As Aussie cities go, they don't come much hipper than Melbourne. As gateway to the incredible Great Ocean Road, a reputation as the world’s “most liveable city” and the birthplace of Vegemite and (allegedly) the flat white coffee, what's not to love about this city?
Melbourne for art, culture and history
Whether you’re into fine art, modern art, street art or indigenous art, Melbourne is one of the best cities in Australia to see it. One of my favourite galleries in Australia was also the biggest: The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV International) is Australia’s oldest, most-visited collection of prints, paintings and sculptures. It's worth going just to see the largest stained-glass ceiling in the world, designed by Aussie artist Leonard French.
Part of the same organisation, the Ian Potter Centre on Federation Square is also a must-visit for anyone seeking Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian art. Fed Square is also a great hang-out to catch a market, a movie or a cultural event. There’s always something going on in this plaza.
Fans of modern art should aim for the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, located on Sturt Street in the Southbank area. The award-winning exterior architecture puts you in mind of a group of shipping containers having a gang bang, while the interior hosts thought-provoking exhibitions by 21st century artists.
Another gem is the State Library of Victoria, which is more than just a big old building full of books; this 19th century classical structure is full of paintings and other fabulous antiquities. Drop in to gawp at its massive dome over the La Trobe Reading room, or join a free guided tour to explore the many rooms and buildings of this complex.
Some people prefer strolling in the fresh air to view art, rather than staying inside stuffy old buildings. Thankfully, Melbourne delivers in the form of countless street murals. Hosier Lane is one of the best; A whole lane-way full of graffiti and tags, and there are murals all over the rest of Melbourne too. For tours led by real artists in the CBD, head to https://melbournestreettours.com/.
Like Sydney, Melbourne has a wonderful blend of old and new when it comes to architecture. With grand old Victorian style like Flinders Street station, Art Deco elegance from the Nicholas Building and ultra-modern design in Federation Square, lovers of urban architecture won’t be disappointed.
Melbourne for sport-lovers
Ok, I have to be honest here. When it comes to sport, I’m pretty clueless. Even when there are huge sporting events like the World Cup, Wimbledon or even the Olympics, I struggle to get enthused. But enough about me. I hunted the web for a host of venues that sports fans would love to visit if they visited Melbourne. I even discovered a special tour company that offers access to all these places. You can thank me later for my selflessness.
With a sporting culture and history that goes back to colonial times, finding places to enjoy Aussie soccer, cricket, racing or tennis is easy in Melbourne.
The best-known sporting venue has to be the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Known as the “G”, this place isn’t just a stadium for the old bat and ball. It’s also home to the National Sports Museum of Australia, with interactive displays and exhibitions that showcase sporting history in Australia. Two friends of mine recently visited and said it was a fascinating place.
Because I find cricket (and sport in general) about as exciting as waiting for a delayed train, I’m a bit dubious about this, but I’m willing to give it a go the next time I’m in Melbourne.
The Rod Laver Arena is another huge venue for all sorts of events, not least the Australian Open and Davis Cup (the Arena was previously called the National Tennis Centre). This huge sports ground is also a concert venue, so keep it in mind if you fancy seeing one of your favourite music acts too.
Melbourne for Entertainment
With 4 million residents to entertain, it’s no surprise that the city has plenty to offer when it comes to a fabulous night out. Theatres big and small, clubs, bars and restaurants and scores of art centres for performance and art – you are spoilt for choice in this cultural city.
I’ve been told the Festival Hall is one of the best for live gigs by well-known acts, while the Arts Centre Melbourne is great for performances, stage shows and comedy acts. Check out the website for the Melbourne Theatre Company too, which hosts a calendar of events across the city.
For something a bit different on a summer’s evening, you can watch a movie on the lawns in the Royal Botanic Garden with Moonlight cinema. My friend Hannah and I took a picnic and a bottle of vino and lazed under the stars while watching a film. It was such a tranquil, romantic evening, although we still needed a blanket, even in January!
