I was born in Melbourne, and although I have traveled to over 28 countries in my life, Melbourne will always be home because of so many lovely reasons. Yes – our weather has the attention span of a five-year-old and if you try and drive anywhere you will be the victim of severe road rage, but if you stay off the streets and head into the soul of this city, you’ll see why so many people can so easily be adopted into it’s big, warm and open heart.
The city used to be my number one hang out spot. I grew up about a 30-minute drive from the CBD and was always so fascinated by it. All walks of life, always joining together to a seamless stream of the unexpected. So many hidden alleyways to find the echoes of acoustic guitars and violins. However, I have since found the city is a central spot for tourism and visitors. Which is great, if you’re a tourist.
Seeing the grand facade of Flinders Street station lit up at night to juxtapose the modern twisted architecture of Federation Square just across the street is a real treat. Or maybe a stroll down Southbank along the Yarra river might be what you prefer, in which case you’ll always catch a street performer, ready to twist and tumble for your viewing pleasure and a couple of your dollars at the end.
Don’t get me wrong, the city is great. But there are so many other wonderful hidden gems of Melbourne located just outside and around the corner which are well worth exploring.
Walk down any street and you’ll find some local hipster in the coolest outfit you’ve ever seen and you may stop them and ask, “where did you get that awesome jacket that matches your green dip dyed hair?” No doubt, the answer will be “some vintage store for like $10 about five years ago.” To this, you think that you’ve lost all hope of ever finding something like that. The truth is, there are still jackets like that at every second vintage shop you’ll find. Which are everywhere!
The biggest and best second-hand charity store is called Savers in Brunswick. It’s a huge warehouse full of a lot of junk, but if you’re will to search, there are some real gems hidden in there. Otherwise, head down Smith Street, Fitzroy for some iconic little stand alone stores ranging from vintage to high end.
If the big name brands are more your style then Emporium, the newest shopping center in Australia is located over five glorious levels in the CBD and harbors everything you could want from Uniqlo to Gucci. If you’re hoping to stretch your legs as well as your wallet, take a stroll down Chapel Street from South Yarra to Windsor. Here you’ll find plenty of well-known brands as well as a few one-off stores and some great places to eat in between.
Australia is well known for having some of the most amazing beaches in the world. Unfortunately, most of those postcards you see are from beaches near the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland. Never fear as there still are some lovely places to get salty in Melbourne.
St Kilda is a hot spot for nightlife, cafes, and bars, as well as a pretty lovely beach. But head down the shoreline a little further out of the city to Brighton and you’ll find a little fewer people and a lot more beach. One must see is called a point called Black Rock which has a cliff face half way through the beach. Great for a romantic sunset view. If you felt like a day trip, head down the Great Ocean Road in a rental car and stop anywhere that suits you along the way. Or head southeast along the Mornington Peninsular towards Portsea or Sorrento. Here you’ll find some beautiful houses, a calm front beach for ball games and sandcastles, or towards the back beach where there’s decent surf and some rock pools to explore.
For music lovers, the festival season runs from November to March with a lot of great camping multi-day festivals to enjoy. So make sure you find some friends with a tent and an esky. Tickets for these things can be sold out months before, but you can usually find some last minute tickets on eBay or Gumtree (the “Craig’s list” of Australia.)
Some of the best festivals are Meredith Music Festival (December), Golden Plains (March), Rainbow Serpent (January), Let Them Eat Cake (New Years Day) and Strawberry Fields (November). Most of these festivals allow you to take in your own alcohol as well which means less money and time spent lining up for drinks there. They also offer a wide range of music for all genre lovers. So head out, get down and involved in some of the best times of your life.
A good guide to start with a feed is a website/app called Broadsheet. It’s a cafe and restaurant reviewing site that can tell you what’s in the area, what they do and how well they do it. Melbourne’s cuisine is some of the best in the world due to our multiculturalism and great produce.
Some of my personal must do’s include a visit to Shawcross Pizza in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy where they make a 22-inch pizza to anyone who dares.
If you’ve got a taste for burgers, head down Smith Street to Huxtaburger. Nothing fancy about them, but just damn good burgers and crinkle-cut chips. The salted caramel milkshakes are definitely not to be missed either.
If Italian is more your feel, head to any place along Lygon Street, Carlton. Every restaurant is set up for al fresco dining which is just spectacular on a warm summer night to romance a new friend.
If you’re on a budget, you must visit Victoria Street in Richmond where you’ll find every type of Asian cuisine for just about the same prices as you’d find overseas. Most of these little gems are BYO so be sure to pick yourself up a cheep bottle of wine to share with some friends as well.
For dessert, try one of the many frozen yogurt shops around the place. It’s pay as you weigh though so be sure not to go too far with all the added extras. Top picks are Tutti Frutti in Melbourne Central and Emporium shopping centers or Yo-Chi in Carlton and St Kilda. If you’re not so health conscious, head to Gelato Messina, an ice-cream lovers wet dream. Located in Fitzroy, Richmond, and Windsor, they open their kitchen to prying eyes so you can see them making each ice-cream flavor – usually with funny names relating to Game of Thrones or the most recent lady not to receive a rose on The Bachelor. My top pick is the apple pie (which you can watch them bake) and is sure to carry cash here, as they don’t accept card payments.
Melbourne is also known for it’s good coffee and avocado on toast. It’s hard to find a bad cafe here, however, there are some great ones which are worth a visit. Feist of Merit in Swan Street, Richmond is great all day long. They work alongside a program called YGAP (Young Volunteers Against Poverty) which run a lot of volunteer programs all over the world.
Proud Mary’s in Fitzroy is one of the best places to get your long black, being one of the best coffee roasters in Melbourne. A lot of other cafes agree and use their roasted beans as well, so you know it’s good.
Some other top picks are Reunion and Co in Richmond, Archie’s All Day in Fitzroy, Square, and Compass in East Melbourne and The Kettle Black in South Melbourne. But really, it’s hard to go wrong.
Another reason I love this city is that there is always something going on somewhere. It can be a Tuesday on a cold June night and I promise you, there will be little bars buzzing around the place if you look hard enough. If you’re thinking of staying in the city, be sure to check out The Carlton Club – it exhibits all walks of life, including the animal kind in the decor – Workshop for late night jams and a dirty dance floor or New Gernica for an outside garden feel at 3 am with lasers.
If you’re wanting to venture out a little further, there are so many bars located on Brunswick Street, Fitzroy you could easily go to 10 of them in one night. It is made for bar hopping. Be sure to check out Bimbo’s though for a cheap pizza and a good time. Otherwise, there is always Chapel Street as well. Here you’ll find anything from a cozy bar called Leonards House of Love for that house party type feel, to Electric Lady Land with the lush staircase to ascend to heaven, or head to Lucky Coq that also has $4 pizzas some nights before turning into a double story dancing storm.
Be sure to try to find the hidden cocktail bar behind the freezer door of Boston Sub and after everything else has closed, your trip to Melbourne isn’t complete without a visit to Revolver Upstairs. Renowned for it’s debauchery, bad choices and open-all-weekend hours, you can dance to some of the top DJ’s all night long, and the next day, and the next night until you physically cannot dance anymore.
Come rain, hail, sunshine, clouds, frost, wind or heat waves, (sometimes all in one day) there is never a dull moment in this city, or the surrounding areas for that matter. So on your next visit to Melbourne be sure that you will not be bored here. High or low budget, there’s something for everyone.
Vanessa Lert, Travel writer