Equal parts dynamic, cosmopolitan, sports-mad and arty, Melbourne simultaneously exudes style and keeps its best spots hidden, inviting discovery by food and culture lovers.
Within the Grid
Melbourne is often dubbed the most 'European' of Australian cities – indeed the eastern, designer section of Collins St was crowned the 'Paris End' in the 1950s. There's also a mini New York vibe here, thanks to the city's well-ordered grid and scattering of art-deco high-rises. But Melbourne is uniquely Melbourne, too. Much of that is due to the 230-plus laneways that penetrate into the heart of city blocks, which are recognised for world-class street art, restaurants and bars. Spend a year here – or a lifetime – and there will still be another route to take; another gem to uncover.
While central Melbourne has its own allure, the city's charm lies in its diverse suburbs, each of which tells a different tale. Despite the long-standing north–south divide (glitzy South Yarra versus hipster Fitzroy), there’s an effortless, laid-back appeal surrounding Melbourne's bars, cafes, festivals and people that transcends borders. Best experienced like a local, neighbourhood pockets of delicious food reflect the ethnic communities that inhabit them: Victoria St, Richmond, for Vietnamese; Carlton's old-school Italian; Balaclava for Jewish bakeries; Middle Eastern in Brunswick; Footscray for Ethiopian; and Chinatown for Asian food matched only by its country of origin.
It's not the high-rises and bridges that strike you when first visiting Melbourne, but the vast sporting edifices on the fringe of the city centre. Melburnians are crazy about AFL football ('footy'), cricket and horse racing, while grand-slam tennis and Formula One car racing draw visitors in droves. Sport is part of the social fabric and takes on something of a religious aspect here. In fact, sporting events have nearly as many public holidays allotted to them as religion – everyone gets the day off for the Melbourne Cup horse race and the Friday before the AFL Grand Final!
Deep Reserves of Cool
It’s easy to label Melbourne a 'hipster' destination, but for a city that’s more than 20 hours by plane from New York and London – and home to half as many people – it’s more a trendsetter than follower. Melbourne's long been food and coffee obsessed and had liberal, bohemian and progressive strands to its subculture. Top chefs are inspired by their heritage and don't just cook local produce, but native ingredients used by Indigenous Australians for hundreds of thousands of years. Mingled with hotspots in laneways, warehouses and on rooftops, it’s clear that Melbourne doesn't have to try – it just is.
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Melbourne.
Considered one of the finest examples of Victorian-era landscaping in the world, Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens draw over two million visitors a year. Here you'll find plants from around the globe as well as a strong show of unique Australian flora. Mini ecosystems, a herb garden and an indigenous rainforest are all set amid vast, picnic-friendly lawns and black-swan-spotted ponds. From the air, these stunning, 38-hectare gardens suggest a set of giant green lungs in the heart of the city. Events and tours In summer the gardens play host to Moonlight Cinema, a nightly pop-up cinema where cult classics and new release films are screened under the stars. Open-air theatre performances are another summer highlight from Shakespeare to Wind in the Willows, they’re often child-friendly events. Children and parents will love the excellent, nature-based Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden, a whimsical, child-scaled place that invites exploration and water play. The Aboriginal Heritage Walk comes highly recommended. This is a site of cultural significance to the local Kulin Nation (there’s a reason this vast green space was not buried under streets and houses when the British descended). On the tour you’ll learn to identify significant native plants with an Aboriginal guide, and gain some insight in the customs and ongoing connection to country of Australia’s First Nations people. The visitor centre is the departure point for tours but book ahead (see the website for details). Close by, the National Herbarium, established in 1853, contains more than a million dried botanical specimens used for plant-identification purposes. And finally, the 19th-century Melbourne Observatory runs tours of the night sky here. Royal Botanic Gardens cafes This being Melbourne there are a few excellent cafes in and around the gardens including French-Vietnamese inspired Jardin Tan near entrance F. Cranbourne Botanic Gardens For visitors who can’t get enough, Royal Botanical Gardens has also developed the Australian Garden in the outlying suburb of Cranbourne which boasts 10kms of walking tracks through bushland and Australian landscapes.
