates that include all taxes and levies (excludes young driver surcharge)
- We’ve been comparing pricing on car rentals in Canberra since 2003
Take advantage of some great rental car options for Canberra and give yourself the best possible chance to enjoy the history and fun of the capital and its surrounding regions. To get started, simply enter your dates of travel in our easy-to-use search box. In many cases, the whole process takes less than 60-seconds to complete!
Driving tips for you and your car hire in Canberra
Hiring a car in Canberra is a great way to explore the city and surrounding area on your own terms. Whether you’re visiting from far or near, take a look at these driving tips for the ACT to ensure your ride is as smooth and hassle free as possible.
- Canberra abides by the same general driving rules as the rest of Australia. You drive on the left, must wear a seatbelt and must hold a valid driver’s license. The default speed limit is 50 kmh, and this is enforced with speed cameras.
- Canberra has so many roundabouts; they’ve gained themselves a reputation of their own! For a small city, the 406 roundabouts might seem excessive, but they do a great job of dispersing the traffic that normally comes hand in hand with traffic lights. Because of this, it’s quick and easy to drive around the country’s capital, and can take as little as 30 minutes to cross from one side to another.
- Unlike some other Australian cities, there are no toll roads in Canberra. This means you’re free to cruise the roads without worrying about keeping tracks on any toll bills. Enjoy!
The Best Places to Stay in Canberra
Looking for stylish accommodation in Canberra? A wave of impressive design hotels have sprung up around the city in recent years, and you’ll find some of the coolest ones along National Circuit, which partially encircles Parliament House, as well as in or around the award-winning NewActon cultural precinct. For a memorable stay in Canberra, book a room in one of these trendy hotels.
The Original Room at Hotel Hotel is as chic as it is comfortable
The avant-garde Hotel Hotel is located within the futuristic NewActon Nishi apartment complex; Australia's only building with a six star green rating. Inside, every piece of furniture or decoration is sustainable, recycled or simply a work of art. Expect chipboard cabinetry, clay walls, heated concrete floors and original paintings by local artists. Eschew the onsite gym for a complimentary hire bicycle, or spend your time browsing the many nooks of NewActon precinct. If you think green is the new black, then Hotel Hotel is for you.
Hotel Hotel is located just 10 minutes from the airport. Enter via Phillip Law Street and leave your Canberra car rental at the public Wilson car park beneath the hotel. As a guest, you may be eligible to receive 50% off standard parking rates so don’t forget to ask the concierge for a discount. Alternatively, drop your Canberra rental car off with the valet.
QT Canberra’s tongue-in-cheek pollie portraits
This sleek hotel, a stone’s throw from the NewActon Nishi, embodies Canberra to a tee – with signature QT attitude and style. The theme? Politics, of course! Live tweets run down the wall by reception, while cheeky portraits of politicians and heads of state line another. The dimly lit restaurant is perfect for power lunches and dinner deals and there’s an invite-only lounge full of private alcoves for discussing top-secret business. The masculine palette of this decidedly urban QT hotel carries up to guest rooms, with cheery red or bright yellow ‘pops’ of colour to break up the black, white and metallic scheme. Need a shave? There’s an old-school barber shop that conceals the entrance to a bar where you can quaff a Prohibition-era cocktail away from prying eyes.
Stay where former Prime Minister Ben Chifley once did
First opened in 1926, this classic hotel on National Circuit once hosted Australia’s most influential politicians including Prime Minister Ben Chifley who preferred living here to The Lodge. A renovation completed in 2015 brought the property into the 21st century while carefully preserving its charm and history. The Hotel Kurrajong's Art Deco exterior was left almost untouched, while its interiors are distinctly contemporary with carefully curated books and framed photos of past leaders. Stay here if you have any interest at all in Australian political history.
With only limited off-street parking available within close vicinity of this hotel, you may want to consider leaving your Canberra car rental a few streets away to avoid having to purchase a ticket.
Little National Hotel
Good things come in small packages at the Little National Hotel
Small is beautiful in the case of the Little National Hotel. Sitting atop a multi-storey carpark built to alleviate vehicle congestion around Parliament House, what matters here is how many luxuries you get per square metre. The answer: a lot. Oversized king beds are positioned ingeniously against floor-length windows for super-sized views (and to maximise space), while guests enjoy a whole heap of freebies from car parking, Wi-Fi and in-house movies to Nespresso coffee and T2 gourmet teas. There’s no restaurant but who cares, when Canberra’s top restaurants are just a short walk or drive away?
