We had friends visiting from interstate recently, and whilst Melbourne isn’t my hometown I’ve lived here for some years now, and thought I’d share with you my go-to checklist when I’m trying to show the place off. Minimal tourist traps, maximum real deal.
It’s a very well documented fact that few cities take their brunch as seriously as Melbourne (even our northern siblings aren’t nearly quite so particular). Seldom alcohol fuelled, the Melbourne brunch revolves around the city’s beverage of choice: coffee. Steer clear of those in obvious hotspots and instead do your homework and find something in the ‘burbs (or at least not on a main road). A wait is almost inevitable (20 minutes or more isn’t unusual), but you’ll increase your likelihood of scoring a table fast if you have no more than four people and arrive between 9 and 9.30am. There are literally hundreds of worthy contenders, but I’ve recently enjoyed The Kettle Black (shown above), Cornershop and Ora Specialty Coffee. Mart 130 has stood the test of time for a reason (and not just because of the novelty factor; it’s located in an old tram stop).
I’m not sure any other city in the world is quite so busy as Melbourne. No matter the time of year you visit, there’s a sporting or cultural event to get into. In very rough chronological order, in any given year Melbourne plays host to: The Australian Open (tennis), Laneway Festival (music), Footscray East Meets West Chinese New Year Festival, White Night (arts), St Kilda Festival, Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Week, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, Formula One Australian Grand Prix, Melbourne International Comedy Festival, AFL season and grand final, Taste of Melbourne, Melbourne Spring Fashion Week, Spring Racing Carnival (horse racing), Boxing Day Test (cricket)… and they’re only the biggest ones which immediately spring to mind. The point is, whatever your persuasion and no matter the time of year you visit, there is undoubtedly a world class event scheduled. On top of these there are also countless major art installations (check out , concerts, shows, open air cinemas and other such joys to discover.
To be totally fair, with the advent of online shopping, any particular city can hardly lay claim to having the market cornered on this one. If you’re travelling though, it makes sense to me that you’d want to return with something you can’t get at home. Take it from me, Toorak Road (Toorak) and High Street (Armadale) are the new Chapel Street, filled with beautiful multi-label boutiques and flagship stores of Australian designers. The laneways of Melbourne city are also most certainly worth a wander. If you’re visiting from overseas, Australian high street stores Saba, Cue, Sportscraft, Marcs, Witchery, Country Road and Trenery are all worthy of a visit.
Hit the town
It’s been a seriously long time since I’ve been to a nightclub, so my version of hitting the town now involves cocktail lounges and delectable dinners. It seems every few weeks there’s a hot new restaurant in town, so rather than trying to cover the latest I’ll tell you my current favourites… Maha (Middle Eastern), Ezard (Australian Freestyle), Pastuso (Peruvian), Red Spice Road (South East Asian), Hutong Dumpling Bar (Hong Kong dumplings!), Mamasita (Mexican), Lucy Liu (Multicultural Asian… still not sure exactly what that is, but a delicious sample above) and Woodland House (Modern Australian). As for those cocktails, be sure to check out Eau De Vie (if you can find it), Sweatshop Bar, Madame Brussels (extreme kitsch) and Lui Bar (extreme decadence). Like kick-ass restaurants though, there are many so if cocktails are your thing too, there are many more to choose from.
Yes, our weather can be crazy unpredictable. It’s not an exaggeration to say we experience all seasons in a day. But in those beautiful moments Melbourne has a lot of outdoors to offer. I’m a big fan of the running tracks around the botanical gardens (The Tan) and Albert Park Lake (also where the Formula One Grand Prix track is located). If you like a good garden, Carlton Gardens are pretty gorgeous too. In the warmer months Melbourne also has a number of outdoor cinemas. Check out Moonlight Cinemas in the botanical gardens, Ben and Jerry’s cinema on St Kilda beach and Rooftop Cinema at the top of Curtin House in the CBD. In the very same months, you’ll also find a bunch of hawker type markets, like the Night Noodle Markets at Birrurung Marr and the Night Market at Queen Victoria Market.
Finally, if you’re so inclined there’s a rather lot of awesome not far outside Melbourne. Making my list is Daylesford (spa country!), strawberry champagne jam at Domaine Chandon, Montalto winery and olive grove for a picnic and viewing of the outdoor sculpture exhibition, the Peninsula Hot Springs and of course… the mighty Brae.