Melbourne is a city that knows how to live it up: think food, wine, fashion, fascinating bay beaches and meandering city walking tracks. In fact, it usually outranks the other state capitals as the country’s most liveable spot. If you’ve only got three days in Melbourne to soak up the city’s spirit, follow this guide to doing, seeing and eating it all.
If Australia is the country of great coffee, then Melbourne is its capital. Arm yourself with a strong flat white from Brother Baba Budan or Hash Specialty Coffee in the CBD and spend the early hours of the day getting acquainted with the city’s famous laneways. Definitely amble down the big-ticket alleys, such as the graffiti-lined Hosier Alley and cobblestoned Degraves Street, but also take the time to cruise some of the lesser-known passageways to discover something special. Our tip? Campbell Arcade, an underground tunnel rebirthed as a vintage shopping and vinyl mecca.
All that walking is sure to have worked up an appetite. Luckily, Melbourne is also known for its impressively diverse offering of great food – there are so many iconic dishes in the city, it will be hard to pick just a few to try. May we suggest the New England lobster roll at Supernormal, a Sino-Japanese outfit on Flinders Lane, or a selection of tapas, including the delicate anchoa at Movida? Once you’re sated, embark on a post-prandial walk along the banks of the river that snakes through the city, the Yarra. If you want to see the city from the water, book a gondola that departs from the Crown Casino or Southgate to glide along its curves or book a private river cruise complete with cheese platter and bottle of sparkling or chardonnay.
As the sun starts to set, there are two ways to utilise the final hours of light. You could take a lap around The Tan, the 3.8-kilometre loop that runs around the Kings Domain the Royal Botanic Gardens and is beloved by early-morning runners and after-work walkers. Or, take a turn on the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel at Docklands. Spinning by the banks of the Yarra, it’s the perfect vantage point to watch the city’s lights turn on. Then, hail a taxi to Lygon Street to overindulge in Italian cuisine. 400 Gradi is lauded for its simple margherita pizza (it’s won world-wide awards) but its selection of pasta and risotto is just as tasty. For dessert, walk to Pidapipo for a big scoop of creamy hazelnut or Nutella swirl gelato. Still have some room for more Italian morsels? Finish the evening with a glass or two of Australian wine and cicchetti – Venetian-style bar food – at Heartattack and Vine.
This is the day to settle in for a big, Australian-style brunch. Higher Ground, on Little Bourke Street, has meals to suit both those after a hearty start to the day or something a little lighter – think everything from a salty bacon sandwich to buckwheat granola with mango and coconut whip. For something trendier in an up-and-coming suburb, catch the Werribee train from Flinders Street Railway Station to Footscray Station and walk six minutes up Leeds Street to visit Rudimentary for a hot rissole roll with beer-braised onions and ketchup. While you’re there, get a deeper understanding of this multicultural suburb by visiting the Footscray Community Arts Centre.
Image: Higher Ground
The next few hours are shopping time and, in Melbourne, you’re never short or place to work your wallet – every shopping style is catered for. Boutiques belonging to Australian designer populate High Street in Armadale; Bourke Street and Chadstone malls are a mix of luxury and high-street fashion; St Collins Lane in the CBD is full of high-end European labels; you’ll find one-of-a-kind accessories and crafts at Rose Street Artists’ Market in Fitzroy or all manner or curios at Queen Victoria Market; and a hodge-podge of different stores on South Yarra’s Chapel Street. And that’s not even counting the countless one-off boutiques scattered around the city.
Catch the number 86 tram from Bourke Street Mall to the intersection of Brunswick and Gertrude streets in Fitzroy, a pocket bordering the north-east of the CBD: this is tonight’s dinner destination. A haven for hipsters and those in the know, these streets are peppered with cafés, restaurants and bars to while away the night. Ricky & Pinky, inside the Builders Arms hotel, does a broad and delicious selection of Chinese cuisine; Cutler & Co’s extensive wine list highlights local bottles as well as the best from around the world; or, for something simpler, Belle’s Hot Chicken pleases the hungry masses with wings, drumsticks and tenders in a range of heats.
Image: Ricky & Pinky
Sydney’s beaches might be better for surfing but the sandy shores that dot Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay are perfect for swimming and water-craft activities. If you visit one beach, take the Sandringham train from Flinders Street Station to Brighton Beach – the colourful bathing boxes that line the sand are a sight to remember. After your dip, take the coast-side Bay Trail towards St Kilda. It should take just over an hour to reach the St Kilda breakwater where it’s time for some penguin peeking: look down and you’ll spot the colony of little penguins that have made their burrows in the rocks. Then wander up to Acland Street for a post-walk pick-me-up of the incredibly sugar variety – there’s a bakery every few steps.
Jump on the number 3/3a or 67 tram from St Kilda back to Flinders Street Station and spend some time at Federation Square. There are myriad things to do, depending on what takes your interest: The Australian Centre for the Moving Image has permanent interactive exhibitions of key moments of film; the Ian Potter Centre has an extensive collection of indigenous art; or you can take a seat on the steps to watch the daily street performers entertain the crowd with their bizarre sets of skills.
For a last hurrah, get yourself to Flinders Lane. A buzzing stretch on the city’s east side, it’s become a food-lover’s haven with new restaurants seemingly opening every other week. Top picks? Chin Chin for a buzzy atmosphere and pan-Asian cuisine, Coda for Vietnamese-inspired plates, Saké for lively Japanese dishes or Cumulus Inc for poached snapper and slow-roast lamb shoulder. Then, make the most of a balmy evening by visiting Transit Rooftop Bar, above the banks of the Yarra River, and toast the sparkling city skyline with your martini sip. The perfect way to end an action-packed few days.
If you find more time…
- Hire a car and take a leisurely drive down The Great Ocean Road. Winding down the coast and through character-filled towns beckoning you for a coffee or ice-cream pit stop, it’s a journey you can do over one or several days. If you only have a day, the road officially begins in Torquay, about a 90-minute drive from the Melbourne CBD. You’ll want to at least get to the majestic 12 Apostles, a further two hours along.
- There are several unique wine regions all within a two-hour drive of the city. The Yarra Valley is not only a hub for great chardonnay and pinot noir but for destination dining (Matt Stone’s Oakridge and ezard at Levantine Hill are especially popular) and distilleries, particularly in the town of Healesville. The Macedon Ranges is an easy one-hour drive from the city and home to quaint towns with busy high streets for picking up unique homewares and wineries trying something new, such as Mount Towrong. In the Mornington Peninsula, wine meets art at vineyards such as Montalto and design hotels such as Jackalope.
- Phillip Island, a tiny speck 90 minutes from Melbourne connected to the mainland via bridge, is must-do destination for wildlife lovers. As well as quiet, pristine beaches, it’s best known as the home for a big population of little penguins and fur seals.