Like many cities, Melbourne is more a collection of villages than a single unified city. Developed throughout the city's varied history, each suburb has its own distinct character; from architecture to streetscapes.

The city center and Southbank have the highest concentration of major sights, while other crowd-pleasers are scattered around the city’s fringes.

Rest assured that every neighborhood in inner Melbourne is brimming with accommodation, cool bars, stand-out cafes, international cuisine, lush parks, small independent art galleries and stores to get lost in. No matter where you base yourself, you’ll quickly realize why Melbourne is voted one of the world’s most liveable cities, again and again.  

City center

Best for accommodation

The city center (locals call it "the CBD," short for "central business district") has the highest concentration of accommodation options. From apartments and boutique designer hotels to indulgent luxury, it’s all here. There’s also a rooftop glamping option for something completely different, where guests stay in 1970s Airstream campervans atop a city car park. 

Staying in the city center puts you in the heart of the action and you’re spoiled for transport options to visit outlying neighborhoods. The CBD was once mostly busy with workers and shoppers, but over the last couple of decades, high-rise apartments have filled the center of town with residents, breathing life into the city streets day and night. You could spend a week exploring the small bars, incredible restaurants, laneway street art galleries, and ornate arcades before you’ve even thought about what’s beyond the city grid. 

Riverside bar on Ponyfish Island in Melbourne
Melbourne's mid-river bar: Ponyfish Island on the Yarra © Ray Warren / Getty Images


Best for riverside views

Formerly an industrial zone, Southbank was rebuilt and rebranded as an exciting new precinct in the 1990s. This riverside promenade is peppered with big-name international restaurants and hotels, and buttressed by a big splashy casino that draws the crowds.

However, with its Yarra River views and multiple exemplary arts institutions like the NGV: International, this is a perfectly positioned neighborhood to base yourself. It has plenty of accommodation to choose from and is a short walk to the city center.

Continue further west on foot or by bicycle to where the Docklands have birthed a mini-city of high-rise apartments, restaurants, plazas and public art. It’s a surprisingly good area to visit, yet to many locals, Southbank and the Docklands remain slightly touristy and a little "un-Melbourne" (if only they could see them with fresh eyes as visitors do!). Put South Wharf’s Boatbuilders Yard; the river bar Ponyfish Island; and a yum cha banquet at Spice Temple on your Southbank itinerary and you’ll be crowing about this neighborhood to everyone.

Band on stage at The Evelyn Hotel, Fitzroy Melbourne
The Evelyn Hotel is one of the many venues that have live music in Fitzroy © James Braund / Lonely Planet

Fitzroy & Collingwood

Best for bars and cafes

Despite the lack of tourist sights, there are myriad reasons to base yourself in the leafy northern suburbs of Fitzroy or Collingwood. It’s a short tram ride from the city center and the food-and-drink scene is off the charts. For shoppers, vinyl and midcentury furniture shops sit beside top-notch contemporary art galleries.

Smith and Gertrude Streets are loaded with intimate wine bars and world-class cocktail spots and cafes, while the best local pubs are peppered among the backstreets of Fitzroy and Collingwood, many with leafy beer gardens for sunny afternoons or a log fireplace for extra warmth in winter. For a slice of Australian nature, continue on to Abbotsford for a stroll around the convent gardens and charming children's farm next to the Yarra River.

One of Melbourne’s favourite rooftop bars, Naked for Satan gives you views over the neighborhood and is the perfect spot to orientate yourself over a sunset drink. Stomping Ground, in a former cigarette factory, is a popular brewery and beer hall with wood-fired pizza to keep you going. Pick yourself up with a coffee you’ll never forget at Everyday Coffee or Proud Mary. Hit a backstreet public house stalwart like the Napier Hotel for burgers and beers. Then cozy into the moody leather banquettes at Black Pearl, the best cocktail bar for a late-night tipple.

People waiting in line to Luna Park entrance in St. Kilda Melbourne
People waiting to enter Luna Park in Melbourne's seaside suburb, St. Kilda © Piter Lenk / Alamy Stock Photo

St Kilda

Best for a nostalgic seaside holiday vibe

St Kilda is Melbourne's tattered bohemian heart, a place where a young Nick Cave played gloriously chaotic gigs at the George Hotel (formerly the Crystal Ballroom) and one that's featured in songs, plays, novels, TV series and films. Originally a 19th-century seaside resort emulating England’s Hastings and Brighton, this neighborhood has played many roles: post-war Jewish enclave, red-light district and punk-rocker hub.

It's a complex jumble of boom-era Victorian mansions, raffish Spanish Moorish apartments, and seedy side streets. Take a ride on the vintage roller coaster at Luna Park and visit nostalgia-inducing theatres like the Art Deco-era Palais Theatre and the picture palace, The Astor – you'll find wonderful dining options in the well-heeled neighboring suburbs of Elwood and Elsternwick.


Best for families with young children  

Carlton is home to Melbourne's Italian expat community and a strong international student population, thanks to the University of Melbourne. It’s a hop and a skip from the city bordered by the leafy Carlton Gardens where you’ll find the Unesco-listed Royal Exhibition Building as well as the kid-friendly Melbourne Museum.

From here, it's a short walk west to Lygon Street, the heart of Carlton, where you can sample excellent Italian cafe life and visit a Melbourne institution – Readings bookstore (there’s a special children’s bookstore next door). Surrounding streets have a pretty village feel, with wide avenues and grand Victorian terraced houses. On the west side of Carlton in Parkville is Melbourne Zoo with its collection of cute native Australian marsupials, and an excellent children’s playground in Royal Park.

Crowd at the Collingwood St Kilda AFL Grand Final at the MCG Melbourne
Australian Rules winter season culminates in the Grand Final at the MCG in September each year © Neale Cousland / Shutterstock


Best for lovers of sport

Richmond is the nexus for all things sporting in Melbourne. The neighborhood's southwestern skyline is dominated by the angular shapes of stadiums, none more hulking than the mighty Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). But it also boasts some great dining options, particularly the Vietnamese enclave around Victoria Street. Bridge Road and Swan Street offer a mix of shopping, storefront cafes and decent pubs (the Corner is a much-loved live music venue).

If you’re a sports fan, this is the neighborhood for you. The roar of the crowds at the MCG – which hosts up to 100,000 people – is a fixture in winter when AFL (Australian Football League otherwise known as Aussie Rules) matches are held day and night over the weekend. The Melbourne Marathon is held in October and ends here so expect road closures and masses of ultrafit Australians everywhere. In summer, the cricket is held at the MCG including the international Boxing Day Test match, bringing fans from the competing side in droves. 

Later in the month, merry-making crowds descend on Melbourne Park for Australia's Grand Slam tennis championship. Along with the tennis, check out the AO Live Stage at Birrarung Marr for live music and a mini theme park for kids. Finally, the Australian Sports Museum at the MCG features exhibits focusing on Australia’s favorite sports and historic sporting moments as well as interactive activities for children.

This article was first published June 2021 and updated November 2023

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