Melbourne is on everyone’s mind. Whenever Australia comes up in conversation, people rave about the city. So when I flew to Adelaide last week, I extended my trip for a few days to travel to Melbourne and see what all the fuss is about.
As it turns out, the fuss is about a lot. From the laid-back vibe to the foodie culture, from the great riverfront scene to the hidden laneways, the city impressed me with its livable, likable qualities.
Before I arrived, I heard tell of Melbourne’s identity as a place you have to know to really get the most out of it. Lucky for me, I had the benefit of a lot of insider tips from friends, readers, and guides.
The city had a plethora of cafes and coffee shops, most of which were independent. I got a chance to sample a few while I was in town, including the historic Pellegrini’s, where I met up with a local reader of A Lady in London, and the funky Brother Baba Budan, where I went with a fellow travel blogger.
Apart from the cafes, Melbourne’s restaurant culture showed its best side at a dinner I was offered with a friend of a friend at Ezard. The restaurant, like many of Melbourne’s best features, was hidden away on Flinders Lane such that I passed by it several times before I found it.
But once inside the intimate dining room, my friend and I discovered a world of ‘Australian freestyle’ cuisine in the six-course tasting menu and wine pairing. Dishes like mezcal cured salmon with pickled snow pea salad, wasabi jam, smoked yogurt, a sesame seed crisp, and tangerine vinaigrette paired with a 2012 Kirei Shuzo ‘Karakuchi 80′ Junmai Nama Genshu sake from Hiroshima showed me why everyone raves about Melbourne’s food scene. Add to that the excellent service, and this American foodie was ready to become an expat for a second time.
But the restaurants and coffee shops weren’t the only thing that Melbourne had going for it. Nor were they the only things that I wouldn’t have found on my own. As it turns out, the city was home to some excellent art galleries, some of which were so well hidden that I only found them thanks to an art map of Melbourne from ArtSpotter.
The company offered me a map of Melbourne’s art galleries for my trip, and I spent one afternoon exploring exhibition spaces around the city. From local artists showcased in spaces up several flights of unmarked stairs to international artists exhibited in underground rooms tucked around corners, the art map helped me discover a secret side of Melbourne that I never would have found otherwise.
The same went for shopping. Several people recommended that I check out some of the city’s historic shopping arcades, including the famous Block Arcade and Royal Arcade. I probably wouldn’t have found them on my own, but I was glad to have discovered their boutiques, shops, and cafes at the suggestion of others.
And that’s to say nothing of laneways like Degraves Street, a famous Melbourne pedestrian alley brimming with coffee shops and restaurants. All of them allowed their tables and chairs to spill into the middle of the street, creating a lively, social environment.
When I needed a rest between discoveries, I retreated to my hotel, another hidden gem near Chinatown on Little Bourke Street. The Ovolo Hotel just opened last year, and was tucked away in a discreet space that offered a great home-away-from-home feeling. No one I talked to in Melbourne had heard of it, which made me feel all the more like I had discovered another of the city’s treasures.
The hotel offered me two nights in a one-bedroom suite on the third floor. It featured sleek design with a sunny bedroom, contemporary bathroom, and incredibly spacious living room and kitchenette. The fully stocked minibar was entirely complimentary, and they even left me a goody bag full of snacks and sweets. The staff was friendly, and I felt perfectly safe and secure staying there as a solo female traveler.
In fact, I felt that way everywhere I went in Melbourne, day and night. Whether on a long walk along the riverfront promenade, in the heart of the Federation Square, or in the graffiti-covered alleys in the laneways, Melbourne had an easygoing feel to it that made me comfortable no matter where I went.
And I went to more places than just those in the city center. In fact, there was enough fuss about Melbourne and its surroundings that I took two day trips, traveling further afield in Victoria to visit the wine country in the Yarra Valley and the nightly penguin parade on Phillip Island. But each of those places has so much fuss of its own that you’ll have to stay tuned for more…