Living in Canberra
Canberra is the capital of Australian Capital Territory and the capital of Australia. It has a population of around 380,000 people, making it the eighth biggest city in Australia. But it is Australia’s biggest inland city. What does that mean?
We’ll get to that in a minute. First, a little history. Early in the 1900’s, the Commonwealth of Australia was formed and the search was on for somewhere to call Australia’s capital.
The story goes that both Sydney and Melbourne wanted the job, but because of the fierce rivalry between the two, some wise men decided to go for somewhere in between. It ended up being Canberra, not quite in the middle, and the town was built almost from scratch.
World War One slowed things up a bit but by 1927, federal government had moved in. Further development didn’t pick up speed until about 1950, thanks to the Second World War. It is pretty much all finished now, and it’s what is called a “planned city”. It didn’t grow naturally, everything was worked out before it was all started.
At the centre of the city is the artificial Lake Burley Griffin, named after the Chicago architects who designed the city. It is good for rowing, fishing and sailing but it’s really not suitable for swimming.
So, still no beach!
But if beaches are your thing, don’t despair. You will need to drive for around 150 km, which will take you a couple of hours (ouch) before you reach the Tasman Sea on Australia’s south east coast. There you will be able to choose from the beautiful Bateman’s Bay, or the nearby beaches at Durras, Maloney’s Beach or Surf Beach.
But if beaches ARE your thing, you probably wouldn’t want to live in Canberra.
Canberra’s biggest employer, easily, is the federal government. Unless you are going to be working for them, it’s difficult, as far as I can see, to make a case for moving to Canberra. Perhaps somebody who does live in Canberra, and loves it there, can get in touch with me and tell me why I am wrong.
Whilst Canberra is described as an “outdoors” place, most sources quote the top attractions as being the National Gallery and Old Parliament House. But Canberra is also home to the Australian Institute of Sport, a world class training facility that churns out our Australian sporting hero’s.
What’s the weather like?
As you can see from the weather chart, Canberra is distinctly colder than most other major cities in Australia. Winters really are winters.
Occasionally it snows in Canberra, but not very often. The nearest ski resort to Canberra is probably Selwyn Snowfields, about 90 kms away.
Severe weather that can affect the area include bushfires and flash flooding along with the usual gale force winds.
West Canberra consists mainly of forest.
Here’s a map of the area…..
Canberra can be divided into four main areas…..
- Inner Canberra – including City and Inner North Canberra and Inner South Canberra
- North Canberra – including Outer North West and Outer North
- South Canberra – including Mid South West and Mid South
- East Canberra – includes Wamboin, but NOT Queanbeyan, (which I originally suggested) as some in the comments have pointed out. That town is just over the border in New South Wales.
Questions about Canberra?
If you have any question about living in Canberra, please please feel free to ask them in the comments below. Or if you know this city well, why not tell us what you think of it or maybe even help out by answering some of the questions people have about the area. I’m sure anybody thinking of moving here would be very grateful for any help you can give them.
I am an Indian student. I coming to Australia next month and my college is in Canberra. What are your views about Yarralumla?
Expensive. Hugely expensive! So one would think it would be nice, but I don’t know, I’ve never been.
Hi All! We moved to Canberra from Tasmania and have been living here for 3 years.
It most definitely was not our first choice of a place to live but Canberra offered my husband a good job that sadly Tasmania did not. First the good: beautiful ‘bush’ surroundings ,in fact , the majority of Canberra is like living in a national park ? wonderful wildlife, very colourful parrots and if you live near one of the nature reserves ( which there are many) you will be more than likely to see kangaroos hopping down your street! Very good universities, ANU and university of Canberra, which brings a high level of educated people to the city. The ‘bogan’ element seems smaller than in other Oz city’s. good shopping facilities, 2 westfields if that is your thing and in the centre some very good bars and restaurants with londsdale street in Braddon to satisfy any hipster cravings you might have. Good collection in the National gallery and the National library is superb. Culturally it’s okay, there are things going on but it’s not so obvious and harder to find than most other Oz cities. Generally people are friendly and polite. The city is clean and well cared for and public transport improving, with the advent of light rail and 5 rapid bus routes. Now for the bad……….
