Welcome to my brief alternative guide to Melbourne, Australia! When visiting the city down under, you’ll be inundated with things you ‘must do’ and ‘must see’, but sometimes it’s good to get insider knowledge and experience Melbourne like a local. Plus you can win yourself a stylish Jurni suitcase worth £79.99 at the end of this post. If that’s not incentive to read, I don’t know what is…
It’s a city that never sleeps, always surprises, is up to its eyeballs in creativity and possesses countless cafes that would make a true foodie weep. I’m sounding a little positive about this city, but yes, I am in love with Melbourne – it is time for me to share some insight as to why it has left me with such fond memories.
It is both a help and a hindrance that I lived there for nearly three years. A help, as I am familiar with the geography, transport, and some legendary local bars and cafes that have stood the test of time. A hindrance, as I ramble on about this city for far too long, and it had been three years since I’d been back so many of my rambles were outdated. Heaps of things can change in three years there, but luckily I popped back in February 2016 for a short few weeks to top up my local knowledge of the place.
I was able to really dig in without doing the usual tourist things that many have/need to do when they visit Melbourne. With my own memories of my old Melbourne life and the wisdom of my friends who I left there, I skipped straight to the good stuff and the things that make the locals champion their city.
Enjoy this brief guide without the tourist attractions and get an insiders view on how to experience Melbourne like a local!
Experience Melbourne like a local
Where to live in Melbourne: Where suits your personality?
Melbourne has been awarded ‘the most liveable city’ for years and it’s easy to see why, but if you could stay long-term where would you choose to settle? Melbourne is a great place to live as the inner suburbs that surround the CBD are all so different in personality. Whether you like life to be understated and a touch grimy, a hippie lifestyle and plentiful vegetarian choices, or flashy clubs and high heels; you’ll find something that floats your boat.
For myself, the northern suburbs are where I felt at home – dive bars, homely pubs, vintage shops, hipster cafes, top coffee and great cocktails are rife around Fitzroy, Collingwood and Abbotsford.
When I lived in Melbourne, Brunswick street in Fitzroy was a pumping area from the moment the sun rose to well after the sun set, but when I returned, it seemed kinda…. dead. It was sad to see the change, but Collingwood (find it a few blocks parallel to Brunswick Street) had transformed! Smith Street was stuffed full of vintage shops of fantastic calibre and so many new cafes had popped up – it was overwhelmingly exciting and could keep you occupied for hours.
In the north, you can find all the good places to eat without having to journey deep into the city, you can get to grips with how locals spend their lazy bunch times and find where’s good for some relaxed pints with friends.
Where to stay in Melbourne: Always where the action is!
Airbnb pads are in abundance all around the city. They range from really affordable and homely, to pretty flashy and expensive, so it really depends on your budget and the length of your stay. If the price is right, they provide a great alternative to hostels and you’ll be nestled in the streets amongst the other Melbournians.
When kicking off your exploring, wander the neighbourhood and really get to grips with whatever suburb you’ve chosen to base yourself in. Sniff out your local coffee shop to grab a latte in your mornings, make sure that you try every brunch place in a mile radius and take a good book to enjoy quiet times in the green parks sprinkled around the city.
Alternatively, you can stay in the thick of it and grab a boutique hotel. The laneways in the CBD are rammed full of surprises and hidden treats to explore, so why not actually grab yourself a hotel in a laneway and live like a Melbourne city slicker for a few nights?
The Adelphi is a design hotel on Little Collins Street with slick decor and comfortable rooms. From the black and white striped furnishings in the room to the giant goblet of free sweeties atop your dresser, added details make it feel incredibly generous and perfectly on trend. The mini bar was free; unfortunately non-alcoholic, but it was lovely to be able to crack open a beverage without freaking out about the hidden cost.
However, what really drove me to the Adelphi was its rooftop pool. To float in cool water whilst gazing up at the tall skyscrapers was what I wanted, especially as I was staying on a day where temperatures hit a scorching 40 degrees – the pool had turned into a lifesaving necessity, not a luxury. Be sure to head up to the rooftop for dawn as the sun rising casts the most incredible colours over the city and the expansive skies. It’s a little oasis in a jungle of skyscrapers.
How to get around Melbourne: Myki or Uber?
