Melbourne – the breakfast city, in which I actually very rarely made it out for breakfast. No matter your location, you won’t have to look far for smashed avo or some hipster spin on eggs benedict. If you’re in the CBD try Degraves street, bustling with tourist trade or in St Kilda head towards Carlisle Street over Acland for cafes like Monk, Tree House and Hannah. (But be warned – it took me four and a half months to realise during Melbourne’s winter I may as well be in England so last week I booked my flights and traded Victoria’s rain for Queensland’s tropics.) There is however a tonne to keep you occupied: bars, cafes, museums and galleries, but Melbourne is definitely better enjoyed in the summer months, especially St Kilda. If you’re a backpacker heading over for work, during winter you’ll find the CBD or Fitzroy areas much more sociable, come summer St Kilda is the place to be. If you are heading to the Burn city have a peruse of the highlights of my 4 month residency.
Not wanting to sound like an alcoholic, but Melbourne’s bars are what I will miss most about the city; they have a bar for any mood and any budget. If price is a concern, check out some of the following: Sista Bella ($) – an indoor miniature garden party with $10 jugs of beer and cider, but be warned, on weekends you’ll be packed in like sardines in a can; The Curtin ($) – north of the CBD where you can get $13 jugs of beer and cider before 6pm and all day on Sundays, named after an ex-Aussie prime minister but with a distinctly English feel, they have pin ball machines and excellent live music; the Asian Beer Cafe ($) – $10 jugs and very cheap food, again backpackers to flock here, but expect quantity rather than quality. Fitzroy Social ($) is a good place to start an inevitably expensive, but unmissable Brunswick Street bar crawl with happy hour 5pm-8pm and all day Sunday, offering $5 wines and $8 jugs. Bimbos ($) is the perfect munchies stop on a Brunswick crawl, with $4 pizzas all day on Sundays. Here are a few of my top picks if you’re willing to splash a little more cash.
Chuckle Park ($$)
Working just round the corner on Block Place, Chuckle was my go to for a post-work stress reliever. $9 for a house G&T, $8 for a can of Somersby if I was feeling more fruity, plus they offer industry discount like a lot of Melbourne bars. Tucked into the tiniest laneway, bedecked with sponge fake grass and flower filled hanging lanterns, you could be in a gaudy kid’s show, or a hippy trip, which fits much better with the club, New Guernica, next door where you definitely need to be tripping for the full experience. Drinks are served from a parked up trailer that must be a dream to work in, everything you need within arm’s reach. Obviously with the limited space there’s not a lot on tap, but their gin selection is delicious. Try a Shiraz Four Pillars and soda water (sounds gross, but you’ll be sweetly surprised!!)
Berlin Bar ($$$)
My all time favourite bar anywhere in the world! Hidden down a China Town side alley, you need to know what you’re looking for to spot the rearing bear above the door indicating the stair case which you climb to the third floor. Knock on the door and a waiter will arrive to inspect you through a viewing slot before opening up and offering you an East or West experience. East is sparse and dark, with rough wooden benches and slab like tables, a strange, huge bunk bed to sit on and films like Dr Strangelove (or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb) projected soundlessly onto the wall. On your way, you have to pass through the opulence of West Berlin, dripping with glistening jewels; deep, plush seating in decedent colours and elegant lighting. The cocktails are spread over a map of Berlin, grouped by sweet, sour, fruity etc. There are almost too many to choose from, especially with a new special each week, but the bar tenders were excellent in guiding my decision towards a martini with hints of cranberry and a crushed black pepper rim. The cocktails are around $20 and the G&T’s around $14.
