Stylish, arty Melbourne is both dynamic and cosmopolitan, and it's proud of its place as Australia’s sporting and cultural capital.
Melbourne, the capital of the state of Victoria, is a warren of laneways that reveal buzzing bars, galleries, live music venues, acclaimed restaurants and designer boutiques to those who dare to delve. It’s also a city with a passionate love of sports and relishes any opportunity to party, boasting an action-packed calendar of events.
Set on the Yarra River and reaching to the shores of Port Phillip Bay, sophisticated Melbourne is at first sight a balanced grid of neatly angled streets. But beneath this sense of restraint lies a restless creative energy.
The CBD comprises many precincts – enclaves with distinct charms. Some are just a lane or two, while others cover a suburb or a busy CBD street. Spend time experiencing the richness of Melbourne in the creative Flinders quarter, the city arcades, the arts and adjoining sports precincts, Chinatown and the Paris End of Collins Street. Visit some of the city’s iconic streets in Fitzroy, St Kilda, Carlton, Richmond, Toorak and South Yarra.
Melbourne’s melting pot of cultures is reflected in its restaurants, cafés and bistros serving a dizzying spread of great cuisines, from the substantial and classic to the exotic. World renowned restaurants plate up alongside cheap and cheerful ethnic eateries and cafés-cum-laboratories dedicated to the city’s obsession with coffee.
Explore the inner city shopping centres and venture down arcades and laneways to uncover locally designed originals and the best of international fashion brands in stores as notable for their design as the wares on show.
Leave time to admire the elegant Victorian-era streetscapes and gardens, take in a film or food festival and add a visit to one of the many galleries and opulent theatres. Be sure to include a cocktail or glass of wine in any of Melbourne’s famed bars.
Within the Grid
It’s long been commented that Melbourne’s inner city is the most European of any in Australia; the leafy eastern section of Collins St was dubbed the ‘Paris end’ in the 1950s. There’s a bit of New York in the mix as well, thanks to the city’s well-ordered grid and scattering of art-deco high-rises. But Melbourne is uniquely Melbourne and a lot of that’s down to the more than 230 laneways that penetrate into the heart of the city blocks. It’s here that the inner city’s true nature resides, crammed into narrow lanes concealing world-beating restaurants, bars and street art.
Melbourne is best experienced as a local would, with its character largely reliant upon its diverse collection of inner-city neighbourhoods. Despite a long-standing north–south divide (flashy South Yarra versus hipster Fitzroy), there’s a coolness about its bars, cafes, restaurants, festivals and people that transcends the borders. Ethnic communities have gravitated together in some areas, and Melburnians know to head to Victoria St in Richmond for Vietnamese food, Lygon St in Carlton for old-school Italian, Balaclava for Jewish bakeries, Brunswick for Middle Eastern, Footscray for African and Chinatown for all manner of Asian cuisines.
It’s not the high-rises and bridges that strike you when you first visit Melbourne but the vast sporting edifices that fringe the city centre. Melburnians are passionate about AFL football (‘footy’), cricket and horse racing, while grand-slam tennis and Formula One car racing draw visitors in droves. Sport is a crucial part of the social fabric, taking on something of a religious aspect here. In fact, sporting events have nearly as many public holidays allotted to them as religion – everyone gets the day off for the Melbourne Cup horse race and the Friday before the AFL Grand Final!
Deep Reserves of Cool
Melbourne was ‘hipster’ before the word was ever attached to bearded 20-something Bon Iver fans. It’s long had an artsy, liberal, bohemian and progressive strand to its subculture, and coffee and food have been obsessions here for decades. Word spreads about interesting new eateries and, before you know it, queues are forming outside. The international trend for faux-speakeasy bars is redundant in Melbourne as the city has had edgy places hidden down laneways and on warehouse rooftops for many years. Melbourne doesn’t have to try hard – it just is.
Hosier Lane Melbourne’s most celebrated street-art laneway.
NGV International Behind the water-wall facade lies an impressive collection.
Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia Beneath Federation Sq, this centre houses the National Gallery of Victoria’s collection of Australian works.
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art One of Australia’s most exciting and challenging contemporary galleries.
Heide Museum of Modern Art The backstory, the grounds and the buildings are just as interesting as the art in this wonderful complex.
Gertrude Contemporary Art Space Nonprofit gallery and studio complex with monthly openings.
Justin Art House Museum Local art collectors Charles and Leah Justin open their contemporary home for a very personal experience.
Backwoods Gallery Street art and other urban contemporary art is showcased in this Collingwood backstreet warehouse.
Artists Lane Street artists have beautified this long Windsor alley with wall-to-wall graffiti murals.
Ian Potter Museum of Art Melbourne University’s distinguished collection, ranging from the ancient to the cutting edge, is showcased here.
Parks & Gardens
Royal Botanic Gardens World-class gardens with ample lawns and lovingly kept themed sections.
Australian Garden An offshoot of the Royal Botanic Gardens showcasing Australian flora at a site 55km southeast of the city.
Birrarung Marr Grassy knolls, river promenades and great city views, along with interesting public art and a great kids playground.
Fitzroy Gardens English elms, expansive lawns, flower beds, strange fountains, a venerable Yorkshire cottage and a creek.
Yarra Bend Park A large tract of native bush hugging the edge of the Yarra River, only 5km from the city centre.
St Kilda Botanical Gardens A pleasant escape from the bustle of St Kilda, with lawns, shady spots and a rainforest conservatory.
Edinburgh Gardens Shelter under the shade of the 140-year-old elms in this pleasant piece of North Fitzroy parkland.
Flagstaff Gardens Grab some goodies at Queen Victoria Market, head up to this hilltop park and find a patch of shade for a picnic.
Royal Park Big and sprawling, with a great playground and Melbourne Zoo at its centre.
Yarra Park The MCG’s lawns feature sculptures of famous sportspeople and a tree bearing pre-colonial canoe-making scars.
Queen Victoria Market The legendary Queen Vic sprawls between open-sided sheds and historic halls packed with food.
Rose Street Artists’ Market One of Melbourne’s most popular art-and-craft markets.
South Melbourne Market Locals come to this venerable market to stock up on produce and deli goods, and to feast on dim sum.
Prahran Market Top-notch culinary supplies, first-rate coffee and lots of yummy things to snack on.
Footscray Market Vietnam in Footscray: frenetic energy, exotic vegies and heady smells.
Abbotsford Convent Monthly slow-food and clothing markets, and a summertime Supper Market featuring live music.
Collingwood Children’s Farm Holds a monthly farmers’ market selling produce, flowers, cheese and freshly baked bread.
Camberwell Sunday Market A treasure trove of secondhand wares, especially clothes, books, antiques and curios.
Arts Centre Craft Market Head to Southbank on a Sunday to peruse dozens of stalls selling all manner of trash and treasure.
Ceres This sustainable centre’s community market has locally grown produce and locally made goods.
City Circle Trams Heritage trams that loop around the free tram zone, which covers the entire central city.
Koorie Heritage Trust Cultural centre devoted to southeastern Aboriginal culture.
Federation Square ‘Fed Square’ is a popular gathering spot and home to two significant free museums.
Australian Centre for the Moving Image A visual feast that pays homage to Australian cinema and TV.
State Library of Victoria A great place to browse or check out an exhibition.