Last year, I had the chance to spend one fun, wonderful, sunny summer in Melbourne. I fell deeply madly in love with the city – a place where as soon as there’s a good beat playing (which is pretty often) there’s people dancing, a place where everything is celebrated from a week dedicated solely to noodles to a day where the entire Colombian community comes out to eat and play and finally a place where no matter what you like or who you are, there is a spot just for you! I have a friend heading out to good ol’ Melbs at the end of the month and so I’ve decided it was time for me to compile my top 10 Melbourne experiences.
Take a walk
I always like to find a walking tour when I first arrive in a city as there’s usually free or very cheap options available. This helps figure out my way around the city and gives a chance to get insiders tips from a local. Lucky for you, there’s a free walking tour in Melbourne generally run by local students who do it for the tips at the end. It’s a great tour that covers most of central Melbourne and I definitely recommend it for anyone who wants to know a little bit about the city’s history. There are lots of cool stories and secrets to find out!
Find out what’s happening
There is always something happening in Melbourne – outdoor concerts, festivals or simply an impromptu swing dancing class. This is one of my favourite things about the city. It can seem daunting having to research all this but you don’t even have to. You can pick up a weekly calendar of events for the city and for Federation Square (lots of events happen there) at the Tourist Information located in the centre of Federation Square.
If there is one thing you must do in Melbourne is drink coffee. I didn’t think it was possible but Melbournians love coffee even more than Vancouverites (I know!). While in Vancouver, everyone lines up at the closest Starbucks, Melbourne is filled with little coffee shop. The fun is to find the hidden ones in the alleys and give them a try. To get you started, here’s the list Moe and I worked with – given to us by a local coffee lover. Moe’s favourite was Market Lane Coffee in the Queen Victoria Market and mine (not liking coffee) was Brother Baba Budan (now called Seven Seeds). They have the most amazing hot chocolate with an entire chocolate stick left to melt into the steamy milk.
The single best advice I ever got about discovering Melbourne came from a biker with a long ponytail and a leather jacket named Guru (not joking!). Over a couple beers at a couchsurfing event, he told me “the best way to discover Melbourne is to throw away your map and get lost!” As it turns out, he was right and it was one of the best days I had in this city known for all its hidden spots and alleys. I started at Hosier lane to take in all the graffiti connected over to Flinders Lane and from there, I let my curiousity take over. If I heard music, I’d walk towards it to listen a bit more. If I saw a really neat shop window, I’d peak in to discover all its mysteries. If I noticed a little alley going unnoticed, I’d go in to find out what was there. Try it – you won’t be disappointed.
Queen Victoria Market
I might be a little biased due to my definite love for food but the Queen Victoria Market to me is a little piece of heaven on Earth. Just walking around and checking out all the shops and booths is fun. Foods, cheap souvenirs, fashions – there is absolutely everything you could think of but here are a few tips from me to you. Number one – if you’re going to try the market lane coffee mentioned earlier then you should accompany it with an absolutely amazing and very Australian desert – the Lamington. Luckily, you can find this spongy chocolaty coconuty delicacy at the bakery right across the coffee shop – very convenient. I recommend the cream-filled ones because well why not? Number 2 – If you want a unique souvenir or even a neat snack to try, go over the African shop (same lane as the coffee shop and bakery). They sell Kangaroo jerky. I’m not a jerky fan myself but Moe brought back tons and loved it. Number 3 – This is if you want the ultimate local experience at the market and you don’t mind loud shouting. Head over to the market on Sunday between 1-3 pm. The market closes on Mondays (and also Wednesdays so do go on those days!) and this means the produce guys, fish mongers and butchers really want to sell their stuff. The locals know it and around 1 pm, those areas suddenly become very lively with market staff calling out to you and attracting you with very cheap specials. When we lived in Melbourne, I went to the market every Sunday, it was so much fun watching the action and seeing the place come to life like that. Plus, I scored some very cheap and delicious groceries!
Hang out on Bourke Street
One of my favourite pastimes on a lazy sunny Sunday was to head over to Bourke Street and listen to the buskers. All day long, there’s always someone to listen to – a passionate Spanish guitarist with fingers passing over the chords at the speed of light, a sultry songstress singing songs of love and loneliness or an indie band visiting from Europe playing instruments you’d never seen before.
Rent a bike
Again, I might be a little biased because I absolutely love biking (my bike was my most missed possession while we were away; Moe’s was his pillow!) but I’ll just say it – this is a must-do in Melbourne. You can go for the bike shares but if you’re really going to go for it, I recommend renting a bike (Budget Moe did the math and it’s definitely cheaper for anything longer than 2 hours). There’s a great little bike rental shop at federation square right along the river. Don’t forget to ask for their bike ride map! My recommendation is making a day out of it; pack a picnic and head over to St Kilda Beach. Don’t stop there though! You can follow the coast for quite a few kilometers (7 km to be exact) all the way to the Brighton Bathing Houses. There are some great views along the coast and the bathing houses are absolutely adorable each with their very own design. On the way home, you’ll probably need a little break and if you’re anything like me, this means a sweet treat. For the best pastries, stop at St Kilda and head up Acland Road. My go-to is Europa Cake Shop. You can’t miss it! It’s the one with a window filled with cakes and pastries. The hard part will be choosing just one but at least you can burn off the calories on the rest of the way home!
Get a taste of Australia
After all these activities, you’re sure to be hungry! You’re in luck because Melbourne is full of treasures when it comes to restaurants. You could seriously eat away your trip and there are too many gems to list but I will recommend one stop. It might seem “touristy” of me to recommend going to a restaurant where you can try kangaroo or emu steaks but Charcoal Lane is certainly not a tourist trap. It actually has a really cool story to tell and is an opportunity to get a taste of all that Australia has to offer. So while you try your Parma wrapped wallaby with sweet potato mash, rosella flower, red wine + pepperleaf juice (sounds delish, right?), know that you are also supporting a great initiative. That’s because the restaurant is fully staffed by young people, many of whom are aboriginal, and in need of a fresh start in life. Charcoal Lane is their second chance, a place where they can gain skills and achieve their potential.
Wednesday Night Markets
Yes, the Queen Victoria Market is closed on Wednesday by day. But by night, the night market opens up for food, music and good fun! It’s a go-to event for all the locals and there’s no reason for you to not join in the fun. My one and only tip is to go hungry and let your appetite take over. From champagne & oysters to Australian BBQ (your chance to try crocodile meat?), there’s something for everyone. Once your stomach has been satisfied, enjoy the music, the dancing and booths. If you’re in an artsy mood, you can also check out the Blender Lane Artists Market on Franklin Street.
While many of the bars are hidden up above on the city’s rooftops, I’d like to take you to the place down under. Ponyfish Island is a bar hidden under the South Bank pedestrian bridge and from there you get a unique view of the city while floating on the Yarra. It’s certainly not the fanciest of bars but that’s what I liked about it. It’s unassuming with its eclectic décor and cheap sangria but it’s always a good time. Best time to go? An hour or so before sunset; that way you get day and night perspectives of the city!