You have to take the time to get to know Melbourne. Melbourne is that guy you go on a date with where you drink beautiful cocktails and he enjoys a craft beer. You both like food and appreciate culture; you get on really well and have a lot in common. He’s kind and he’s well travelled, but you’re just not sure if you fancy him. But you go out with him again anyway. And he keeps surprising you. Suddenly you’re six dates in and in awe of just how great this guy is, falling for him seemingly out of the blue.
Melbourne isn’t in your face, it’s pretty laid back about all the things it has on offer: amazing food, cool bars, the best coffee in the world (probably), European inspired laneways, chilled out beaches, cool hipster suburbs, art, music, comedy, festivals – Melbourne has everything going on, it just doesn’t shout about it much. Apart from the coffee. They are really keen for you to know about their elite coffee status. Take the time to get to know Melbourne properly and you will reap the awards and still have a huge list of things you want to do and places you want to eat as you board the plane home.
Oh the food. The food of Melbourne. This is a foodie city, and you should embrace that as much as possible. I lived in Melbourne for three months and I barely scratched the surface.
Grand Trailer Park Taverna
87 Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Serving fantastic, inventive and totally over the top burgers alongside mega indulgent desserts, Grand Trailer Park Taverna is a gem of a place in Melbourne. I’ll be impressed if you can manage a side to go with your burger (especially if you’re planning on dessert too – and you should, you really should), but if you can squeeze something in go for the macaroni cheese croquette. When can you ever go wrong with deep fried cheesy pasta?
12 Sutherland St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Oh God, such good doughnuts, and all freshly made on site. Zoom in on the Boston Cream; a vanilla custard filled doughnut smothered in 70% dark chocolate and the Macadamia Orange Blossom doughnut, though flavours change regularly so don’t cry if these two aren’t available when you visit – Shortstop do everything well.
Rice Papr Scrs
19 Liverpool St, Melbourne VIC 3000
307 Brunswick St, Fitzroy VIC 3065
Brilliant South East Asian food in a cool location, Rice Papr Scrs also serves legendary espresso martinis made with vodka, espresso and condensed milk (a Vietnamese coffee culture staple). On the food front, the BBQ ribs marinated in a mekhong whisky sauce and the steamed roast belly pork buns are both excellent. Order dishes individually or opt for 5 dishes between 2 for a set price – this menu is designed to be shared.
8 Rankins Ln, Melbourne VIC 3000
Who doesn’t love starting their weekend with a bagel and good coffee. Manchester Press is where bagels are created into art. Savoury, sweet, traditional, unusual – it could be called ‘Pimp My Bagel’ to be honest, but Manchester Press sounds a lot classier. I’m a stickler for a traditional bagel with smoked salmon, cream cheese and all the trimings, and this was thankfully done just as well as would be expected. If you fancy something a little different, opt for one of the sweet options – something I’d never considered when it comes to bagels. The mixed berry is a beauty: a blubbery bagel topped with whipped mascarpone with raspberries dragged through it, strawberries and a smattering of crushed pistachios on top. I mean. Come on. It’s almost worth the flight alone.
366 Lonsdale St, Melbourne VIC 3000
There are several reasons I could never permanently live in Australia: I’d lose all my money being fined for jaywalking and avocados cost about $7 each. Of course there are the snakes and spiders etc, but more importantly, as a rule Indian food in Australia is crap. And I cannot settle in a country where I cannot easily procure a decent curry takeaway. But there is Mamak. Technically Mamak is a Malaysian restaurant, but serves up plenty of the Indian food that is a part of Malaysian culture. Beautiful fluffy rotis and slow cooked curries full of flavour are available alongside an equally authentic Malaysian menu of satay and nasi lemak.
237 Smith St Fitzroy Fitzroy VIC 3065
171 Chapel Street Windsor Melbourne VIC 3181
164 Swan Street, Richmond Melbourne VIC 3121
Chances are you’ll hear people all over Oz harp on about Messina and it is entirely justified; this place really does do incredible gelato. The salted caramel flavour with white chocolate chunks curling through it that everyone bangs on about? Yeah it’s fucking great, get it. Honestly probably the best singular ice cream flavour I’ve ever had – and I’ve tried a lot of ice cream. If that’s not your bag though, there are plenty of others to choose from – 35 staple flavours and 5 weekly specials. Go hungry.
188 Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Turns out Melbourne do ‘over the top’ and ice cream well. Nitro Lab in the CBD serves up dramatic ice creams with various toppings such as popcorn or a big old blob of Nutella and syringes of different sauces poking out of them. It’s no Messina, but the novelty and panache of Nitro Lab make it worth a visit.
