Melbourne is a city that buzzes and pulsates from dawn to dusk and is Australia’s food and sporting capital. It possesses a multicultural flair unlike any other Australian city and offers its own unique culture worthy of exploration.
There’s a reason why Melbourne is among the world’s most liveable cities. No matter what time of year, there are always plenty of activities, attractions and things to do and see. The café culture is strong, and a plate of beautifully curated food is never far away. The art scene is in constant flux, producing new and exciting exhibitions, and music festivals abound.
Melbourne is also the best city to navigate, with its renowned trams frequently servicing the city and surrounding neighbourhoods. Budget-conscious travellers should make use of the free tram zone for inner-city attractions, arcade window shopping and laneway art viewing (don’t forget to invest in a Myki when travelling around the city outside of this free zone).
So, what will make it on the to-do list? Skip the tourist itineraries and follow a local’s guide to a true Melburnian experience. Alex Zielke, coffee connoisseur and co-owner of Bonnie Coffee, is a true Melburnian having grown up in some of the city’s hippest neighbourhoods, Collingwood and Fitzroy. Now, fully involved in Melbourne’s coffee culture and inner-city scene, he’s an expert on what makes Melbourne so inimitable.
Coffee in Melbourne is an art form, a passion – it’s very hard to find a place that serves up a bad brew. The city’s coffee culture is more like a religion, so head to one of the city’s top baristas and order a Melbourne Magic – steamed milk poured over a double ristretto and served in a smaller cup (apparently offering the ideal coffee-to-milk ratio). Zielke may be biased, but Bonnie Coffee on Collins Street has been voted for having some of Melbourne’s best coffee many times and often has a line snaking out the door. Established in 2014, it has since expanded to Sydney.
On a hot date? Zielke recommends the trendy French restaurant Bar Margaux near Chinatown. With red-leather booths, black-and-white tiled floors and marble countertops, it’s like stepping into 1920s Paris. “It serves beautiful French food and classics, like steak tartare,” says Zielke. “And the vibe is excellent as well.” If splashing out for the night, go for the Beggar’s Banquet, which includes a bottle of champagne, oysters, steak tartare and frites.
“While the city has some fantastic bars, I love heading to Heartbreaker,” says Zielke. Inspired by the classic dive bars of Los Angeles in the 1980s, this rock ‘n’ roll joint can turn pretty wild on the weekends with live DJs. Zielke suggests a mid-week drink, however, for a chance to select some tunes on the jukebox, shoot some pool and “if peckish, order a cheap slice served up by Connie’s Pizza, which is ready in a matter of minutes.”
The city from the sky
Melbourne is Australia’s skyscraper capital, making it a striking city to behold, especially at the start and end of each day as the sun catches the millions of glinting windows of the inner-city hub. It’s also one of the few places in the world in which visitors can take a hot air balloon ride over the city. This is an exhilarating way to take in the major sights of the metropolis, with various companies offering to soar over the meandering Yarra River, famous sporting grounds and city highlights. Shop around to find a good deal as most flights cost upwards of 400 Australian dollars (£211).
“If I have people visiting from out of the city, I’ll definitely take a look at what is happening at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV),” says Zielke. The NGV is Australia’s oldest and most visited art gallery and hosts a wide range of international and local artists and exhibitions across art, design, fashion, architecture, sound and dance. Housed in a beautiful building, the museum’s the perfect place to spend a morning or afternoon perusing the current curated exhibitions, especially if the city’s weather isn’t playing ball. Entrance is free, but some special exhibits charge a fee.
The South Melbourne Market is where the world’s first-ever dim sim came into existence. Dim sim is bigger than a traditional Chinese dumpling and has a thicker skin. This delicious little morsel has become a Melbourne tradition, with many restaurants and chippies selling their takes on the classic. Created in the 1940s by chef William Chen Wing Young, dim sim was later adapted by the late chef Ken Cheng, whose legacy still lives on at South Melbourne’s Dim Sims shop, so stop by and try one (or many).
Nothing screams Melbourne more than the Australian Football League, which was founded in the city in 1896. And to be considered a true Melburnian, it’s a prerequisite to support one of its 18 teams. Catch a Friday night footy game at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) between March and September. While here, pick up some memorabilia and fan gear. Book early, as tickets get snapped up pretty fast. Getting involved is also easy. Zielke recommends joining the Renegade Pub Football League – nine teams, each affiliated with a local pub or live-music venue, meet for 10 fixtures over the winter months at Victoria Park in Collingwood. “There are cheap beers, DJs and lots of community spirit,” says Zielke.
Melbourne is multicultural, and its on-trend and heavily competitive foodie scene can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to choosing the right place to grab a bite to eat. But before ‘hangry’ vibes set in, head over to the Queen Victoria Market, a landmark in the city since 1878, where visitors can find a variety of delicious food and produce from around the world. Join one of the food tours to learn where to find the best products and hidden specialities.
If the weather is glorious, there is nothing better than taking in the sights and sounds of buzzing St Kilda, a beachside suburb located a few tram stops out of the city. This neighbourhood is known as the place in which to have a good time, bar-hop and find something delectable to eat. Thrillseekers can indulge in Luna Park’s rides, and for those with a more laid-back approach to life, dipping a toe in the sea at St Kilda Beach is a must. If staying for the sunset, catch a glimpse of some of the local penguin colonies returning to their nests near the pier.
Melbourne is full of green spaces to reconnect with nature. The Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria is an inner-city oasis and the perfect place to escape the bustle of the city. With sweeping lawns, secluded fern forests, lakes, gardens, a children’s centre and the awe-inspiring Shrine of Remembrance, it’s a local favourite among Melburnians. Grab a picnic and find a spot to take in all of its natural beauty.
These recommendations were updated on December 3, 2019 to keep your travel plans fresh.