Melbourne is consistently voted as one of the most liveable cities in the world. And it’s easy to see why. The city is bursting at the seams with culture, great food and drink, bountiful live music and events and a sprawling mass of suburbs, each with its own distinct character.
We were lucky enough to call this city home for the first four months of our lives in Australia. We lived and worked in the city and spent every spare moment exploring the endless back streets and lane-ways that Melbourne is famous for. You really have to scratch at the surface and discover the city for yourself but to give you a head-start here are our top tips and suggestions for Australia’s culture capital.
Fitzroy – The heart of Melbourne’s alternative scene. A foodie’s haven which is rapidly becoming gentrified and will no doubt lose some of its rugged charm in the next few years. For a taste of Fitzroy past, head over to Smith Street in Collingwood which is lovingly rough around the edges.
Prahan – An upcoming suburb in Melbourne’s inner South East. Chapel Street is renowned for its shopping and burgeoning night-life. But if the bustling night time crowds are not your scene you can always head to Prahan Market and mingle with the day time crowds and pick your way though artisan produce and fresh flowers.
St Kilda – Melbourne’s favourite beach side suburb. Although the beach is not much by Australian standards there’s plenty of restaurants, cafes and events to keep you interested. This suburb is hugely popular with backpackers due to its relaxed atmosphere and proximity to the CBD and is another spot for busy night-life.
Brunswick – Hipster central. Sydney Street has an ever increasing bar and restaurant culture. The suburb is not too pretty on the eye but there is plenty hidden beneath its grey concrete exterior. This suburb is also home to Savers, a charity store of supermarket proportions full of second-hand clothes and household items.
Northcote – A little further North of Fitzroy is the bustling suburb of Northcote. The high street is lined with cafes, bars, music venues and boutique shops. If you follow the high street as far south as you can, you’ll get an incredible view back over the city and towards the CBD too!
Martha Rays – A good honest cup ‘o’ joe served by friendly staff backed up by a consistently cracking playlist. Situated on Brunswick Street near the intersection of Gertrude Street, it makes a perfect introduction to the now famous cafe culture of Fitzroy.
Industry Beans – For the coffee connoisseur, choose from a comprehensive list of beans and brewing methods. A great spot for a brew after a browse around Rose St Artist’s Market which is just around the corner.
1000 £ Bend – This warehouse-style coffee shop and bar is one of the best spots in the CBD. Popular with arty types who love the frequent events such as readings and art exhibitions but well hidden enough to make you feel like a local in the know.
Cafe Piccante – A laid back cafe-cum-dive bar, which opens out onto Brunswick Street in North Fitzroy. It’s the perfect place for a late afternoon cup of coffee. The open shop front lets you sit back and enjoy your coffee without detaching you from the world outside.
Eat A Scroll Bakehouse – If you want a break from the never-ending brunch menus then Eat a Scroll is the place for you. Offering coffee and cinnamon rolls that come with a plethora of topping choices. Take one of the tasting platters and try them all. The coffee and cream cheese scrolls were a hit with our group.
Lentil as Anything – This not-for-profit restaurant has eateries in Abbottsford and St Kilda. Running on pay-as-you-feel donations, the initiative makes sure that everyone can enjoy a healthy meal. The Abbottsford Convent branch is our favourite, serving up buffet lunches and playing host to local musicians and even yoga classes!
Juicy Bao – Best Dumplings in Chinatown. Cheap eatery and allows you to bring your own booze for a small charge. Relaxed dining and the perfect place for a big group dinner before a night out in the city.
PoBoys – New Orleans style subs and sandwiches. Stacked to the rafters with filings and Cajun mayonnaise dripping out the sides. Also houses a lounge bar out back called Huey Long’s which serves up a range of American beers to the unmistakable sounds of the bayou.
Hammer ‘n’ Tong – Eating as an experimental experience. The menu includes dishes such as breakfast ramen soup, fried crab burger (Shell and all) and other avant-garde offerings. The menu changes frequently and the place gets really busy so get in early!
Archie’s – A proper traditional brunch spot. Archie’s serves up all the classics in generous portions all done extremely well. The cafe has a light, airy interior, good vibes and quality staff. Perfect spot for a Sunday morning brunch before strolling the delights of Gertrude Street.