Terrible soulless architecture, the houses are ghastly brick boxes with terrible layouts and expensive. There are some charming areas, Ainslie, O’Connor, Manuka, forest but we are talking a million plus, plus for these areas forcing most people out into the charmless brick box suburbs. It is very very hard to find a rental and if you do, you will be paying anything from 500- 900 for a family home ( a huge chunk of our wages, goes on the rent) petrol is expensive as are food, goods and services. Once you have done the things to do, that’s it and you may well find yourself wandering around the artificial lake frustrated and bored; if you enjoy a vibrant city life than Canberra is most definitely not for you! As for buying? Queanbeyan and Bungendore have more life and character with reasonable prices. A 20 min commute from Queanbeyan and about 35- 45 commute from Bungendore. If you can secure a permanent job, the wages are good and higher than the rest of Australia. I have been told the schools are very good and families seem to enjoy living in Canberra ; lots of biking and hiking. It’s horses for courses, personally without regular trips to the beautiful south coast and to Sydney we would have gone insane and have spent the last 2 years trying to get out of Canberra. However with jobs scarce and a possible recession looming, pragmatically it is not such a bad choice and we will need to stick it out and buy something in Queanbeyan or Bungendore to stem the huge outflow of cash spent on the rent, whilst dreaming of our future escape elsewhere near a beach with some more life to it. But until this point we are here ? and will do our best to enjoy it, Good luck!
Thanks for the detailed roundup, very helpful for anyone considering Canberra. As you say, horses for courses, but if you don’t like national parks, biking or hiking, then Canberra is probably not the place to be.
Hope your hubby gets a job somewhere else soon so you can say goodbye to the kangaroos.
Hey guys, I’ll be moving to Canberra in Feb next year, thinking of buying an apartment, was wondering what the best suburbs were if you like a bit of night life and want to be close to local bars even on a weeknight ?
The most popular suburbs for bars and night life are probably suburbs in Canberra’s inner north such as Braddon and O’Connor as well as Kingston, but around any of the town centres would be a good option too. Personally I would suggest renting for a while after arriving to get a a feel for what area you might like to live in before buying, but that’s up to you of course.
Hi there, we have been living in Canberra for 3 years now, hubby works in the university sector.
The pros; beautiful bushland in and surrounding Canberra, fabulous parrots and Roos, national gallery,national library, good facilities and shops, reasonable transport around town,pleasant climate in spring and Autumn. People keep to themselves but generally friendly.
Wages are good. 3 hrs drive to Sydney and about 2 hours drive to the beautiful south coast, both ‘doable’ for weekends away.
The cons; freezing in winter, -3….. very very hot in summer (reaches 45 degrees this summer) very little rain, completely landlocked, very hard to make friends if you are not from Canberra,or don’t have kids, no real community vibe, modern soulless architecture, horrendous expensive badly built houses with very little to no insulation ( think freezing and boiling expensive toilet block, then you have a picture of the majority of houses in Canberra!) horrendously expensive rent and hard to get a rental. Endless dreary burbs full of brick housing estates. Very little to do culturally in one’s downtime. No beach, no sea, a couple of man made lakes with aggressive cyclists you have to get out of the way of. There are some nice houses in nice suburbs but we are talking 1.2 million and up…
In short the Truman show of Australia! However many people love it but definitely not us! Not that we are total couch potatoes but if hiking, camping and biking are not your thing, not much else to do and there are only so many times you can visit the attractions, then …. there is nothing! I look at it as an okay posting but after 3 years we are desperate to leave as Bill Bryson said in his book’ Canberra? Why wait to die?’ However horses for courses and you would need to check it out for yourselves, good luck!