36-38 Degraves Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
Cafe Andiamo remains one of my instant go to’s in Melbourne, from the first time I visited in 2011 to my stint living there years later. Melbourne’s laneways are at the crux of the city’s personality, and the part that makes it feel most European: cafes and restaurants spilling out onto laneways, parasols protecting from the decidedly European weather (sunny and hot one minute, sudden downpour the next), locals and tourist alike filling the tables no matter the time of day. Cafe Andiamo serves up a mean breakfast before switching to pasta, pizzas and salads at lunchtime. If you swing by for a coffee, be sure to get a bit of cake – the slices can only truly be described as slabs.
250 Flinders Ln, Melbourne VIC 3000
Myer Melbourne, 3/314-336 Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Another Italian cafe serving up amazing cakes, tarts and pastries. I can still remember the beautiful richness of the smooth chocolate tart I had from Brunetti years ago, which is a pretty high accolade. There’s a cafe in Flinders Lane and also a spot inside the Myer department store, should you need a sugar rush to take you through your shopping spree.
Queen Victoria Market, Queen St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Queen Victoria Market is one of my favourite things to do in Melbourne. Every Wednesday the open air market is full of dozens of street food stalls selling food from all over the world, and everything I’ve tried has been fantastic, but I would be remiss if I did not shout out Takis Balls. Beautifully light and fluffy mini doughnut bites, smothered in salted caramel, Nutella, or whatever other concoction they’ve got on that night. My advice is get the Nutella sprinkled with chopped almonds. There’s enough hazelnut chocolatey goodness left over post decimation of the doughnuts that you’ll need to mop the rest up with your finger. So, get the Nutella. Then go back the following week and try the salted caramel. You know, for good measure.
The Hardware Société
118 to 120 and 123 Hardware St, Melbourne VIC 3000
A must visit for brunch when in Melbourne (or Paris!), The Hardware Société takes no reservations but is well worth the queue for their baked eggs and amazing fried brioche, complete with over the top, decadent trimmings such as panna cotta and cheesecake.Their scrambled eggs are perfectly done and of course, the coffee is banging too. Go hungry, because you’re going to want to order a lot.
181 Adderley St, West Melbourne VIC 3003
Toasta’s cheese toastie truck was getting so popular at private events, they just had to set up a bricks and mortar outpost to satisfy the public’s demands. And even better, having a cafe means their menu has at least tripled, given the confines of space the truck restricted them to. Get over to West Melbourne to try Melbourne’s best cheese toasties for yourself. There are plenty of choices that’ll no doubt take time to weigh up (vegan options too!), but if you feel like being particularly filthy, get the Mack Daddy: cheese, caramelised onion, pulled pork, BBQ sauce and, you guessed it, macaroni cheese.
Colonial Tramcar Restaurant
Tram Stop 125 Normanby Road, South Melbourne VIC 320
Trams are the easiest way to get around Melbourne, and one of the most novel ways to see the city is travelling on one of the old fashioned trams whilst you have a delicious lunch or dinner on board. The food is fantastic, the service is second to none and the experience of sitting in such a beautiful old tramcar whilst taking in the sights of the city is a real treat. Great for special occasions.
1 Hosier Street, Melbourne, VIC, 3000
Consistently named as one of the best restaurants in Melbourne, MoVida is famous for serving excellent tapas on the equally famous, graffiti covered Hosier Lane in the city.
125 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, VIC, 3000
Modelled on the Hawker stalls of Asia, also a GoGo bar with great music and art exhibited on the walls. With everything from stir fries, noodles, curries and Asian BBQ it can be hard to narrow down your choices in Chin Chin so to make things easier, they will serve up their favourites for $69.50pp. No reservations.
12-18 Yarra Place, South Melbourne, VIC, 3205
Melburnians love their coffee – and I mean to an obsessive level. This is one of the best places to get coffee in Melbourne. Apparently the breakfasts in this industrial space are pretty damn good too – to be honest I can only deal with glancing at the menu because it all sounds incredible and well, I am no longer in Melbourne to try it. Go for me and report back, yeah?
Melbourne has a host of cool bars on the riverside, on the beaches, down the little laneways and high in the sky on rooftops that overlook the CBD. Here are a list of my favourites:
Naked for Satan
285 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, VIC, 3065
What a view. Nestled on Brunswick Street in the eternally cool Naked for Satan towers over three floors, all dark and industrial with big vats of infused vodka and pintxos on the lower floor, working up to the rooftop bar of Naked in the Sky on the top. If you like a good red, I can’t shout about the Paulette’s Cabernet Merlot enough.
