Vintage Travel Kat
Balloon rides taking off in Canberra by Vintage Travel Kat

Vintage travel journal: Canberra

I love a visit to Canberra. There’s stately buildings and great architecture to admire, beautiful gardens, incredible museums and galleries – and it’s pretty easy to get from one side of the city to the other.

Lining its suburbs are also some fabulous homes from numerous eras of the 20th century. My sister lives in Canberra and so whenever I visit, I enjoy a good meander through suburban streets to view residences that are reflective of different periods and design styles.

On a recent visit, I was on a mission to seek out some of the best op and thrift shops and places to shop vintage.

Armed with a list put together with the help of the lovely members of the incredible I Love To Op Shop Facebook group and some further insider intel from my sister, I set off with vintage visions taking the easy 3.5 hour drive from Sydney to Canberra

Where to stay
East Hotel reception by Vintage Travel Kat
East Hotel reception. Image: Vintage Travel Kat

This is my second stay at the design-led and boutique East Hotel in Kingston – and it’s great to be back. The contemporary apartment hotel is in a quiet location just a short walk to the fashionable cafes, shops and restaurants at both nearby Manuka and Kingston. When staying here, you’re also conveniently close to the Parliamentary triangle and a short drive from some of the major galleries and attractions.

East Hotel foyer by Vintage Travel Kat
East Hotel foyer. Image: Vintage Travel Kat

The 140-room hotel was opened in 2012 by siblings Dan and Dion Bisa, whose parents were the first operators of apartment hotels in Canberra. The lobby has been revamped since my last stay, creating a subtle but notable ‘wow’ factor on arrival. The hotel’s interiors are designed by Kelly Ross who plays with colour and texture throughout the common areas and the guest rooms.

I love the new outer shell of the lobby desk, padded with textured leather that is designed to replicate the appearance of an Yves Saint Laurent handbag. Above, pink statement pendant lights hover above the counter. All throughout the lobby are soft and enticing lounges and chairs upholstered in a range of soft velvet colours. During winter, a large open fireplace serves as a drawcard beneath a huge tasselled chandelier that was made in Africa. For all its interior style, the Italian heritage of East Hotel’s owners and operators really shines through with a warm and a welcoming vibe synonymous with Italian hospitality.

In our rooms, there are more splashes of colour – with hot pink and mustard yellow armchairs and vibrant Australian works of art. There’s a full-service kitchen and a decent-sized balcony that allows natural light to stream in.

East Hotel room by Vintage Travel Kat

What I especially love about East Hotel is the fact it’s such a drawcard for local dwellers of Canberra too. Its Italian restaurant Agostinis is hugely popular and is an absolute must-dine when staying at the hotel. I gravitate towards the leopard-print booths, colourful tessalated floor tiles, a huge vintage photograph that adorns the wall of an Italian village where one of the Bisa’s ancestors grew up – and topping it off is the fun and colourful blue vintage Vespa taking pride of place right outside the kitchen.

Agostinis mural at East Hotel, Canberra. Image by Vintage Travel Kat
Agostinis mural at East Hotel, Canberra. Image by Vintage Travel Kat

At nearby Joe’s Bar, also within the hotel, we sit in mood lighting surrounded by funky furniture with hot pink stools and emerald green furniture. Visit for either a pre- or post-dinner drink and as you sip on one of the expertly-crafted cocktails, admire the ‘concrete curtain’ created by Kelly Ross who has a penchant for the unexpected. You’ll think it’s a heavy draping fabric but touch it and you’ll soon realise those rigid ‘fabric folds’ are there to stay.

East Hotel regularly offers packages for people heading to the latest exhibition at National Gallery of Australia; or guests heading to Canberra’s wine regions or nearby ski fields.

Where to shop vintage
Down Memory Lane Canberra by Vintage Travel Kat

Allow a decent amount of time to browse through the eclectic Down Memory Lane in Fyshwick. You’ll find just about everything you can imagine here, all neatly organised into various eras and styles. There’s mostly homewares, kitchenware, furniture and bric-a-brac, as well as a pretty decent selection of genuine vintage clothes and a large area with second hand and vintage books where you can pull up a stool and read.  

I spot a gorgeous 1970s hot-pink bedspread on arrival and decide I can’t leave without it – I’ve never seen one in such great condition with such vibrant hues. I also find a beautiful 1980s vintage Diane Freis dress, which I had been hoping to find for some time.

