There’s plenty to do in Melbourne proper, but the southern suburbs have parks, architecture, art and food markets that are all well worth discovering. Culture Trip rounds up the best experiences you’ll find that are off the beaten track.
South Yarra lies on the Yarra river and has spectacular views over the water to the centre of Melbourne. Prahran, meanwhile, is actually slightly further inland, which is ironic, given that it takes its name from the aboriginal word Pur-ra-ran, meaning land surrounded by water.
Named after John Pascoe Fawkner, one of the founders of Melbourne in 1835, this 101-acre (41ha) park includes two art deco pavilions, tennis courts, children’s playgrounds as well as expanses of lawns and meandering pathways. Come down for an afternoon of sports, or just spectate with a picnic and barbecue among the elms, poplars and oaks.
Como House was built in 1847 by Edward Eyre Williams and his wife, Jessie Gibbon, both part of the elite of the colony at the time. They named the house after Lake Como in Italy, where he proposed to her, and the romance is reflected in the delightful “mix of Australian regency and the classic Italianate architecture”. Since the Williams family lived here it has been sold on many times, before being bought by the Armytage family, where it stayed for more than 95 years until it was handed over to the National Trust of Australia in 1959, which has endeavoured to restore the house and gardens to their fomer glory – making this an exciting and informative glimpse into Melbourne’s past.
Housing some of Australia’s finest artworks, the Gould Galleries aim to promote, display and ultimately sell the work of contemporary homegrown artists. They also own and exhibit fantastic pieces by prominent 19th- and 20th-century artists such as Arthur Boyd, Jeffrey Smart and the renowned Sir Arthur Streeton. This is the perfect place to visit and immerse yourself in the works of this vibrant and dynamic nation.
A pocket of calm in the middle of the Yarra River, the Herring Island Sculpture Park is a must for art and nature lovers alike. Explore the island and discover spectacular sculptures, all in keeping with the natural setting and traditional Aboriginal culture. You can only access the island by boat from the Como Landing in South Yarra, which is free to board.
The Capital City Trail is perfect if you’re in the mood for a walk, run or even a cycle around Melbourne. Made up of small trails, it joins the smaller suburbs together to create the 29km (18mi) loop around the city, offering great views. Whether you join for the whole loop, or just a section, the Capital City Trail makes for a great outing.
For all you foodies, this popular indoor market, dating back to 1864, is the ultimate destination. It proffers delectable fruit and vegetables piled high; mountains of flavourful cheeses and breads; all sorts of deli products; and the freshest meat, fish and seafood you can find. The traders are proud of their products and are keen to give advice as you browse. You will find more unusual items here, such as heritage produce. Why not join the first Saturday of the month Hidden Gems Tour to get the best out of your time here. There are hot food stalls aplenty and an open cafe area where you can chill out at the weekend and listen to live jazz.
Set around large tranquil lawns, yet very close to busy Chapel Street, this extremely clean and well-run leisure centre consists of an Olympic-size 50m heated outdoor pool with sundeck, an outdoor toddlers’ pool and a smaller 25m indoor pool. With changing rooms inside and out, Prahran Aquatic Centre is a great place to keep up your fitness and take in some sun without breaking the bank. There’s also a spa, sauna and steam room if you’re looking for a bit of pampering. Finish off your morning with a bite to eat at the Bean Swimmin Cafe.
In the heart of Prahran are the majestic European-styled Queen Victoria Gardens, the perfect place to escape the chaos of the city. In memory of Great Britain’s Queen Victoria, there is a statue of the long-reigning monarch at the highest point of the gardens so she can survey her gifted land. With its big open spaces, perfectly manicured lawns and gardens and stunning water features, Queen Victoria Gardens is a fantastic spot to walk the dog or spend a lazy Sunday afternoon over a barbecue.
A church in a previous life, in 1995 it was converted into an entertainment and cultural arts venue, playing host to hundreds of events every year. It features cabaret, comedy, theatre and dance, and has hosted live performances from bands such as Coldplay. There are two theatres – Chapel and the smaller Chapel Loft – as well as two exhibition spaces, the Mezzanine and the Foyer, which can be hired out and come complete with licensed bar. A friendly intimate venue supported by the local community, Chapel Off Chapel is a great place to come for some live evening entertainment. And you can even have tennis lessons during the day here.
Every self-respecting Melbourne clubber will have heard of Revolver on Chapel Street. Renowned for its live music, DJs in the front bar and 24-hour licence, it is also open at the back throughout the day, where you can hang out lounging on battered leather couches; listen to music; play pool or pinball; and eat at the popular Thai restaurant, Colonel Tan’s. Check out the artwork on the walls, which even includes a couple of Banksy’s pieces.