Tinpot Cafe – We ventured up to North Fitzroy with no expectations to meet friends for dinner and were greeted with this place. We were living in Fitzroy at the time and despite only being 10 minutes up the road this place felt a world away. The restaurant was rustic and comfortable and we were treated like guests in a friend’s house. A slower pace and some fantastic porterhouse steaks sealed the deal, an absolute winner!
The Corner Hotel – An iconic staple of Melbourne’s live music scene. The Corney Hotel in Richmond is host to bands big and small. Showcasing emerging home-grown talent and international heavyweights. The venue small but with the right artist can be just the right size to generate a special atmosphere.
The Forum – Melbourne’s premier live music venue and home to the biggest international artists. The venue itself is an old theatre complete with faux castles, a painted blue sky and balconies adorning the stage. A pretty unique backdrop to see some of the biggest artists in the world perform.
Northcote Social Club – This bar and restaurant turned music venue is becoming a staple destination for bands touring Australia. The 300 capacity room is becoming renowned for pushing emerging talent both local and interstate.
National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) – Melbourne’s main art gallery. A huge imposing concrete box containing priceless pieces from all over the world. Exhibitions change frequently and the permanent collection is free and contains everything from Picasso to Warhol.
Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) – Interactive free museum telling the story of the moving image and television both in Australia and around the world. Recent exhibitions include David Bowie Is, a celebration of music’s most iconic figure.
Workshop Events – Melbourne has a strong community feel and as such the city is littered with both free and paid art workshops. The workshop cover everything from taxidermy to ‘Illustration for Weirdos’. Keep your eyes peeled for regular events including talks from local artists and designers at the Fitzroy-based warehouse.
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) – Home to Australia’s burgeoning contemporary art scene. Expect to find the kind of conceptual art that will fascinate you and most probably infuriate you. But remember when you’re muttering “I could have done that” to your companions…you didn’t.
Must See Sights
Eureka Sky Deck – Although bursting to the seams with tourists it’s definitely worth battling the crowds for panoramic views of the city, bay and surrounding hills. Go just before sunset to see the days orange glow fall away and the city lights take over.
Anzac Memorial – An imposing fortress like structure which serves as a memorial to Australians and New Zealanders who lost their lives in war. A fitting tribute to fallen heroes and also offers great views back on to the city skyline.
Royal Exhibition Building and Melbourne Museum – Arguably the most impressive and attractive buildings in Melbourne especially sat side by side. The Venetian style exhibition hall is juxtaposed by the modernist metallic and glass structure of the museum. Exhibitions on everything from Australian Flora and Fauna to Aboriginal history.
Hosier Lane – Home to Melbourne’s street art. The walls of this narrow lane way are ever changing and constantly reinvented. True to the temporal nature of modern street art. But it is of course another tourist hotspot so expect throngs of snap happy backpackers and tourists adorning the walls.
Degrave Street – Melbourne’s most bustling laneway in the heart of the CBD. The cafes, restaurants and boutique shops are all tightly packed in beneath the narrow and towering city buildings. A sensory experience of the sights, sounds and smells of the inner most heart of the city. Head here for a cheap lunch with subs, sandwiches and wraps going for as little as $5!
MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) – Melbourne is Australia’s sporting capital and this stadium is the epicentre of it all. The home of cricket, AFL and more. No Australian experience is complete without attending an Aussie Rules game at this world famous stadium. The ground also offers tours and houses a museum dedicated to its rich sporting history.
Rooks Return – A quiet and unassuming bar, tucked away on Brunswick Street. A moody front room leads to a small beer garden which is perfect for couples or small groups. Rooks Return offers a taste of Dublin’s Temple Bar often hosting groups of folk musicians who play in
Naked for Satan – Rooftop bar with a self contained brewery offering a range of ales and a fantastic wheat beer. Dim lighting and exposed metallic features give the place a rustic edge. Head up the elevator to the top floor for views over the unruly rooftops Fitzroy and back towards the colourful city skyline. The place also offers bar snacks like no other. The pinxtos (small snacks from the Basque region of Spain) are $2 a pop and the perfect accompaniment to a few drinks.
New Guernica –A laneway bar in the CBD. Tucked away and up a flight of stairs the place is perfect for early evening drinks which fade effortlessly into a lively lounge bar with music and a dance floor as your night continues.
Black Cat – Black Cat doesn’t have a sign proclaiming its presence, but you will be hard-pushed to ignore its bustling pavement drinking area on the corner of Brunswick Street and Greeves Street. If you’re not fancying the cold, head inside to curl up on a squishy sofa and enjoy a pint accompanied by the crème of local DJs and a genuine, buzzing atmosphere.