Nearby, you’ll find Dirty Janes Canberra on Collie Street – the sister venue to the popular Dirty Janes Bowral. You’ll be able to get lost in a vintage-heaven here for hours, with more than 90 independent dealers trading from the huge site. On approach, I like the cut of ‘Dirty Jane’s’ jib…. as a sign above the door reads, ‘Be kind to the planet, buy more vintage’. There’s a wide array indoors with everything from vintage homewares, fashion, collectables and furniture, as well as a number of upcycling dealers. There’s so much to choose from that it can be difficult – so you’ll appreciate the on-site café to sit and contemplate your vintage purchases.

The Designer Op Shop Emporium, also in Fyshwick, is a family-run business. The store is beautifully curated and resembles a fashionable boutique and lifestyle store – also with its own on-site cafe. Are we noticing a trend here? It’s made up of a collaborative group of small businesses selling vintage and designer pre-loved fashion, interiors, homewares and fresh flowers. The fabulous Jillian from Twisting Vintage in Mittagong, who I met while researching my Vintage Travel Journal: Robertson, Mittagong and Bowral story, has some of her range here. On a corner block, it’s curiously located next to a pool store and an axe-throwing centre.

While you’re in Fyshwick, you might also like to check out the Canberra Antiques Centre spread out over 500 square metres and selling collections from approximately 12 dealers. 

Marilyn on Kennedy, not far from East Hotel, is a great little vintage boutique almost bursting at its modest seams with vintage fashion and accessories. There’s lots to browse here and it’s all packed in quite tight so keep your handbag small and go ready for a good, old-fashioned rummage.

Where to op shop

With Canberra being a capital city, there’s a large range of op shops and charity stores. It wasn’t possible to get to each one in a weekend visit, so I went armed with a ‘hit list’. Below are the op shops I found worth visiting.

The Green Shed Underground in the heart of town is tucked beneath street level. As I descend its stairs, I begin to get a sense of its enormous scale. The premises are of shed-proportions. I tell my partner I’ll need more time than first thought! The prices are very reasonable with several racks priced at $5 each or five items for $20. There’s a huge range of shoes, bags, hats, manchester and women’s clothing. I found some vintage but it was mostly all preloved, modern clothing. Be prepared to fossick and take your time.

Green Shed Underground Vintage Travel Kat

The Green Shed Shop is a sister shop where all the bric a brac and homewares are sold, plus a small amount of jewellery. It’s located on street level on the City Walk. Prices are reasonable and stock is neatly arranged. I leave with a vintage leather Leica camera case for $5 and some 1980s editions of Women’s Weekly magazine.

Green Shed Shop by Vintage Travel Kat
The Green Shed Shop in Civic. Image: Vintage Travel Kat

This was a totally pleasant surprise! I’ve never heard of an op shop being open on a Friday night but not only is Vinnies Dickson open for trade, they crank retro Olivia Newton John tunes! I zip around looking at the decent selection of women’s clothing as I can hear my sister singing loudly to the Xanadu soundtrack. A fellow customer chuckles when she admits she’s only here for the music. I’ll bet she’s been back since for Olivia, even without Vintage Travel Kat in town to drag her there.

Vinnies Dickson by Vintage Travel Kat

I’d been advised by the members of I Love to Op Shop that Phil’s Emporium Op Shop in Bungendore is well worth the 40-minute drive from Canberra city. They weren’t wrong! Firstly, Bungendore itself is a quaint and picturesque little town in itself.  Saturday morning food markets are on at an old sandstone church where locals are selling flowers and fresh produce. Phil’s Emporium Op Shop, opened in 2017, is located in an old Anglican Church on Butmaroo Street. 

This is your true, old-fashioned community op shop with all proceeds going to support the local community of Bungendore and nearby Captains Flat. As I approach, there’s a pink tweed jacket hanging on the church door. My heart nearly skips a beat and I have to restrain myself from running. The coat was a genuine wool overcoat from the 1960s. All its original buttons are there and it fits me beautifully. Inside, the label couldn’t be more perfect for me… there, in vintage font it reads ‘Travelluxe’. I turn over the price ticket. It is $10. As we like to say, ‘the op shop gods were smiling on me that day’. Needless to say, the drive has proved rewarding. Inside are more clothes, books, homewares, household linens and DVDs. The prices are incredibly reasonable throughout and the staff were lovely. It’s open 10am-4pm on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and 9am-1pm on Saturday – so plan ahead to make sure you don’t miss this little gem.

