Last week I got back from my second visit to Melbourne, Australia, and I want to share some of the places I recommend there, in case you ever get the chance to go (you should!). It is a really cool, inspiring place, and definitely one of my favorite cities I’ve visited.
Melbourne Travel Guide
Both times we’ve been to Australia we’ve flown into Sydney, then taken a relatively short flight from there to Melbourne. We flew Qantas this time, and the airline staff was incredibly nice and friendly on every flight.
The overnight flight was long, but we managed to sleep for a lot of it, so when we got there it wasn’t as hard as it might seem to adjust to the 18-hour time difference. When it’s that much of a difference, it makes more sense to subtract it from 24, so it’s more like 24 – 18 = 6, which isn’t that bad, and much easier than when we’ve been to Europe.
Another important thing to remember is that the seasons are reversed from the Northern Hemisphere, and Australian summer is no joke. This time we visited in the fall (spring there), which meant that the temperatures were weirdly almost the same as in Portland, but last time, in February, it was blazing, and we made sure to slather on high-SPF Australian sunscreen.
This time we stayed in a hotel near the conference that Steven was there for, but we definitely preferred the AirBnB in the Fitzroy neighborhood that we stayed in last time. The hotel was very nice (and paid for by the conference organizers…), but I much prefer being in a neighborhood flat. Side note: A thing that confused me at first is that Australian people (and British people) use “suburbs” to refer to neighborhoods in a city. In the US a suburb is outside a city, and they usually aren’t hip places, as far as I’m concerned, so it took me a bit of adjustment to realize it wasn’t the same thing. Anyway, the Fitzroy suburbs are definitely my favorite part of town.
Since they drive on the opposite side of the road in Australia, we stuck with cabs, Uber (they don’t have Lyft yet), and public transportation. Luckily the public transportation in Melbourne was fantastic as far as we experienced it, but there were parks outside town that would have been fun to visit if we’d had a better way to get there. But the trams were quite easy to deal with, and took us nearly everywhere we wanted to go. The city is super walkable, just don’t ever expect cars to yield to you–that’s apparently not a thing there.
Things To Do
Alleyways everywhere in Melbourne are filled with murals, and twice we stumbled upon artists adding to the work in the middle of broad daylight. You can even peep a real Keith Haring mural, unprotected on the streets. But if you like your art more curated, there are fantastic museums, too. National Gallery Victoria had some great modern art that we enjoyed, plus it’s free, as is the Ian Potter Centre, which focuses on Australian art. The Australian Centre for the Moving Image might sound stuffy, but it’s a really fun museum showcasing film, tv, and video games.
I happen to like plants a lot, but even my non-plant-obsessed husband enjoyed a long afternoon in the sprawling, beautiful Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens. The Abbotsford Convent, a convent converted into event venues, artists studios, and several restaurants, including pay-what-you-want vegan spot Lentil as Anything, was another nice afternoon of exploring lovely gardens (and petting a lamb–don’t tell customs) in a setting that felt more like the countryside than inside a city. If it’s warm, you can also go to St. Kilda for beach lounging or to ride the rails at Luna Park.
If you’re looking for anything from food to clothing, you can probably find it at the massive Queen Victoria Market. It’s definitely worth having a long wander around this market. For a smaller, less overwhelming experience, the Rose Street Artists’ Market features the handmade work of artists and designers.
Vintage shopping is my favorite, but browsing vintage housewares while traveling can be hazardous to your wallet, because what if you discover something amazing that you can’t go home without? International shipping ain’t cheap! I give you this warning because last time we visited Mark Denver Antiques and Vintage we spent a pretty penny on a fantastic piece (I don’t regret it), and peeking in Modern Times had me wishing I lived in town.
Even if you’re not shopping for anything, Melbourne has a fantastic design culture, and you can’t go wrong browsing the shops up and down Brunswick Street or Smith Street, or exploring the tightly-packed warren of shops, restaurants, and bars in the section of town known as Flinders Quarters. You never know what you’ll find around a corner or down a set of stairs in that part of town–it’s kind of magical!
Favorite Bars & Restaurants
The food in Melbourne is amazing, and Fitzroy has a whole street with a ton of vegan/vegan-friendly restaurants. We tried as many as we could! But there are stylish restaurants, bars, and coffee shops pretty much everywhere you look. Especially coffee–their coffee game is tip-top!
Something to keep in mind is that the prices are higher for food than we’re used to in the US, which is because there is no tipping, plus the minimum wage is higher. And unlike Portland, where bars are required to serve food, many bars there don’t have any food at all. No drunken snacking is both good and bad, as far as I’m concerned 😉
Smith & Daughters – This rock ‘n roll vegan restaurant can be hard to get into, but thanks to jetlag, we wandered in at 4pm one day and had no problem getting a table. Before I left the country, I ordered a copy of their cookbook, which was waiting for me when I got home.
Smith & Deli – The deli counter version of the above restaurant, with vegan sandwiches, snacks, and baked goods, and no seating.
Grace Cafe – We probably never would have stumbled across this cute little cafe, but a lady in a local shop recommended it for lots of vegan baked goods, and she was right. Seeing their avocado toast made me wish I hadn’t just had avocado toast at another place nearby.
Naked for Satan – It’s not just an edgy name, the name of this rooftop bar actually has a cool story behind it that I just discovered. On the first floor of this bar you can get pintxos, which I had never heard of, but they’re basically like tapas crossed with bruschetta. Obviously the top floor is where you go for the city-wide views, and they’re stunning.
Vegie Bar – (Not a typo, that’s how it’s spelled.) If you’re vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free, this is the place to go. For some reason their menu says that you can’t take your leftovers, but the first time we were here three years ago Steven ordered a drink that came in a whole coconut, and we stuffed our leftover noodles in it and ran. Now they actually have a to-go storefront two doors down, sandwiching Girls & Boys, which is plant-based ice creams, smoothies, and desserts.
Trippy Taco – “Mexican food, in Australia? How can that be good?” you might be thinking (I was). But it is! Better than Mexican food I’ve had at plenty of places in the US, and it’s all-vegetarian and vegan-friendly.
Mr. Wow’s Emporium – This fun upstairs bar overlooks bustling Smith Street, and is the first place I ever had Ardbeg scotch whiskey, but thanks to the accent of the bartender who recommended it, and the loud bar, it took me some detective work to figure out how to order it again. If the indoor bocce court is engaged, they also have Jenga and Connect Four behind the bar.
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