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48 hours in Melbourne: Hotels, restaurants and places to visit

The Independent logo The Independent 12/12/2016 Sarah Reid
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Melbourne has long prided itself as Australia’s arts capital. Its premier arts showcase, the Melbourne Festival has welcomed a new (British) director, Jonathon Holloway, who has promised more public acts – such as Les Tambours De Feu by Catalan company Deabru Beltzak, which will see dancers with pyrotechnics and drums traverse Melbourne laneways.

Spring in Melbourne is also synonymous with horse racing, which culminates in the Melbourne Cup Festival (29 October-5 November), so pack your fascinator. 

The Central Business District (CBD) lies at the heart of the city, on the Yarra River’s north bank. The Melbourne Visitor Centre is here, at Federation Square, on the corner of Swanston and Flinders streets (9am-6pm daily). 

Melbourne is often called Australia’s “Garden City” thanks to its parks, some of which run either side of St Kilda Road, south of the river. St Kilda itself is a hip district located along the beach that lines Port Phillip Bay. The edgy eastern suburbs of Fitzroy, Richmond and Collingwood, and the more upscale southeastern suburbs of South Yarra and Prahan, meanwhile, offer plenty of shops, restaurants and cafés.

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Day one

Take a hike

Start at the visitor centre. Cross Flinders Street and take the second left into Hosier Lane, Melbourne’s most celebrated lane for street art. Double back towards the city centre along Flinders Lane, mentally noting dinner options along this restaurant-lined street.

Turn right at Elizabeth Street, and pop into the beautiful Block Arcade on the corner of Collins Street. Designed in the style of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan, this stunning shopping arcade was the place to be seen in 19th-century Melbourne. 

Continue up Elizabeth Street, making a right into the retail haven of Bourke Street Mall. Turn left at Swanston Street, admiring the State Library of Victoria with its iconic octagonal dome at the corner of La Trobe Street.

Opposite the Library sits the Old Melbourne Gaol where infamous Australian bushranger, Ned Kelly, was hanged in 1880. 

Heading west along La Trobe Street, turn right on Elizabeth Street until you reach the century-old Queen Victoria Market, the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere. 

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Lunch on the run

Pick up some soft cheeses and cured meats in the Queen Victoria Market’s deli hall for a picnic on the go. If you’d rather sit down, tuck into modern Australian comfort food (think chicken and sweet corn soup in a dashi broth) – and perhaps a glass of natural wine – at new all-day laneway café Sun Moth Canteen & Bar at 28 Niagara Lane. Open 12-11pm on Saturday, and from 8am weekdays.

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Window shopping

While known for its fashion, Melbourne is also a great place to shop for accessories. Head to Flinders Lane to coo over the Aladdin’s cave of designer fashion accessories at Christine at No 181 ; open 10am-5pm Monday to Saturday, closed Sunday).

Alternatively, take the lift to level five of Mitchell House at the corner of Lonsdale and Elizabeth Streets to peruse the wares of Lord Coconut, arguably Australia’s best contemporary jewellery retailer for men. Open 11am-6pm Monday to Friday, and 12pm-4pm Saturday, closed Sunday.

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A walk in the park

Just east of the CBD, the centrepiece of Fitzroy Gardens is a 1930s conservatory featuring five floral displays each year. Open 9am-5pm daily (until 5.30pm during daylight savings), entry is free.

If you really need to stretch your legs, hit the trails that that weave through the 31 living plant collections at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne (open 7.30am until sunset daily).

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An aperitif

Spring in Melbourne signals rooftop boozing, with plenty of options to choose from – enjoy a carafe of sangria on the AstroTurf at Rooftop Bar atop Curtin House, 252 Swanston Street (open noon-1am daily), or sip a locally brewed Mountain Goat beer in a train carriage perched on a Collingwood rooftop at Easeys, 48 Easey Street. Open 11am-10pm Sunday to Thursday, to 11pm Friday and Saturday. 

After dark, crowds disperse into hip laneway bars like Eau de Vie at 1 Malthouse Lane for cocktails with serious flair (order the espresso martini here to see what I mean). Open 4pm-1am Friday and Saturday; hours vary on other days. 

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Dine with the locals

Step back into mid-century Melbourne by pulling up a stool at Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar at 66 Bourke St (open daily 8am-11.30pm), a Melbourne institution that has barely changed since opening in 1954. There’s no printed menu – simply tell counter staff how you like your home-style Italian pasta and it’ll be served up in a flash, accompanied by a buttered roll. Wash it down with a homemade watermelon granita or an espresso.

Day two

Out to brunch

Melbourne’s restaurants are key to the city’s reputation as one of the world’s most sustainable cities. In Richmond, just one train stop from Flinders Street Station, Feast of Merit at 117 Swan Street pumps its profits into initiatives that improve the lives of people living in poverty, which makes its Middle Eastern-style crumpets with vanilla and cinnamon labneh, pear puree, and pistachio praline taste that much better. 

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Take a ride

Riding Melbourne’s excellent tram network in the CBD is free, but you’ll need to purchase a Myki card for journeys into the suburbs. Jump on number 12, 16, 96 or 3a to St Kilda (about 25 minutes travel time) for a stroll along the foreshore Bay Trail and a beetroot latte at Matcha Mylkbar at 72A Acland St, a vegan cafe at the forefront of Melbourne’s “rainbow coffee” trend. Open 7.30am-4pm daily.

Cultural afternoon

The National Gallery of Victoria is split across two venues; peruse works by indigenous and other Australian greats at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Federation Square before heading across the river to ogle the extensive collections of the NGV International at 180 St Kilda Rd. Both galleries are open daily from 10am-5pm, with free general entry.

At the other end of the city, Melbourne Museum offers a window into Australia’s natural and cultural history. It’s located in Carlton Gardens, just north of the CBD, behind the resplendent Royal Exhibition Building. The museum is open 10am to 5pm daily; entry is AU$14. 

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The icing on the cake

You can expect high-calibre coffee across Melbourne, but for a guaranteed good drop, try Dukes Coffee Roasters at 247 Flinders Lane (open 9am-5pm Saturday, and from 7am-4.30pm Friday), or Brother Baba Budan at 359 Little Bourke Street (open 7am-5pm Monday to Saturday, and from 9am Sunday).

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Travel essentials

Getting there

Melbourne Airport is served by various one-stop flights from the UK, including British Airways with its partner, Cathay Pacific; Qantas with its partner, Emirates, and Qatar Airways.

The SkyBus runs from Melbourne Tullmarine to Southern Cross Station in the CBD every 10 minutes, 24/7. Tickets for the 40-minute journey cost AU$19 one-way. Taxis costs around AU$50-60.

Staying there

The brand new QT Melbourne at 133 Russell Street plays up to its location at the French fashion-influenced “Paris end” of Collins Street with trademark QT quirkiness – bold art, a lobby patisserie and interactive elevators that call out to guests. Its industrial-style rooms start at AU$280, room only.

More affordable boutique hotels are scattered throughout Melbourne’s suburbs. In seaside St Kilda, the 39 uniquely furnished rooms tucked behind the Art Deco façade of The Prince, start at AU$170 without breakfast. 

Cheaper still is the Space Hotel at 380 Russell Street.

Private rooms at this “flashpacker” favourite are a steal given its central location: AU$82 (not including breakfast). Bonus facilities include a rooftop deck, gym, home cinema and a kitchen for self-catering.

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