Tip: They also have a sister op shop, Captain’s Treasure that is open 1pm-4pm on Wednesday and 10am-1pm on Saturday, located in the historic St Luke’s Anglican Church. Captain’s Flat is about a 35-minute drive from Bungendore.

On the way back to Canberra after visiting Phil’s Emporium Op Shop in Bungendore, I stopped in at Vinnies Queanbeyan on the main road, Monaro Street. There was a good range of clothing and a few vintage pieces. I picked up a 1980s vintage gold and pastel bangle and a 1970s navy halter-neck maxi dress.

Salvos Fyshwick is of enormous, warehouse proportions – so allow plenty of time. Designer brands are separated in the designer, ‘Salvos street boutique’ section. Downstairs there’s also a clearance section which is mostly bric a brac designed to clear. I bought a pleated skirt and a couple of vintage embroidered blouses.

Where to eat
Queenies Bar by Vintage Travel Kat
Queenies Bar in Kingston. Image: Vintage Travel Kat

In Kingston, not far from East Hotel, is a fabulous new bar called Queenies. Like-minded vintage lovers will appreciate the heritage design features and eclectic items. The bar is designed as a homage to queens and influential women of the past and present. The bar’s interiors are the work of Kelly Ross, also responsible for the interiors at East Hotel. I loved the framed prints of  Queen Elizabeth II, Art Deco mirrors and sculptures, old wooden pews, teal-coloured leather bar stools and the incredible back-lit bar.

Just a short walk from East Hotel is Typica café (also known as ONA Manuka). It was the first location of ONA coffee in Canberra, the specialty coffee company founded in 2015 by World Barista Champion, Sasa Sestic. We strolled there from our hotel for breakfast and I couldn’t resist the caramelised white chocolate filling, blueberry, maple, orange, mascarpone and toasted walnuts. 

Crepes at Typica cafe Canberra by Vintage Travel Kat
What else to see
Balloon rides in Canberra at Old Parliament House by Vintage Travel Kat

On previous trips to Canberra, I was in awe of the hot air balloons I saw setting up at dawn and preparing for launch. There are several operators to choose from. I can imagine it would be a beautiful way to see the city from above and Canberra’s landscapes, Lake Burley Griffin and beyond. 

National Gallery Australia by Vintage Travel Kat
National Gallery Australia. Image: Vintage Travel Kat

Opened in 1982, the National Gallery of Australia is the country’s leading national visual arts institution. The permanent collection has more than 160,000 works of art and the world’s largest collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. The gallery also regularly plays host to major exhibitions and touring collections from around the world.

National Portrait Gallery Canberra by Vintage Travel Kat
Outside the National Portrait Gallery. Image: Vintage Travel Kat

Since its opening in its current location on King Edward Terrace, the National Portrait Gallery has featured approximately four shows each year and has another 400 works featured in the permanent collection displays. It’s conveniently located just a short walk from National Gallery of Australia. Don’t miss the huge, orange enamel paint on cast aluminium sculpture out the front, titled ‘Geo Face Distributor’ by Australian artist James Angus.

I love a visit to the Australian War Memorial and the Roll of Honour inscribed in bronze with the names of more than 102,000 Australians – all of whom have died during or as a result of serving Australia in conflicts since 1885. At the entrance to the Memorial are two medieval stone lions that once stood at the gateway of the Menin road at Ypres (Ieper), and were damaged during the First World War. The lions were presented by the city of Ypres to the Memorial in 1936. From the entrance, you can see the copper-clad dome of the Hall of Memory, inside of which lies the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier.

Located in the National Triangle in the grounds of Old Parliament House, four rose gardens were developed to the east and west of the former parliament building between 1931 and 1938. Tennis courts, a cricket pitch and a bowling green were also established for the exclusive use of members and staff. The tranquil gardens are open daily to visitors.

As a child, I wrote short stories, poetry and daydreamed about visiting exotic destinations dressed like a 1960s film star. I was able to realise some of my dreams over my career spanning more than 20 years in Australian publishing, working as the editor of Luxury Travel magazine, Vacations & Travel magazine and as editor of several drinks magazines. As a freelance writer, I've scribed for The Australian newspaper, T Magazine Australia (The New York Times), Escape (The Daily Telegraph), Delicious, Travel + Leisure Asia, Wine Selector, Wine Companion, Holidays with Kids and more. I founded Vintage Travel Kat in 2020, inspired to share stories of vintage-related travel, fashion and lifestyle with a fellow vintage-vibe tribe.

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