Melbourne Travel Guide

Melbourne Travel Guide

Between the glitzy bay-side skyscrapers and the kaleidoscope of neighbourhoods brimming with street art and busy cafes, there are always a huge number of things to do in Melbourne. If there’s one thing that unites the city’s 4 million residents, it’s their love of sport and friendly antagonism with Sydney, a city that is regarded by Melbournites as lacking sophistication by comparison. Proudly liberal, this leading hipster hangout is also Australia’s undisputed culinary capital, as any Melbourne travel guide will tell you. As the home of the world’s first gay and lesbian radio station, as well as one of Australia’s earliest gay rights organisations, its lack of an official gaybourhood shouldn’t be perceived as a slight. Instead, it is part of the city’s open acceptance of different lifestyles, as the month-long LGBTQ Midsumma Festival, which has been running since 1989, testifies.

The best hotels in Melbourne

Nowhere in Melbourne says ‘home away from home’ quite as well as the elegant yet warm surrounds of the Lyall Hotel and Spa. Situated in the fashionable South Yarra neighbourhood, the Lyall’s boutique nature makes it the hotel of choice for many visiting celebrities. Each of its 40 suites is well-sized, with large living areas and well-equipped kitchenettes, should you fancy a lazy night away from the area’s long list of restaurants. On the opposite side of the Royal Botanic Gardens, you’ll find Adelphi Hotel. Encapsulating its pulsating Flinders Lane location with its bold interior décor and contemporary art collection, Adelphi’s rooms are highly stylised from floor to ceiling, with an attention to detail that never slips.

Also at the heart of Melbourne’s central business district (CBD), Treasury on Collins offers modern rooms within the neoclassical wonder of the former Bank of Australasia. Effortlessly blending the building’s nineteenth-century heritage with modern style and grace, the richly-textured communal spaces, such as the Treasured Guest Mezzanine Lounge, lead into crisply decorated, self-contained rooms. Each room features a kitchenette, washing machine, and dryer among their many amenities. Equally central, and with a sublime location on the south bank of the Yarra River, the light and airy rooms of the four-star Crown Promenade provide its guests fine views across the CBD and Port Phillip Bay from full-length windows, while facilities include an indoor swimming pool and fitness centre. A superb location puts the new-build Ibis Melbourne Central at the heart of any Melbourne sightseeing trip too. The neutral décor of its rooms and apartments provides a great space in which to relax after a busy day enjoying all the city has to offer.

Lyall Hotel and Spa

Lyall Hotel and Spa

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Recommended hotels in Melbourne
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Photo: Denise Jans

Photo: Denise Jans

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The TarraWarra Estate is located within the splendour of the rolling vine-clad hills that kiss the edge of the city

Things to do in Melbourne

Founded in Melbourne’s art deco heritage, the Heide Museum of Modern Art presents one of the country’s finest collections of Australian modernist art. Its three main buildings, together with the surrounding sculpture park, also display a fine collection of more recent Australian and international works, with sculptures by Anthony Caro and Anish Kapoor among others. Once a month the park is also the site of the Heide Makers’ Market, the source for all things artistic and handcrafted, from jewellery and art, to textiles and cupcakes. The deco theme continues in the unmissable Astor Theatre, a stunning survivor of the 1930s which still holds almost daily screenings of both classic and contemporary features. Transporting you back to the golden age of cinema, the retracting curtains reveal the last single-screen theatre of its kind in Melbourne. An altogether different type of theatre is Arts House, the venue for cutting-edge local theatre productions, international dance troupes, and live art performances.

Glittering above the Yarra River in the city’s Southbank area, you can’t fail to notice the 300-metre high Eureka Tower. Melbourne’s answer to New York’s Empire State Building and London’s Shard, its top ten floors, plated in 24-carat gold, are home to the highest public observation deck in the southern hemisphere. If the very thought of the Eureka Tower’s 3,680 stairs and 92 storeys gives you vertigo, head instead for another of Melbourne’s points of interest, Queen Victoria Market. Having evolved out of a traditional open-air food market, Queen Victoria stills sees plenty of locals purchasing their weekly groceries or snagging a bite to eat at the wide variety of street food stalls, or perusing a huge number of stalls displaying clothing and home accessories. The region’s fine wines are never far away either, thanks to the TarraWarra Estate. Located within the splendour of rolling vine-clad hills that kiss the edge of the city, the estate’s single block and reserve vintages can be sampled in the Cellar Door, the stunning, modern tasting room. The estate also boasts a museum of contemporary Australian art, as well as a restaurant that picks many of its ingredients from the winery’s kitchen garden.

