Top Things To Do And See In Carlton

Southgate Bridge, the Yarra River and the north Melbourne Skyline
Southgate Bridge, the Yarra River and the north Melbourne Skyline | © CandyAppleRed Images / Alamy
Annie-Mei Forster

Carlton is famous for its beautiful old townhouses. It is also a hub for poor uni students, being within walking distance of the University of Melbourne. Many Europeans that came to Melbourne during the early twentieth century settled in Carlton, so those looking for Italian food are spoiled for choice on Lygon Street. Only a short tram ride from the CBD, it is an old suburb with lots of character, making it the ideal location for those getting around on foot.

Did you know – Culture Trip now does bookable, small-group trips? Pick from authentic, immersive Epic Trips, compact and action-packed Mini Trips and sparkling, expansive Sailing Trips.

Vertue of the Coffee Drink

You haven’t discovered the real Melbourne until you have had to walk down a dingy alleyway waiting to be mugged in order to find the place. Vertue of the Coffee Drink is no exception. Hidden behind some dumpsters at a servo — or petrol station for those from overseas — is where you’ll find Vertue. On weekends the place is pumping, and you are easily looking at a half an hour wait. They sell delicious brownie cookies supplied by Butterbing; the salted caramel brownie variety is delicious and a meal in itself. For those who like their spice, the meatball sub with jalapeños is great, and the coffee is delicious.

Heartattack and Vine

Heartattack and Vine
If you are looking for a pre-dinner drink, then you cannot go past Heartattack and Vine. It’s one of the new hip places on Lygon Street. It’s simple and the staff are friendly. If you are feeling a little peckish they have cicchetti available, which is an Italian take on tapas. The cocktails are well-made, the espresso is fantastic, plus they have a great wine list. Open daily from 7 AM, it’s perfect for grabbing a delicious pastry and a Wide Open Road coffee on the way to work.


If you love pizza, then this place will blow your mind. On Lygon Street you will find D.O.C. Espresso and D.O.C. Deli, but D.O.C. is situated just around the corner on Drummond Street. They are all owned by Tony Nicolini, and in classic Melbourne fashion, this place does not take bookings, so you can sometimes expect a fair wait on a table. It is definitely a wait worthwhile. Once you are in, the pizzas come out fast. The staff are all Italian and speak in Italian, giving it that authentic touch. The San Daniele pizza is a standout, which can be washed down with a nice glass of Chianti.

Steps Gallery

Hidden just off Lygon Street, Steps Gallery — a small gallery owned and run by the Meat Industry Employees’ Superannuation Fund since 1992 — exhibits local Victorian artists. The person behind the desk is usually one of the artists themselves, so you can chat to them about their work, which is for sale.The current group exhibition, Five of Us, runs until 12 August 2015. Including Matthew Schiavello, his abstract photography is quite striking as it examines the beauty found in vandalized urban spaces. It is as if you are examining the graffiti under a microscope with the rust from iron bins still visible. The Artee Cafe in the same building is great if you want to grab a cup of coffee and nab some free wifi.

Soap Bar

Need to do a load of washing, but do not want to wander too far while you wait? Soap Bar has you sorted. It has the feeling of stepping into someone’s house but with many more washing machines and dryers. Once you have put your load on, relax on one of the couches and order a coffee from the friendly barista. The added bonus of this place is that they have free wifi, so you can kill time while you wait for your clothes to dry. There’s a small outdoor courtyard too, and everything is very retro, including the toilet.

Milk the Cow

Milk the Cow

If you are looking for some pre-movie or dinner food to nibble on and you love cheese, then this is the place. After the success of their St Kilda establishment that opened in 2012, they decided to bring Milk the Cow to northsiders. Their menu includes pre-matched booze and cheese ‘flights,’ which are a journey for your palate. You can also choose from a range of pre-selected cheeseboards to share or build your own. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable and provide complimentary Glühwein — mulled wine — in winter to warm up in the cold weather. It is a great place to go if you are looking to pick up some cheese for a dinner party as they do takeaway cheese.

Royal Exhibition Building

The Royal Exhibition Building is located within the Carlton Gardens. It has been there since 1880 and is a symbol of wealth for the people of Victoria after the gold rush. It was designed by British architect Joseph Reed, and at the time, it was the highest building in Australia. In July 2004, it became the first building in Australia to achieve World Heritage status. Today, it is used for temporary exhibitions, fairs and an examination hall for Melbourne Uni students. Perfectly symmetrical, the entrance to the Royal Exhibition Building is lined by two rows of trees making it highly Instagrammable in any season.


No matter what temperature it is outside, Pidapipo, a gelateria, always has a long line. The owner, Lisa Valmorbida, went to gelato school — yes, that is a real thing — in Italy. There’s a very 50s and 60s decor vibe going on in this place. It’s very bright and lively inside, and there are plenty of flavors. The salted caramel is great and the hot nutella sauce, which runs on tap, makes for a perfect dessert. You can tell hours of hard work and love go into making the gelato. This place will become a favorite on Lygon Street.

Vincent the Dog

Vincent the Dog
Vincent the Dog is a little café on Drummond Street great for a hangover cure. It has enough specialty coffee to sink a ship plus a selection of juices — the orange, lychee and lime is delicious — that will make you feel rejuvenated and refreshed. The staff is very knowledgeable about their specialty coffee, and the café is a great place to watch people. Food-wise the Chinese donut is an interesting take on the Western pastry; it’s filled with cheese, pork and a poached egg on top. The affogato with Ferrero Rocher gelato is delicious and great when you’re feeling under the weather.


Readings is an institution in Melbourne for book lovers. If you can’t find it in Readings, then don’t bother looking elsewhere. The staff can usually find what you’re looking for, but if they can’t, they are more than happy to order it for you. They also have quite an extensive music collection along with a great selection of biographies and non-fiction books. Open until 11 PM, even on weekdays, Readings hosts special events as well, including book signings.

By Annie-Mei Forster
Annie-Mei Forster is currently living in Melbourne, Australia after returning home from working in Beijing, China teaching English. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Chinese (Mandarin) and Art History, she plans to travel the world to discover new places and learn different languages. Follow her on Instagram: @muntjakmei or her own blog:

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

Edit article