Ha ha – Truman show of Australia. That’s funny.
I have still not been to Canberra, the only capital I’ve not visited in Australia since I moved here nearly 12 years ago. I will go, and I’m sure I will enjoy it, thanks to those attractions, but as you’ve pointed out, living there is a different deal altogether.
One of my best friends here was born and raised in Canberra, he couldn’t wait to get out of there as soon as he could, he said there was just nothing to do.
Sounds like you need to move to Brisbane Emily, I’m having a great time up here 🙂
Thanks Bob , we would move to Brizzie in a shot but jobs…. believe me we have been looking everyday…. when we do manage to escape if you look out of your window and see two people dancing around and screaming with joy,that will be us and would mean we have escaped!!!?
Okay, I’ll keep an eye out of my window for you 🙂
Nothing to do in Canberra!?!
I guess that’s true if you are not interested in cycling, touring, art exhibitions, activism, classical music, plays, fine dining, great coffee, national parks, golf, hiking, museums, wildlife, astronomy, cruises, politics, education, zoos, history, gardens, shopping, sport, motorsport, classical cars, classical bikes, aviation, or life in general.
Ok, no oceans. So I guess if you need to always be close to the coast, then Canberra isn’t for you. But otherwise it’s pretty great. There’s heaps to do in Canberra!
Cruises from Canberra?? That’s an interesting one.
Anyway, you’ll have to take this up with my friend, I’m just the middleman 🙂
Thanks for all your suggestions though, quite a few people have jumped to the defence of Canberra and it’s good to hear that for some people it’s a great place to live.
Ok, cruises might have been pushing it a bit. But you can:
Ah, very short cruises; pushing it yes, but I suppose it counts 🙂
I am an Indian student. I coming Australian next month and my college is in Canberra. What is your views about Yarralumla.
I’m afraid I don’t know it at all, so I can’t give an opinion. It gets a great review on Homely though, you can find a link to their website on my page Which Suburb? They rated it the best suburb in Canberra, so I don’t think you can go far wrong.
They say it’s peaceful, green, a great place to chill and it does sit on one of the banks of Lake Burley Griffin. Sounds pretty nice to me.
Hopefully though someone who does know Canberra well will see your comment and be able to give you more information.
Yarralumla is a great suburb. It has beautiful parks, a Japanese park and lake front walks where you can see little white sailboats (you can get sailing lessons), dragon boats and all kinds of watersports like windsurfing going on. Lots of events are held on the lake there. There are biking and walking trails all along the shorefront. In warm weather, people flock to the Southern Cross Yacht Club for reasonably priced fish and chips right on the shore of the lake, spilling out from the tables to the grassy area on picnic rugs. Often they bring in live music. If you follow the road around, you’ll find yourself in a large park full of kangaroos, barbeque facilities, miniature trains, icecreams and a buzz of people there all the time, especially in the warmer weather. It also has a nice little shopping centre with a couple of nice cafes and a supermarket and post office It’s pretty close to the city as well. I think you will love it.
Sounds like a fun suburb, thanks for the comprehensive roundup, very helpful.
Hi, I am ashraf. Recently we have received 190 PR. I have a 5yr old daughter. Can you suggest me a place where I can find a good school for her and also the name of school, if possible. I also need to use public transport and a mosque near by.
Oh! I missed. 190 PR from ACT.
I don’t know Canberra at all, so I can’t help you directly, hopefully a local will see your comment and offer you some advice. Failing that, a quick Google search tells me that Canberra has five mosques and my page Which school? can help you look into the best schools in the area.
All public schools are equal, and some private (secondary) schools have unsavory reputations.
It is best to pick the nearest school so children can walk there or ride their bikes.
Iam from Sri Lanka and present situation of my country I like to move to Canberra with my two kids. Is any possibilities to move there? Its very difficult to move in here and my kids very affair to live. At the same time I have responsibilities to give a valuable education to my kids. So please advice me in this regard.