Photo: Arun Clarke

Eureka Tower | Photo: Arun Clarke

Cellar Door | Photo: John Gollings

Cellar Door | Photo: John Gollings

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Recommended experiences in Melbourne
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Great Ocean Road | Photo: Shawn Ang

Great Ocean Road | Photo: Shawn Ang

What to see in Melbourne

However, you don’t need to leave the city confines to experience the best of what to do in Melbourne. The city’s Royal Botanic Gardens have provided a place of respite for residents since its founding in 1846 and is today home to an impressive 8,500 plant species. Paths wind their way between the glasshouses, lakes, and expansive lawns, but should you prefer, tours are also offered regularly. For instance, the Aboriginal Heritage Walk captures the history of the local Koolin nation with the help of indigenous guides. The Koorie Heritage Trust is another sight at which to uncover Melbourne’s indigenous heritage, raising awareness of aboriginal art and culture in three gallery spaces that display an array of works from the Koorie people, ranging from boomerangs and carved emu eggs, to newly commissioned paintings. For artworks that require no such commissioning, head to Hosier Lane, the centre of Melbourne’s street art scene. In vibrant contrast to the street’s cobblestone appearance, works of all styles rise several storeys into the sky, covering every imaginable surface.

Nothing if not thought-provoking is the Shrine of Remembrance, located on the western side of the Royal Botanic Gardens. Built between 1928 and 1934, much of its classically-inspired stonework was constructed using labourers seeking government support from the Great Depression. Honouring all those from the State of Victoria who served in the wars of the last century, this contemplative space includes a gallery of more than 800 artworks and artefacts, in addition to breath-taking views across the city. Elsewhere, the Wheeler Centre in the State Library Building, funded by the founders of Lonely Planet travel guides, is a homage to literature and writing in all its forms, offering more than 180 largely free workshops and talks throughout the year.

Brighton Beach | Photo: Con Karampelas

Brighton Beach | Photo: Con Karampelas

Photo: Annie Spratt

Photo: Annie Spratt

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Bistrot d’Orsay, in the city’s ‘Paris End’, evokes the French capital with its trompe l’oeil ceiling, dark wood, and soft lighting

Where to eat in Melbourne

As the culinary capital of Australia, there is no shortage of places to eat in Melbourne. At the upper end of the spectrum are the likes of Hawker Chan, the first Australian offshoot of the Michelin-starred Singaporean hawker. Though it may not meet the usual expectations of such a highly-lauded restaurant – there’s no table service, for instance – the food that appears from the hectic kitchen is difficult to fault. And at only a few Aussie dollars a plate, the prices are unbeatable. The Michelin-level Vue du Monde offers a more traditional dining experience, albeit while adopting a newer culinary philosophy through its use of home-grown heritage varieties of fruit and vegetables. It also sources its meat and seafood from sustainable local suppliers to produce dishes you won’t find anywhere else. The same could be said for Attica, with its use of niche ingredients including gumbi gumbi (native apricot), bunya nuts, and murnong (a sweet Australian yam). The restaurant is as eclectic as its ingredients list, so expect a lively atmosphere and a packed-out dining space.

Native Australian ingredients also take centre stage at Cutler & Co, the award-winning fine dining restaurant from native Melbourne chef Andrew McConnell. Whether you opt for the a la carte or eight-course tasting menu, the former industrial space in Melbourne’s oldest suburb has the sophisticated air we think you’ll love. Vegetarian Lentil as Anything has several outlets in the city, and a unique business model. Supporting disadvantaged members of Melbourne society, this non-profit kitchen operates a pay-as-you-feel pricing structure and encourages environmental sustainability too, making it one of the most offbeat Melbourne things to do. Happy to call itself a ‘neighbourhood bistro’, Carlton Wine Room is a casual dining restaurant serving honest food from a European tradition (kingfish with crème fraiche and horseradish; whole baby snapper with green olives and tomato butter) that effortlessly complements its one hundred-bottle wine list.

