Ah Melbourne, how we’ve missed you. As the city awakes from its deep sleep, borders open and travellers make plans to return in the coming months, it’s timely to reflect on some of the things we’ve missed most about the incomparable Victorian capital. Whether you’re a local planning a staycation or a first-time visitor, here are eight simple things to do that make Melbourne oh, so special.
Getting lost in the CBD maze
While getting lost is not everyone’s idea of a good time, it’s part of the fun when exploring the Melbourne CBD. Crisscrossed by a network of street art-emblazoned café-lined laneways and arcades, even lifelong residents can often be heard to utter, ‘Oh, so that’s where that comes out…’. Just dive in and see where the city chooses to take you. Along the way you can pop into fashion incubators and independent galleries, take a sticky inside heritage building foyers, nibble on tasty street eats, or indulge in a mid-afternoon glass of bubbles at a rooftop bar. There’ll be something to inspire, delight, and amaze you around every corner.
Doing some people watching
While you’re wandering the CBD byways, take the weight off in a well-placed laneway café (which may involve sitting on a milkcrate), order a good strong latte (don’t ask the waiter about that ‘deconstructed coffee’ thing – that was so 2016), and do some people watching. You’ll gain a fascinating insight into the microcosm of cultures that call this city home, and a realisation that black is, well, the new black. Again.
Soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of the Vic Market
Much loved by locals and tourists alike, the Queen Victoria Market on the northern edge of the CBD is a doyenne of the market world and consistently rated one of Melbourne’s top attractions. That may sound a little strange for what is predominantly a fresh food market. But even though as a visitor you may not be looking for a kilo of snags or a bunch of celery, the market is imbued with more than a century of local history and packed with period touches, fascinating quirks and memorable characters. Just go for a wander and soak it all in – and do not leave without getting messy with a warm jam-filled doughnut from The American Doughnut Kitchen. They’re da bomb.
Taking in the street and high art
We mentioned street art earlier and it’s everywhere in Melbourne, as you’ll soon discover. The epicentre however is the endlessly Instagrammed Hosier Lane. If you can’t beat them, join them. Go snap a selfie there, then head down the lane towards Federation Square. It’s home to the architecturally stunning Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, which houses the Australian collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. It’s generally somewhat quieter than the gallery’s St Kilda Road HQ, and you may have many of the twenty different exhibition spaces all to yourself.
Eating for a tenner
To ‘eat cheap’ takes on new meaning in Melbourne. Yes, you can splash cash on world-class haute cuisine, but equally you can dine on delectable dumplings, spicy boat noodles, bulging bahn mi, top toasties, savoury bagels, juicy grass-fed burger or vegan poke bowls for under $10. Go crazy.
Melbourne is a very social city and while that socialising may look a bit different for the foreseeable future, its unlikely to change in nature. The city is awash with amazing themed bars and stalwarts that are worth seeking out include the laboratory-inspired Croft Institute, the come-in-out-of-the-Cold-War Berlin Bar, the elegant speak-easy-style Gin Palace, and the whimsical-on-high Madame Brussels. In the new normal, you may find it necessary to book at Melbourne’s best and busiest bars during peak periods (and have that QR-code reader ready). Alternatively, mid-afternoon is a good time to go and check out the most popular options in a relaxed fashion. You can get settled and watch the after-work crowd drift in.
Shopping for shiny new or retro things
Melbourne does like to shop, and the options for a sesh of retail therapy are literally endless. The CBD is a great all-rounder for trending fashion, but equally it’s a hotspot for vintage and pre-loved treasures. Let a local be your guide with Melbourne Shopping Experiences, which offers a three-hour city shopping walking tour or vintage shopping expedition. The latter covers a variety of eras and styles, and turns up everything from 1950s twin sets to 70s band tees.
Enjoying a seaside stroll
And finally, who doesn’t love to be beside the seaside? So hop on the number 96 tram from the CBD (it departs from the Bourke Street Mall) and cruise out to St Kilda Beach. What the weather will do is anybody’s guess (this is Melbourne after all), but if you’re blessed with rays, take a breezy stroll along the foreshore and out on the St Kilda Pier for fabulous views back towards the shimmering city.
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About the writer Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has previously had the opportunity to travel the world as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten