A few weeks back I wrote an all-encompassing guide to staying in Adelaide. This was in response to time and time again writing detailed emails for every man and his rabbit who visits Adelaide and wants advice on how to holiday in the city of churches.
I experience the exact same thing with Melbourne – given I was once a native there too – non-Melburnian friends regularly requesting travel agent-grade advice.
While in the past I’ve written a couple of prescriptive ’48 hours in Melbourne’-type itineraries (you can find them here and here), I’ve never done a pick and mix-style post that serves up the best of the best.
So here it is. What you must see, where you must stay and, most importantly, where you must eat and drink on a holiday in Melbourne:
The New York of Australia – it’s sophisticated, gritty and cold (a lot of the time). Known for its great arts, sports, shopping, food, fashion and coffee, it’s a dynamic and cosmopolitan city.
Possibly what captures the heart and soul of Melbourne best is the art gallery-grade street art adorning any exposed brick wall. Then there’s the laneways, which are iconic and where you’ll uncover all the best finds (shopping, bars, eats, etc).
Just like New York, Melbourne also has very distinct boroughs. There’s the heart of the city, which is great for shopping, eating, drinking and attending sporting or music events. The inner-south east of Melbourne (Prahran, South Yarra and South Melbourne) attracts your fashion set, as if it were Manhattan. Here brunching is an Olympic sport, as is trawling the shops of Chapel Street. The suburb of Richmond (found on the border of the city’s great north–south divide) is more multi-cultural. While north of the river is Melbourne’s hipster heartland (Fitzroy, Brunswick, Carlton and Collingwood). The vibe here is much more unpretentious and down-to-earth, with a fantastic live music scene – it’s your Brooklyn.
Where to stay in Melbourne
I’m a huge fan of the Art Series Hotels: The Cullen, The Olsen and The Blackman. They’ve got paint pots of personality, are ludicrously modern and located on the doorstep of Chapel Street – my favourite part of Melbourne. If you’re interested, I recently shared what you can expect from a sleepover at The Olsen.
In the CBD, there’s the always popular The Langham Melbourne (which has great views of the city and an amazing high tea), Crown Metropol (with it’s fabulous spa complex – treat yo’ self) and Hotel Windsor (the breakfast at this historic old-worldly hotel is legendary).
I’ve also stayed a couple of times at the Oaks on William, which I quite enjoy. The apartment-type rooms are big (meaning there’s plenty of room for your shopping), and they’re decked out with bright colours and artwork that’s very Melbourne. The only downside is that the hotel is tucked into a pocket of the city that doesn’t have a whole lot going on, but it’s easy enough to walk to the action, or jump on a tram or train.
What to do in Melbourne
The best shopping in the land can be had in Melbourne, with so much variety it makes your brain hurt. From vintage to sale to off-the-runway styles, the options to purchase the latest in fashion are at their purse-draining best here. I’ve previously ranked the best places to go shopping in Melbourne – you can read that over here.
Whether it’s skim, soy, almond or deconstructed, Melbourne does a shit-hot cup of coffee. You can find good coffee just about anywhere in Melbourne. It’s part of the culture. Not to mention the city’s baristas are clearly trying to win gold for Australia in latte art.
If you don’t like adventure, cut to the caffeine and visit these seven places. They’re the best coffee spots in Melbourne (in my world).
Turn into a big ball of brie at Milk the Cow
If there’s one foodie experience that summarises the city it’s a cheese and wine flight at Milk the Cow – four glasses of sparkling wine, perfectly paired with four cheeses. If that doesn’t tickle your funny bone, this FROMAGERIE has 150+ different types of cheeses (housed in a humidity-controlled display counter) that you can have any way you like: fondue, cheese and mac, etc. Not for the dairy intolerant.
Road trip to Victoria’s wine country
Wine fiends absolutely must hire a car and hit the road. You have two main options, both an hour-drive out of Melbourne:
Yarra Valley – my most favourite of Victoria’s wine regions, the Yarra Valley is famed for its subtle Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sparkling Wine. It has a hint of Tuscany to it, and the cellar door experiences are always varied and reliable. My top pick wineries are Soumah Wines, Chandon and Rochford Wines. For lunch you can’t go past Meletos.
Mornington Peninsula – the hero grape of this cool-climate wine region is Pinot Noir, with Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Shiraz hot on its heels. Fifty wineries call the Mornington Peninsula home, all varying in size. These wineries are centred around the towns of Red Hill, Main Ridge and Moorooduc in the hinterland; and Merricks, Balnarring and Dromana on the coast.
My two most absolute favourite things to do on the Mornington Peninsula are having lunch in the cellar door at Port Phillip Estate (three ripper courses for $38. Boom!) and then soaking until I’m a prune in the heated mineral pools at Peninsula Hot Springs. Heaven.
Smell the sea-scented air at St Kilda
While I personally don’t rate St Kilda Beach for swimming (unless you like swimming in murky water and last week’s garbage), the suburb is a lot of fun. Whether it’s the people watching, visiting Luna Park with its clattering rollercoaster, trawling the St Kilda Esplanade Market or watching a live band at one of the many backpacker-filled pubs, there’s never a dull moment in St Kilda.
