“It’s all about the hidden and the hip.” That’s how my Australian food critic friend describes Melbourne, and it certainly seems true: in this cultural wonderland, you can ride the public tramway next to longtime resident Geoffrey Rush, absorbed in his latest script; stumble across young street artists tagging paint-spattered alleys; and eat some of the finest har gow dumplings outside of Guangzhou.
Melbourne’s two must-visit neighborhoods are a study in contrasting styles. The Central Business District, or CBD, has the highest concentration of major galleries, art museums, and Victorian architecture; edgier Fitzroy, a low-rise precinct a mile to the north, is where hipsters who love cold-brew coffee and vinyl record shops tend to gravitate. Here’s how to see the best of both areas in two action-packed days.
Day 1: The CBD
Morning: Rise at the Langham ($$$), a 25-story hotel with spectacular views of the skyline, and take an early walk along the Yarra River. Order your first flat white of the day at Switchboard Café (220 Collins St.; no phone), a telephone switchboard turned coffee stand that seats just six at a time and serves exceptional “toasties,” or grilled sandwiches, made with artichoke hearts and chili jam. Then it’s time to hit the shops—Melbournians are dedicated followers of fashion. Nevenka (12 Howey Place) features local designer Rosemary Masic’s brightly colored patterned dresses and tailored jackets, while Pieces of Eight (28 Russell Place) showcases handcrafted jewelry and objets d’art by Melbourne artisans. At Captains of Industry (2 Somerset Place), sartorial partners Thom Grogan and James Roberts have transformed an urban loft into a retro-style gentlemen’s club, including a café and barbershop as well as a bespoke studio for tailored suits.
Afternoon: Break for lunch at Dainty Sichuan Food (206 Bourke St.; 61-3/9650-8588; $$). Every star chef who visits for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival each March (David Chang, Anthony Bourdain, René Redzepi) raves about the fiery Sichuan cuisine from the original South Yarra canteen, which recently opened this satellite dining room. Try the ma chicken and cumin-crusted lamb ribs, then start your art crawl at the Ian Potter Centre (Federation Square/Flinders St.), a contemporary gallery that also houses late-19th-century Heidelberg school Impressionists and Aboriginal dreamtime paintings. Melbourne has also embraced graffiti: on nearby Hosier Lane, the layered, constantly changing works have a kaleidoscopic effect.
Evening: At cocktail hour, modern speakeasy Brooks (115-117 Collins St.) champions the value of a stiff drink and smooth discourse. Five miles beyond the CBD, Attica ($$$) is well worth the cab fare: New Zealand–born chef Ben Shewry’s “simple dish of potato cooked in the earth it was grown in” is surrounded by coconut-husk ash and saltbush leaves—and it’s unlike any spud you have ever tasted.
Day 2: Fitzroy
Morning: The city’s café society congregates at De Clieu (187 Gertrude St.; 61-3/9416-4661), where the house-blend Seven Seeds brew is prepared pour-over or cold-brewed; they also have delectable canelés and fermented-rice pancakes. Afterward, hit Gertrude and Brunswick Streets for a little boutique browsing. Goth meets glam at Metal Couture (122A Gertrude St.), the moody atelier of cult jeweler William Llewellyn Griffiths, who has collaborated with the likes of Dolce & Gabbana and Vivienne Westwood. His “heavy metal couture” rings, brooches, and bangles are inspired by tattoo art and Baroque architecture. Housewares shop Mud (181 Gertrude St.) stocks a rainbow trove of refined Australian-made ceramics; Books for Cooks (233 Gertrude St.) has an encyclopedic collection of new and vintage culinary titles, including the delightful Mr. Wilkinson’s Favourite Vegetables. Established in 1981, Polyester Records remains an independent source for fans of rare vinyl from both local musicians and international stars. (387 Brunswick St.).
Afternoon: Housed in a 19th-century factory, Cutler & Co. (55-57 Gertrude St.; $$) highlights the bounty of regional farms and fisheries—the “Friday Lunch” market menu is tailored to whatever is delivered fresh to the kitchen that morning, as in a cured John Dory with turnips, ginger, and sea lettuce. The Rose St. Artists’ Market (60 Rose St.) is the local answer to Etsy—a gathering of craftspeople who specialize in all things handmade, from letterpress cards to ceramics.
Evening: Climb the stairs to the wood-paneled Everleigh (150 Gertrude St.) for a Floradora: an effervescent concoction of gin, pomegranate, and house-made ginger beer. Recently revamped by restaurateur Andrew McConnell, the Builders Arms Hotel (211 Gertrude St.; $$) is a landmark pub serving egalitarian fish pie with draft lager in the bar. The Moon Under Water dining room—named for a George Orwell essay on his favorite watering hole—takes a more poetic turn, featuring a four-course prix fixe menu that, like the city itself, changes by the week.
Shane Mitchell is T+L’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter @shanegoesforth.
$ Less than $200
$$ $200 to $350
$$$ $350 to $500
$$$$ $500 to $1,000
$$$$$ More than $1,000
$ Less than $25
$$ $25 to $75
$$$ $75 to $150
$$$$ More than $150