Melbourne's most-celebrated laneway for street art, Hosier Lane's cobbled length draws camera-wielding crowds to its colorful canvas of graffiti, stencils and art installations. The changing subject matter runs from political to countercultural, spiced with irreverent humour. The street art continues along Rutledge Lane, which horseshoes back around to Hosier Lane. As the artworks evolve, with fresh murals continually thrown up overnight (officially most of this is actually illegal), no two visits will be the same. You'll visit Hosier Lane, as well as many other street art-laden lanes nearby including AC/DC Lane, on walking tours of the city centre. Hosier Lane street art Many famous Australian and international artists’ works have been spotted in Hosier Lane since it was first made famous in the global street art scene in the 1990s. The most well-known a Banksy stencil piece, Parachuting Rat from 2003, was mistakenly painted over by city council workers in 2010. Other renowned artists to have graced the lane with their ephemeral works include ABOVE (USA), Shepard Fairey (USA), Invader (France), and D*FACE (GB), as well as local talents such as Ha Ha, Prism and Rone. Hosier Lane history Melbourne's street artists first took their lead from the graffiti scene in New York, with train carriages and railway tracks the focus in the 1980s, before Melbourne's dark and disused city laneways became the new canvas for creatives. Over time stencil art, ‘pasties’ and sculptures complemented tags and pieces spray-painted after hours. Small bars and restaurants began popping up off the main city thoroughfares. Soon the city embraced this new vibrancy and the attention from overseas visitors to Melbourne. Many private and public walls now have large-scale murals painted on commission across Melbourne. Hosier Lane is just the beginning of your street art odyssey. To learn more about Melbourne’s early underground street art scene, seek out the 2005 documentary RASH. In 2020, ten masked men spray painted Hosier Lane with fire extinguishers filled with brightly colored paint, an act of vandalism according to the police and Lord Mayor. It was unclear if this was a response to the commercialization of Hosier Lane’s street art, or just a boring contribution to its story, but the bluestone cobbled lane was quickly cleaned up and new artworks appeared almost immediately. Hosier Lane directions The lane is directly opposite Federation Square (‘Fed Square’ to locals) off Flinders Street, at the southern end of Melbourne’s main city centre. Fed Square also houses two major cultural hubs: ACMI, the museum of screen culture, and the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia. Another major landmark to look out for is the 1920s-built Forum theatre, originally a picture palace and now a major live music venue. Hosier Lane bars and restaurants A Melbourne institution, the Spanish tapas restaurant MoVida sits as the southern end of Hosier Lane. While newcomer Tres a Cinco, a colorful Mexican cantina selling tacos and tequila, replaced the long-standing Misty cocktail bar.
One of Melbourne's icons, the Shrine of Remembrance is a commanding memorial to Victorians who have served in war and peacekeeping, especially those killed in WWI. The shrine draws thousands to its annual Anzac Day dawn service (on 25 April), while the Remembrance Day service at 11am on 11 November commemorates the signing of the 1918 Armistice, marking the formal end to WWI. At this precise moment a shaft of light shines through an opening in the ceiling, passing over the Stone of Remembrance and illuminating the word ‘love’; on all other days this effect is demonstrated using artificial lighting on the hour. Shrine of Remembrance eternal flame With its cenotaph and eternal flame (lit by Queen Elizabeth II in 1954), the forecourt was built as a memorial to those who died in WWII. There are several other memorials surrounding the shrine. Below the shrine, a stunningly conceived architectural space houses the Galleries of Remembrance, a museum dedicated to telling the story of Australians at war via its 800-plus historical artefacts and artworks. History Built between 1928 and 1934, much of it with Depression-relief, or ‘susso’ (sustenance) labour. Its stoic, classical design is partly based on the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. The shrine's upper balcony affords epic panoramic views of Melbourne's skyline and all the way up tram-studded Swanston Street. This unobstructed view isn't coincidental; planning regulations continue to restrict any building that would encroach on the view of the shrine from Swanston Street as far back as Lonsdale Street. Planning your visit Download the free Shrine of Remembrance app for a self-guided tour, or consider joining the guided tours daily (free for Australian and New Zealand veterans and defence force personnel). Kids can choose from four activity cards and learn about the Shrine, armed with an 'explorer kit'. Borrowed from the visitor centre, it features a periscope, a magnifying glass, a kaleidoscope and more. The complex is under 24-hour police guard; during opening hours the police are required to wear uniforms resembling those worn by WWI light-horsemen.
