Our insider's guide to Australia's capital of culture, cuisine and coffee
Time Out staff
Known for having more of a European feel than other Australian cities (right down to the weather), Melbourne is celebrated as the country’s culture hub. As well as its vibrant music and arts scene, it’s a UNESCO City of Literature, and home to festivals celebrating cabaret to indigenous arts. The city sits on a grid, albeit at a jaunty angle. The central business district is bisected by the Yarra River, with the Arts Precinct on one side and the shopping malls and laneways – home to Melbourne’s infamous street art – on the other.
Eating & Drinking The best new drinking spot in town, Hihou is a sophisticated Japanese bar offering tuna tataki pastry cigars, and creative mixed drinks. Hit the Standard Hotel if a classic rowdy pub and craft hops are more your scene.
Excelling on the specialist coffee front is new kid Industry Beans in Fitzroy. The place roasts beans on site, offers Aeropress and siphon coffees and has multiple grinders so you can try different single origins. It does a good poached egg too. Also making waves on the brunch front is Silo: eco-warrior Joost Bakker’s benchmark waste-free café, making sustainability taste delicious. Try the salted leeks with fudgy egg yolks and a mug of cascara – iced-tea made with the shell of the coffee berry. If you’ve got the cash and time to book ahead, don’t miss Attica. This fine diner, headed up by chef Ben Shewry, serves thought-provoking modern Australian dishes such as potatoes baked in the earth where they were grown and garnished simply with saltbush and goat’s curd. The venue just landed the number 21 spot in the world’s best restaurants list too.
And you can’t leave without a Huxtaburger – the fast-food bun reinvented with wagyu beef patties, minimal salad and soft buttery brioche. Prepare to queue for yours.
Music Melbourne is a city heavily defined by its live music scene. Every night of every week, intoxicating sounds echo down laneways. Venues such as infamous rock den Cherry Bar (on AC/DC Lane, no less) compete mere footsteps away from the stately Forum Theatre and the mega-arenas.
Outside the city centre, the grubby beachside hub of St Kilda – where Nick Cave and Paul Kelly cut their teeth – has been superseded over the last two decades by the inner north. Sticky carpet meccas such as the Tote, Gasometer, the Old Bar and the Public Bar are goldmines for the next big thing in indie, punk, rock, and solo artists, and the bounty extends north to Brunswick’s larger venues. That’s nothing to say of the legendary inner east pub, the Corner, where the most buzz-worthy acts from home and abroad converge.
Art The National Gallery of Victoria is the oldest public art museum in Australia. Located across two sites on St Kilda Road and in Federation Square, the NGV features permanent exhibitions including indigenous and international collections and the largest stained-glass ceiling in the world. Over in Southbank, the Australian Centre of Contemporary Art was designed to work as a sculpture in which to store contemporary art. The building’s rusty Corten Steel exterior, devoid of 90-degree angles, functions to challenge visitors as well as provide a space for a slew of new, envelope-pushing works.
Hidden around Melbourne are gems waiting to be found. A mural by the late street artist Keith Haring is tucked away in Collingwood; a once controversial nude painting by French artist Jules-Joseph Lefebvre hangs in the city’s Young and Jackson pub, and down the otherwise grimy Hosier Lane are hundreds of works by all-star street artists.
A bike or tram ride away is Heide Museum of Modern Art in Bulleen. Although the gallery was established in 1981 for the public, the location was once the creative hub for Australian artists including Sidney Nolan, who painted his Ned Kelly series from the gallery’s old dining room. Make sure you visit Heide’s Cafe Vue for some relaxed, French-inspired fare.
Need to know
Getting there Emirates flies to Melbourne (via Kuala Lumpur) from Dhs6,525 return. www.emirates.com.