3 Days in Melbourne: What to See, Eat and Do in Australia’s Arts and Culture CapitalBy Carolyn Huane
In Melbourne, going out is a way of life. The city is famous for its coffee fixation, abundant arts festivals, “foodie” status and nonstop sporting events. You can’t turn a corner without coming face-to-face with oversized street art, striking architecture and intimidatingly fashionable locals. And at night, packed comedy clubs, streets saturated with live music and the best dining experiences tucked down unassuming laneways reign supreme.
Melbourne has distinct flavors you should sample on a three-day visit. To get a sense of all the city has to offer, the grandeur of the central metropolis is a natural starting point. Next, the grit and zest of the Inner North and the sublime waterfronts of Docklands and St. Kilda will take things to the next level. It takes just three days to fall in love. Here’s where to begin.
As always, check for travel guidelines and closures before planning your trip.
Friday: Explore the Central City
For breakfast, get a taste of quintessential Melbourne at the resplendent, heritage-listed Queen Victoria Market. Melbourne city is full of sit-down breakfast and brunch spots from which you can take your pick, or start your day with a takeaway coffee paired with a pastry from one of the many friendly stallholders while you peruse the market.
Note: If you’re usually a latte or flat white kind of person, take this opportunity to order a “magic,” Melbourne’s speciality double ristretto. Any barista worth their stuff will know what you’re talking about.
Once you’ve sipped and shopped to your heart’s content, hop on a tram toward the Central Business District (CBD) for a tour of the city’s sprawling, endlessly photogenic laneways. You can take an official guided tour or make your way around the crisscrossing streets at your own pace. Thanks to Melbourne’s grid system and frequent trams, the central hub is remarkably easy to navigate.
Start at Flinders Street Station (taking in the iconic facade while you’re at it) and make your way down Degraves Street. Across Flinders Lane, you’ll find Centre Place, where you can trundle through Centreway Arcade and emerge onto Collins Street. In this short stretch, you’ll see the city transform from a coterie of quaint Italian joints (pizza for lunch at nearby Brunetti Oro, maybe?) and boutique shopping to hole-in-the-wall cafés with milk-crate seating. You’ll likely be serenaded along the way by buskers on each corner.
If you’re hungry for sensational photo ops and a side of retail therapy, take yourself to Block Arcade and flit through chocolatiers, tea rooms and jewelry stores to Little Collins. The final (high-ceilinged, gloriously sunlit, marble-tiled) stop on your flash tour of Melbourne’s arcades is Royal Arcade. It’s the oldest in Australia, so take the time to explore every splendid nook and stock up on quirky souvenirs.
To see more of the grungy side of Melbourne — an essential ingredient in the city’s appeal — trace back to Hosier Lane, and then travel up Flinders Lane to AC/DC Lane. This leg of your laneway tour is all about the city’s ever-evolving street artscape. Without paying a penny, you can take in a veritable smorgasbord of local artistry, from awe-inspiring to thought-provoking pieces.
When it comes to Melbourne’s art scene, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is the more polished side of the coin. But far from the stuffy, dated stereotype of a prestigious gallery, the NGV’s permanent collection mirrors the city’s zeal, color and freshness. You can meander through the collection for free anytime, but don’t miss the chance to check out the seasonal exhibitions, as well. From the masters and classics to the wickedly unexpected, the NGV is always sure to serve up a jaw-dropper.
Reenter the beating heart of the CBD and get yourself to Chinatown, which spans Little Bourke Street from approximately Swanston to Spring. The Swanston Street side is bookended by towering red gates that mark the entryway to a bevy of restaurants offering almost every style of Asian cuisine. Frankly, it’s hard to go wrong. Try Supper Inn for informal yet droolworthy dining, or treat your taste buds to a meal at Flower Drum for upscale resplendence. Alternatively, opt for Shanghai Village for dumplings that never miss.
Saturday: Live Like a Local in the Inner North
Nestled between Carlton and Collingwood sits Fitzroy, the diamond of Melbourne’s Inner North. Once a no-frills working-class neighborhood, after decades of gentrification it’s now an electric, exciting mishmash of old and new, blending its bohemian origins with a tangibly bougie flavor. While contemporary Fitzroy is a far cry from the days of yore, you’ll still find the streets populated with a mix of old-timers who’ve called this place home for aeons, backpackers, families and students seeking close access to the city and plentiful rooftop bars.
Simply put, it’s a must on any good Melbourne itinerary. How to get there? Hop on a tram from the center of the city or walk, depending on where you’re staying.
And your first stop? Brunch, of course. Options abound, depending on your preferences. If you’re after a classic Melbourne smashed avo, fully loaded granola or creative takes on eggs on toast, Archie’s All Day is your go-to. Alternatively, kick-start your morning with a wood-fired bagel from local favorite Mile End Bagels.
Melbourne’s Inner North is for wandering — and you can make a good start on it at one of the popular weekend markets. Hit up both the Fitzroy Market and Rose Street Artists’ Market on the same visit. They’re across the road from one another and offer the finest, most eclectic and aesthetically pleasing mix of secondhand clothes, handmade homewares and knickknacks that you could dream of. Bring a tote bag.
