Straight off the plane into the humid climates of Australia for the very first time, I boarded a bus to take me into the heart of Melbourne.
Captivated by the foreign land around me that had taken almost 24 hours for me to reach, I looked out of the window towards the looming city skyline. Massive skyscrapers, dazzling glass and even a huge ferris wheel left me thinking, ‘This place already reminds me of London.’
Often touted as Sydney’s younger, grittier and more arty – albeit less pretty – sister, Melbourne is regularly compared to London. When you wander through its graffiti-clad streets it’s easy to see parallels with the UK capital’s hipster centre: Shoreditch.
Yet having been in London for four years now, I’m already convinced I live in the coolest city on Earth. So how does Melbourne stack up?
The diversity of the city is easy to spot as soon as you arrive, with Italian, Chinese and Korean communities gathering in central areas with brilliant restaurants and hubs showcasing everything they have to offer.
I’d recommend taking a walk around yourself to simply soak in its atmosphere. Head to AC/DC Lane, a street art tribute to the Australian rock band alongside many others, and the famous Hosier Lane in the early morning before it gets too busy to see the poignant, ever-changing graffiti (if you’re lucky, you may even see an artist at work). Wander through Chinatown to view the stunning lanterns and sample some great Asian food, then go to the National Gallery of Victoria to see exhibitions from all over the world, as well as Australian art and Aboriginal history in its Ian Potter Centre offshoot.
Take a stroll through the beautiful Botanical Gardens then whizz up to the top of Eureka Tower to take in stunning views of the city from the Skydeck.
If sport is your thing, take a tour around the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground, and if you’re an animal lover go out of town to Healesville Animal Sanctuary in the Yarra Valley to see some Australian wildlife and have a close-up encounter with a koala.
For a true adventure hire a car and drive along the Great Ocean Road for a day or two, soaking in the incredible sea views on a nice day (watch out for the ‘four seasons in a day’ weather in Melbourne, though!).
Where to eat
The city’s multiculturalism is demonstrated through its excellent cuisine, and has led Melbourne to be known as Australia’s food capital.
If you want to directly compare the city’s Little Italy to London’s version in Clerkenwell, go to Lygon Street in Carlton to be met with with pasta, ice cream and pizza on every corner. Brunetti has an impressive dessert counter and its tiramisu is to die for.
If you just can’t decide where to go, head back to the central business district and try Luci, in Bourke Street inside the Hilton hotel. Its chef’s selection menu offers a taste of contemporary Australian dishes with an Italian twist – the chef makes all the pasta fresh at the restaurant daily. A sommelier will perfectly match local wines to the selection, and you won’t leave hungry (or thirsty).
Fitzroy is the city’s ‘Shoreditch’ area, with plenty of trendy eateries and bars – but if you only have time to visit one, it has to be Lune for the best croissants I’ve eaten outside of France. Prepare for a queue though and arrive early before they run out!
If you’re looking for Asian food – and something which ticks the ‘hipster’ box, (even if you don’t want to admit it) – every resident raves about Chin Chin. Book early and go hungry, and there’s no doubt you’ll try unusual Asian fusion dishes you’ve never heard of before. Movida is another classic trendy choice, offering up delicious Spanish-inspired tapas in its original first bar down graffiti-scrawled Hosier Lane. If you need breakfast, Operator25 provides the outstanding coffee Australia is known for in a cool building which housed Melbourne’s first switchboard.
Where to drink
As well as being known as Australia’s food capital, Melbourne certainly isn’t short of little cubby holes and wine bars for a night out. If you’re looking for an intimate date, The Douglas Club in Bourke Street will be your vibe – offering a selection of unusual cocktails which provide a twist on 1930s hospitality, with a touch of glamour.
If you want to party head down to St Kilda by the beach, and you’ll be met with several backpacker bars and plenty of queer-friendly venues, with the area considered the heart of the LGBTQ+ community in Melbourne.
Don’t leave without trying Milk The Cow, a fromagerie which offers flights of Aussie wine paired with cheeses which compliment distinct flavours.
If you fancy leaving the city for a bit, catch a lift into the Yarra Valley and take a look at the vineyards. Rochdale Winery has a great view from its restaurant with huge glass windows, with an excellent cheese board and it also provides wine tastings should you desire one.
Where to stay
If you’re looking for luxury, the Grand Hyatt in the prestigious Collins Street – and one of the hotels used to accommodate players for the Australian Open – is your go-to. With stunning views across the city, spa-style bathrooms with large tubs, and even a tennis court, the £200-a-night-upwards cost is worth it for a treat. And you can even harvest your own local honey for breakfast.
If you’re looking for history, the Hilton Melbourne in Little Queen Street is a cool art deco-style hotel located in the building of an old barristers’ chambers. In certain parts of the hotel you can access the restored heritage lifts and even see its original mailboxes.
The selection of Aussie newspapers over the breakfast buffet and omelettes cooked freshly to order are a nice touch. Despite the large size of the hotel it feels cosy and quiet, even though it’s a stone’s throw from the city centre. You’re looking at around £150 a night for this one.
The Pegasus Apart’hotel is a reasonably priced central option in Beckett Street at around £90 a night. Clean and with its own small kitchenette, if you’re on a budget it’s a great way to avoid eating at restaurants. It also has one of Melbourne’s largest hotel indoor pools, if you’re into swimming.
For younger, more cost-conscious travellers, Nomads St Kilda Hostel provides a cheap but comfortable base around 20 minutes by tram from the city centre in Irwell Street. Populated by backpackers, it’s a social place and runs a weekly ‘inappropriate bingo’ night that turns surprisingly raucous. Beds start from around £20 a night, if you don’t mind sharing a dorm.
Sian stayed at the Hilton Melbourne (hilton.com) where rooms start at £150 per night, and Grant Hyatt (hyatt.com) where rooms start at £200 per night. Flights from London to Melbourne start at £1,200 with British Airways (britishairways.com).
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