The Croft Institute ($$)
Down what looks like a dead end alley, turn down another apparently dead end, then another and you’ll find this bar at the back of an actual dead end. (With nothing else around, I did feel like I was going to get jumped.) This is the only place I can justify dragging another girl along to the loo with you; it’s so god damn freaky! If you’ve ever played Bioshock, it feels like you’ve been transported into the game and a plastic surgeon is about to jump out from behind an ajar door. Push past the frosted glass doors, into the toilet and you’re confronted by a hospital bed complete with theatre lights and other dimly lit hospital gear; I didn’t linger. The bar itself is decked out as a science lab complete with drinks served in syringes. The cocktail list leaves a lot to be desired, in comparison to most bars in Melbourne where extravagance is the norm, and there is little else other than the syringes to indicate the drinks are science inspired, but the prices are accordingly lower than most gimmicky bars, so just for the surroundings it’s worth popping in for a drink or two.
The Gin Palace ($$$)
As a wannabe G&T connoisseur this was top of my list, even more so after I’d heard there was a pillow filled bath in which to lay back and sip a beverage. As with all of Melbourne’s bars, it isn’t the easiest to find, a subtle sign on a laneway off Little Collins. Head down the steps into a dimly lit gentleman’s smoking room style bar and take a seat in the plush, high backed chairs where a waiter in black tie will bring you the gin menu to peruse. The cheapest cocktails are around $22 and gin selections can go up to around $170 so, on my backpacker budget, it was a one drink stop for a delightfully refreshing Pear Collins.
Naked for Satan ($$$)
Named for the artist Satanovich, who once owned a studio in the building where he would get so hot whilst painting that he would strip down naked. Pop in early for the pintxos which are $1 for weekday lunches and $2 on weekends and dinner. You can try the cocktail stick style fresh tapas, where you eat until you’re stuffed then pay for the number of sticks. Head up in the elevator to Naked in the Sky for a drink ($16 G&T) accompanied by beautiful views out onto the CBD, much more impressive for being outside the skyscrapers, looking in on the rat race.
Restaurants and Cafes
Andrew’s Hamburgers ($)
I can’t think about these burgers without my mouth watering, stuffed so full I struggle to get my mouth round them. My favourite is the Hawaii 500 with pineapple, beetroot, a ton of veg and the most succulent beef burger!! Only $14!! The chips with chicken salt are incredibly moreish too but make sure your eyes aren’t bigger than your stomach, it broke my heart leaving any chips behind!
Bay City Burritos ($$)
On one of the seedier looking roads in St Kilda, the burritos at Bay City are actually the best I’ve ever had, and so huge I’ve always struggled to finish them! They do meat free Mondays with all veggies burritos half price (around $7) to eat in; try the brekky burrito with extra cheese and a glass of sangria to wash it down.
Oh! Banh Mi ($)
This little lane way stop has rice paper roles to die for! Roast pork ($4.30) with crackling to break your teeth and a satay dipping sauce became my hangover breakfast of choice before a day slogging away at work in a CBD cafe.
Sacred Alley ($$)
Just further down from Oh! Banh Mi, this cafe stocks my second favourite treat in Melbourne – the best caramel slice ($3.50) that will melt more deliciously in your mouth than any other in the world no matter how hard you search and trust me, with my sweet tooth I have searched pretty damn hard! They also stock Storm in a Teacup loose leaf tea ($4.50), much nicer than T2, to warm you up in the cold Melbourne winter.
Craving a vitamin packed pick me up? This smoothie and juice shop adorned with bags and bags of hanging oranges does the best smoothies I’ve sipped in a long time! Berry Bonanza, along with a summer roll from Oh! Banh Mi just down the road, was my perfect hangover cure. You’ll find their health havens on both Swanson and Elizabeth Street.
For $8 ($6 concession) you can stuff yourself with all you can eat vegetarian food courtesy of the Hare Krishnas. Their menu changes every day but is usually curry themed with an Asian style desert. You may not always be 100% sure what you’re eating in the very basic canteen style set up, but it’s inevitably delicious! And for such a cheap price it’s the backpacker life line if you’re struggling to find a job.