When you arrive in Melbourne, you need to get yourself a Myki card. Similar to an Oyster card in London, this card can be loaded with money at numerous 7/Elevens and corner shops. You use it to swipe on/off buses, trams and trains, meaning it is the key to Melbourne transport. You can’t get on a tram with change and expect to buy a ticket as they have finally completed the full phase out of the old ticket machines on board. It’s all about ensuring your Myki is topped up and you do swipe on/off as tram inspectors are actually a thing. Whether they’re in uniforms or disguised in plain clothes, they are pretty on it and you will see them from time to time.
I’m not going to lie, back in the day I got caught without swiping my Myki. It was scary and I cried as I was a young whippersnapper who usually stuck to the law…. I got a fine which I managed to dodge by writing a grovelling letter, but my grandma thought I’d been arrested and relayed the gossip to my mum in England. Oh what dramaz.
If you want to really explore all the back roads of Melbourne, the places where trams cant trundle, then go get yourself a bike. If you’ll be there for a while, jump on GumTree and pick yourself up one for $50. Or you can hire blue bicycles from the public Melbourne Bike Share racks and quickly get from A to B in the CBD within the quick 30 minute allotted time.
Aaaand of course, Uber is alive and well in Melbourne. It was actually my very first time using Uber when I was out there, and it was the easiest and fastest way to get around. Sure, the bank charge for using a British bank card in the Australian Uber system stung a little, but every man and his dog has Uber in Melbourne: “How are you getting there?” “Duh, Uber.”
Where to brunch in Melbourne: Eggs & Edible Flowers
Uh oh, overload. Brain can’t handle it. Too many places to list! Melbourne does brunch real well and places are constantly pushing their menu to ensure they have the most innovative dishes, the freshest ingredients and the latest trendy way to serve their eggs. I saw a lot of cacao nibs being scattered over dishes and edible flowers being perched precariously atop stacks of food – who knows what the next foodie trend will take over the cafes next year! It will surely be delicious though.
Don’t stick to a single suburb for brunch as good cafes literally scatter Melbourne from far out north, all the way down through the CBD, littering the laneways, then out the other side into South Yarra and beyond.
I ate so much while out in Melbourne, but there were a few cafes that really stood out to me. On my first proper day in Melbourne, my dear friend took me to SOS Cafe in South Yarra, which was ridiculously tasty with a menu is full of healthy, yet filling dishes, that contain organic and locally sourced ingredients.
Just over the Yarra River in Richmond, Top Paddock is a huge venue with brilliant lunches. Enjoy a glass of Italian Prosecco with their all day lunch menu of meals that have had every aspect carefully thought about. Grilled broccolini and sugar snaps with avocado, toasted almonds and poached eggs was simply a perfect brunch, and I annoyed my friend with too many photos of her picture perfect Coconut Chia Pudding. It is slightly dear (a meal can easily set you back around $20) but if you’re after quality, then Top Paddock should be your top choice.
Another tucked away cafe with a whole heap of goodness within is Wynyard Cafe in South Melbourne. Light and airy, white washed walls have the daily specials written up on brown paper and the delicious coffee makes this hidden cafe a little gem. With big salad bowls on offer with fresh, local ingredients that change daily, it’s a tasty haven if you find yourself down this way.
But if you wish to stay closer to home aka the northern ‘burbs, then there is a whole host of great places to check out. From South of Johnston, tucked behind Smith Street in Collingwood, to Small Victories in Carlton, you really don’t have to search for long round these parts for a good meal.
Proud Mary just off Smith Street (yes, I’m obsessed with this street) has a big menu stuffed full of great dishes. From the usual suspects of avocado on toast and bircher muesli, to daring bone marrow on toast and brilliant summer salads; everything’s on point and sums up a perfect Melbourne brunch.
Out of all the cafes I’ve picked out, locally sourced produce is a theme – you can taste the carefully curated selection of ingredients and it really ups the quality of their food. A lesson that so many eateries should heed if they want memorable menus!
Where to drink in Melbourne: Cocktails & Cosy Pubs
It’s all about the hidden secrets when you’re looking for a watering hole in Melbourne. You can find yourself wandering the streets of the city but it could take you many hours before you finally discover somewhere to write home about.
Laneways, rooftops, dead-end alley-ways – you never know where you’ll find Melbourne’s local hang-outs, so make sure you do your research and get a good map! Section 8 on Tattersall Lane is a great open air hang-out and has the bar and toilets in shipping containers, nestled between the high-rise buildings.