Once you’re satisfied you’ve laid eyes on every market stall and grabbed a bite from the food stalls, head to Brunswick Street proper to explore Fitzroy’s boutiques. Whether you’re here to splash the cash or just window-shop, Fitzroy boasts a surprising selection of covetable boutique shopping. For the thrift lovers out there, pop into Hunter Gatherer, Vintage Sole and Lost & Found Market.
To get a feel for what Melbourne’s fashionistas are wearing, drop by one of Fitzroy’s many Australian designer boutiques. If you’re having monochrome, minimalist dreams, Alpha60 or Arnsdorf could be the one for you, while fans of pattern and color will fall head over heels for Leonard St.
By now, you’re sure to be crying out for dinner and a drink. Never fear — Fitzroy is full of world-class eateries and charismatic bartenders ready to whip up a cocktail, mocktail or a simple glass of biodynamic, vegan rosé. If you are after a cocktail and haven’t yet had the pleasure, try an espresso martini. It’s more or less the official drink of Melbourne.
For dinner, vegans and omnivores alike will delight in the “feed me” menu at Fitzroy fixture, Transformer. It’s upmarket but oh, so relaxed. If you’d rather dig into some pub grub, the Rainbow Hotel has perfected the art. And yet sometimes, nothing but a big, hearty bowl of ramen will do after a long day out and about. For those times, head to Shop Ramen.
It wouldn’t be a day in Fitzroy without a rooftop terrace and some live music. Whatever you do, stop by Naked In The Sky for the unbeatable view down Brunswick Street. Then skip across to The Night Cat (an institution known for funk, soul, Latin and disco) or The Tote (cheap and loud) to see what’s on.
Sunday: Wander to the Waterfront
Melbourne is a city on the water, and the Docklands precinct is the uncontested place to go. There’s ArtVo‘s immersive gallery experience, ice skating at O’Brien Icehouse, Marvel Stadium and perpetual arcade-style thrills at Archie Brothers Cirque Electriq. But first, promenade from the CBD to Docklands — or from the nearby tram stop to save some time. Bonus: Docklands is home to Daybreak Cafe, a cozy yet innovative spot that serves extra-large coffees to keep you going.
You’ll pass by Southbank and Crown Casino, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and the incongruous (but impressive) 1885 Polly Woodside three-masted ship parked outside, the sculptural and aptly-named Webb Bridge and Marvel Stadium before arriving at the doorstep of Melbourne’s Docklands. Take your time, take in the sights and build up an appetite for lunch on the waterfront.
Cargo is a trendy eatery and beer garden right on the water, serving up modern Australian fare with a side of the dreamiest views the area has to offer. Deeper into the center of Docklands, Bar Nacional is a reliable choice if you’re up for housemade sangria and tasty tapas in buzzy, stylish surrounds. Afterward, if you’re not too stuffed, spend some of your afternoon making the most of Docklands’ full menu of activities.
Families, friends, solo travelers and couples alike will enjoy the fanciful charm of ArtVo, a captivating gallery experience featuring oversized optical illusions that’ll add the perfect spice to your vacation snaps. Each zone of the gallery brings you up close and personal with surreal and striking murals that invite you to take part in the fun, and gallery staff is on hand to help you get the best pics possible.
When the afternoon wears on and evening approaches, jump on a tram headed for St. Kilda to round out your day by the water. During the ride, watch the view outside transform from skyscrapers to palm trees. This is the magic of St. Kilda: Within one tram journey, you’ll feel like you’ve arrived in a different locale entirely, one brimming with beachside fun, laid-back bars, lush green parks and backpackers — not to mention the literal theme park (the carnivalesque Luna Park with its ultrarecognizable “face” entrance) that makes St. Kilda’s skyline unique.
Your night out in St. Kilda will be one to remember. Start at the inimitable and recently refurbished Esplanade Hotel for a refreshing beverage among the southside locals overlooking the pier. You can eat here, of course. Espy’s kitchen is nothing to sniff at, boasting dialed-up pub classics in the Main Bar, tempting Italian American feasts in Louey’s Bar & Kitchen (did someone say focaccia?) and delectable Cantonese cuisine at Mya Tiger — all under the same roof!
But Melbourne is the self-professed “food capital” of Australia, and St. Kilda is no exception, so you’ll find a barrage of enticing options in the area. Try Donovans for a (very, very) special-occasion meal, Claypots for a lantern-lit seafood supper or Radio Mexico for helpings of tacos and margaritas.
If it’s well past your bedtime — duck back to your accommodations, put your feet up and have a wonderful rest. You’ve earned it. If you’re ready to party on, St. Kilda’s got the goods. Love and Dysfunction is shaking up seriously good cocktails, Stellas upstairs at Saint Hotel is a treat for the senses, or try the reborn institution Dog’s Bar for a wine in a vintage-feeling setting. Otherwise, head back to the Espy to embrace the rowdy St. Kilda vibe all night long.
This article was created in partnership with Time Out.