Melbourne has long worn the World’s Most Liveable City crown but, these days, it’s also becoming known as the capital of cool. And for good reason.
The east-coast culture club is a labyrinth of laneway coffee shops, cult restaurants and rooftop bars, with a never-ending catalogue of food, wine and wellness boutiques giving the city its seductive swagger.
With so many eat-worthy and made-for-Instagram places to add to your urban bucket list, here’s how to nail the Melbourne zeitgeist.
When it comes to wait-worthy dinner experiences, Chin Chin was the venue that really put Melbourne on the map and, eight years later, hungry restaurant-goers are still lining up early so they can get their names on the list to dine at this bustling south-east Asian eatery in the heart of the city.
A little further along Flinders Lane, you’ll find Cumulus Inc, where the bread starter has garnered its own cult following, while Pastuso, off AC/DC Lane, is the city’s go-to Peruvian pisco bar, cerveceria and grill.
Magic Mountain Saloon, off Little Collins Street, is plating up some of the city’s best sticky beef ribs, and there would likely be mass riots if Red Spice Road ever stripped its signature pork belly with black vinegar and chilli caramel from the menu.
For Italian fans, St Kilda institution Di Stasio’s new city outfit, Di Stasio Citta, is twirling some of the city’s finest crab pasta. Take a seat upstairs at Ombra for great views and even better pizza, or treat your tastebuds to a modern African-inspired feast at polepole.
Swanky wine bars
If wine bars are the new black, then Melbourne is laying them on thick.
A swathe of swanky new venues have opened up everywhere from the city to the beach, bringing with them a tantalising mix of fine wine and delicious fare.
One of the original, and still leading wine ladies, is City Wine Shop. This ambient wine bar, which is opposite Parliament House, offers an ever-rotating list of some of the city’s most interesting wines, and a drool-writ menu with which to wash them down. Don’t miss the polenta chips (because, well, they’re divine) and keep your eyes turned towards the blackboard for the day’s gnocchi special. They’re practically guaranteed to be pillows of potatoey perfection.
Recently opened Bar Margaux is bringing underground New York bar meets French brasserie vibes to the city, while Embla’s sip style is all about the laid-back ambience.
Beyond the city limits, South Yarra is leading the vine sprawl with a slew of chic new additions pouring onto the scene.
Head to Shadowboxer Bar & Kitchen for not only an epic wine list but some seriously creative cocktails (yuzu highball or strawberry and lemon thyme sour, anyone?), or South Press Winehouse, where ceiling-to-floor wine racks, brown leather benches and loaded charcuterie boards beckon you to settle in for the afternoon (and the second bottle).
Old world meets new at The Alps in Prahran, which has a relaxed, European ambience and a 400-plus strong wine library.
Looking to escape the city for a weekend?
Travel an hour from Melbourne in any direction and you’ll find yourself in some kind of beachside or bucolic paradise. If you’re more coast than country, the Mornington Peninsula hinterland is littered with boutique wineries, beachside breweries and laid-back eateries showcasing the best of the region’s cuisine.
Escape the Sorrento crowds and stay at Dromana or McCrae, where an influx of trendy newcomers has transformed these once sleepy coastal towns into bustling beachside hubs. At just over an hour’s drive from Melbourne, they’re the ideal, idyllic weekend destinations, offering both seaside relaxation and rich, culinary landscapes.
Be sure to book in for a contemporary Greek feast at Alatonero, a bright and breezy mezze-style restaurant channelling the blue and white Santorini spirit. Merchant & Maker and Little Rebel Coffee Roasters are where it’s at for your daily espresso hit, or kick back with a craft beer at Jetty Road Brewery.
Fancy a spot of yoga? Get your bliss on at Soul Collective or, get your blood pumping with a hike up to Arthurs Seat Lookout, which offers panoramic views over the sparkling peninsula.
For a more urban wellness immersion, Melbourne – also the country’s self-proclaimed wellness capital – is bringing the good vibes. If you’re in need of a little mental space, Willow Urban Retreat, in Armadale, has reinvented the day spa.
The healing centre is part wellness retreat, part yoga, Ayurveda, massage and mindfulness space and no wellness detail has been spared. From its crystal grid foundation (which helps to promote healing energies, restore balance and raise the positive vibrations) to purified air systems and ethically sourced, non-toxic building materials, Willow embodies its clean-living ethos. Book in for a massage, a meditation class or sound bath healing, or register for a half-day, full day or immersive three-day retreat.
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