I arrived in Melbourne in November, two years ago and I look back on my first Summer as a golden time of music, dancing and wonderful memories! It is a colourful city where anything goes and some of the best places are hidden away. It is worth looking for them! Melbourne is forever evolving into something new. The bright street art changes from week to week, different festivals come and go from the hub of Federation Square into the outer suburbs. I recall going to a Billy Cart race one day, where the entire street was set up with hay bales to break the racer’s falls. People in crazy costumes watched on, while the music pumped Summer tunes. Aside from the current happenings, history is stamped underneath this city and built upon with multiple layers of culture and experience. The Winters are cold, but if you immerse yourself in the cosy bars and cafes, you will come into the wonderful months of Summer, thankful to have waited for the sunshine!
Where to stay:
The backpackers thrive in St. Kilda where the nightlife is buzzing, there are lots of cheap meal deals and the beaches offer some unhealthy tanning, especially for those Europeans who are not used to the hot Australian sun. Whilst it is a great suburb, I would personally recommend staying in the city, as its central and you can access all the best places from here. Public transport is very easy once you’ve set yourself up with a Myki card (always remember to tag on and off as public transport officers are strict and there are hefty on-the-spot fines). There is a free tram-zone in the CBD so you can get to all the local attractions, even if you’re on a super tight budget!
Places to visit in Melbourne:
The thing I love about Melbourne is that each suburb offers something completely different! Over the last two years, I have compiled a list of all my favourite and much-visited places (suited particularly to vegetarians, budget backpackers, history buffs and people out for a good time). Hopefully you can enjoy some of these places as much as I have!
The Long Room: no cover charge. Dress to impress and dance the night away!
The Spice Market: a bar with pumping tunes and middle-eastern influences. Ladies night on Thursday provides free drink cards (the earlier you arrive, the more free drink cards you get).
The Cherry Bar: Grungy rock bar with open mic nights on Monday and live bands most days of the week. Small and loud!
Cookie, Toff and the Rooftop Bar: make your way up each level from restaurant, to dance floor, to rooftop bar and cinema. Great cocktails up top on a sunny day.
Sahara: Delicious Moroccan cuisine and on the rooftop bar you can smoke shisha.
The Carlton: loads of levels to choose from, this place is great for a drink and dance!
China Town: Loads of places to get your fix of dumplings. Make sure you explore the side alleys too!
Section 8: Great bar where you sit on milk crates, just next door to a delicious (and cheap) dumpling restaurant.
The Croft Institute: Down a few dingy alley ways, you will arrive at a bar where your drinks are served in chemistry beakers!
Yo Yo’s: For a good night of clubbing, this place looks small on arrival but opens up into a huge dance floor.
Madame Brussels: A pink and flossy rooftop cocktail bar with a garden party theme. Expensive cocktails but worth it for the experience. Best to go on a sunny afternoon.
Bourke Street Mall: Lots of excellent shopping and the hub for quality buskers. Great spot to listen to live music for free on a sunny day!
The Royal Arcade: very pretty, historic arcade with good cafes.
Degraves Street: a narrow, European lane way buzzing with cafes, bars and shops – a little pricey but worth a walk.
Australian Centre for Moving Images (ACMI): Fantastic free permanent display downstairs, as well as other traveling exhibitions. Well-worth a visit if you have any interest in film.
Treasury Building and Gardens: for those history buffs. Free exhibitions and beautiful green lawns.
National Gallery of Victoria: There are two locations for this gallery, one in Fed Square and one across the bridge. Both are good and free for the general exhibitions.
Town Hall: Not that many people realise, but you can book free tours here. Once upstairs, you get a great view of Swanston Street, plus you get to learn a lot about the history of Melbourne. Did you know that beneath the Town Hall there used to be a number of prison cells? Obviously, this was in the very early days of Melbourne!
The State Library: Aside from its obvious purpose, this building often houses exhibitions for free. It is quite often the starting point for many of the protests that go on in Melbourne.
Parliament House: Check the calender if you want to see politics in action, or take a public tour on the days when Parliament is not sitting. This building is the end point for most street protests!
Hardrock Climbing: For about $30, you can climb for an unlimited time during the day/night at this indoor centre. A good form of exercise for those rainy days and all equipment is provided. Make sure you take plenty of water and be prepared for a challenge.
Brunswick Street: Hipster central, great for shopping, eating and drinking. This is by far, my favourite street in Melbourne, where anything goes! Most of the following bars and cafes are found here.
The Vegie Bar: Delicious vegetarian food! My favourite restaurant in Melbourne, this place is very busy so be prepared to wait for a table.
The Black Cat: Cosy cafe with couches, great coffee and wide open windows to let the sun stream in. This place turns into a bar at night time.
The Night Cat: Often has a live band and is a great place to let your hair down.
Moroccan Soup Bar: delicious vegetarian banquets. Pay around $28 each and receive a HUGE feast! Bring your own takeaway container for left-overs (you will need it). Only takes bookings for tables of 6 or more, so arrive early as it gets very busy.
Bimbos: $4 pizzas between 7 – 9 pm every night, beautiful lanterns in the roof top area, comfy couches and a DJ mixing up tunes in an aeroplane on the ground floor.
The Rum Diary Bar: huge variety of rum cocktails, though a little pricey.
The Alchemist: Cosy bar with old-school, retro tunes and fancy cocktails. The espresso martini is worth a try.
Naked for Satan: spectacular rooftop bar with amazing views over the whole of Melbourne. Frequented by Pierce Brosnan and probably other celebrities! $2 tapas every night of the week. Great variety of infused vodkas, like Opium and Rose!
Baxter’s Lot: another cosy little bar with couches and sangria, perfect for a Winter’s night. Quite often features local musicians.
