Best neighborhoods to explore in Melbourne
Like many cities, Melbourne is more of a collection of villages than a single unified city. Each suburb has its own distinct character, from its architecture to the streetscapes that have developed over the city’s varied history.
The city center and Southbank have the highest concentration of major sites. While other crowd pleasures are scattered around the city fringes. But every neighborhood in central Melbourne is full of accommodation, cool bars, remarkable cafes, international cuisine, lush parks, small independent art galleries and shops to get lost in. No matter where you settle down, you will quickly see why Melbourne is voted one of the happiest cities in the world, time and time again.
Ideal for accommodation
The city center – locals call it “the CBD” for the central business district – has the highest concentration of accommodation options. From apartments to designer boutique hotels to luxury, it’s all there. For something completely different, there’s also a rooftop ‘glamping’ option, where guests stay in 1970s Airstream RVs atop a city parking lot.
Staying in the city center puts you right in the heart of the action and you are spoiled for choice when it comes to transport to visit the outlying areas. The CBD was once primarily occupied by workers and buyers, but over the past two decades high-rise apartments have filled the downtown area with residents, breathing life into the city streets day and night. You could spend a week exploring the tiny bars, amazing restaurants, street art galleries, and ornate arcades before you even think about what lies beyond the city gate.
Great for river views
A former industrial estate, Southbank was rebuilt and renamed as an exciting new district in the 1990s. This riverside promenade is dotted with renowned international restaurants and hotels, and backed up by a splashy large casino that draws crowds . However, with its views over the Yarra River and multiple exemplary art institutions like the NGV: International, this is a perfectly positioned area to base you on your Melbourne itinerary. It offers plenty of accommodation and is a short walk from the town center.
Continue west on foot or by bike to where the Docklands gave birth to a mini-city of high-rise apartments, restaurants, plazas, and public art. It’s a surprisingly good area to visit, but for many locals, Southbank and Docklands remain slightly touristy and a bit ‘un-Melbourne’. If only they could see them with fresh eyes like visitors do! Put the yard of the South Wharf boat builders; the Ponyfish Island river bar; and a yum cha banquet at Spice Temple on your Southbank route and you’ll sing Southbank to everyone.
Fitzroy & Collingwood
Ideal for bars and cafes
Despite the lack of tourist spots, there are a myriad of reasons to relocate to the leafy northern suburbs of Fitzroy or Collingwood. It’s a short tram ride from downtown and the food and drink scene is off the charts. For shoppers, mid-century vinyl and furniture stores lie next to top-notch contemporary art galleries. Smith and Gertrude Streets are teeming with intimate wine bars, cocktail bars and world-class cafes, while the best local pubs are dotted around the alleys of Fitzroy and Collingwood, many with leafy beer gardens for sunny afternoons or a wood-burning fireplace for extra warmth in winter. For a slice of Australian nature, continue to Abbotsford for a stroll through the Convent Gardens and the charming children’s farm next to the Yarra River.
One of Melbourne’s favorite rooftop bars, Naked for Satan offers you neighborhood views, the perfect place to orient yourself over a sunset drink. Stomping Ground, in a former cigarette factory, is a popular brewery and brewery with wood-fired pizzas to keep you going. Have a coffee you will never forget at Everyday Coffee or Proud Mary. Head to a street pub like the Napier Hotel for burgers and beers. Then, make yourself comfortable in the moody leather banquettes at the Black Pearl, the best cocktail bar for a late night drink.
Ideal for a nostalgic seaside holiday atmosphere
St Kilda is the tattered bohemian heart of Melbourne, a place where a young Nick Cave performed gloriously chaotic concerts at the George Hotel (formerly Crystal Ballroom) and which is featured in songs, plays, novels, series televisions and movies. Originally a 19th-century seaside resort mimicking Hastings and Brighton in England, this neighborhood has played many roles: post-war Jewish enclave, red light district and hub of punk rock.
It’s an intricate jumble of boom-era Victorian mansions, exquisite Spanish Moorish apartments, seedy side streets, vintage roller coasters in Luna Park, and nostalgic theaters including the Art Deco-era Palace Theater and the palace of the image, The Astor; flanked by wonderful dining options in the well-heeled neighboring suburbs of Elwood and Elsternwick.
Ideal for families with young children
Home to Melbourne’s Italian expat community as well as a strong international student body, thanks to the University of Melbourne. It’s a hop and a hop from the city bordered by the leafy Carlton Gardens where you will find the Unesco listed Royal Exhibition Building as well as the child friendly Melbourne Museum.
From there, a short walk west to Lygon Street, the heart of Carlton, where you can sample the excellent Italian cafe life and visit Melbourne’s institution: the Readings Bookstore (there is a special bookstore for children next door). The surrounding streets have a pretty village feel, with wide avenues and large Victorian terraced houses. Finally, on the west side of Carlton in Parkville is the Melbourne Zoo with its collection of cute native Australian marsupials and an excellent children’s play area at Royal Park.
Ideal for sports enthusiasts
Richmond is the hub of all sports in Melbourne. The district’s southwest skyline is dominated by the angular shapes of the stadiums, none more imposing than the mighty Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). But it also has some great dining options, especially the Vietnamese enclave around Victoria Street. Bridge Road and Swan Street offer a mix of decent shops, cafes and pubs (the Corner is a popular concert venue).
If you are a sports fan, this neighborhood is for you. The roar of the crowd at the MCG, which seats up to 100,000, is a must-see in the winter when AFL (Australian Football League, otherwise known as Australian Rules) matches are played day and night during the weekend. The Melbourne Marathon takes place in October and ends here, so expect road closures and masses of ultra-fit Australians everywhere. In the summer, cricket takes place at the MCG, including the Boxing Day International Test Match, bringing fans to the competitor’s side in droves.
Later in the month, cheerful crowds descend on Melbourne Park for the Australian Grand Slam tennis championship. In addition to tennis, head to the AO Live stage in Birrarung Marr to listen to live music, a mini theme park for the kids. And finally, the Australian Sport Museum at the MCG features exhibits focused on Australia’s favorite sports and historic sporting moments, as well as interactive activities for children – young and old.