Melbourne: The City of Dreams – or at least, that was the name of the Facebook chat that saw my preliminary planning get sorted; and the title was not unjustified.
With bustling nightlife and quirky city corners only a short drive away from Australia’s ever changing coastal landscapes, it really did have something for everyone in the just-under-a-week we spent there.
Initially, I was worried there wouldn’t be enough to do – but was pleasantly surprised by the fact I left with still a few things I wanted to go back to. Australia definitely has a habit of making you set out with a list of things you want to see, only to come back with it even longer than what you started with. In this post I’ll cover the best bars, eateries and general ‘things to do’. Go Melbs!!
Things to Do
Spanning all three of my food, drink and entertainment sections, and probably the best $85 dollars I’ve spent – Dracula’s. Australia’s answer to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dracula’s is a cabaret show with ‘extra bite’. The evening we went to was named ‘Terror Byte’, the theme being a computer virus that has spread to the human race – turning them into members of a vampiric hoarde. Aerial acts, comedy, singing, dancing, fetish, live music and a whole lot of corsets, hairspray and drag – it really will be one of your favourite fun nights out in Melbourne. There’s even a host of themed drinks (with skull glasses to take home) and a ghost train ride to get to the main venue if you aren’t swayed, all alongside a three course meal and attentive table service. Halloween camp-ness all year round!
Melbourne Zoo is one of those places you’ve probably seen plastered round enough that you feel you should go; but it is worth an afternoon there if you’re into wildlife and animals. An impressive selection of not just native Australian animals, but ones from all over the world, the zoo offers a family-friendly afternoon out that spans continents. A favourite of mine was the walk-through lemur section, where you can choose to do an experience to hold and feed them if you want some close up furry action.
If your animal needs aren’t sated by the zoo – head on down to St Kilda for the city’s answer to a beach. It’s a lovely stretch of sand and sea for all sorts of sports and sunbathing time – which is great by day. However, by night, come here for a glimpse of the ever-cute fairy penguins! Home to tiny black and white creatures that live in the rocks; ambling down the pier at dusk will offer an unparalleled experience of the penguins as they swim back to nestle into their homes for the evening. Bring your camera, and a thick jacket – it gets colder than you think out by the sea (even for Australia)!
If something a little quieter and more laid-back is your type of thing, then the Botanical Gardens offer some beautiful walks, as well as some lovely views of the city through winding walkways and impressive plant life. The War Memorial and Library are also worth a look in for a quieter, more reflective day on your agenda – as both provide interesting insights to their respective commemorations. The war memorial (Shrine of Remembrance) also offers a spectacular view from the top of the building – where you can spot the Swanston Square apartments and their hidden surprise that is invisible up close. Hint: it can spot you right back.
Hosier Lane and Centre Place/Degraves Street are all worth a stroll through on your way through the city also, with the former showcasing legal street art from all over the city. Murals, scrawlings and all sorts of surreal colours and images plaster the walls of the street – plenty of opportunity for some interesting pictures to send home. The latter streets offer a mix of indie food shops and boutiques – with an eerie Blade Runner feel to them as you wander between the looming buildings. Famed for the laneways, these are two of Melbourne’s iconic hipster streets, so definitely worth a nosey even if you don’t have time to head into any of the storefronts.
Melbourne is also home to ACMI, the Australia Centre for the Moving Image, which is a whole wealth of video game, television and film technology. Immersive information and interactive exhibitions make enough entertainment for a full afternoon of pop culture references and Australian image history – as a film student, it was a gold mine of exciting pieces, but is interesting to anyone with even a slight curiosity about the world of media.
Home to the best city sights you can find – Eureka Skydeck offers a beautiful view of Melbourne whether you go morning or night. There’s even The Edge experience – a suspended glass box that hangs you out over the edge of the building – for the adrenaline seekers or those whose eyesight maybe requires something a little closer up. We went in the evening for the ‘city lights’ vibe, and I can wholly recommend it.