Explore Melbourne’s laneways
Wander down the city’s laneways. They’re crammed with shops, cafes and graffiti art. A great little rat-run is walking Degraves Street, Centre Place, Block Arcade, Block Place and then The Causeway – it will make you fall head over heals in love with the city. Finally, you can’t come to Melbourne without taking a selfie in Hosier Lane – the holy grail of street art-splashed laneways.
More things to do in Melbourne…
- Day trip to Daylesford – that’s if you like massages and general indulgence.
- Queen Victoria Market – wander the labyrinth of stalls, filling your baskets with all kinds of meats, fruits, flowers and clothing. Here’s seven useful facts about the Queen Victoria Market.
- Watch a game of AFL – preferably at the MCG, but Etihad Stadium will also do. It’s the only way to experience the football fever that takes over the city during AFL season.
- Sight the Brighton Bathing Boxes – these colourful bathing boxes are another must-include in your selfie album.
- Go to Melbourne Cup – this means losing your shoes before lunch time, never seeing an actual horse and inevitably passing out on the lawn before the big race. You can read about my Melbourne Cup experience here.
- Ride a Melbourne tram just for the hell of it – you can’t come to Melbourne without setting foot on the city’s most loved form of transport, albeit the slowest.
- Visit the National Gallery of Victoria – the NGV art museum always has the best exhibitions. Coming up in August 2017 is ‘The House of Dior – 70 years of Haute Couture’ exhibition. Someone buy me a plane ticket!
Where to eat in Melbourne
Ok, I realise a lot of my ‘what to dos’ are food-related, but that’s because eating and drinking is a cultural sport in Melbourne. On that note, here’s more places you’re going to want to eat at in Melbourne. The best bit: they don’t cost a small house deposit. *cough* Sydney *cough*.
(Oh, and annoyingly, Melbourne doesn’t understand the whole concept of ‘being able to book a restaurant table at a certain time’. Instead it insists on this shit-shake policy of ‘walk-ins only’. This means it’s always best to get to your dinner venue of choice early to put your name on the inevitable list for a table, be prepared to wait three hours and have a bunch of bars tucked into your bra where you can kill time until an elusive table becomes available).
This Japanese dining experience, found on Greville Street in Prahran, is sophisticated, fun and absolutely delicious.
One cannot come to Melbourne without trying the best invention to come out of Victoria since Vegemite – the Nori Taco from Mr Miyagi. This Japanese restaurant on Chapel Street has more sass than Chrissy Teigen. Mr M says, “What are you waiting for?”
Getting a table at this buzzy restaurant on Flinders Lane in the city is like playing a game of chess. It’s notoriously challenging and often involves a three-hour wait. But if you’re successful you’ll be rewarded with some of the most delicious Thai food going around.
If you don’t have luck at Chin Chin, head across the road to Supernormal for Asian-inspired share dishes that are just as good (if not better), with only half the wait time. The chef’s selection ($65pp for eight courses) is amazing, as is the lobster roll.
Hawker Hall is a dreamboat. That’s if you’re into pillowy dumplings and beef rendang that melts in your mouth. The atmosphere at this Chapel Street beer hall is energetic, the menu features the best bits of Singaporean and Malaysian cuisine, and there’s 18 beers on tap.
Also located on Flinders Lane, this bustling, high-ceilinged restaurant – that’s centered around an open kitchen – serves up an on-trend modern Australian menu.
Bomba is a lively Spanish tapas restaurant on Lonsdale Street in the city. The paellas are to-die-for, as are the city views from the rooftop bar.
More places to eat in Melbourne…
The Town Mouse (Carlton), Cutler & Co (Fitzroy), Cookie (Melbourne) and Attica (Ripponlea) will also make you inordinately happy. The latter is currently #32 on the ‘World’s 50 Best Restaurants for 2017’ list – making it Australia’s most excellent restaurant, at this present time.
For brunch, the following restaurants are celebrities in Melbourne:
- Kitty Burns in Abbotsford – for head-turning works of brunch art and an interior design lesson in Scando. Read more about Kitty Burns.
- Higher Ground in Melbourne – for a twist on brunch. How do you feel about minced lamb fry-up for breakfast?
- Journeyman in Windsor – you’ll find the caffeine-craving spilling out onto the street at this brunching and coffee institution. Here’s a pre-prepared post all about Journeyman.
- Barry in Northcote – for healthyish café food in a cool venue, filled with cool people.
- Kettle Black in South Melbourne – serves up gourmet brunch fare – such as chilli scrambled eggs with house-cured kangaroo – in an old terrace house. Warning: the lines can be dangerous.
Where to drink in Melbourne
I’ve previously written quite extensively on the subject of bar trawling in Melbourne, so won’t repeat myself. If you’re after a good G&T, Aperol Spritz or Frose, the following EPLT posts will tell you everything you need to know:
Enjoy! I’m secretly jealous.