It’s springtime Down Under – the perfect time to take advantage of Melbourne’s galleries, bijou lanes and magpie-like dining.
Why go now?
November is when Melburnians awake from their (relative) winter hibernation. Spring is in the air, the shorts are broken out of the wardrobes, a swim in the sea becomes a less bracing prospect. The Melbourne Cup horse race on November 6 becomes a bacchanalian city-wide party and the city’s gig venues thrive during Melbourne Music Week from November 16-24.
Where to stay
The Space Hotel pulls off the hotel-meets-hostel look with style. A rooftop spa tub and barbecue, plus a cinema room and free shuttle buses to the beach compliment the bright, solidly-furnished ensuite rooms. Doubles from $125 (£69), room only.
The Punthill Northbank offers spacious apartments – with handy washing machines and full kitchens for those with kids in tow – in a prime location opposite the Crown Casino’s slightly absurd flame towers. Studios from $180 (£99), room only.
The highly Instagrammable Ovolo Laneways has beds on raised platforms, free drinks between 6pm and 7pm and a rather cool social deck with bean bags, sofas and speakers cranking out tunes. Doubles from $251 (£138), B&B.
How to get around
The Skybus coach makes the 23km journey south from Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport to the central Southern Cross Station in 30 to 45 minutes, charging $19.50 (£10.65). It runs every 10 minutes. A taxi takes roughly the same time, costing $55-$65 (£30-£36).
Trams are the best way to get around once in the city. Those within the city centre are free; others operate on a zone-based fare system. Buy a $6 (£3.30), top-uppable Myki card – unlimited trips cost $8.60 (£4.70) per day. The centre lies north of the Yarra River, with hip neighbourhoods clustered around it and beachside areas such as ever-popular St Kilda hug Port Phillip Bay to the south.
Start the day
Just south of the river, the Royal Botanic Gardens play host to plants and trees from around Oz, with signage making a decent fist of explaining how each fits into the ecosystem. Open from 7.30am until sunset, the scenic 3.8km Tan Track circuit is a good bet for a jetlag-busting jog.
Hit the shops
Back in the Central Business District, the best shopping is clustered between Swanston and Elizabeth Streets. David Jones at 310 Bourke Street is an upmarket department store, while Collins Street leans towards high fashion. But the most appealing finds are to be found in the laneways and arcades. The sumptuously Victorian Royal Arcade alone includes premium confectioner Chocomama, silk dresses and shawls at Silkstore, plus Jeeba Jewellery’s eclectic, colourful necklaces and earrings.
The weird, asymmetric-looking Federation Square, a five-minute stroll south of the shopping hubbub, is Melbourne’s cultural heart. There’s always something going on, whether an exhibition of animal sculptures or people sitting around deckchairs watching live tennis on the big screen. It’s surrounded by free entry museums and galleries, too. The Ian Potter Centre focuses on Australian – particularly indigenous – art, while the Australian Centre for the Moving Image can be a glorious timesink if you allow yourself to play the games and watch the movies around the key exhibition on Aussie film history.
Time for a drink
Section 8 is a quintessential taste of Melbourne’s laneway scene. Surrounded by some of the city’s best street art, it’s a place where oloroso sherry and tequila can meet in the same cocktail, the bar’s a shipping container, seats are made out of wooden pallets and a DJ is likely to fire up at any minute.
Melbourne’s unashamed magpie instincts kick in when it comes to dining, with ideas nabbed from all over the world. Pastuso, found amongst the laneway paste-ups and murals, takes its ideas from Peru, with a separate cevicheria to the side and flavour-packed dishes on the menu including alpaca ragout and lemon juice-doused snapper. Mains – or small dish equivalents of mains – cost around $40 (£22).
Go for a stroll
From the north-west corner of the CBD, take a wander through Carlton Gardens, and take in the magnificent eye candy of the 19th-century cathedralesque Royal Exhibition Building. Then divert west into the mega-moochable Fitzroy and Collingwood neighbourhoods, where brunch joints, indie shops, mural-sprayed cafes and small galleries line up along Brunswick, Gertrude and Smith Streets.
On Gertrude Street, Archie’s All Day is the sort of laidback cafe that gives the area its vibe, and again the menu has no shame in borrowing from elsewhere. Brunchy feasts include ricotta hotcakes wit roasted white chocolate and yuzu meringue, while burger-ish mains include $16.50 (£9.15) lamb shoulder and feta ciabatta rolls.
Time to relax
From Nicholson Street next to the Carlton Gardens, the 96 tram takes about half an hour to get down to St Kilda. The beach is merely decent by Australian standards, but a great people-watching spot nonetheless. Little penguins are sometimes found swimming here – the best time to see them is about half an hour after sunset when they waddle home along the breakwater.
Have a treat
St Kilda’s pedestrianised Acland Street is essentially a shrine to cake. It’s lined with waistline-wrecking cake shops and patisseries. Monarch is the elder statesman of these, with its Polish cheesecake recipe not having changed since opening in 1934. Otherwise, it’s a cornucopia of strudels, Sacher tortes, lemon tarts and plum cakes.
Ask a local: Tim Richards, author
“Murmur Piano Bar is my favourite place to hang out at night. Good wine and cocktails in a cool warehouse-meets-speakeasy atmosphere. When the pianist gets going and everyone’s singing along it’s great fun.”