Recommended Day Trips from Canberra
Most visitors to Canberra don’t venture outside of the ‘bush capital’ which is a shame, because the city is surrounded by captivating unspoilt wilderness. Namadgi National Park is just 45 minutes’ by car hire from the capital, and shelters a large number of Australian native species, from swamp wallabies to wombats and echidnas. It also has a rich Aboriginal history, with archaeological sites dating back tens of thousands of years.
Day trippers should pack a picnic and hit some of the many walking trails that thread this gorgeous park. There are tracks to scenic lookouts, ones that take you through centuries-old homesteads and others still that explore a large swamp. Mountain biking and horseback riding are also permitted along designated trails. Hire a Personal Locator Beacon from the visitor centre if you plan to explore more remote sections of the reserve.
Another option is Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, which is well set up for families. There are ranger-guided walks here as well as a sprawling Discovery Playground. Tidbinbilla lies 40 minutes southwest of Canberra so bringing your rental car is essential. Keep your eyes peeled for koalas, kangaroos, and emus in the wild. You might even spot an elusive platypus if you’re lucky!
Also in this area is the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, which provides visitors with a chance to learn about Australia’s role in space exploration. Inspect spacecraft models, see what astronauts eat, and check out a piece of the Moon that’s over 3.8 billion years old.
Things to Do in Canberra
Like Melbourne, Canberra can roughly be divided into two halves: north of Lake Burley-Griffin and south.
North of the Lake
A good place to begin your explorations is the impressive Australian War Memorial in between the residential suburbs of Campbell and Reid. A visit here could easily take half a day or more depending on how interested you are in the nation’s military history. Maybe stretch your legs out afterwards with a walk up to the Mount Ainslie Lookout, arriving in time to see sunset over the lake.
Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra
To the city’s northwest is Acton, home to the National Museum of Australia. If you’re staying in or around the NewActon Nishi complex, chances are you’ve already noticed its striking exterior. Resembling knotted rope, the building’s design symbolises the interconnectedness of Australian lives and stories. Highlights of its collection include sporting memorabilia, Azaria Chamberlain’s dress, Captain Cook’s navigational tools, and an early Wi-Fi prototype.
Australian film buffs might like to drop in to the National Film & Sound Archive, which often has a few small exhibitions centred on old movies, vintage ads, and historic newsreels. If you’re planning to visit the Australian National Botanic Gardens after this, it would pay to pick up a coffee or a snack – maybe from one of the fashionable cafes in NewActon precinct, to enjoy amongst the nation’s largest living collection of native flora.
Beyond the botanic gardens lies Black Mountain Nature Reserve, presided over by a 195m-tall communications tower. Drive up in your Canberra rental car and take in the sweeping 360° views – it might cost a few dollars, but you won’t find a better lookout point over the city.
South of the Lake
South of Lake Burley-Griffin, there’s Parkes, a suburb which harbours many of Canberra’s national monuments as well as a pie-shaped wedge known as the “Parliamentary Triangle”. Naturally, the old and new Parliament houses are located in here. The former is a museum, which regularly holds exhibitions featuring political scandals while the public gallery in the latter is where you can observe “Question Time” on sitting days in the House of Representatives and Senate.
Also in the “Parliamentary Triangle” is the National Library of Australia, offering a quiet place to read or browse its treasure trove of books, magazines, and photographs. If you have the kids with you, don’t miss Questacon across the road. This centre is designed to get young minds thinking about science and technology through hands-on displays and interactive exhibits.
The National Portrait Gallery on King Edward Terrace is worthy of a few hours too, with faces of extraordinary Australians throughout the nation’s history immortalised in all manner of mediums. Next door is the imposing High Court of Australia, whose hushed courtrooms can be toured even when cases are in session.
Art lovers should look no further than the National Gallery of Australia. Within its walls lies the greatest collection of indigenous Australian art in the country. There are also many splendid pieces from Australian artists like Sidney Nolan and works by international luminaries such as Monet, Matisse, and Warhol.
If you’ve walked enough, get back in your Canberra hire car and head to Yarralumla in Canberra’s inner southwest for a self-guided embassy tour. This map provides a good overview of the countries represented in the manicured diplomatic estate. See if you can guess which building belongs to whom just by its architectural style!
You may also wish to enjoy Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra’s watery centrepiece. Rent a bicycle to circle its picturesque shores or take a guided cruise in a whisper-quiet electric boat to see the city from a different perspective.
