Melbourne has come a long way in a short time. The city was once an early-to-bed wowser but its reinvention over the past couple of decades has seen it evolve into a cosmopolitan night owl. A thriving bar and restaurant culture gives it a dose of cool, while galleries and a dynamic live-music scene keep it kicking day and night.
Victoria’s capital is also on track to become Australia’s most populated city by 2026, with the influx of finance and tech companies to prove it. When those suited-up workers emerge from the skyscrapers of Docklands, they have a revitalised Yarra River precinct right on their doorstep. Beyond the CBD’s eclectic streetscapes, where extravagant Victorian architecture rubs shoulders with Modernist statements, formerly working-class inner neighbourhoods such as Northcote, Collingwood and Windsor have become urban centres of bohemian appeal.
While the city does suffer from notorious suburban sprawl, there are wide green spaces and soft sandy beaches to explore only an hour away. Melbourne no longer has anything to prove – but it sure has plenty to offer.
Coffee pit stop
This minimalist café looks like a Scandinavian science lab and boasts its own roasts alongside a rotating roster of single-origin beans. Take it espresso, batch or cold-brewed – or double down with a Bubble Cup containing coffee-soaked tapioca pearls and condensed soy milk.
The follow-up act for the Higher Ground and Top Paddock crew, Liminal combines a café, food store and wine shop inside an iconic Art Deco office block in Melbourne’s business heartland. Excellent brews by Square One Coffee Roasters back a confident menu that swings from boudin blanc with fried egg for breakfast to a superb ma po tofu roll for lunch. With a private dining room that seats 14, it ticks all the boxes for the corporate traveller.
Counter seats overlooking the kitchen’s frenetic activity are prime real estate at this always bustling pan-Asian restaurant. Bask in the attention of a crack team of bartenders as you tuck into slippery dumplings, fiery white-cut chicken or the famous lobster roll. Staff will steer solo diners to half-portions – all the better to sample widely across the award-winning menu.
Di Stasio Città
Newly opened at the top end of town, this outpost of the St Kilda stalwart has already cemented its reputation as the hangout of the city’s movers and shakers. Produce-driven Italian classicism rules a lengthy menu featuring anchovies and sage leaves in a lacy batter, seafood pasta evoking the sunshine of the Amalfi Coast and perfect suckling pig. A battalion of white-jacketed waiters and an entrancing fit-out that includes video installations make this the new home of la dolce vita. The white marble bar is the ideal spot to celebrate aperitivo hour.
Drinks with clients
It’s not hard to feel like a master of the universe when raising a glass on the 55th floor of the Rialto building, with 360-degree views of the city laid out in all their twinkly glory. The sibling of fine-diner Vue de Monde, Lui Bar is a destination in itself, thanks to cocktails laced with Australian botanicals and food that raises the bar-snack ante.
Best Co-Working Space
Overlooking the Yarra River from its central Queen Street address, The Cluster features a café, library, lounge and IT support. For guests, a desk is priced from $10 an hour or $50 a day.
1. Circumnavigating the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, the Tan Track attracts runners, walkers and amblers. Just a short tram ride down St Kilda Road from the CBD, the 3.8-kilometre course winds through glorious parkland and along the Yarra River, with optional pit stops at the cafés of Domain Road.
2. Regain your Zen at Sensu Spa, located in the CBD. Let your cares float away – literally – at this serene Japanese day spa where flotation therapy soothes stress and rejuvenates weary muscles. Offering a menu of shiatsu massage, reflexology and reiki, it’s a tranquil escape.
3. Embrace the salty sea air at St Kilda Beach, about half an hour from the city. Wander the 700-metre-long historic pier, looking out for the colony of little penguins that live on the adjacent breakwater. Afterwards, head to the recently reopened Hotel Esplanade for live music, cocktails and punchy Asian food at its Mya Tiger restaurant.
If you have a couple of hours…
Emporium Melbourne bolsters the city’s claim as the nation’s fashion capital. This chic retail precinct houses independent Australian labels such as Camilla and Marc and Gorman, plus international stars including Michael Kors.
If you have half a day…
Take a stroll north of the CBD through the Carlton Gardens, past the World Heritage-listed Royal Exhibition Building, to the angular modern edifice of the Melbourne Museum. Explore the city’s history at the interactive Melbourne Story exhibition, where you have the chance to ride in a restored Luna Park roller-coaster carriage, step inside re-created slum cottages from the 1890s and see famous Depression-era racehorse Phar Lap on display.
If you have a day…
Just over an hour from the CBD, the Mornington Peninsula is the playground of the city’s elite, who visit its stunning beaches, restaurants and wineries. Sample an array of award-winning wines at cellar doors including Trofeo Estate and Port Phillip Estate or settle in for a leisurely lunch at Pt Leo Estate’s acclaimed restaurant, Laura, before a postprandial walk around the property’s eight-hectare Sculpture Park overlooking the Western Port shore. Another intriguing kid on the block is the design-driven Jackalope Hotel, where the Rare Hare bistro’s woodfired oven coaxes a kind of smoky greatness from all manner of meat and veg.
If you have a weekend…
Winding 243 kilometres from Torquay to Allansford near Warrnambool, the Great Ocean Road is one of the world’s top scenic drives. Stop off at natural wonders such as the famed Bells Beach surf break and the Twelve Apostles, along with coastal towns like Lorne, Wye River and Apollo Bay, where café culture comes with a dose of relaxed seaside charm. Fancy something even more special? From Lorne, travel just 40 kilometres into the beautiful Otways hinterland for a meal at chef and owner Dan Hunter’s highly acclaimed locavore fine-diner Brae, in a bucolic farmhouse setting. The stunning boutique accommodation, with in-room cocktail-making sets, turntables and vinyl, ought to seal the deal.
On the edge of the CBD in Carlton, boutique hotel Zagame’s House combines designer details, including a bold geometric façade and hallways decked out in psychedelic artworks, with 97 luxuriously appointed rooms. Lord Lygon, a wine and tapas bar on the ground floor, is the ideal place to drop in on your way out.