Melbourne has been voted “the world’s most liveable city” for seven years running, and it’s easy to see why once you’ve had a chance to experience her charm.
Australia’s second-biggest city with a population of nearly 4.4 million, the city hosted The World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards in 2017, proving its residents are as passionate about their cuisine and daring dining scene as they are about their sports – the Melbourne Cup horse race and the Melbourne-born Aussie Rules football grand final are both celebrated with public holidays.
While the city’s wide-open spaces, beautiful parklands and bayside beaches promote an active and outdoor lifestyle in the warmer months, the cooler weather is credited for a thriving arts and cultural scene played out in galleries, museums, theatres and art spaces. A tradition of eclectic village-style shopping strips and a hip inner-city grid of esoteric graffiti-covered laneways means the city’s artisan stores, hip boutiques and one-off bookstores have a loyal following among locals and tourists alike.
220-240V; three-pin plugs are used – with an earthing pin that points downward, and two flat pins that form a V-shape.
When to go
The shoulder seasons (March to May, and September to November) are good times to visit, with moderate temperatures and often big blue skies. You’ll catch the Melbourne Festival of arts in October, and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in March-April. Be warned: Melbourne is known for its ‘four seasons in one day’ weather patterns: you can be in t-shirt and shorts in the morning, and in need of a jumper in the afternoon.
Tourist Peak Season
The summer (December to February) is Melbourne’s peak season with hot and dry days and an average of 21 deg Celsius in January. This is the main school holiday period, but also holiday time for many local businesses.
Tourist transport passes
Visitors to Melbourne and Victoria can buy a myki Explorer. The pack comes with a ready-to-use card, handy maps and discounts to some popular attractions.
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Value for money
A short walk from Queen Victoria Market in the city centre, Radisson on Flagstaff Gardens has spacious, quiet rooms with views across the garden treetops and the city skyline. Rooms and suites have clean lines and neutral tones, and there’s a pillow menu and complimentary Wi-Fi.
Convenient to Southern Cross Station and Collins Street, Vibe Savoy Hotel combines a characteristic old heritage façade with a contemporary interior, ideal for ‘bleisure’ (that’s business and leisure) guests. Curve restaurant on the second floor serves a Modern Australian menu, and Alexander Bar, on the ground floor, attracts a lively crowd especially after games at nearby Etihad Stadium.
Famous Australian landscape artist John Olsen is the inspiration behind The Olsen, one of four Art Series Hotels in Melbourne. Olsen’s works are bestowed on the hotel’s 224 rooms and suites adding more than a hint of contemporary cool. There’s a day spa, and two restaurants plus some extras including Smart Car hire and art tours.
QT, one of Melbourne’s newest hotels, has a rooftop bar for al fresco cocktails, along with a cake shop and Korean-Japanese restaurant. The rooms (above) have a youthful aesthetic with artisanal Melbourne products at every turn.
At the Yarra River’s Southbank in the city centre, The Langham maintains its reputation for excellent hospitality in a traditionally elegant setting. Decadent high tea is served on bespoke Wedgwood chinaware in the Melba restaurant, while the Chuan Spa focuses on holistic wellness.
Adelphi Hotel is a 34-room boutique hotel on Flinders Lane. There’s an emphasis on contemporary art with canvasses and installations that give it a gallery atmosphere. On the roof, the hotel’s famed pool juts out over the lane below. The award-winning Ezard restaurant in the basement serves Modern Australian cuisine.
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Value for money
Victoria Street in Richmond is known as Melbourne’s little Vietnam, but it’s also good for Chinese offerings. One of the best is Shandong MaMa, a casual diner serving speciality dumpling and noodle dishes from the eponymous hometown province of the doyenne who owns it. The mackerel fish dumplings with coriander, ginger and chives and spicy sesame noodles are favourites.
The Mexican street food trend hit Melbourne a few years back and Fonda (above) was a big part of it. This casual eatery does chard corn, mushroom quesadillas, grilled chicken tacos and a fish burrito like no other. Wash it all down with a margarita cocktail or cerveza (beer).
Embla’s stool-studded front bar and narrow dining room warmed with old brick walls, blackboard menus and copper downlights lend this casual eatery a distinctly European feel. Quiz the knowledgeable bartender about natural wines before settling into a sharing menu with the likes of steak tartare, radish and coastal rocket or a pork, fennel and vermouth terrine.
Located on Richmond’s lively Bridge Road eating strip, Anchovy is a standout for its high quality and creative modern South-east Asian-Australian cuisine. The ‘chef’s choice’ consists of 16 dishes that feature cherished ingredients from both regions, from freshly shucked oysters with Cambodian Kampot pepper to pan-fried whole flounder cooked in shrimp paste, green mango and papaya.
