Melbourne is an inspiring city and a favourite holiday destination of both Australians and overseas visitors. There’s a lot to see, so we’ll begin our two-part guide to Melbourne with a look at the city centre. This area is known locally as the CBD (Central Business District) and wherever you’re staying in Melbourne, it is easy to reach. Home to both the Parliament and all the major cultural institutions, it’s very much the beating heart of the city. Largely developed during the Gold Rush, it features grand architecture, decadent arcades and winding lanes – which now play host to the city’s rich cafe and art scene.
Begin by zig-zagging through Elizabeth, Bourke and Collins streets to Degraves Street, a narrow laneway packed with cafes and eateries. This is the epicentre of Melbourne coffee culture and this jam-packed little strip is surrounded by more winding lanes, each plastered with original street art. Sit for an espresso at Degraves Espresso Bar, or squeeze into French sensation Waffle On for a phenomenal fresh waffle or baguette. You can also get them to go if you want to keep exploring.
If you spot a shop you like, head in! You might not be able to find it later on in the maze of small bars, alleys and arcades later on. Local favourites include the Myer department store, the Block Arcade and the GPO building. When you’re ready to move on, head left onto Flinders Street and walk past the beautiful old Flinders Street Station (keep an eye out for trams) to Federation Square, a major meeting place and arts center.
It’s home to the Australian Centre of the Moving Image (ACMI) and the National Gallery of Victoria. ACMI was established to preserve and promote screen content including film, television and art. The free permanent exhibition illustrates the history of Australian filmmaking with interactive displays, film props and costumes, while temporary exhibitions explore international cinema and its connection to Australia. In the game arcade, you can feel nostalgic for your childhood while you play on the dozens of vintage game consoles. Next door is the oldest art gallery in Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria. It houses dozens of Australian and International masterpieces, from Rembrandt to Australian painter Arthur Boyd, over two buildings – one on Federation Square and the other just over the Yarra River.
Alternatively, if you prefer your art outdoors and unframed, consider a street art tour of Melbourne.
Melbourne Street Art Tours run a great one every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 1:30-4:30. The walks are led by experienced artists and photographers who know Melbourne inside out. Their extensive knowledge of the history of street art, its place in contemporary culture and insider stories make the tour a fascinating experience. As the works on the street are themselves constantly being changed and appropriated, the tour is frequently adapted to this ever-evolving cityscape. After almost three hours of eye-opening stories, the tour ends at Blender Lane Art Studios where you can enjoy a drink and snack with some of the artists who create work there. Budding artists could also join their stencil-making and street-art workshops. Find out more here.
Just around the corner from the Blender Lane Art Studios is the Queen Victoria Market. It caps the northern end of the CBD and is a fantastic place to pick up all the ingredients for your cooking or picnicking needs. It’s one of Melbourne’s last surviving 19th century markets, and is the largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere. Pick up picnic supplies, deli delights or a pre-made hot lunch. If you feel like a treat, head straight for the jam doughnut van. It’s also a good spot for grocery shopping if you plan to cook in your apartment.
In the evening, central Melbourne is your oyster. Restaurants serving international and modern Australian cuisine can be found on every block, and their emphasis is on friendly service and high quality produce. For authentic Chinese and South Asian, head to Chinatown or sample the best Greek food on this side of the world in the Greek Precinct. After dinner, hundreds of small bars open their doors and patrons spill out onto the street, enjoying a local Carlton or craft beer. Check out bars like Madame Brussels or Eau De Vie – or if you want to be with the real in-crowd, venture to Curtin House on Swanston Street. This 6 storey Art-Nouveau building is host to Cookie, the Rooftop bar, and a host of trendy shops during the day.
Look out for the second part of this series soon! We’ll take a look at some of some of Melbourne’s favourite districts and the city’s famed dining culture.