It can be hard to convince someone to visit Melbourne. A typical Australian visit is a three-stop trip of Sydney, Uluru, and the Great Barrier Reef: City, Outback, and Beach without much in between.
Melbourne, however, is worth the flight. Brimming with character and a decidedly European sensibility, Melbourne is equal parts classy, quirky, and just plain weird. Most visitors come to explore the city’s theater, coffee culture, and graffiti-lined laneways, but no visitor should leave the city without experiencing these five gems
Fitzroy is Melbourne’s oldest suburb, and it’s managed to retain its fiercely independent, creative, and kooky spirit. Start out on Brunswick Street, a main drag that’s teeming with vintage clothing stores, second-hand bookshops, cafes, and street sculptures. (The Metropole is a good home base during a stay.) Then head east via Gertrude Street toward grittier Smith Street, making sure to stop off for a bite and a cocktail as often as possible. We recommend Southpaw or The Everleigh for drinks, the famous vegetarian spot Vegie Bar for food, and the Rose Street Artists Market on weekends for a glimpse of the city’s indie arts and crafts scene.
Take the Melbourne Cake Crawl
Melbourne is Australia’s culinary capital, and Acland Street is the sweet spot. Slicing through the heart of St. Kilda, Acland is home of what some call the Cake Crawl, a sugary stretch of street that’s been home to the city’s best bakeries since the early 1930s. Start at Acland Continental Cakes with a lemon slice, then move on to Chimmy’s, Europa, Le Bon, and try the chocolate, savory-sweet Kugelhaupf at Eastern European favorite Monarch Cakes. The Tyrian Serviced Apartments are equipped with a full kitchen, so you can bring any leftovers right back to your hotel.
Visit the Immigration Museum
Founded largely as a means to isolate Britain’s lower classes, Australia’s tumultuous immigration story lasted well into last century. (The country still had a “White Australia Policy” until the mid-20th century.) From real newspaper caricatures of immigrant groups to an interactive video game where you play the role of an immigration officer barring entry to pleading immigrants, this museum lays bare Australia’s complex history of race and pulls no punches. It’s also conveniently located in the heart of the central business district and charges just $12 for adults, and is free for children and students.
Rock Out at the Esplanade Hotel
One of the city’s most iconic watering holes, “The Espy” has been the cradle of Melbourne’s world-famous live music scene for over a hundred years, helping popularize many of the city’s famous bands including Jet, Wolfmother, and The Living End. There’s a performance every day of the week, so be sure to drop by for the music, steak, beer, and scenic views of the St. Kilda promenade. For a full tour of Melbourne’s live music – or in case The Espy’s 2015 renovations are still underway during your visit – check out The Tote, Bar Open, and Reverence Hotel.
Get Swept Away By Dandenong Ranges
Just 24 miles from the city center and reachable by public transport, this is an easy day trip and a fantastic example of Australia’s ecological diversity. Dandenong Ranges is well known for its soaring Mountain Ash trees, some of which are 500 years old. There are spectacular hikes, sure, but Dandenong Ranges is also home to eclectic villages, creaky antique shops, vineyards, cider breweries, and a century-old, still-running steam train called Puffing Billy. Above all, be sure to visit William Ricketts Sanctuary, a park filled with haunting sculptures of Indigenous Australians that seem to grow out of the rocks to which they’re attached.