With a capacity of 100,000 people, the "G" is one of the world’s great sporting venues, hosting cricket in summer and AFL (Australian Football League, Aussie rules or "footy") in winter – for many Australians it's hallowed ground. History Though the MCG has undergone numerous renovations and expansions during its lifetime, the original cricket ground dates back to 1853. It hosted its first game of Aussie Rules football in 1858, and in 1877 it was the venue for the first test cricket match between Australia and England. Since then, the ground has served as the central stadium for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and played host to two Cricket World Cups, as well as the 2006 Commonwealth Games. It was also used as an army barracks during WWII. Despite this venerable history, the oldest parts of the current structure are the light towers, dating from the 1980s. A number of historical sporting items, including the hand-written notes defining the rules of Australian Rules Football, are on display at the Australian Sports Museum, located within the bowels of the stadium. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Aboriginal Australians played a form of football called " marngrook" prior to European settlement. A scar tree near the MCG, from which bark was removed to make canoes, serves as a reminder that Melbourne’s cricket fans were not the first to gather at this site – some Indigenous Australians like to call it the Melbourne Corroboree Ground. Marngrook is remembered in the name of a trophy awarded to the winner of an annual AFL match. How to tour Melbourne Cricket Ground Make it to a game if you can (tickets for matches are available via the official stadium website); otherwise, there are non-match-day tours that take you through the stands, media and coaches’ areas, changing rooms and members' lounges. Discounts are available if you get a combined Australian Sports Museum and tour ticket. If you're in the area and after a quick taste of a live AFL game, sometimes it's possible to wander in free of charge at three-quarter time (around 1½ hours after starting time) to see the last 30 minutes of the action.
With more than 600 traders, 'Vic Market' is a large open-air market brimming with food, shopping and cultural experiences. Early mornings are best for fresh produce, taste-testing or dodging the booming cries of stall holders. Lunch hour sees shoppers queuing for street food and flower stalls, serenaded by a rotating cast of buskers. The deli hall, lined with stalls selling everything from Australian cheeses, to Polish sausages and kangaroo biltong, has some Art Deco era flourishes. Clothing and knick-knack stalls dominate on Sunday; they're big on variety, but don’t come looking for style (if you’re in the market for sheepskin moccasins or cheap T-shirts, this is the place). Various tours are run by the market including heritage, cultural and food tours; check the official website for details. Queen Victoria Market night market In summer – and again in winter – there’s a hawker-style Night Market on a Wednesday after hours (5pm to 10pm) with pop-up bars, outdoor seating, live music and DJs, plus local makers selling boutique wares. History The market has been here for more than 130 years; before that, from 1837 to 1854, it was the old Melbourne Cemetery. Remarkably, around 9000 bodies remain buried here, from underneath Shed F to the car park leading to Franklin St. There's a small memorial on the corner of Queen and Therry Streets. Redevelopment and parking Note that an ongoing redevelopment program to preserve various market buildings is being rolled out in various phases, so you might find construction work on in sections when you visit. Parking can be an issue, but most people use the many public transport options and bicycle parking is also available.
With a palm-fringed promenade, sandy beach and eclectic architecture, St Kilda’s seaside appeal lands somewhere between Brighton in England and Venice Beach, California. St Kilda Pier is a local spot for fishing, or a romantic stroll (or roller-skate!). The kiosk at the end of St Kilda Pier offers a knockout panorama of Melbourne's skyline, especially good close to sunset. Just south of the pier across from the beach is the Moorish-style St Kilda Sea Baths housing a heated indoor saltwater pool, great for wintery days. Behind it, the Esplanade is home to St Kilda Esplanade Market every Sunday, as well as the much-loved live-music venue the Hotel Esplanade (otherwise known as ‘The Espy’). St Kilda breakwater penguins During summer, Port Phillip EcoCentre runs a range of tours including urban wildlife walks and coastal discovery walks, and offers information on the little-penguin colony that lives in the breakwater behind the pier's kiosk. St Kilda foreshore restaurants Melbourne’s St Kilda foreshore is also a great destination for eating out. As well as the kiosk at St Kilda pier, Stokehouse is a St Kilda institution with luxe dining and floor-to-ceiling windows for those sea views. Republica at St Kilda Sea Baths offers more casual dining with plenty of outdoor terrace tables for maximum people watching. Further along the foreshore, head to Donovans at St Kilda marina where children are also well-catered for.
Housed in a vast, brutally beautiful, bunker-like building, the international branch of the NGV has an expansive collection, from ancient artefacts to the cutting edge. Regular blockbuster exhibitions (prices vary) draw crowds, and there are free 50-minute highlight tours on the hour from 11am to 2pm daily. It's a rite of passage to touch the water wall at the entrance.
Established in 1862, this compact zoo remains one of the city’s most popular attractions and continues to innovate, having become the world's first carbon-neutral zoo. Set in prettily landscaped gardens, the enclosures aim to simulate the animals’ natural habitats and give them the option to hide if they want to (the gorillas and tigers are particularly good at playing hard to get).
One of the city's newest public spaces and an urban focal point, Federation Sq is a place to meet, celebrate, protest, watch major sporting events or simply hang out on deckchairs. Occupying a prominent city block, 'Fed Square’ is far from square: its undulating and patterned forecourt is paved with 460,000 hand-laid cobblestones from the Kimberley region in WA, with sight lines to important landmarks. Its buildings are clad in a fractal-patterned reptilian skin. Check the website to see what's on.
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