Melbourne isn’t flashy like Sydney. It doesn’t scream ‘look at me’ with its opera house and massive bridge.
It’s just cool. Imagine the whole of London without as many hipsters, condensed in to a city like Manchester, Birmingham or Leeds.
So without the pressure of having to tick off a load of landmarks, here’s our totally non-exhaustive to-do list for a few days in Melbourne, which basically involves walking, gorging and drinking on repeat. What’s not to love?
1. Searching out the street art
We live in Birmingham in the UK, where there’s some amazing street art knocking around, but Melburnians take pride in their spray paint creations like we’ve never seen before.
Artists must have a licence and building owners must give permission for their walls to be painted on.
It’s led to big concentrations of stunning artwork around the city’s many narrow laneways.
Sometimes political, sometimes irreverent and sometimes just plain beautiful for the sake of it, we loved ambling around trying to get our own arty shots to do them justice.
The biggest concentration of art is around Hosier Lane. Esteemed tapas place MoVida is also there, if you fancy spending four quid on a single potato croquetta (great quality, not so great on quantity!).
2. Trying some of the best coffee in the world!
Melburnians have loved their coffee ever since the espresso machine was first ferried over by Italian immigrants in the 1950s. Melbourne is serious about its beans!
Locals would probably trip you up if you were caught with a giant Starbucks gingerbread latte.
Everywhere has a top of the range espresso maker, uses top quality beans and knows that when it comes to a latte or a flat white, smaller is better.
We didn’t have a bad cup in 5 days, and there are loads of amazing places to enjoy them in. Some highlights…
3. Seeking sun & supping at a Rooftop bar
Once your coffee buzz has worn off, you’ll want to get some alcohol in them veins. And you may as well do it with a city view for company.
Naked for Satan just north of the CBD in trendy Fitzroy has nailed its rooftop, and the view is pretty unbeatable.
Madame Brussels’ 4th floor rooftop in central Bourke Street has mastered its theme of ‘ Dirty Dancing-style country club with an 80s synth soundtrack.’
Bar tenders wear white shorts and pink polos, the floor is mostly artificial grass and the flowery upholstery looks like it’s been pilfered from your Aunt Sylvia’s conservatory. The playlist of early Madonna, Human League and Prince is hard to argue against.
Further out in Prahan (more of which below), The Emerson had great views and good drinks, even though the clientele was a bit Geordie Shore (or whatever the Aussie equivalent is). And more fake grass.
There are at least a dozen others we didn’t make it to; find your own favourite.
4. Street food wonders at Queen Victoria Summer Night Market
It’s the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest market by day, but every Wednesday evening during the summer the Queen Victoria Market becomes a massive street food extravaganza, with added booze stands, arts and crafts stalls and live entertainment.
The place had a great atmosphere, food choices from Greek to Sri Lankan via Brazil and the USA, and plenty to keep us entertained for a couple of hours. If you’re here on a Wednesday between November and March, you’ve no excuse not to go.
5. Spending time in the Suburbs shopping, eating & drinking
Melbourne central is cool, but most locals retreat to the suburbs when they’re not at work, and for good reason.
We stayed in Prahan, a few kilometres south of the CBD and home to perhaps the city’s busiest and buzziest street, Chapel Street.
For what feels like miles, it’s one amazing restaurant, trendy bar or interesting shop after another. It’s a bit rough and ready in parts which for the most part adds to its charm.
Restaurant picks are too many to mention, but we enjoyed Fonda’s quirky Mexican menu (spicy corn on the cob with melted Parmesan!), Hanoi Hannah’s succulent beef brisket Pho and Lucky Coq’s $4 pizza (we couldn’t believe it either).
Fitzroy’s Brunswick Street has a similar gritty charm and more trendy independent clothes shops than you’ll ever need. Also home to Naked for Satan’s aforementioned rooftop bar.
You’ll want to find your own little favourite enclaves – just take a walk and explore.
6. Taking in a Freebie Tour
Your first day should probably include a circuit on the free old-school tram that does half-hour loops of the city centre with descriptions of the landmarks it passes on the way.
It’s a great orientation to the relatively small central area and allows you to cherry pick what you like the look of. The ride in the 1950s tram car is also a load of fun in itself.
Free walking tours are also a great way of finding areas you would never discover on your own. It also presented us with Melbourne’s greatest fact; that it was originally going to be called Batmania.
The free tours leave twice daily from in front of the State Library. You can duck out early if you like, but most offer the knowledgable guides a small tip.
7. History Boys – geeking over gold rush architecture
The free tours reveal plenty of history you may have otherwise have overlooked. Melbourne is a gold rush city and has retained plenty of the lavish buildings of that period.
Parliament House, Princess Theatre and State Library of Victoria are worth a look inside or out, especially the Library’s giant dome-shaped reading room.
The stand out though is the Royal Exhibition Hall, built for the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition and now the only building of its kind still standing still being used for its original purpose (2 or 3 events a month are still held here).
It’s stunning from the outside but equally beautiful inside, where it’s been restored to exactly as it looked in 1901, when the building hosted the opening of the first Federal Parliament.
A daily tour departs from Melbourne Museum where you can learn more about the 1880 exhibition, the 1956 Olympic events it hosted, the 1901 Federation of Australia that was declared there and even a 5,000-strong bonnie baby competition. It’s any history or architecture geek’s dream.
8. The Tan – and not of the sunshine kind
The Royal Botanic Gardens are walking distance from the city and a beautiful excuse to amble amongst some pretty trees, flowers and wildlife.
It’s home to the stunning Shrine of Remembrance, there are proper gondoliers waiting to punt you across the lake, or if you’re feeling more energetic than we are you could join thousands of Lycra clad joggers doing circuits on the gravel track that surrounds it.
Open air films are shown in the summer; we’re gutted we had to miss it; they were showing Fifty Shades Darker while we were there..
9. Barbies by the Yarra
Barbecuing meat is obviously every Australian’s favourite pastime, so it’s no surprise that there are a load of free barbies dotted along the banks of the Yarra River ready for shrimps to be thrown on.
So grab whoever you’re with, some meat and your favourite tartan picnic blanket and choose a sunny day to do dinner Melbourne style.
10. And finally…
As a first introduction to Australia on this trip, Melbourne knocked our socks off. But it wouldn’t have been possible with the knowledge, tips and help of some very good friends.
Without Ryan, Claire and little Joe our visit to this brilliant city just wouldn’t have been possible, so this one goes out to you guys!