After spending a week in Melbourne, I can confirm that it is Australia’s culture and style capital.
Located at the southern tip of Australia, Melbourne is Sydney’s hipper, more urban counterpart, with street art around every corner, laneways filled with hole-in-the-walls, and trendy boutiques spouting experimentally chic styles.
Melbourne possesses a creative energy that makes you feel alive. Walking down the CBD grid, you feel connected to the heart of the city and the electricity that makes it run. A short train outside the central district, you come across picture-perfect beaches like St. Kilda’s, as well as cool, quirky neighborhoods like Fitzroy.
Although it will probably be a while before I go back to Australia, having visited the oceanic continent for two consecutive summers, Melbourne will definitely be at the top of my list when I return. With a focus on art, shopping, and Insta-friendly destinations, here is my list of 10 things to see and do in Melbourne.
1. Hosier and Rutledge Lane
Melbourne has made its name as one of the cities for street art. Hosier Lane is the most impressive collection of street art I’ve seen, both in terms of quality and size, and without a doubt warrants a photo or two on your Insta. I visited a few other laneways with street art, and compiled my favorites here.
2. Queen Victoria Market
When I was young, I went shopping in malls a lot. The Philippines has a huge mall culture (“malling” is a thing) and whenever my family would travel, we would hit up the best shopping centers the city had to offer.
After a while, I got bored of seeing the same stores over and over again, and found a new shopping destination: markets. Markets are more unique in that each has its own personality, shaped by the area it is located in and the people it serves.
Queen Victoria Market, also known as ‘Vic Market’ or ‘Queen Vic,’ is the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere. They sell fresh food, imported gourmet goods, and bargain handcrafts, clothing, and jewelry. This is the best place to buy your souvenirs.
3. The Great Ocean Road
Although technically a two-and-a-half hour car ride away from Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road is a must-do day trip from the city. With stunning coastal cliffs and the famed Twelve Apostles and Loch Ard Gorge, it is one of the most stunning coastal routes in the world. Read more about my post on the Great Ocean Road here.
4. Brighton Beach
I’m not going to lie, I only visited Brighton Beach for the Insta. The beach, about 20 minutes by train, is lined with a row of 82 distinctively painted bathing boxes. They add a beautiful pop of color to the shoreline and will to your Insta feed, too.
5. Degraves Street
Degraves Street is Melbourne’s most happening laneway for artsy stores, coffee shops and restaurants. It is home to some fantastic pieces of street art, as well as dessert spots Doughnut Time, Waffle On, and Little Cupcakes.
6. National Gallery of Victoria (NGV)
The NGV is a free public art museum that contains the largest and most comprehensive range of artworks in Australia. While I was there, they had an exhibit on Edgar Degas, who is known for his impressionist ballerina pieces.
Their permanent collection, which houses over 7,000 works, includes European and international paintings, Indigenous Australian art and artifacts, Asian art, historical European ceramics, and fashion and textiles.
7. Chapel Street, Prahran
When I was in middle school, I discovered this site called The Cool Hunter. As its name suggests, the website rounds up a collection of really cool architecture, art, and lifestyle things happening around the world. It’s an authority on aesthetically pleasing and extremely well-designed work, and to this day I follow it for inspiration (and to relax, because looking at nice things is quite calming).
A few years ago, I found out The Cool Hunter was based in Australia and had a physical store in Melbourne. Since then, it has been a goal of mine to visit the store, located in the suburb of Prahran.
The store was beautiful to look at, with glass and marble exteriors and gold and silver accents. Their interior was sleek and their products well curated, as well as atypical. I didn’t buy anything because of the fairly high price tags, but my heart fluttered and sighed just being inside (#designgoals).
I didn’t really plan to do anything else in Prahran, but because I still had a lot of time to kill, I ended up wandering around. It wasn’t long before I came upon the main shopping, dining, and entertainment precinct, Chapel Street.
Chapel Street bursts with an edgy, vintage character that provided a nice respite from Melbourne’s more regimented, touristy CBD. The street is lined with hip street style stores, unexpected pieces of art, bohemian thrift shops, as well as this one insane bazaar of vintage and retro trinkets.
If you’re looking to escape Melbourne for a day or explore the surrounding area, Prahran is the place to go.
8. Block and Royal Arcade
One of the best places to have a look at in Melbourne is the arcades. Built in the late 19th- to early 20th-century, they are cultural and historic icons of the city. Their architecture and designs are beautiful, with high curved ceilings, elegant facades, and carved mythical creatures guarding the entrance.
Inside Block and Royal Arcade, arguably the most well-known arcades, you’ll find quirky establishments like The Art of Dr. Seuss, a store selling notable art from the prolific writer’s stories, and Babushkas, a shop selling Russian nesting dolls or matryoshkas. You’ll also find expensive jewelry and clothing stores and tea rooms perfect for an afternoon break.
9. Rose Street Market and Fitzroy
When I was younger, my aunt would bring me to bazaars selling a wide variety of unique, original crafts. Even when I didn’t buy anything, I loved looking at table displays and marveling at how creative people’s works were. Since then, I’ve developed an uncontrollable attraction to art markets.
Besides being the perfect place to find cute, minimalist jewelry that I am also currently slightly obsessed with, art markets are great places to learn about up-and-coming artists and find high-quality crafted accessories, one-of-a-kind artwork, and stunning professional photography.
The Rose St. Artists’ Market is Melbourne’s best art and design market, with vendors selling a nice range of trinkets, handmade jewelry, cards and knitted scarves.
While you’re in the area, you should explore the surrounding neighborhood of Fitzroy, too. It’s quite edgy and hipster, with open-roof cafes and standalone buildings covered with murals and graffiti art.
Head to Bruswick Street, which is a hipster haven of its own. Walking down I smelled roasted coffee beans wafting from a cafe, which mingled with the scent of tea tree oils and plants from a nearby aromatherapy store. Ethnic restaurants lined both sides, from Vietnamese and Thai canteens, to an authentic Afghan restaurant and a self-proclaimed “Souvlaki King.” Rock music from the 90s blasted from hipster clothing stores, while servers called out orders for liquid nitrogen ice cream.
Along Brunswick Street, there’s also a little hidden art gallery called Brunswick Street Gallery with contemporary sculptures, prints, and interactive art.
Fitzroy is another spot you should head to if you’re looking for a break from Melbourne’s CBD.
10. State Library of Victoria
Whenever I walk into a library with books lined floor-to-ceiling and a central reading room more than three stories high, I feel like Belle walking into the castle library in Beauty in the Beast.
The State Library of Victoria is one such grand library, with a glass-paneled dome, white walls, and wooden accents. I admit, I wouldn’t have been as persistent in wanting to visit if it wasn’t #doingitfortheinsta.
The best view to take the photo is from the top floor – I think there are four – but my sister and I went just as the library was closing and the higher floors were closed. Still, the library was a gem to look at.
What’s in your Melbourne top 10?