A jam packed 24 hours in Canberra with QT Hotels proves not nearly enough

The view from my balcony at QT Hotels in Canberra

Though they float comfortably in the world of luxury accommodation, “Quirky” is the word often used by QT hotels & Resorts to describe their run of hotels around the county. The greeters are well dressed, often wearing outfits. Songs and voices may greet you in your lift. Every room comes complete with a signature cocktail you can make yourself (for a nominal fee of course). And no two locations enjoy the same design inspiration. And their Canberra location – one of seven you’ll currently find operating around the country – is no different.

A glimpse inside the 1950s themed, members-only rooftop bar and lounge of the QT Hotel Canberra.
A glimpse inside the 1950s themed, members-only rooftop bar and lounge of the QT Hotel Canberra.

Situated in a world of pomp and circumstance that defines the political landscape of Australia’s capital city seems to make their unique approach a perfect fit here. Though in their 205 rooms, this 2 1/2 year old hotel (renovated at the time from an older Rydges Hotel) doesn’t shy away from their contextual home. For one, your room keys have iconic quotes from political leaders, sitting on top of images of other Australian political leaders. This may be lost on those unfamiliar with the local political scene – though it’s humourous to the rest of us.

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Throughout the massive lobby you’ll find a wall for a selfie with Obama, as well as political-inspired art. The space also serves as home to their restaurant and bar Capitol, as well as a barbershop which serves as the entry point to the speakeasy style bar and nightclub, Lucky’s. We would end the night here a bit later in proceedings.

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Check in was a breeze and they were able to accommodate us early – the usual check in time bring 2pm (check out time is 11am). I had a QT Queen room, with a balcony that looked over Canberra, an Old Fashioned cocktail maker in the corner (the signature cocktail of the Canberra location speaks right to my heart) and an eccentric design that balanced playfulness with style and luxury.

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The glasses in the bathroom were from MoMA in NYC. A colourful metal hanger on the wall near the bathroom for your coats/towels looked like it may have sat in the same museum. A comfortable chair sat in the corner, complete with a cushion featuring a dog wearing an Andy Warhol wig (though I jested it looked like it could have been Lee Lin Chin). The big flat screen TV was playing jazz. And the bathroom had one of the most enjoyable rainshowers I’ve had the privilege of stepping under.

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Meanwhile, the minibar had everything from a party bow tie, to condoms and a I Love Fireworks trucker hat alongside the usual array of snacks and beverages. And should you want to make that old fashioned I mentioned earlier, you’d be charged $15 for the privilege – with everything bar the ice sitting there waiting for you.

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My sleep would prove comfortable – as would their fluffy black robes – with only the room’s temperature proving worthy of mention. Trying to turn the air conditioning down was done without success, and so the room was on the warmer side, especially once the sun beamed in in the morning. One might have opened the door of the balcony, but this is Canberra. I didn’t want to freeze to death! It’s a fine balance.

My visit to Canberra was timed with quite a few events happening. The iconic Floriade was in full swing, though due to wet and inclement weather it had been cancelled for the weekend. That night the music festival Beyond took place with the likes of Megan Washington, Montaigne and All Our Exes Live in Texas hitting the stage. Many were staying in the hotel – understandably it has become a hotel of choice for the creative sector.

And then there was FASHFEST, Canberra’s annual fashion festival, where we would spend part of our evening. The hotel had come on board as a sponsor and were kind enough to bring us along as their guests. Before heading along to enjoy the fashion, however, we filled up our afternoon with the typical sorts of things one does when they visit Canberra – notably visit one of the fantastic museums that litter the ACT.

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Right now at the National Museum is the acclaimed exhibition A History of the World in 100 Objects, which actually features 101 objects from the Museum of London that take you chronologically through the history of the human race, from the oldest object in their collection – a rock that had likely been used to cut meat – all the way through to the credit card and a WLAN prototype developed in Australia. The exhibition is on until 29th of January 2017 and you can find out more about it HERE. The exhibition is worthy of a couple of hours of one of your days in the Capital City.

We also snuck in a feasting menu at Capitol Bar & Grill, back in the lobby of the hotel. The growing quality of the Canberra food scene has oft been written about in recent years, and Capitol – with an Italian influence and a focus on quality, aged meats – seems to be one of the restaurants that sits at the pinnacle of this growing scene.

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The quality was second to none, as we enjoyed cocktails (the hotel’s old fashioned delivered with perfection), charcuterie and entrees – a stunning tuna tartare and one of their most popular dishes, the crab cakes – and then a main course that consisted of vegetables, salad, beautifully aged and perfectly cooked steak, tuna and one of the finest mushroom risottos I’ve ever eaten.

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We all ate too much of the risotto and left very full – but to be honest, the dish was worth the trip to Canberra alone. Unsurprisingly, the restaurant is regularly booked out, so make sure you make a reservation before you arrive to ensure you don’t miss out on a table. It’s not just a favourite of those staying at the hotel, but of the locals, too.

Its $25 breakfast buffet is also among the highest quality you’ll find, with an omelette chef ready to look after you (with ingredients like goats cheese proving a stray from the norm), freshly cooked hot selections (the potato rostis are divine) and freshly sliced charcuterie in what has to be one of the most magnificent spreads I’ve ever seen.

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But I’m getting ahead of myself – let’s get back onto the evening at hand. After an early dinner, we moved onto FASHFEST, which started four years ago as the first fashion show in Canberra. At the time they were the only capital city in Australia without one. So they’ve made up for lost time by making this event MASSIVE. Unlike some fashion parades which focus on an individual designer and can be over in minutes, each session runs for well over an hour and has a number of designers take part.

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The catwalk was long – one of the longest I’d ever seen – and the room sat some 1,200 people. In a special “behind-the-scenes” tour before the show, much emphasis was placed to us on its production – with a set up worth millions of dollars, used by “all the big names” when they came to town. They insisted “we’re not doing it by halves” – and indeed they’re not. The show also featured live music from local cover band Small Town Funk. It was probably bigger and grander than it needed to be, but it was an enjoyable experience with an eclectic mix of fashion to say the least.

Our night finished at the QT speakeasy, Lucky’s, for the official FASHFEST afterparty, where we were greeted by a room full of models, a range of quirky entertainers – from a contortionist to someone in a giant metallic suit – a photo booth and a range of fantastic and often daring cocktails that balance the inventive with the traditional.

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Outside the hotel, fire twirlers helped greet guests, while a Hendricks stall was set up in the lobby to treat guests to a special cocktail for the evening. A food stall doing baos and dumplings perched nearby. No matter where you were, QT wanted to deliver you an incredible party experience – and they did just that. But then, when it was time to go to bed, you felt like you were world away from the excitement, and a good night’s sleep was very easy to come by.

Getting There

Virgin and Qantas fly to Canberra from most major cities around Australia, and its airport recently expanded its international operations. From Sydney, in addition to flights, you can drive it in about 3 1/2 hours or jump on the bus/train. QT is about 10 minutes away from the airport, and both Ubers and Taxis are easy to access and frequent.

The hotel is located at 1 London Circuit. To book a night at the hotel, visit their official website. While you’re browsing their site, they’ll also fill you in on a few of the upcoming activities in the area that might be worth the trip. As I think my 24 hours in the city proved, there’s a lot more happening in Canberra on any given weekend than you’d expect – and I didn’t have nearly enough time to experience it all.

The writer travelled to Canberra with Virgin and as a guest of QT Hotels.