When tourists come to Australia, they know they want to see Sydney’s stunning Opera House, the red-dust beauty of the outback, the underwater charms of the Great Barrier Reef. But what about Melbourne? Expedia’s second most popular Australian city in terms of bookings might not be bursting with iconic Aussie attractions, but take a few days to explore the city and you will uncover a welcoming network of neighbourhoods, each with their own distinct personality and thriving food scene.
The little suburb by the sea, St Kilda Beach is the first in a string of sandy spots that stretch south along coast to the brightly painted beach huts at Brighton. Attracting locals and holiday-makers for decades, the area revels in its old-school seaside charms – Luna Park’s rickety scenic railway recently celebrated its 100th birthday and nearby Acland Street is renowned for its historic cake shops. Stop off at Clamms Seafood and pick up a box of fish and chips to eat on the sand (just be sure to keep an eye on the sneaky seagulls) or enjoy dinner and drinks with stunning waterfront views at Stokehouse, which exudes a kind of beach house-chic aesthetic.
Spanning the suburbs of Windsor, Prahran, South Yarra and Toorak, this seemingly never-ending street is fantastic if you are up for a spot of retail therapy. Catering for all budgets, you’ll find bargains galore at the thrift shops, while trendy boutiques and designer labels pop up the further north you head. If you can’t continue on foot under the weight of all your bags, simply hop on a tram and trundle your way to the next stop. For a hit of caffeine to get your day started, make for Dukes. This welcoming cafe roasts its beans onsite so, if you are having trouble finding it, simply follow the aroma. You’ll find great local produce at Prahran Market and the food court is the perfect place to sample it.
Channelling a laid-back bohemian vibe, Fitzroy’s main drag – Brunswick Street – is a visual feast with vibrant street art and inspiring galleries at every turn. Brunswick Street is also brimming with cheap eats. Start your crawl with a boutique Australian beer or cider at Little Creatures Dining Room and make your way to hotdog heaven at Phat Brats. Or, just a block away on Smith Street, the meat and seafood sandwiches, buttermilk-fried chicken and beer-battered onion rings served at Rockwell & Sons are hard to resist.
Here’s a hint – Melbourne is famous for its laneways, so whenever you spy a graffiti-covered alley, take that route instead of sticking to the main thoroughfares. You’ll be rewarded with unique cafes and quirky boutiques. Centre Place and Degraves Street are particular popular with coffee-drinking locals, while Myer Place and Crossley Street boast some awesome late-night drinking holes. Nearby, Little Bourke Street is Chinatown central, and some of the best yum cha (steamed and fried dumplings) can be found at Shark Fin Inn. What about dinner? Melbourne has recently experienced a Mexican wave, with heaps of taquerias opening across the city – one of the best is Touche Hombre.
There are two ends to Lygon Street both worth exploring. Closer to the city is the Little Italy section. Here you will find pizza and pasta joints aplenty. Open from early in the morning until late at night, Carlton Expresso serves espresso, aperitivo and everything in between. Take a tram north past the sprawling cemetery and you will discover the calmer side of Lygon Street. With its quaint courtyard and welcoming living room, The Alderman is a cosy place for a quiet drink and a game of Scramble before feasting on Middle Eastern fare at Rumi. End your evening with gelato from nearby Gelobar – this place is so popular it’s not unusual to see queues stretching out of the door.