Visiting Melbourne – A City Guide
Australia’s arts capital and second largest city, Melbourne offers a thriving cultural scene at a laid-back pace. You can spend your days shopping in independent boutiques or sunbathing at waterside parks. Foodies will love the sophisticated but accessible dining scene, and there are dozens of galleries, museums and performance spaces to be discovered.
Melbourne: city layout
Melbourne’s streets lie in a grid pattern, spreading northwards from Port Phillip Bay. St Kilda Road runs from the beachside suburbs to the city centre, or CBD, passing through Melbourne’s arts precinct along the way.
The River Yarra marks the CBD’s southern edge, separating it from the Royal Botanic Gardens. Federation Square sits just north of the river, opposite Flinders Street railway station. This large public meeting place features cafés, restaurants, museums and waterfront bars. A huge screen in the outdoor plaza often broadcasts major sporting events.
Top attractions in Melbourne
Federation Square is home to the Ian Potter Centre, a branch of the National Gallery of Victoria dedicated to Australian art. Next door, ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) holds screen-related exhibitions and daily showings of rare, classic and contemporary films.
On the opposite bank of the Yarra, the vast Royal Botanic Gardens is one of the finest Victorian landscaped gardens in the world. You can explore the 31 plant collections – including orchids, eucalypts, cacti and even a Sumatran corpse flower – or lounge on a picnic blanket by the ornamental lakes.
The concierge recommends…
● Getting an aerial view of the city from Eureka Skydeck 88. Be brave and step out on to the Edge – a glass cube that juts from the building, 300 metres above the CBD.
● Visiting the MCG, Melbourne’s world-famous cricket ground. You can see a cricket match in summer, and Melbourne’s beloved football code, the AFL, in winter.
● Touring Old Melbourne Gaol, a grim bluestone structure where Australia’s most infamous bushranger, Ned Kelly, was hanged in 1880.
● Discovering Melbourne’s migrant histories at the Immigration Museum.
Hotels in Melbourne
More than just a business district, Melbourne’s city centre is a cultural hub, loaded with galleries, museums, music venues and theatres. It’s also a focal point for the city’s nightlife, packed with small bars and nightclubs. Families and nature lovers will appreciate the parks, gardens and river that encircle the CBD.
There are several accommodation options in the CBD’s south-west. This quiet pocket offers a peaceful stay, away from the hum of bar hoppers, but is just a short walk from all the action of the centre. Nearby, Southern Cross Station offers interstate and regional train and bus services, and historic Flinders Street railway station connects to all metropolitan train lines.
If you have a flight to catch, the Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport hotel in Tullamarine is a good option. From here, you’re only 20 minutes by road from the city centre, and just 10 minutes from the huge DFO Essendon shopping centre.
Eating Out in Melbourne
The culinary capital of Australia, Melbourne boasts of a vibrant restaurant scene, with a wide choice of stylish, casual establishments in the city centre and inner-northern suburbs. “Modern Australian” cuisine fuses European and pan-Asian influences, often with native Australian ingredients. Melbourne’s large Greek, Italian and Southeast Asian populations also add their culinary specialities to the mix.
In the CBD, Flinders Lane is lined with fashionable restaurants and cafés. You can sample modern Australian fare at Coda, where the chef combines Vietnamese and French cuisines, and at pan-Asian Supernormal. At the Archway complex, you’ll find everything from coffee and bagels to Indian street food.
You can enjoy tasty noodles and dumplings in Chinatown, particularly in the laneways off Little Bourke Street. The three-storey HuTong Dumpling Bar is a local favourite. Greek eateries are grouped around eastern Lonsdale Street, and just east of the CBD, Carlton is Melbourne’s Italian district. There are more Italian restaurants near the state parliament on Bourke Street.
The chef recommends...
● Bugs: Native to Australian waters, Balmain and Moreton Bay bugs are richly flavoured crustaceans served grilled, steamed or barbecued. Try the Moreton Bay bug with burnt pineapple, roasted chilli and lime betel leaf at Coda or the Atlantic’s seafood cocktail.
● Kangaroo: This lean, sustainable meat has been part of Indigenous Australian cuisine for millennia, and it’s increasingly popular with locals. You’ll find kangaroo fillets at the Royal Mail on Spencer and the Meat & Wine Co in Southbank.
● Barramundi: Common to Australian creeks and estuaries, this large, tasty perch is commonly found at dedicated seafood restaurants like the Atlantic and Meat Fish Wine, as well as quality local chains like Hunky Dory and Sea Salt.