It is best to only move to Canberra if you have a full time job confirmed. Being a public service centre means most jobs are for Australian citizens only.
You did not mention your current skills, experience or occupation, so it is hard to provide any other comment.
Actually Iam a BA degree holder and I have more than ten years experience in INGO. Could u pls support me to find a job, it will help me to continue my studies as well and I can educate my kids too..
“Canberra’s biggest employer, easily, is the federal government. Unless you are going to be working for them, it’s difficult, as far as I can see, to make a case for moving to Canberra”.
Okay. I’ll take this one on (disclosure: I am a Federal public servant and long time resident).
* Federal public servants require butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, etc (doctors, nurses, teachers, builders, electricians, joiners, carpenters, chefs, mechanics etc) – over 60% of the local economy is the service sector and the surrounding area has a population of up to 750,000 people who use Canberra as a services hub;
* There are five universities in Canberra and well as major research facilities of the Commonwealth cultural and scientific institutions so it’s a good place to be an academic or a researcher;
* You can drive two hours north and be in Sydney (without needing to live in Sydney). You can drive two hours east and be on the Eurobodalla or Shoalhaven coasts or two hours south and be in the snowfields. Two hours driving in Australia is like going to the corner store;
* compared to the rest of Australia, the population of Canberra is young, affluent, educated and socially progressive;
* Canberra is a very safe city and has very low crime statistics;
* Canberra is the base for all the national cultural and scientific institutions so we have great exhibitions all year round that may only go to one or two other locations in Australia if they are touring, or are based on our national collections;
* Canberra is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world – over 180 countries of birth at the last Census;
* Canberra has a thriving hospitality sector – based on both cultural diversity and artisanal local produce from the surrounding farming districts;
* Hiking, camping, cycling, 4WDing, horse riding etc are all available within half an hour of the CBD.
And that’s my two cents.
That’s more than two cents by my reckoning 🙂 Plenty of good and valuable information about Canberra and I’m sure anyone considering moving to the area will find it very useful.
Thanks for posting it, Bob
Where would be the best place to live in Canberra that is close to the Embassies and bus routes. For a reasonable price of course :-).
I can’t help with this one, hopefully a local will see your question and help you out. I do know that Canberra isn’t cheap for accommodation though, and I suspect anything close to the embassies and bus route would probably cost above average prices.
My page Cost of Buying or Renting a House in Australia can help you research this.
Hi Maria. Most of the embassies and high commissions in Canberra are in the South Canberra suburb of Yarralumla, with another cluster in the Woden Valley suburb of O’Malley. They are both quite expensive areas to buy or rent property, even by Australian (and Canberran) standards where accommodation is among the least affordable in the world. Yarralumla has regular buses running each way between the City and Woden bus interchanges (about every fifteen minutes to half an hour on weekdays): O’Malley has no public transport access. If you plan to live in Canberra (and you should consider it) you should also consider getting a car. Public transport is affordable and reliable; but because the city is so spread out services are relatively infrequent and there are areas with poor coverage. By private vehicle you can get almost anywhere in the city from anywhere else in about half to three-quarters of an hour. I’m happy to (try to) answer any other questions you have about Canberra. I have lived here for about 35 years so I know a bit about it.
I am going to canberra next month. What are job opportunities in canberra ?
Probably better if you were to say what you do for a living Nav, otherwise it’s difficult for people to help. I can’t help you specifically with job vacancies in Canberra, but you can research it yourself on my page called Getting a Job or a Sponsorship.
Hello! I am moving to Canberra in August/September and I would like to rent a place that is close to the city centre to use transit or bike, but also have a house with a fenced in backyard. Preferably I would like at least a two bedroom place.
Have a look at Allhomes.com.au to get an idea of what you’d expect to pay.
Google maps knows about bus routes if you need to check what areas are well served by public transport. Generally most areas have a bus route.
Some areas outside inner Canberra are still manageable. I live less than 10km from Civic, very near a bus route and I’m just outside inner north.