Over and over again while living in Australia, I heard that visiting Melbourne was a total must-do. Besides being touted as the “most European city in Australia,” people also mentioned it was much livelier than its Australian counterparts – namely Brisbane, Perth, Canberra, Adelaide and even Sydney, for some.
And while I don’t particularly I agree with the European comparison – Melbourne still very much feels like Australia, despite the plentiful outdoor cafes and dramatic architecture – I am glad I got the chance to see it for myself and experience the big city life down in Victoria for a (rather breezy and pleasant but still) hot minute. Also I apologize for the lack of rad photos… do y’all ever feel douchey taking photos of food and street signs when you’re by yourself? Yeah well, I sure do.
The Melbourne Town Get Down
If it had been solely up to me, I probably would have chosen to move to Melbourne instead of the Gold Coast for our year in Australia. And while I no longer share that sentiment for various reasons, including the fact that living in giant cities full time becomes rather grating, and also the fact that the Gold Coast is supremely gorgeous and infinitely more laid back than Melbourne, I would still highly recommend it to those traveling and living in Australia… it just wasn’t the right home for us.
Compared to the Gold Coast and Brisbane, public transportation in Melbourne is equally on point and on time. Throw some cash on your $6 Myki Card and do it to it. Not only are there tons of trams and busses to get you where you want to go, but there’s also a fairly large area of the CBD (‘Central Business District’, or what we’d simply call ‘downtown’) that lies within the Free Tram Zone, meaning you pay absolutely nothing to get to several of the most popular areas. Why all major cities don’t have this, I’ll never know. Ahh yes, that’s right… money.
If you plan on renting a car in Melbourne, I do have to warn you about the abundance of over-complicated parking signs, most of which read like the white board of an aeronautical engineer on meth. When in doubt, ask the nearest Aussie for help.
In an effort to preserve my always-dwindling bank account, and in the interest of making my time in Melbourne that much funkier, I decided to stay at a mixture of Airbnbs as well as Couchsurf, which I (somewhat ironically) haven’t done since my European trip back in 2012.
My hosts included an older, super kind and hospitable English guy named David, who I stayed with for 3 nights in St. Kilda before being invited on a spontaneous road trip down to Wilson’s Promontory (the most southerly point of Australia) with another Couchsurfing host slash Aussie tour guide, Craig, who kindly let me sleep in his campervan before dropping me off back in the city the next day. While women traveling alone should always be cautious – in fact, I was supposed to stay with a 3rd host who suggested I sleep in his bed since his couch was already full with two other guests (I declined, derr) – I would absolutely still recommend Couchsurfing with an experienced host (meaning they have at least a few reviews from other travelers) while in Melbourne, or anywhere for that matter.
In fact, after the aforementioned bed-host fell through, I opted for a last minute Airbnb in Hawthorn that was literally a massage room in the back section of a literal massage parlour. Despite the massage table bed being somewhat awkward and hard, I will say it smelled like spa heaven in there and was ultimately a much better option than building a pillow fort between me and some Italian bro.
Neighborhoods, Restaurants & Attractions
While I certainly didn’t have time to explore every single ‘hood in Melbourne, I certainly walked my happy ass through a ton of them, and one thing I have to say? The food options and drink specials are sweet as, and much better than what we have up here on the Gold Coast (damnit). I’d highly recommend the following:
Fitzroy is probably my favorite neighborhood in Melbourne, mostly because it reminds me of South Congress in Austin, or even perhaps the Haight Ashbury area in San Francisco. With rad vintage shops, op shops, bookstores, record shops, tattoo parlours, cafes, bars, hotels, rooftop bars and graffiti’d nonsense just about everywhere you look, I’d highly recommend staying in this area if all things ‘Aussie-hip’ doesn’t make you want to die inside.
Where to Go: Happy hour and food specials at The Provincial Hotel, late night craft cocktails at The Attic (above the Black Pearl Bar), rooftop beers at Marquis of Lorne, live music and cozy outdoor hangs at The Workers Club, reuben chips (YUM) and bogan beers at Mr. Burger, fancy rooftop cocktails at Naked for Satan, mac and cheese at Belle’s Hot Chicken.
I walked from Hawthorn to the CBD one day (4 miles-ish), accidentally crossing directly through Richmond, and would recommend doing the same if you have time and the weather is nice. Passing plenty of cute cafes, coffee shops, boutique shops and bridges along the way, you’ll also enjoy some unexpectedly lovely views of Yarra River.
Where to Go: Stop for mid-walk boozy (and bougie) cocktails at the appropriately named Bouzy Rouge.
Home to my random massage room Airbnb rental, I’m actually stoked I ended up in Hawthorn. Far enough from the CBD madness to avoid tons of 5pm traffic but close enough to reach by train or tram in 15 minutes, it’s the perfect neighborhood to hang on a rainy Melbourne afternoon.
There’s an endless amount of things to see and do in Melbourne’s CBD, but one of my favorite aspects is the restaurants and bars tucked into unsuspecting alleyways. Normally I wouldn’t recommend alleys for anything other than low-key drug deals or drunken peeing, but here they’re rather charming. Though likely still covered in drunken pee.
Where to Go: Cheap jugs of beer, board games and Kardashian graffiti at Sister Bella, art exhibitions and events at ACMI, art and photography exhibitions at NGV, rooftop bar and cinema at Curtin House, cocktails and cheese plates at Madame Brussels. Also don’t forget to head to Little Bourke Street for Melbourne’s Chinatown finds, including delicious dumplings at Juicy Bao and cheap dumplings at Shanghai Village.
Though this area is way more ‘corporate’ looking than other neighborhoods, this is an ideal place for people watching and enjoying views of Yarra River. And probably meeting a sugar daddy slash mama.
Another Melbourne town favorite, St. Kilda is a beautiful little beachside gem located about 20 minutes southeast of the CBD (by tram). With gardens and parks scattered throughout, as well as an assortment of boutique coffee shops and bars and views of nearby kite surfers, there’s not much to dislike about sweet little St. Kilda.
Where to Go: Happy hour martinis and snacks at Sorsi e Morsi, pay-what-you-want vegetarian food at Lentil as Anything, cheap happy hour pizza and beers at The Banff, charming ambience and live music at Claypots Seafood Bar, BYOB Vietnamese at Quan 88, free wifi and book browsing at the St. Kilda Public Library, brekkie and top notch coffee at The St. Kilda Dispensary.
I was only here for dinner one night, but Footscray is an interesting corner of Melbourne with a fun mix of cuisine, including African, Ethiopian and Vietnamese. Would definitely have spent more time here if I had the chance, though it’s a little far from the city if travelling by public transportation.
Where to Go: BYOB Vietnamese on Hopkins Street – delish!
We hope you enjoyed the Melbourne town get down, and feel free to leave any of your favorite Melbourne spots we may have missed in the comments below. Also if you don’t have a real Australian/NZ accent, please don’t pronounce it “Melbin.” Mostly because I hate it. Just say “Mel-bern,” like someone who is more informed than the person pronouncing it “Mel-born”, yet not even a little bit Australian. Thanks.