Few gastronomes visit Melbourne without dining at Flower Drum, found down a little side street in Chinatown. The 44-year-old restaurant icon serves authentic Cantonese cuisine with some local tweaks including pearl meat (the adductor muscle from pearl oysters) sautéed with asparagus and Asian greens, and wild barramundi noodles (above). Impeccable service and stylish surrounds are all part of the experience.
With three Chef’s Hats (the Australian Michelin star equivalent) and a place on the The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Attica keeps the local fine dining scene on its toes. The tasting menu with matching wine is a must-do, in particular for its take on Australian cuisine. Try a kangaroo carpaccio served with wattles and waxflower, or a Western Australian marron (crayfish) with desert lime.
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Hidden on a rooftop terrace on Spring Street with a sumptuous view across to Parliament House and St Patrick’s Cathedral, Siglo tips its hat to all things European. Expect white-clothed tables and cane chairs with waiters offering table service. Aperol Spritzes and champagne are the order of the day.
The craft movement has taken a stranglehold on Melbourne’s beer drinkers, and breweries abound. One of the best is Collingwood’s Stomping Ground (above), a converted warehouse with a retractable roof in warmer months and open fires in winter. There are more than 25 beers on tap and a kitchen serving wood-fired gourmet pizzas and the like.
Climb up a few flights of stairs from Swanston Street and Cookie is the slice of awesomeness that greets you. High ceilings, heritage detailing, bentwood chairs and timber floors mix with wall murals and kitsch lighting to create a space for partying. Sip on cocktails at the bar and snack on an Asian fusion menu.
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In the heart of the city, between Little Bourke and Lonsdale Streets, Emporium Melbourne is a two-level designer shopping enclave with 200 of the best-loved names in fashion, beauty and lifestyle. International fashion brands such as Diesel, G-Star Raw, Karen Millen and Scotch and Soda sit alongside creative fashion houses like Marimekko and Camper. More importantly, this is one of the largest precincts for Australian designers. Souvenir-worthy Australian labels include R.M. Williams (for leather boots) and Aesop (for beauty), or get a taste for much-loved Aussie style with a visit to Sass & Bide, Alice McCall, Camilla and Marc, Gorman and Life with Bird.
A short tram ride from the city, the cool inner-city suburb of Fitzroy is the place to find your latent hipster. Gertrude Street is its effortlessly gorgeous retail hub where clothing boutiques (The Standard Store) and wine bars (Gertrude Street Enoteca) sidle up to esoteric homeware shops (Mud Australia) and eco food stores (Aunt Maggie’s Organics). Take a stroll to find more.
For the low-down on Australia’s handicraft underbelly, Craft Victoria (above) is a gallery-style shop selling limited edition and one-off jewellery pieces, textiles, glass, ceramic and timber works from local artists and artisans.
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National Gallery of Victoria (above), known as the NGV, houses an extensive collection of art and is responsible for some of the most popular art exhibitions in Australia, including this year’s standout exclusives, The House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture, and Van Gogh and the Seasons, both considered blockbusters in the art world.
Across the Yarra River, Federation Square is the city’s unwaveringly successful community hub with three major public spaces used for major arts and cultural performances. Tenants include Australian Centre for the Moving Image, and there’s a big outdoor screen with deck chairs and live screening of major sporting events such as the Australian Tennis Open.
Queen Victoria Market, the 139-year-old historic icon spread over two inner-city blocks, is a working produce market with open-air fruit and vegetable sheds, deli and meat halls, and general merchandise stalls that sell all sorts of bargain goods and souvenirs. Don’t miss the hot jelly doughnuts.
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Former barista, barista trainer and coffee specialist Maria Paoli runs Melbourne Coffee Tours, taking small groups of coffee enthusiasts through the city’s caffeinated laneways and byways. Whether you’re after the history of first- to fourth-wave coffee or are just interested in meeting the passionate people brewing your favourite pick-me-up, Paoli has a tour that’ll suit you to the ground.
Melbourne’s capital city bike trail is a 29km flat loop that takes you along Yarra River boardwalks, through The Royal Botanic Gardens and past the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), Federation Square and Melbourne Zoo on a calf-powered tour of the city. Melbourne Bike Share has bikes for rent.
Melbourne is one of the few cities in the world that you can balloon over. Global Ballooning’s one-hour sunrise flights follow the meanderings of the Yarra River past landmarks such as the Eureka skyscraper, over MCG and Port Phillip bay.
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