Buvette Masthead

Canberra shrugs off holiday ghost town reputation

Laura Peppas

Canberra has long been laughed off as “a ghost town” over the Christmas break, with anyone who stays put struggling to find a coffee shop or restaurant that isn’t closed.

But it seems all that is changing. Whether it was because of Lonely Planet’s recent nod to our city being one of the top places in the world to visit, or whether it’s simply our emergence as a “cool capital”, this year it paid to stay open, with many cafes and restaurants reporting busier than usual trading and a large increase in tourists.

Acting Chief Minister and acting Minister for Tourism and Major Events Yvette Berry says visitor numbers are hitting record levels thanks to events such as Summernats, Songlines at the National Museum of Australia and Hyper Real at the National Gallery of Australia.

“[These events] provide plenty of reasons to visit over the summer holiday period,” Ms Berry says.

She also cited our spot on Lonely Planet’s coveted list as a reason even more tourists are likely to come and visit.

“The government is working hard to take advantage of this by promoting our city, so more people come here and spend money to support local businesses and jobs.”

NewActon’s Twenty One Café and Groceries was one of the cafes open throughout the Christmas break, and owner Grant says business was booming.

“There were definitely more people this year – during breakfast, lunch and all day in the shop, with lots of travellers and tourists,” he says.

“Most of the tourists were staying at the nearby hotels or the Breakfree because their family’s homes were too small to fit in, so they wanted their own space. Trading was very good and it was worthwhile to stay open, as everything else from here to the Canberra Centre was shut.”

Bunda Street’s Akiba was also packed to the rafters almost every day with hungry crowds; and manager Toby Dale says many of them were from interstate or overseas.

“It definitely paid to stay open, we did expect a busy time and it continued on after the new year and just kept being busy,” Toby says.

“We had a lot of tourists arriving on flights late in the evening who wanted a feed and because we were open later, this really catered to them, and then through to the Summernats period. A lot of our interstate or overseas customers had read articles about us and were keen to try our food.”

It wasn’t just the city experiencing higher than usual crowds – Crace’s The District was open every day except Christmas day, and staff member Charlie says he was surprised at how busy it was.

“It was much busier than we thought, we just assumed everyone would go away for the holidays, but so many people stayed instead,” he says.

At Hotel Realm, Michy from the reservations team says it felt “much busier” than usual over the Christmas period.

“We usually have more corporate clientele during the year, but over Christmas we had a lot of families coming from interstate – some who were visiting family but also others who just felt it would be a good time to visit and see all our city’s attractions.”

Has your favourite reopened yet? Check out our guide here.



Laura Peppas

Laura Peppas is HerCanberra's senior journalist and communications manager and is the Editor of Unveiled, HerCanberra's wedding magazine. She is enjoying uncovering all that Canberra has to offer, meeting some intriguing locals and working with a pretty awesome bunch of women. Laura has lived in Canberra for most of her life and when she's not writing fervently she enjoys pursuing her passion for travel, reading, online shopping and chai tea. More about the Author