The Beaufort – Unassuming joint in Carlton. Hidden behind blackened windows and a modest exterior but once you step across the threshold you are greeted by a packed bar and restaurant. Serving up incredible bar food and a team of staff that will happily drink the night away with you. Try a Pickelback, a shot of Jameson’s whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice. Sounds odd but trust us it’s a winner.
Nova Cinema – Independent cinema in Melbourne’s inner northern suburb Carlton. 15 screens playing everything from current blockbusters to obscure cult classics. If you pick a film obscure enough, expect to have a whole screen to yourself. Ticket prices are extremely reasonable and the ice creams ain’t bad either!
Rose Street Artists Market – Melbourne’s suburbs are littered with great markets offering everything from fresh produce to boutique clothing. But after you’ve been to a few markets they often end up feeling the same. The Rose Street Artist’s Market in Fitzroy however is in a league of its own. Here craftsmen and women set up stall with everything from hand crafted leather wallets to jewellery and clothing. Perfect place for finding really unique gifts and keepsakes from the city.
Royal Botanic Gardens – Melbourne’s botanical gardens are an oasis from the restless bustle of the city centre. The sounds of trams, trains and traffic fade away and the only reminder of the urban sprawl which surrounds you come from glimpses of the skyline between the towering trees. The gardens are home to flora both native and foreign and on a good sunny day you can spend hours soaking up the tranquillity.
Penguins at St. Kilda Pier – After watching the sunset set the sky alight over the calm waters of Port Phillip be sure to head out to the end of St Kilda pier. As night starts to set in the penguins return to their homes between the rocks at the tip of the pier. It’s strange to have such an up close wildlife experience with the city skyline hovering in the background but definitely worth it.
Day and Weekend Trips from Melbourne
Dandenong National Park – The closest National Park to Melbourne lies just a half hour drive east of the CBD. The Dandenong ranges are a small set of foothills that precede the slightly larger Yarra Ranges in the distance. It’s a perfect rural escape from the city offering bush walks and views out to the city in the distance.
The highlight for us was the Kokoda Memorial Trail. A steep climb up 1000 stairs, through dense rainforest to the One Tree Hill picnic ground. The track was built as a memorial to the Australian soldiers who fought in Papua New Guinea in order to suffocate the encroaching Japanese army. There’s plaques and information all the way to the top which make for welcome breaks on your ascent.
Mornington Peninsula – If you’re after crystal clear waters, endless beaches or a soak in natural hot springs, then Mornington is the place for you. This is one of the few Melbourne escapes offering beaches which live-up to the high Australian standards. Situated 40 minutes from the city, this area of natural beauty is the perfect weekend getaway.
The beauty of Mornington is no secret. Expect traffic jams and crowds during summer and opt for a visit during shoulder seasons like Spring and Autumn.
Yarra Valley – The Yarra Ranges tower above the otherwise flat landscape that surrounds Melbourne. As you climb the mountains the temperate rainforest becomes dense and the sound of crashing water is never far away.
And down on the valley floor lies Victoria’s premier wine region, The Yarra Valley. You can slowly wind your way home stopping at the endless stream of wineries as the sun slowly sets and sets the valley ablaze with an orange glow.
The Great Ocean Road – Probably the most iconic drive in Australia, if not the world. No trip to Melbourne is complete without a cruise along the dramatic coastline of Victoria’s south west. The dramatic rainforests and hills fall away into a perfect blue ocean.
There’s plenty of options for good food and drink along the way and opportunities for bush walking, camping in the rainforest and bathing in the icy cold waters of the numerous waterfalls. And on the coast there’s plenty of spots for world class surf and whale watching.
One of our personal favourite spots is Kennet River where you are almost always guaranteed to see one of the resident Koalas which call the small town home.
Wilsons Promontory National Park – This national park is easily our favourite spot in rural Victoria. It was our first proper trip away from Melbourne and our first taste of how dramatic and awe inspiring Australia’s coast could be.
Huge granite cliffs covered in gums and ferns roll into tumultuous and unforgiving waters. The beaches are completely untouched, brilliant white sand surrounded on all sides by towering peaks and a misty blue ocean.
The park is also a haven for native wildlife with plenty of opportunities to watch kangaroos, wallabies, emus and even get up close to the resident wombats.