An alternative bistro offering is Federici Bistro, an eatery serving weekday breakfasts and modern Australian dishes for lunch and dinner throughout the week in a homely atmosphere. With an expansive al fresco seating area on the busy Spring Street, it’s a great place from which to watch the world go by. In contrast, Bistrot d’Orsay, in the city’s ‘Paris End’, evokes the French capital with its trompe l’oeil ceiling, dark wood, soft lighting, and vintage Parapluie-Revel poster. More than a simple stage set, the French feel extends to the menu, with classics such as bouillabaisse fish stew and crème brûlée.

Cutler & Co | Photo: Earl Carter

Cutler & Co | Photo: Earl Carter

Carlton Wine Room | Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Carlton Wine Room | Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Shopping in Melbourne

Keep ahead of the crowd with the hard-to-source Japanese denims (Buaisou rather than Superdry) of the menswear store Godspeed, where you’ll also find a range of high-end grooming products, eyewear, and home accessories, all with that Japanese touch of supreme mastery. Concept store Design a Space focusses on Australian, rather than Japanese, designers, giving up-and-coming artisans a gallery space in which to display their wares. From look-at-me showpieces to plainer white tees, there’s something for every taste, especially since the store collection rotates on a monthly basis. Then there’s Lord Coconut, Melbourne’s only retailer dedicated to men’s designer jewellery and a must in any Melbourne gay travel guide. Representing more than 40 local artisans, and stocking some 600 individual items, you don’t have to be in the market for hipster skull necklaces to be enthralled by the products on offer, with metalwork ranging from cufflinks to wedding rings.

Stocking a massive 4,000 titles, Mag Nation specialises in magazines, design-orientated books, and quirky stationery from around the world. However, for that perfect souvenir, there’s nowhere better than Melbournalia. Though the name may be a mouthful, its stock is anything but difficult to like. In addition to books and prints, there are homewares and jewellery, the majority of which have been produced by designers local to the area.

Lord Coconut | Photo: Grace Petrou

Lord Coconut | Photo: Grace Petrou

Design a Space

Design a Space

Saint Kilda Road | Photo: Alexis Coupe

Saint Kilda Road | Photo: Alexis Coupe

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The coolest of the cool, Beneath Driver Lane is a hidden underground bar in the CBD occupying the site of an old bank vault

Melbourne nightlife

One of the longest continually-operating gay bars in Australia, the Laird Hotel is a lynchpin in the city’s gay scene. An official male-only watering hole, Laird’s three bars and large beer garden remain a haven for all subsets of the gay community. Its laid-back daytime vibe is exemplified by its popular pool tables, while things hot up with regular theme nights and live DJs every Friday. ‘Where every colour of the rainbow drinks’ is the tagline of DT’s Hotel, the leading gay bar in Melbourne’s Richmond neighbourhood. Enjoy the palm-fringed garden at any time of day, or stop by after dinner to catch the evening entertainment, which includes a popular drag show on Saturday nights. Boutique bar The 86 plays a similar role in the Fitzroy area, with semi-private booths, cocktails from 1986, and a long list of events – Granny Bingo on the first Monday of each month perhaps being the highlight. While in Fitzroy, check out Sircuit, one of the best destinations for unrepentant dancing in a friendly environment. Be prepared: Mondays and Tuesdays are ‘nude nights’ – the same clientele, just naked.

The coolest of the cool, Beneath Driver Lane is a hidden underground bar in the CBD occupying the site of an old bank vault. Its sublime cocktail menu and back bar are known to all Melbourne’s whiskey lovers. If you’re brave enough to try the unmarked door on Malthouse Alley, you’ll delve into the world of the speakeasy at Eau de Vie. Styled after the drama of the Prohibition era, the cocktails abound in flaming liquors and smoking vessels of liquid nitrogen at the main bar; afterwards, slip passed the hidden bookcase and enter the Whiskey Room to sample the drinks tasting menu. Alternatively, try 1806. As a bar named after the year in which the term ‘cocktail’ was invented, its specialisation will be no surprise. The strict table-service-only rule makes for a classy ambience, if also a need to book ahead of time.

1806

1806

1806

1806

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