Melbourne Museum and ACMI ($)
Free with a student card, $14 without, the contents of this building can absorb an entire day. From Golden Orb spiders so close you could touch them (no glass between you and them), to glittering, rainbows of coloured meteorites; from the science of the mind to the aboriginal history of the land you’re walking on; a walk through a rainforest greenhouse to the stuffed pelt of Phar Lap – Australia’s greatest racehorse. As is often the case in Australia, there isn’t always much (or any) information or context for each sight but the displays are beautifully intricate. For a cultural day out, head next to the ACMI, an interactive museum for film and gaming. You can film your own Matrix bullet sequence and see how Australian film has developed over the years.
Picnic in one of the parks and feed the possums ($)
Flagstaff Gardens is my favourite spot, with a hillock in the middle that has views down to the docklands and the Melbourne Eye wheel. You feel like you’ve escaped the urbanity of the city with most of the skyscrapers tucked away behind vibrant foliage; in reality you’ve not even left the CBD. Grab a cheap picnic from Aldi just down the road and save some apples for the possums which emerge from nooks in the trees as the sun starts to set. Watch out for their bites or scratches; they may look cuddly but most of them are covered in scars from each other’s sharp claws.
Peninsula Hot Springs ($$$)
Head down to the peninsula, about 2.5 hours out of Melbourne and hit the natural hot springs for some reviving mineral treatment for your skin. Book your slot for $35 and spend as long as you like soaking in the multitude of different pools winding up the hillside. I visited at night, and far from the city lights, the night sky was spattered with diamonds much brighter than any star that manages to shine through the city’s light pollution.
The Great Ocean Road and Twelve Apostles ($$$)
Make this tourist pilgrimage before the remaining apostles succumb to the violence of the waves gnawing at their bases. The drive should take around 2.5 hours, but make sure you stop off at some of the surf towns on the way with little coves and beaches where surfers brave the tumbling waves and fishermen are bombarded by seagulls providing exquisite photo opportunities. We managed to take a 3 hour detour en rout and ended up arriving 5 hours later with the sun sinking behind the Apostles, it wasn’t our intention but we certainly caught them at the right time of day. If you don’t mind driving in the dark (the kangaroos are nowhere near as bad here as in WA) then head over for sunset.
Street Art (free)
Hosier Lane is the obvious place to begin looking for the fluid and dynamic street art cultivated by Melbourne’s rebellious streak. This spot changes continuously, with an abiding rule of don’t cover what you can’t improve, so the best pieces can last a few weeks before the stickers and tags creep in. Extending your search to suburban Fitzroy will certainly reap rewarding sights then head from the CBD through the back alleys to Brunswick street to start your bar crawl.
Savour some gelato down by the river ($$)
Melbourne has incredible gelato stalls, all for a rather less than tasty price. But make it a treat and watch the sun set along the Yarra River (Yarra means river in the indigenous language so really it’s just the river river!) as the city comes alive with lights reflected in the water. On the hour, every hour after sunset the Crown Casino puts on a fire display along the bank with streams of flame roaring from huge grey chimneys.
Brighton Beach ($)
Catch the train down to Brighton for a couple of hours chilling on the golden sands of the famous beach, much more pleasant than St Kilda’s eau de sewage scented sea front! Even during winter you’ll struggle to get a clear photo of the colourfully painted beach boxes for the number of tourists, but they’re still worth a peruse. The town of Brighton is fairly upmarket and fantastic for a shopping spree away from the CBD crowds with a wealth of cafes to refuel in. Pick up some of the best locally baked sourdough from Woodfrog Bakery whilst you’re there!
Even after four and a half months there was more I could have done. The NGV (free/$$) (large on St Kilda Road and small in Federation Square) for example hosts changing exhibitions; smaller ones such as Every Beautiful Eye tracking the grunge art scene of Australia’s 90’s or internationally renowned artists such as Van Gogh or Hukosai. Bell Shakespeare (Australia’s answer to the RSC) regularly holds residency in Hammer Hall ($$$) performing exquisite versions of the likes of The Merchant of Venice and King Lear which could hold their own against their British counterparts. The city moves to the pulse of the AFL so pick yourself a suburb and head to the MCG to cheer them on ($). So pack each day to the brim with food, culture and drink because you’re bound to leave the city wishing you’d had more time there!