Madame K’s: Tasty vegetarian food and friendly staff.
Laundry: Nightclub just off Brunswick Street, great for a late night dance to hip-hop, electro and dubstep.
Smith and Daughters: A Vegan restaurant with amazing fresh juices and smoothies.
Little Creatures: not quite Fremantle, but this beer hall is still worth a visit. Great Chilli Mussels, wood fired pizzas and fresh Australian beer and ciders.
Lygon Street: Little Italy! Great shopping and a huge selection of Italian restaurants.
Tiamo: Go to the restaurant section on the corner, which feels as though you have just stepped into Italy. The food is delicious and there is a good selection of wines. Just like in Italy, meals come with a free basket of bread!
Brunettis: Amazing selection of cakes and desserts. Italian functions are held out the back, if you look out for them!
Cinema Nova: Cheap Monday $8 tickets, screens art house films. Buy your movie snacks before hand, as the candy bar is outrageously priced (as with all cinemas in Australia).
La Lune et le miel: Quaint cafe good for a lazy Sunday brunch.
Slum Davey Shaw: Really cheap pub food and drinks.
Dan O’Connel Pub: Cheap live comedy on Sunday and Wednesday nights.
The Melbourne Museum and Royal Exhibition Building: Learn more about how Melbourne came to be, with quality exhibitions all year round. There is a hefty entrance fee but it is well-worth it. The gardens surrounding the museum are worth a trip too.
Northcote Social Club: Newly renovated, this pub serves great food and has live bands most nights of the week.
The Curry Cafe: Delicious Indian food and friendly staff who go the extra mile.
Lam Lams: Cheap, tasty Vietnamese food.
Gringo Vibes: Mexican restaurant, with delicious burritos and a well-stocked bar.
The Penny Farthing Espresso: Delicious coffee and breakfasts, with a vintage vibe. You will even see Penny Farthing bicycles lingering around.
The Purple Emerald: Cosy bar with great Open Mic Nights on Wednesday nights and a beer garden out the back.
The Wesley Anne: A great pub with live music and, yes, another beer garden for those sunny days!
Sukothai: Really tasty, authentic Thai food. After recently returning from Thailand, I felt like I had been transported back to the country itself!
Thomas Street Foodstore: Delicious breakfasts and a menu that changes monthly. Tucked away in a quiet suburb, it is a delightful surprise! I can’t go past the breakfast pot and a good cappucino.
15 Pounds: Amazing breakfasts and coffees, though currently has a limited vegetarian menu. They seem fairly flexible with taking off the meat though!
The Penny Black: Lively pub on Sydney Road, which has different events and specials each day of the week and a huge beer garden out the back. On Tuesday night they show free movies. Serves $4 pizzas Monday – Friday (check times) and often have live bands and DJ’s.
The Cornish Arms: Cheap food, good vegan options and great open mic night on Monday (register on arrival for a 15 minute slot).
Wild Timor: Lovely cafe serving fair-trade coffee from East Timor and tasty cakes and snacks. They have a second cafe situated in Carlton, on Faraday Street.
Lentil as Anything: Set in the old Abbotsford Convent, this is a pay-as-you-feel charitable organisation providing an all-vegetarian menu. It is common to see hippies in bare feet with guitars slung over their shoulders. Inside, the restaurant often has live music and art exhibitions. Outside, people laze about on the lawns. Be sure to arrive early as the queues can be long. Lentil as Anything also has smaller restaurants in St. Kilda and Thornbury.
Victoria Street: This street (and the surrounding area) offers a huge variety of cuisine, from Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and Thai. There are also a number of Asian supermarkets, so you can try cooking your own feasts.
Don’t forget to look up what’s happening online, because there are loads of free festivals and events that change from month to month. The Information Centre in Federation Square (just outside Flinders Street Station) has current information.
- If you’re here in Summer, check out some tennis at the Australian Open. You can get free entry into the qualifying rounds two days before the competition begins.
- The Melbourne Cup – early November. Even if you can’t afford the races, there is a great opening parade down Swanston Street and you can dress up and experience the Melbourne Cup in the Flemington Race Course Car park for free. I’ve heard this is quite an event – everyone dresses up as they would for the races and drinks champagne etc.
- Make sure you pop down to St. Kilda Foreshore to see the fairy penguins. If you arrive on dusk and walk to the very end of the jetty, there should be lots of these cute bundles hidden amongst the rocks! On the way back, head to the famous ‘Esplanade Hotel’ for a beer and some live music.
- The AFL is big all year round, so if you’re a footy fan, don’t miss out! Get some tickets to a game at the MCG.
- Open House Melbourne: each year, various historic and architecturally innovative houses open to the public for one weekend. Some are free, whilst others need tickets – queues can be long so be ready early.
- The Noodle Festival – Summer tunes and cheap eats.
- The Mexican Festival, the Greek Festival, the French Festival, a South East Asia Festival and so on – each nationality celebrates at some point during the year.
- White Night – one night of the year, the city stays open all night and there are fantastic light shows throughout the CBD.
- Botanic Gardens – perfect place for a picnic and some peace and quiet.
- Check out the shopping on Chapel Street, South Yarra.
- Don’t miss Brighton Beach and the colourful beach huts. Best saved for a sunny day.
- Free live concerts and markets in Federation Square – there’s always something happening!
Of course, it is hard to cover all attractions without going overboard, as Melbourne is full to the brim with excitement all year round. But perhaps you may see a few new places on this list that you might like to try. It will be sad to say goodbye to this vibrant city in a few months, although no doubt I will return at some point, as it tends to be the meeting point for so many people coming in and out of Australia. Happy travelling and see you again soon!