Designed by visionary American architect Walter Burley Griffin, who was assisted by his wife Marion Mahony Griffin, Canberra features expansive open spaces, aesthetics influenced by the 19th-century Arts and Crafts Movement and a seemless alignment of built and natural elements. Unfortunately, the city is totally geared towards the car – it's difficult to explore by public transport and almost impossible to do so on foot. You really need wheels (two or four) to do it and its scenic natural surrounds justice.
Though it seems big on architectural symbolism and low on spontaneity, there is a fair bit going on behind the slightly sterile exterior. The cultural institutions have lively visitor and social programmes, there's a limited but often excellent choice of restaurants and cafes and there's also a lively bar scene that is fuelled by the city's university students. During parliamentary-sitting weeks the town hums with the business of national politics, but it can feel a bit dead during university holidays, especially around Christmas and New Year.