As the cultural capital of Australia, Melbourne boasts an enviable array of world-class dining, galleries, museums, shops, and sporting events that make it one of the ‘most liveable’ cities in the world – according to The Economist. And while we might not be lucky enough to call it home, that doesn’t stop us from hopping on a plane and discovering its hidden charms. We share our ten favourite things to see and do in the dynamic, cosmopolitan city Down Under.
1. Drink Lots of Coffee
To say Melburnians take their coffee seriously would be a huge understatement. This city thrives on caffeine kicks and has an unparalleled enthusiasm for the various brewing techniques needed to make an exceptional cup of joe. As a result, its coffee shops are the thing of dreams. From the mammoth Higher Ground (pictured), which occupies three levels of a converted power station, to Seven Seeds, located in a warehouse in the university district of Carlton, exploring the city’s eclectic cafes alone is an adventure in itself. For a touch of old-world charm, head to the iconic Brunetti on Lygon Street (aka Little Italy) and indulge in a delicious brew as you drool over endless counters filled with biscuits, pastries, and cakes.
2. Snap Some Epic Street Art
With its edgy reputation, it’s no surprise that Melbourne is covered in glorious street art that makes us, quite literally, stop in our tracks. The city has gained international acclaim for its diverse range of creative displays that are scattered along its alleyways and streets. For the ultimate visual overload, head to the cobblestoned Hosier Lane (near Flinders Street) and feast your eyes on the explosion of colour, energy, and ideas which often carry strong political messages. Other renowned clusters of stencil work and graffiti art can be found in Centre Place, AC/DC Lane (named after the famous Aussie rock band), and Croft Alley in the centre of Chinatown. These spots make for some seriously grammable shots that will add a splash of colour to your feed and get you asking some pretty deep questions – and if you’re lucky, you might even catch an artist in action.
3. Visit One of the Many Museums
With a whopping 31 museums scattered throughout the city, you really are spoiled for choice. A good place to start, however, is Melbourne Museum, which boasts an Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre, a wildlife exhibition with over 600 animals, and a living Forest Gallery. The museum also hosts regular special exhibits and is home to an IMAX theatre which screens exclusive documentaries and blockbusters. Meanwhile, sports fanatics will no doubt enjoy exploring the Sport Australia Hall of Fame, memorabilia, and interactive galleries at the National Sports Museum, housed within the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Movie buffs, on the other hand, can get up close to Cate Blanchett’s Oscar, props from Moulin Rouge, and costumes from Kylie Minogue at ACMI, Australia’s only national museum of film, video games, and digital culture. And if art is your number one love, make sure to visit the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia’s oldest, largest, and most visited art museum.
4. Drink On the Yarra River
Nothing beats sipping on a cool cocktail with a cracking view, and Melbourne’s bustling waterfront hub, Southbank, has plenty to occupy adventurous punters. For the ultimate riverside experience, head to Arbory Bar & Eatery, a lively venue located between Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station and the world famous Yarra River. Built on an old disused railway platform, the venue occupies one hundred meters of uninterrupted river frontage, making it the perfect spot for mingling on a sunny day. For quirky thrills, swing by Ponyfish Island, a floating bar which sits underneath the Yarra Pedestrian Footbridge and is only accessible from a single stairwell. This rustic, nautical-themed bar is the perfect spot to catch the sunset and watch the numerous sightseeing cruises pass by.
5. Browse Queen Victoria Market
A trip to the city wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Queen Victoria Market, an authentic, bustling, inner-city market that has a colourful history dating back 140 years. Open five days a week, the market is home to over 700 small businesses selling everything from fresh produce and wine, to clothing and souvenirs, and speciality coffee and food. The market hosts special workshops and festivals throughout the year, including the popular Night Market, which runs on Wednesday nights in summer and winter, offering foodies the chance to graze from over 60 global street food stalls, browse more than 100 specialty shopping stalls, and enjoy a rotating line-up of live music and entertainment. With its vibrant and multicultural atmosphere, abundance of delicious food, and impressive events calendar, this beloved National Heritage site is not to be missed. Just be sure to check the opening times first to avoid missing out.
6. Be a Hipster in Brunswick
Just six kilometres north of the city centre lies Brunswick, a unique Melburnian hipster neighbourhood with an impressive array of bars, cafes, vintage clothing shops, and thrift stores selling all kinds of weird and wonderful gems. Among the most popular stores are Brotherhood of St. Laurence, Savers, and Vinnies, which all support local charities that help benefit the community. The area is also home to some popular hipster bars such as Fitzroy Social (pictured), The Penny Black, and The Provincial Hotel, which features a spacious roof terrace that serves killer cocktails.
7. Eat Cake in St Kilda
Not only home to the iconic amusement park, Luna Park, and a population of adorable little penguins who gather on the beach each night, St Kilda is also every sweet tooth’s dream, boasting an impressive collection of cake shops dotted along Acland Street. Many locals and tourists flock to this seaside suburb to drink top-notch coffee and nibble on freshly baked goods from shops like The Acland Cake Shop, Monarch Cakes, and Le Bon Continental Cake Shop. For the perfect experience, grab an LSD or Magic Mushroom coffee at the uber hipster cafe Sister of Soul (don’t worry, we promise the drinks here are totally legal), before hitting the numerous fashion boutiques and independent bookstores, with a cheeky cake in hand.
8. Catch the Sunset at ‘The Espy’
Affectionately nicknamed ‘The Espy’ by the locals, Hotel Esplanade is an iconic landmark in Melbourne’s arts and music community, and one of the best spots to catch the sunset over St Kilda pier. This 140-year-old building has recently undergone a A$15 million makeover, opening up all five of its floors to the public. The venue homes a whopping 12 bars, three band stages, two restaurants, and a light-filled garden terrace that overlooks the beach. Whether you come to watch a local band, relax in the beer garden, or catch golden hour with a cocktail in hand, this reimagined gem is a treasure that shouldn’t be missed.
9. Ride the Free Circle Tram
One of the best ways to see Melbourne is undoubtedly by tram – especially when it’s free. The city is renowned for its extensive network of modern electric carriages, and its beloved City Circle Tram invites the public to ride for free within certain zones in the centre. Aimed mainly at tourists, the route passes several major attractions including Federation Square, Parliament House, Queen Victoria Market, and the Docklands. All stops within the zone are clearly marked and the friendly conductors will even call out the famous landmarks when approaching. If you’re lucky, they might even share a fun fact or two. Riding the freebie tram is not only an enjoyable experience, but an excellent way to navigate the city and get an idea of its sheer size.
10. Relax in the Royal Botanical Gardens
Covering a total of 53 hectares of rolling green landscape, the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria provide a beautiful sanctuary in the heart of the metropolis. Comprised of two sites – Melbourne Gardens and Cranbourne Gardens – this natural treasure chest is home to 8,500 different species of plant and is brimming with native wildlife including brush and ring-tailed possums, cockatoos, kookaburras, and Murray River turtles. Beyond its impressive habitats, the beloved oasis offers something for everyone, whether they want to enjoy a quiet picnic, take the kids out to explore, or simply enjoy some downtime in the city. The gardens also boast an exciting line-up of events throughout the year, including the outdoor Moonlight Cinema, theatre performances, and family activities, that are well worth checking out.