Canberra’s Most Popular Restaurants
Quality restaurants, bars, and cafés have mushroomed around Canberra almost as quickly as design hotels have appeared. Many are even located within said hotels. Wine and dine in style at these popular haunts:
This classy Barker Street restaurant with an epic wine list is located in the leafy suburb of Griffith 15 minutes’ drive from the ‘Civic’. It’s the highest rated establishment in the capital, yet the ambience is understated and service warm and welcoming. To capitalise on the freshest produce of the day, the multi-course menu changes daily. Choose Aubergine for that special occasion or simply to enjoy the best fine dining experience Canberra has to offer.
On the ground floor of Hotel Hotel, this casual all-day eatery does double duty as a guest lounge as well as a dining room with four separate spaces for diners to sit down or spread out. Monster somehow manages to morph effortlessly between roles, locations, and mealtimes. Breakfast is served until noon with classics such as poached eggs. Canberra roasted beans provide requisite caffeine. By midday, it's share plates and bar snacks until late, encouraging patrons to mingle or linger over a newspaper or magazine. The yabby jaffle is symbolic of Monster’s culinary style – packed with delicious flavours yet simple enough to eat any time of day with your fingers.
Mocan and Green Grout
It doesn’t get any cleaner or greener than Mocan and Green Grout, which supplies the Hotel Hotel concierge with handmade Goodspeed bicycles for hire. Insofar as possible, everything at this café is locally or ethically sourced, from staff to plates and coffee. Watch the chef assemble your meal, garnishing it with herbs grown in a planter that separates your seat from the kitchen bench. There’s no wine list but feel free to BYO.
Short for ‘Acton Baker’, this cool industrial-chic space in the NewActon precinct (where else?) is a bakery by day and bar-restaurant by night. There’s a ‘no bookings’ policy but fortunately there’s plenty of seating. Like Monster nearby, A. Baker caters throughout the day so there are simple items such as toasted sourdough with jam for the morning rush, heavier meals such as Wagyu steaks for the hungover brunch crowd, and gourmet grazing plates for after-work drinkers.
A. Baker adds style and aplomb to Canberra’s dining scene
Capitol Bar & Grill
Past the quirky pollie portraits hanging in the QT Canberra hotel lobby is Capitol Bar & Grill, whose moody lights, banquette seats and geometric patterns bring to mind a fancy diner somewhere on Wall Street or downtown DC. Cuisine leans towards American, with turkey club sandwiches for lunch and big, beefy cuts of meat along with mac ‘n’ cheese on the dinner menu. Yet there’s a touch of Italian refinement to it all – with truffle oil lacing the gratin and grilled spicy chorizo on the fresh oysters. This upmarket restaurant is ideal if you’re starving and better still, if you can expense your meal on the corporate credit card.
Canberra’s Best Fresh Food Market
Canberra’s oldest market is located in Fyshwick, a liberal suburb in Canberra’s inner southeast. If you’re after fresh fruit, organic vegetables, small goods, seafood or simply a vibrant place to people-watch over a morning cuppa, the Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets are our pick of the bunch. The complex is open Thursday to Sunday.
Events in Canberra
Our nation’s capital has a calendar brimming with culture, colour, food, and family-friendly activities. Why not plan your trip to coincide with one of these fantastic events?
To celebrate spring, Canberra hosts Floriade, the largest flower show in the southern hemisphere. Come admire tulip-filled feature gardens, learn about latest trends in horticulture, and witness the dramatic light displays of NightFest. This month-long shebang is held in the Commonwealth Gardens, just 15 minutes’ from ‘Civic’ on foot and or even less in your Canberra hire car.
The biggest blooming festival in the southern hemisphere
In summer, rev-heads and speed fiends crawl out of the woodwork all over Australia to attend Summernats, the nation’s biggest retail and trade show for automotive products. Held at Exhibition Park, just 10 minutes’ drive from the city centre, this long-running event features competitions, car parades, a ‘Miss Summernats’ pageant, and fireworks at night.
National Multicultural Festival
Entry is free to this big street party held every February in the heart of Canberra. There are some 200 stalls offering food and drink from a range of countries across the globe, national costume parades and all manner of cultural performances from music to dance.
The Royal Canberra Show
This historic agriculture and livestock show continues to draw crowds with its shows of horsemanship, cattle dog demonstrations, super trucks, dirt bikes, fast cars, and fireworks. Put on your best plaid shirt and come cheer on stuntmen, stockmen and working dogs at the annual Royal Canberra Show.