Pedestrian Bridge, Melbourne, VIC, 3006
I first stumbled on Ponyfish Island during my first trip to Melbourne in 2011, and it fast became one of my favourite Melbourne bars. It’s my favourite place to take people new to the city, being plonked in the middle of the Yarra river surrounded by the skyscrapers of the CBD and the restaurants of the Southbank, just beneath the Pedestrian bridge covered in locks a la Pont des Arts in Paris. This is a great place for a summer drink.
18/10 Jacka Boulevard, St Kilda, VIC, 3182
Republica is a proper Sunday Session place. Set on the beachfront in St Kilda with hanging egg chairs and a large astro turfed courtyard area shielded from the sea wind, Republica is heaving come the weekend, with live music getting the punters in the spirit. Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday they put on beach volleyball from 6pm, with happy hour running between 5-6pm every weekday, bar Friday when, quite rightly, it lasts until 7pm. With food offers such as $10 pizzas and $12 fish and chips on Mondays and Tuesday respectively, Republica is accessible to the budget tight backpacker craving a treat as well as those who are ready to sink $100 on a rowdy Sunday sesh in the sunshine.
27-29 Tattersalls Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000
This outdoor industrial bar space tucked down a laneway in the middle of Melbourne’s CBD is about as Melbourne as bars get. Very cool – full of hipsters of course.
The Toff in Town
252 Swanston St, Melbourne VIC 3000
With train carriage booths, superb cocktails and great music playing until 5am, this is a top spot for a night out in Melbourne.
I’ve only ever been in Melbourne whilst on a tight backpacking budget – even whilst living and working there I lived in a hostel as it was easier and more cost effective for the time I would be there. Below are my hostel recommendations for backpackers, but if you’re travelling on holiday I would recommend to check out Air BnB for a good spot to stay.
250 Flinders Street, Melbourne City, 3000
United Backpackers is one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in – and I’ve stayed in a lot. The staff are friendly and helpful, the wifi is strong and FREE (this is very rare in Australia – most cafes don’t even offer wifi to their patrons), the kitchen is big and well equipped, the whole place is very clean and there’s a bar with cheap drinks. My favourite part is the lounge area though – four huge and ridiculously comfortable sofas, leather ledges and beanbags strewn with throws and cushions, often to be found with hungover backpackers napping on them. It’s somewhere you can really feel at home, and that can be hard to come by on the road.
Base St Kilda
17 Carlisle Street, St Kilda, Melbourne
This is the real party hostel of Melbourne. Legendary on a Thursday night – ladies night – this is a great hostel to meet people in and a brilliant one if you want to base (not sorry) yourself close to the beach. Base is a 5 minute walk from St Kilda beach and is just around the corner from St Kilda’s gorgeous Acland Street, full of great restaurants, bars, coffee shops and boutiques.
TIP: Sign up to a cash back website such as Quidco and click through to Hostel World or Hostel Bookers to get cashback on your stay. This quickly adds up to contribute to your goon fund whilst you’re travelling!
The easiest and cheapest way to get from the airport to the city is via the Skybus that runs from the airport every 10 minutes into Southern Cross Station, from where you can get a train or the tram to your destination. A return ticket is $36 and the journey takes around half an hour.
Melbourne is kind to its inhabitants and visitors: as of the start of 2015, tram travel within the Central Business District is free. This is particularly ace if you’re staying within the CBD (i.e. at United Backpackers for example). Otherwise, the first thing you need to do when you reach Southern Cross Station is grab a Myki card from one of the ticket machines, which you can re-use and top up with money to get around on the trams, buses and trains. Melbourne’s public transport, from my experience, is very reliable and good value.
Melbourne also have their very own ‘Boris Bikes’, which cost $3 per day or $8 a week for unlimited 30 minute rides. More details can be found here.
Just outside the free tram zone by one easily walkable stop, Melbourne City Baths (420 Swanston Street) is a great public pool that is clean and cheap, if you’re into water. City Baths also have gym classes including yoga, but these get pricier than pool use.
Yoga studios in Australia aren’t cheap, but they want to entice you in with some great value trial periods, so if you’re into your yoga and want to keep it up whilst in Melbourne, it’s worth checking out Breathe Yoga and Pilates (in the CBD) and One Hot Yoga and Pilates (in South Yarra), who both run a two week special intro offer, as well as Grassroots, who run an introductory month and have studios in St Kilda and Richmond.
Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens and Albert Park are both great places to run, the latter being designed with a 5km track around the lake.
THINGS TO DO
There’s always something going on in Melbourne – particularly over the summer months, where there seems to be a different festival of some sort every other week, be it St Kilda Festival, Midsumma, Moomba, Melbourne’s Food and Wine Festival or Whitenight. And that’s without the vast amount of sporting events that come through the city. To find out about what festivals are on whilst you’re in town, check here.
In terms of sport, the Australian Open is a must if you’re even vaguely interested in tennis – this is a grand slam massively accessible to the public, a very different experience than that of Wimbledon, with its ballots and all those self addressed envelopes. General admission tickets cost around $60 and will allow you access to the bars and events in the grounds, as well as into the Hisense arena to watch some live tennis from some of the best players in the sport. The value for money is insanely good.
Catch a game at the MCG
Cricket plays throughout the summer months at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which also hosts the Australian Football League during the winter. The MCG is a beautiful stadium and well worth checking out – tickets to the cricket and the AFL are easy to come by and don’t cost an arm and a leg.
The Melbourne Cup
If you’re lucky enough to be in Melbourne in October, try to time your visit in order to go to Flemington for the Melbourne Cup. I’ve never been at the right time of year but it remains on my bucket list – The Melbourne Cup is a huge day across the whole of Australia, whether you’re into horse racing or not, and is a public holiday throughout the state of Victoria. It’s a big deal.
The National Gallery of Victoria
The National Gallery of Victoria is a great public art museum and was host to the outstanding Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition that I was lucky enough to see during my time in Melbourne. Keep an eye out for any other exhibitions coming through town.
The Immigration Museum
Documenting the history of how Australia and particularly Victoria was built up by immigrants from all over, The Immigration Museum is a good way to spend a couple of hours.
The Shrine of Remembrance
The Shrine of Remembrance in the Botanical Gardens is an excellent war museum detailing the wars and battles that Australians have fought in. It is extensively bigger than it looks, with the exhibitions reaching far underground. The view from the front of the Shrine’s entrance looks directly through the gardens to the city, an impressive view of Melbourne worthy of the visit alone. Free entry.
Explore Melbourne’s Different Neighbourhoods
Wandering around Melbourne’s different neighbourhoods is a lovely way to spend a day. Chapel Street runs through Windsor and has a host of great shops, bars and restaurants. Acland Street in St Kilda is full of boutiques, amazing cake shops and has my favourite coffee shop in Melbourne – 95 Espresso. At the end of Acland Street, Luna Park looms with the oldest continually operating wooden rollercoaster in the world, right next to St Kilda Beach. At sunset (or sunrise, if you’re feeling brave), you can see the fairy penguins at the end of St Kilda pier on the rocks. Hipster Fitzroy is the home of Naked For Satan and Messina Gelato. If you fancy getting out of the centre of Melbourne, Brighton beach is a train ride away and has lovely brightly coloured painted beach huts lining the sand.
In the city, wandering around the laneways and Victorian arcades is a good way to while away an afternoon. Degraves Street, Centre Point and Hardware Lane are favourite laneways of mine and you will be spoilt for choice of amazing cafes and restaurants down all of them. Checking out Melbourne’s graffiti around the city is a must, with the best location being Hosier Lane, just off of Flinders Street near Federation Square. The art changes regularly and you are likely to stumble across some young street artists adding their mark to the colour on the walls.
Queen Victoria Market
On the corner of Elizabeth and Victoria, within the Free Tram Zone of the CBD. A must in the summer months, every Wednesday night is filled with dozens of street food vendors selling food from all over the world. It’s so good that it’s hard not to go every week. Live music and bars will keep you there all night.
For stunning views of the city of Melbourne, get yourself up to the Eureka Skydeck, 285m above ground. Spend some time taking it all in on the comfy seats provided with a snack or drink, or test your nerves by going into The Edge – a glass cube that projects from the 88th floor, suspending you over the city below. Sun & Stars tickets are available for you to see Melbourne in the sunshine in the morning and then return to the Skydeck to watch the sunset and the stars come out over the city.
Get out of Melbourne
There are various day trips you can do (or 2-3 days if you’d prefer) to see The Great Ocean Road, Philip Island and out to the Yarra Valley for wine tasting. All are worth doing, particularly the Great Ocean Road, which is stunning and recognised as one of Australia’s top places to see.