Melbourne for food and drink
Some say that Melbourne was the birthplace of the flat white coffee (a few Kiwis we know would argue it originated in New Zealand), but once you visit Melbourne you’ll be convinced that the whole concept of drinking coffee started there. Cafes are so numerous and of a high standard in this city, it was tricky to recommend any one place. I thought I’d recommend the quirkiest, hippest joints for a cup of rocket fuel or delicious vegan cake. St Ali Coffee Roasters is a top-notch café serving their own blend of coffee and delicious vegan and gluten-free lunch, brunch and treats. Head to Yarra Place in South Melbourne for great food, great atmosphere and real coffee.
Black Flat Coffee is another Victorian favourite over in Glen Waverley, serving smooth cold brew coffee and a tasty selection of bagels. There’s a massive thumbs-up on social media for this joint!
When it comes to vegan and vegetarian places to dine at, Melbourne delivers once again.
Nate and his friend Adam were mightily impressed with the Indian fare at Om Vegetarian, a simple yet superb buffet-style venue found throughout the CBD.
Another highly rated restaurant is Sister of Soul in St Kilda,with vegan, raw and gluten free goodness served daily.
For anyone on a budget, you can find nutritious, vegetarian meals rustled up by the Lentil as Anything cooperative, who host buffet-style lunches across the city. You turn up, load your plate with all the meat-free food you want, and pay a price you think is appropriate! One of the best locations for this charitable service is at the Abbotsford Convent.
For drinks out at night, I’d like to recommend two unique places.
The first is Madame Brussels, where you can enjoy a spot of Pimms in the setting of an English country garden… inside a high-rise in the CBD! With fake green lawns, white garden furniture and smidge of Britishness, it makes for a positively spiffing night out, wot.
Another establishment that has people talking is Berlin Bar on Corrs Lane in downtown Melbourne. Themed along the lines of East meets West, with industrial-looking interiors, you can enjoy some seriously good beverages in this moody, stylish cocktail bar.
Melbourne for nature
If you follow the Escape Artists 11:11 Instagram feed, you’ll have no doubt that we both love nature. Melbourne has plenty of it in abundance, with huge parks, the beach nearby and access to one of the most spectacular ocean drives in the world.
For civilised, gentile walks in landscaped surroundings, you should take a walk through the Royal Botanic Gardens. Established in 1846 and given the Royal approval by Queen Lizzie II in 1958, the 38-hectare site has 8,500 plant species for you to discover, as well as some very interesting wildlife.
When my friend Hannah and I took a stroll in the park, we found one of the huge yet oddly cute cicada bugs, which didn’t seem to mind pausing for a photo.
Nate and I are not huge fans of animals in captivity, and although Melbourne Zoo and Melbourne Aquarium claim that their animals are well cared for and their programs contribute to conservation efforts, we’d rather give you a link to reasons NOT to visit, and let you decide for yourself.
A great alternative is to go and see animals in their natural habitat. On nearby St Kilda beach, you can see fairy penguins (also called little penguins) as they waddle from the ocean to their small colony.
For a wilder experience of nature, you should book a tour or take a drive along the Great Ocean Road. My friend Hannah and I were blown away by the scenery on this route.
We stopped to paddle in the turquoise waters on empty white beaches and took breaks beneath stands of whispering gum trees where koalas lazed in the branches.
We explored gullies of ancient tree ferns, in forests teeming with native wildlife (watch out for those snakes, Bruce).
We marvelled at the epic scale of the Twelve Apostles (a group of huge limestone stacks in Port Campbell National Park, of which only eight remain). The Great Ocean Road was a highlight of my stay in Melbourne, without a doubt.
Melbourne is the sort of city that has a deeper character, one that encourages you to stay longer and explore beneath the surface. If you love city breaks that include culture, nightlife, nature and internationally-acclaimed entertainment, this Aussie city should be first on your list.
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