Climb up the tall building on Bourke Street to enjoy a surreal experience at Madame Brussels, where you can perch on the fake grass lawn that covers this rooftop bar and be served fancy coaktails by waitresses in tennis outfits. Another great cocktail bar is Hihou – it might take you a moment or three to find the darn place, but trust me. It is that darkened doorway with a single doorbell and no sign. Ring the bell and if there’s room inside, a waitress will let you in… after you’ve removed your shoes. This Japanese cocktail bar serves on-point and delicate cocktails in a very intimate setting.
But now lets retreat back up to the north where I feel safe. If cocktails are your poison of choice, then head to The Black Pearl on Brunswick Street. This joint has has made it into the top 10 cocktail bars in the world, so nestle down in the vintage chaise lounges and sip on whatever tasty tipple they’ve whipped up.
Just FYI, cocktails in Melbourne/ Australia are expensive and if you run purely on these, your wallet is going to deflate quickly. Now up in these northern parts, there are some fantastic backstreet pubs. A friend returned form Melbourne a few months back, claiming that Melbourne just didn’t have any great pubs – cue my tirade against him and all he stood for.
I love a good, cosy pub. Affordable drinks, friendly locals, good music and tasty food; that’s all I need! If you’re in Fitzroy, be sure to visit The Rainbow on David Street – in the backstreets off Brunswick Street. No, it isn’t a gay bar despite what it’s colourful name implies. It’s just a super friendly, relaxed pub with great live music on a Sunday, a spacious covered pub garden and over 100 world beers behind the bar. Goddamn, this place made me feel emotional when I popped back – I have so many great memories working there.
And finally, one last great pub in Fitzroy to round this alcoholic section up: The Napier. This place has the best Kangaroo steak I have ever tasted and it was my mission to enjoy a meal there before I flew home to the UK. Spacious yet cosy, comfortable and relaxed, the vibe in The Napier is just how you’d feel in your favourite local back at home. No fancy cocktails, no kooky furniture or trendy decor, just a great hangout with friends. Or for a date! Oh many memories at this place too…
Where to shop in Melbourne: Vintage & Markets (all the time)
The street style of Melbourne is eclectic and of course, the styles of the locals alters according to the suburb you’re in. You can bet your bottom dollar that those roaming the northern suburbs are wearing vintage with a dash of high street, or something from Japan that no one has a chance in hell copying.
If you find yourself in the CBD, forget about affordable shopping as many of the stores, like the cocktails, are way overpriced. Chapel Street in Prahan is the longest street for shopping in Melbourne and it takes you from high-end and totally unaffordable designer shops, through to quirky goods by Aussie designers, finishing in vintage stores that edge over into Windsor.
However, the places that I picked up some good things were actually second hand stores. Whether it was at the MANY vintage treasure troves on Smith Street (almost every second shop is a great vintage store), the hidden vintage store RetroStar in Swanston Street’s arcade (CBD), or the many Op shops (Charity shops) up in East Brunswick – you can find great items that some old Aussie nana chucked out, but you can still work.
Even better, get hold of preloved things from the locals – head to The Fitzroy Market or Camberwell Market to have a fish through some great pieces. Some of the top finds that have stood the test of time with me is a stunning netted white skirt and a vintage sheepskin jacket – things I would have never been able to afford if it had been brand new on the high street, and things that will last several lifetimes.
Melbourne fashion is taking the vintage, combining with the odd high-end piece from local Aussie designers and just styling it as your own. Fashion can be bought in Sportsgirl, but style is ingrained in the individual.
Shop, sleep, party and eat to your hearts content, and if you check out some of these places that I’ve named then you will experience Melbourne like a local. These places are all frequented by Melbourne folk going about their everyday lives – it’s the perfect way to sink into the lifestyle and pretend you can be part of the city forever. Well, that’s how I played it when I visited and I managed to fool myself for two weeks that I was home.
When roaming the streets of the city, I used the new Jurni suitcase* – the first adult carry-on case by the creators of Trunki! They have one to giveaway to you guys, so fill in the Rafflecopter app below, take your pick out of blue, pink or red and keep your fingers crossed you win the brill carry-on case which is perfect for city breaks!
All photographs by Sophie Saint
*Competition sponsored by Jurni – all thoughts and opinions are my own.