Shopping in Melbourne
Melbourne is one of Australia’s top shopping destinations filled with stylish malls, Victorian arcades, independent boutiques and lively food markets.
The “Paris end” of Collins Street is home to exclusive designer stores like Chanel and Louis Vuitton. Flinders Lane is lined with local boutiques, like Alpha60 and Kuwaii, as well as menswear stores, florists and perfumeries. On Swanston Street, Melbourne-based designer Gorman has stylish women’s clothing in bright, bold patterns.
You’ll find department stores Myer and David Jones on Bourke Street, the city’s pedestrianised thoroughfare. From here, you can take a tram west to Docklands, where wholesale outlets sell clothes, homewares, electronics and more.
The huge, bustling Queen Victoria Market is a Melbourne institution. More than 600 traders sell fresh food and deli products, as well as clothing, toys, souvenirs and bric-à-brac. From November to March and June to August, the Wednesday Night Market brings street-food stalls and live music.
Handy for last-minute shopping, DFO Essendon is a short drive from Tullamarine Airport that has more than 120 brand outlets, dealing in fashion, luggage and homewares.
Best malls and arcades in Melbourne
● Block Arcade: An ornate 19th-century arcade with jewellers, shoe shops, tea rooms and a chocolatier.
● Emporium Melbourne: With brands like Uniqlo, Topshop, Muji and Chanel, Emporium is Melbourne’s newest and glitziest mall. Its top-notch food court offers street-food inspired stalls.
● Melbourne Central: This busy mall has a multiplex cinema, a bowling alley, a gym and five levels of retail outlets.
● Royal Arcade: Built in 1861, this heritage arcade contains cafés, gift stores, salons and a magic shop.
Culture & Nightlife in Melbourne
The cultural capital of Australia, Melbourne is renowned for its thriving arts and music scenes, and lively small bars. Exploring the pubs and clubs hidden along the city’s laneways, you’ll discover hole-in-the-wall cocktail lounges, rooftop venues, themed nightclubs and more.
The Melbourne Arts Precinct is a hub of public galleries and performance spaces, just a short stroll across the River Yarra. The Malthouse Theatre stages contemporary drama in an old brewery, while in a striking, rust-coloured building next door, ACCA (Australian Centre for Contemporary Art) commissions new works from local and international artists.
Nearby, on tree-lined St Kilda Road, the Arts Centre hosts music, theatre and comedy. The neighbouring NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) is Australia’s oldest gallery, with a vast collection of works from around the world.
Best live music venues in Melbourne
● A respected jazz club in the city centre, Bennetts Lane hosts artists as diverse as Chick Corea and Prince.
● Open since 1929, the Forum Theatre is a major venue for big-name pop and rock bands.
● Hear classical, contemporary, jazz and world music at the eye-catching Melbourne Recital Centre.
● Up-and-coming Australian artists perform at Shebeen, a trendy, not-for-profit venture off Flinders Lane.
Leisure in Melbourne
With a reputation for a relaxed pace and friendly atmosphere, Melbourne tempts visitors with green spaces, rich cultural offerings and a sophisticated café scene. Major festivals include the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the Writers Festival, film festival MIFF and the all-encompassing Melbourne Festival.
For a leisurely day out in central Melbourne, a good place to start is Carlton Gardens, a shady green belt flanking the CBD’s north-east. You can stroll past the flower beds, lakes and fountains, tour the World Heritage-listed Royal Exhibition Building, visit the playground or catch a 3D movie at the on-site IMAX cinema.
You’ll also find Melbourne Museum within the gardens. Exhibits include a complete blue whale skeleton, a dinosaur walk and a living rainforest, plus there’s a dedicated children’s gallery.
Melbourne is considered a leading street-art destination, its laneways splattered with colourful, and often political, stencils, paste-ups and graffiti. You can see some of the city’s most vibrant sites with Melbourne Street Art Tours, led by local artists.
Bars and cafés in Melbourne
● Coffee-obsessed Melbourne is a good place to try a speciality brew, whether espresso or drip filter. Hole-in-the-wall cafés Patricia and Altius offer carefully prepared coffee in elegant surroundings.
● The city centre is packed with hidden laneway bars. A good starting point is Russell Place, home to the Gin Palace, futurist-themed Bar Ampere and Neapoli Wine Bar.
● A flat, mostly low-rise city, on a clear day in Melbourne you can see from the CBD to the ocean. Enjoy the view from a rooftop bar like Goldilocks, Siglo or Rooftop Bar and Cinema. From December to April, Rooftop Bar hosts sunset film screenings.