Last week, I got coffee with my little sister and her boyfriend’s family from Norway. They were only in Melbourne for a few days and were eager to tick off all the “must-do” sights. “What is the #1 thing you must do in Melbourne?” they asked.
I came up blank.
Where do you start? Melbourne is not a city with a few “must see” sights – there’s no Opera House or bridge to climb here! Instead, there are a million ways to experience what makes Melbourne the most liveable city in the world. It’s Australia’s cultural capital, a UNESCO City of Literature and the sporting capital of the world.
I’m only new in town, but if I wanted to spend one perfect weekend in Melbourne this is how I’d do it.
Get your bearings with a birdseye view
You could watch the sun go down and the city light up from the Eureka Skydeck – the highest observation platform in the southern hemisphere – but I prefer the view from Lui Bar in the Rialto Tower. The Rialto is on the west side of the CBD and still has the killer views out to the bay, without the admission fee.
Dinner & drinks in the city
Diversity and imagination are scrawled all over menus across the city. Get a taste of the heart of Melbourne’s dining scene in the city. If you can, book ahead. If you can’t book a table, prepare yourself for a wait and go early or late.
Dinner Ideas: Bomba, Burma Lane, Magic Mountain Saloon, Bar Lourinha, Cookie, Chin Chin
Bar Ideas: Eau de Vie (pictured) or 1806 for killer cocktails.
Brunch is big business in Melbourne. Luckily, brunch queues move faster than dinner queues and at many places, you can get a coffee while you wait.
Brunch Ideas: Pillar of Salt, Giddiup, Serotonin Eatery, Chez Dre, St Ali, Kettle Black.
Bars, Boutiques & Bookshops in Fitzroy
After brunch, head to Fitzroy & Collingwood for boutiques, bookshops and bars. Melbourne is hipster central in general but it’s particularly noticeable in Fitzroy. This means painstakingly researched cocktail menus, very good coffee and ultra-niche boutiques.
Gertrude St, Smith St and Johnston St are the best stretches for strolling, shopping and snacking.
Notable Mentions: Panama Dining Room, Gelato Messina, The Noble Experiment, Huxtaburger
If you’re heading back into town this afternoon, walk through the pretty Fitzroy Gardens which connect Fitzroy to the city. The gardens are home to Captain Cook’s Cottage, a pretty Spanish-style conservatory filled with tropical plants and a fresh flowerbed of daffodils which have just started to bloom.
See a show
I’ve seen musicals, ballet and the Melbourne Comedy festival in the short time I’ve lived here – it’s hard not to find great entertainment in Melbourne. Amy Schumer even popped up for a sell-out show on Wednesday night!
Arcades & Laneways
Melbourne is organised on a grid. Running east to west, major streets alternate with “little” streets or lanes (i.e. Collins St is followed by Little Collins, Bourke St is followed by Little Bourke). The famous laneways and arcades shoot off from these little streets, and it’s easy to feel like you’ve been whirled away to another world in a matter of minutes.
Melbourne’s most famous street art gallery is Hosier Lane, just off Flinders Lane, opposite Fed Square. It’s always full of selfie-taking tourists so it’s near-impossible to get a shot of the artwork without a few inadvertent photo bombers. On the bright side, you need to feel zero shame as you pose for your own selfie!
Degreaves St and Centre Place are Melbourne’s most famous cafe-filled laneways, but you can find some nice bites in The Causeway, Manchester Arcade and the Block Arcade. In my experience, the most interesting laneways are in the southern half of the city, off Flinders Lane, Little Collins & Little Bourke.
One of my favourite finds in the northern part of the city is Shortstop Coffee & Donuts on Sutherland St, off La Trobe St. They’ve elevated the humble doughnut to a delicious art form with flavours like Earl Grey & Rose, Sticky Date & Gingerbread and Peanut Butter Caramel & Chocolate.
Dinner & drinks on Chapel St
South Yarra is Chapel St’s famous shopping stretch, but as it cuts through Prahran and Windsor it swaps posh boutiques for interesting bars and restaurants. It’s my favourite place to eat and drink outside the city’s laneways.
Dinner Ideas: Saigon Sally, Borscht,Vodka & Tears.
Borscht, Vodka & Tears serves up hearty Eastern European food, but if you’re eating elsewhere, still pop in to check out their impressive vodka list and try a cocktail. If you’re feeling adventurous (or too sober), try one of their vodka flights. It’s not for the faint-hearted!
Graze at the South Melbourne Market
Spend a lazy Sunday morning nibbling your way around the South Melbourne Markets. I prefer the South Melbourne Markets to the more famous Queen Victoria Markets in the city because it is full of delicious cafes and street food stands on one side, it’s less overwhelming than Queen Vic and it has a cute little design section full of local Melbourne designers. The South Melbourne Market also has fewer stalls full of knock-off crap – my pet hate!
Favourite spots: Proper & Sons for brunch
Trust me on this one. Go spend an hour or two at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). This place taught me what it feels like to enjoy art galleries. Entry is free, so I’ve visited several times in the time I’ve lived here.Because it’s free, you won’t waste time in ticket queues or feel pressured to see it all. Pop in for half an hour, or four hours – whatever suits!
The gallery is compact and the collections are tightly curated – perfect for dipping your toe into the art world. You can wander from medieval Europe to ancient Egypt and then to old world Japan before checking out Mayan artefacts or popping over to admire the works of modern masters like Mark Rothko and Andy Warhol.
On the top floor, there are some cool fashion & furniture collections. My favourite is probably the impressionist collections – I was not expecting to be able to see artwork by masters like Monet, Manet, Sisley, Degas, Renoir, Rodin and Pissaro under one roof! Until December, the NGV has a small exhibition dedicated to modern Scandinavian design.
OR: South Melbourne Beach
Fine, you won’t go to the NGV. South Melbourne beach is 10 minutes from the city, hop on the #1 tram. Eat at Nyshry, stroll down the pier and check out the boutiques, cafes and impossibly pretty terrace houses in the back streets.
Drinks on the river: Ponyfish Island or Arbory
The NGV is right next to the Southbank promenade, so follow it with a drink on the river at Ponyfish Island or Arbory. Ponyfish Island is the little bar in the middle of the Yarra River, underneath the footbridge.
Arbory is on the other side of the river at the back of Flinders Street Station. It’s entirely outdoors, with one long deck stretching along the Yarra. It’s shaded by pretty plane trees during the day and lit up by fairylights strung between the trees at night.
Soak up the seaside vibes in St Kilda
Don’t leave Melbourne without spending time along the beautiful, buzzing St Kilda Promenade. St Kilda is home to the old-school theme park Luna Park, drool-worthy bakeries lining Acland St and the pretty St Kilda Sea Baths, the occasional flock of fairy penguins and lots of cool bars and restaurants. It’s one of Melbourne’s most iconic suburbs and oozes character.
One of my favourite restaurants in Melbourne is in St Kilda, but it’s about a 20 minute walk from the beach. Las Tapas is a tiny Spanish bar & restaurant on Chapel St, which honestly serves the most delicious Spanish food I’ve ever had.
Sticking to the area around the beach, you can spot the fairy penguins at dusk from St Kilda Pier, walk along the beach, eat on Acland St and maybe even spot the St Kilda Cowboy – a local personality who appears on a horse, chats with people for a bit, and then gallops off into the sunset.