The locals’ guide to Melbourne

Hip, cultured and creative, Victoria’s state capital delivers a uniquely different experience around every street corner. We get the inside track

 

CULTURAL TREATS

Navigating the labyrinth of Melbourne’s famous laneways is Fiona Sweetman’s passion, but she’s just as clued up on the city’s other hidden hot spots. hiddensecretstours.com

What is the go-to neighbourhood  right now?

South Melbourne still has a village feel with tree-lined streets, terraced houses and beautiful little parks like St Vincent Gardens. The South Melbourne Market is one of the city’s top spots – check out Georgie’s Harvest and pitstop for coffee on market Lane. Contemporary dance fans should head to the Phillip Adams BalletLab, which puts on amazing performances, while Sia on Coventry Street is the place to go for handmade, Australian designer clothing.

City bus tour or alternative transport?

Melbourne is flat and, with a free tram system in the downtown area, it’s easy to get around. But the best way to see the city is on foot – especially if you want to wander through the tiny alleyways and lanes it’s known for. This is where you’ll find colourful street art, emerging fashion designers and the latest openings not featured in your guidebook.

Where do Melburnians get their culture kicks?

Keep an eye out for Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Secret Symphony pop-up events. Promoted via Twitter, these free events are held in unexpected locations and only announced the same morning. A ticket to Friday Nights at the National Gallery of Victoria is always worth it, with art, bands and great food in an internationally acclaimed building. Head 10 kilometres out of town and you’ll find Abbotsford Convent – a wonderful mix of heritage and nature on the river with weekend markets and resident artists.

Where can we lose ourselves in the lanes?

Punch Lane in Little Bourke Street has been a go-to for modern Australian cuisine since 1995, but check out the cocktails at sister restaurant Juliet. For a touch of rooftop garden party decadence, Madame Brussels in Bourke Street is a quirky locale while Kisume on Flinders Lane is all dark brooding interiors with a cool bar.

FOR LOCAL FLAVOUR

Melbourne-based food blogger Lisa Holmen aims to taste as many cuisines as possible and has a weakness for good sweet treats and good coffee

What defines the local dining scene?

It is innovative, simmering with activity and often the home of ground-breaking food trends. We are obsessed with seasonality and local produce. Melburnians also love informal dining and shared dishes.

Breakfast, lunch or dinner?

Brunch! It’s an institution. Forget scrambled eggs, you’re more likely to find a Nutella panacotta with nut butter banana sushi (Penta, Elsternwick) or zucchini, cauliflower and halloumi fritters with five-spiced duck breast (Street Talk Espresso, Armadale). One of my favourite spots is Ascot Food Store in Ascot Vale – it has the best doughnuts.

Where are the city’s hipsters currently hanging out?

Explore Melbourne’s famous laneway bars and rooftops in the Central Business District (CBD). Flinders Lane is one of the hottest foodie streets with the likes of Chin Chin, Cumulus, Supernormal and Lee Ho Fook. Outside of the centre, Smith and Gertrude Streets are the heart of culinary hipsterville. Footscray is great for Vietnamese, while a degustation feast awaits at my personal favourite, Estelle by Scott Pickett in Northcote.

Any hidden after-dark gems?

There are plenty in the CBD, but take a local along as some of the best bars can take a while to find. Ask to see the ‘secret menu’ at hole-in-the-wall Pizza Pizza Pizza, where a black curtain opens up into a hidden world.

A-girl-reading-in-a-cafe
A girl reads over coffee

Where can we get a good cup of coffee?

It’s hard to get a bad coffee in Melbourne and true Melburnians will choose a ‘Magic’ – a double-shot flat white. Start your morning at Brother Baba Budan on Little Bourke Street, or at the standing-room-only Patricia Coffee Roasters.

PAINT THE TOWN

Adrian Doyle is the founder of Blender Studios and a pioneer of Melbourne’s street art movement. He takes visitors along an alternative visual path

Tell us about the street art scene…

Back in 1998, along with fellow artists Pslam and Ha Ha, we began ‘colouring in’ the city. Much has changed since then and the largest art movement in Melbourne’s history, street art has brought its own economy to the city. Our intricate inner city laneways are the perfect location for street-based art.

Where to go?

Melbourne has some very progressive legal walls, plus pieces by the UK’s Banksy and France’s Blek le Rat and Space Invader. The best spots are Hosier Lane, AC DC Lane, Blender Lane and Lovelands. You can even pick up an official street art map from Melbourne Town Hall.

A-mural-in-Fitzroy
A mural in Fitzroy

Which local artists should visitors look out for?

The Blender Crew, of course, plus Everfresh Crew and Awol Crew.

Best places to buy local art?

Off the Kerb and the Black Cat Gallery in Collingwood are both cutting-edge, urban and interesting. You can also book to view the ‘secret’ Blender Studios in Docklands, which isn’t usually open to the public.

Inspired to go? Click here for the latest offers