Finished for the season, the Formula 1 Track turns into normal roads that can be accessed by the public – offering anyone with a car the racing experience if they fancy a drive down it. See the beautiful lake in the middle and look out for an old lookout tower that’s a nice climb with a view.
Whether you choose South Melbourne Market for the eclectic foodie and art vibe, or Queen Victoria Markets for the sheer scope of stalls (including permanent shop fronts on the streets leading up to the stands) – you’ll be hard pressed to avoid them. Australia loves markets, and so do the tourists! Bric-a-brac, good food, and hidden finds can be spotted all over the various markets of Melbourne – you’re sure to come away with a gem of some sort if you head on over.
Food + Drink
Mr. Burger. It can be found in a few places across Victoria – but the best burger I’ve had in a long time, if not ever, was consumed from here (fyi, it was a Mr. Burger but with fried chicken instead of beef). Don’t be off put by the set menu, as you can mix and match as you please – and be sure to get a side of trucker fries with cheese and bacon to top it all off, for that true all-American taste.
China towns all over are renowned for their authentic taste and great (yep, you guessed it) Chinese food – but Shanghai Village in Melbourne had some of the best dumplings I’ve eaten. That’s right – two number ones found in the same city. We had a fair few dishes that were all great, but the pork dumplings are definitely my top recommendation! The place itself is pretty big, spanning a couple of floors – and seems to be busy most nights; so prepare to leave a little earlier or allow a wait for a table. Whilst the food is good and the atmosphere lively, you might have to pounce on staff to get their attention – but the food more than makes up for any downfalls elsewhere. Google seems to say that it’s a hit and miss place – but for how great our ‘hit’ was, if you accidentally get a miss then keep trying. It’s worth it, and cheap enough to go a few times.
Also on my list is Naked for Satan – my favourite if not just for the wonderful name; but the $1 pinxtos (basically bruschetta-type food and little nibbles). You grab a plate and load it up with snacks adorned with toothpicks, eat as much as you can for as long as you can, then count up the pointy wooden leftovers and pay at the end. There’s an upstairs that turns into a full restaurant for the truly hungry, and with a rooftop view of the skyline it’s a great place to sit under the heaters with a specialty vodka (there’s plenty of choice, as it’s the staple drink of N4S), and watch the sunset roll down.
Melbourne’s bars were plentiful, varied and eccentric. Whilst cheap and cheerful are usually my two key words when it comes to going out; there were some seriously impressive contenders that managed even stingy ol’ me to pay a little more than I normally would. And that’s saying something. Here’s a collection of the highlights:
The first we visited was Father’s Office – a 20’s themed place with a cool, laid back vibe to it. Not too expensive and with some nifty food choices surrounded by vintage memorabilia, it makes for a fun place to have some chilled out drinks or a bite to eat whilst feeling very dapper. Expect gangsters, flappers and a lot of cosy vs. industrial aesthetic.
The best of the whole bunch for its novelty value, and sheer ‘oh my God!’ moment is State of Grace, or more specifically, Fall from Grace. Already a quirky, cool and fun setting – if you venture further into this establishment, specifically, behind a false wall – and you’ll find an ATM, some toilets and an innocuous bookcase. Fear not, for there is more than just cash and bladder relief on offer – pull an oddly shaped book out of the wall and it slides away to reveal a cellar bar; giving you the full Scooby Doo experience. Chandeliers, polished mahogany and an impressive wall of wines make for a beautiful and exciting evening tipple – and if you’re anything like me you’ll be playing with the bookcase for much longer than appropriate.
Bartronica was also on our hit list for the week – comprising of beers, nachos and the full arcade experience. Mariokart, Golden Axe, pinball machines and everything in between make for a superb retro experience – though a little more seating and vibrant decoration are the only things I’d suggest adding to the place.
Games Laboratory was where we finished our bar crawling for the days we spent in Melbourne; a games bar with novelty ‘Mana’ and ‘Health’ potion cocktails as well as plenty of seating and in-house board games to entertain both all day and all night. A fun vibe with lots of groups of different people – you can bring your own food to eat in here also which is a nice bonus!
This is a Student Travel Writer 2016 competition entry.