The following is a list of places I’d recommend you go in each neighbourhood I’m familiar with. Some of these areas will almost certainly already be on your list, and some of them will probably be a little off the beaten track.
I can’t really help you here. There are two types of people in Melbourne—those north of the river (typically insufferable left-leaning voters), and those south of the river (typically insufferable right-leaning voters).
If you’ve met me, I hope you know which side I’m on.
This is an area with a history similar to Shoreditch1—edgy and hip back in its day, but now the domain of expensive shops, expensive restaurants, and overpaid web developers.
Having said that, it’s still the heart of the hipster inner north and has lots of what makes Melbourne so Melbourne-y.
Back in the day, you were guaranteed to find me here every Friday night after work, regardless of where I was working. It’s a dive bar with some kind of music every night. The beer garden definitely has more emphasis on beer than garden and should probably be avoided if you’re not comfortable with cigarette smoke, but I love it out there.
Punk rock mecca.
Great for cocktails. Go upstairs.
This place was formerly named Two Row, and I haven’t visited since it was relaunched. I can only assume it’s still a small, well-curated craft beer bar. Melbourne’s craft beer scene is pretty dang friendly.
Pretty nice craft beer shop/bar just down the road from Slow Beer.
Great vegan restaurant. I’ve got their cookbook and it’s pretty great.
Take-away spinoff from Smith and Daughters.
There’s a nice little strip of Japanese restaurants down the bottom of Smith Street, and this is probably my favourite.
Home of the Bogan Burger, a meaty behemoth of a burger.
Great (but very popular and occasionally crowded) beer garden and pretty good pub food.
If I had to recommend one place to go for Melbourne’s over-the-top coffee culture, this would be the one. Have at least one espresso here.
Another very, very popular cafe. Expect to need to queue if you’re going here on the weekend. This is where Zoe and I had our first date.
Cheap (for the area) and cheerful vegetarian food.
A little removed from the hustle and bustle of Brunswick and Smith Streets, this is a nice pub with good beer and an old-school vibe.
I lived in a one bedroom flat by Edinburgh Gardens for just over two years in the early 2010s. It’s a very well-to-do area, populated primarily by champagne socialists.
The biggest and most popular park in the inner north. On a sunny day on the weekend, the north side of the park will be overrun with 20- or 30-somethings with beer, cider, and picnic foods picked up from Piedemontes (the local supermarket) and Blackhearts and Sparrows.
High-end bottle shop; a great place to grab a few cold beers to drink in Edinburgh Gardens.
Pretty good bakery/cafe. Worth visiting for either brunch or grabbing some bread and cakes.
Pretty nice local boozer. Good range of craft beers and reasonable food.
One of the places in Melbourne for an Australian style burger. It’s massive, sloppy, and has egg and beetroot. Some people will say that the beetroot should be swapped for a pineapple ring, but they’re wrong.
Order one with the lot. You’re wasting your time otherwise.
Good for Indian. They had a buffet night on Sunday. And craft beer!
After getting a big fed up with the trappings of the hipster inner north, I moved back in the direction of my birthplace and rented a flat in Footscray with Zoe in the mid-2010s, where we lived until I left Australia.
Footscray has a reputation of being rough, but it’s not really warranted these days. There are some social issues in the area, and recently some media beat-ups about “african gangs”, but nothing which should scare you away.
One of the most popular reasons to visit Footscray is the good, cheap Vietnamese food, and this is probably the best place to go. Pho is breakfast food in Vietnam, so this place is open early if you want something other than avocado on toast with a poached egg. For the price, the service is what you’d expect—not rude, but not exactly welcoming and friendly either.
My favourite for Bahn Mi.
Not the place for artisanal organic produce, but the place for cheap food and hubbub.
Footscray’s been a home to immigrant communities for many decades. Before the wave of Vietnamese immigration, it was known as an Italian and Greek area. One place which is still around from those days is T. Cavallaro, where you can get amazing cannoli.
After the wave of Vietnamese immigration, the next group to immigrate into the area were people from Africa, especially from Ethiopia, Sudan and Eritrea. A small neighbourhood has developed where they’ve opened their own businesses which has become known as “little Africa”. My favourite of these is Ras Dashen.
Ethiopian-French fusion place. Another good option for breakfast if you’re looking for something different. Lots of vegan options here too.
Of course, eventually the hipsters and yuppies are always going to descend on any interesting neighbourhood, and Footscray is no different. Rudimentary is probably the best representation of that, but it is a pretty good cafe. Minimalist decor set up inside a shipping container surrounded by herb gardens. It’s peak Melbourne.
A favourite of Melbourne’s hardcore scene. Vegan food and punk rock music. Good on Sunday afternoon if you want some heartfelt straightedge.
Turns out that I’m not the only person moving from the hipster belt to the west, and it seems we’re starting to bring our favourite things with us as well. This is a craft beer bar which opened soon after I left Melbourne but I spent a fair bit of time there when I returned to Footscray for a week. A large number of taps rotating through an interesting selection of craft beers. A great spot to pull up a bar stool and have a chat with some locals.
Another newly opened craft beer joint in Footscray. Again, it wasn’t around when I lived in the neighbourhood, but it seems pretty nice. They were working on opening a bottle shop downstairs when I was there last.
Yet another craft beer bar. Either I or Melbourne has a bit of an obsession with craft beer. This is one of Melbourne’s best.
Small whiskey bar with friendly, knowledgeable staff; reasonable prices; and a very extensive list. Their boilermakers (a beer and whiskey pairing) are always a good place to get started.
Degraves Street is one of the stereotypical Melbourne postcard alleyways, but most places in the area aren’t great. Hells Kitchen is the exception.
On a sunny afternoon in the city, this is a pretty nice spot to enjoy a beer or two.
The National Gallery, Victoria is split into two parts—the international collection (which is around the corner on St. Kilda Road) and the Australian collection which is housed in Federation Square. Both are good, but if you’re in Australia it makes the most sense to see Australian art.
The majority of this place is a massive shed which houses row after row of people selling useless crap made in China. Ignore that part and head to the food sections. My favourite has always been the dairy hall which is full of shops selling cheeses, cured meats, and lots of other tasty things, but the large fruit and vegetable section and a meat hall are pretty great place to do your shopping.
Inside the Queen Victoria Market precinct, this place is serious about it’s coffee.
Another old-school neighbourhood boozer with a pretty good kitchen. Way back in the early 2000s, this is where Look Who’s Toxic played their first gig to an appreciative audience.
Tasty brunch and even tastier cakes. This place is tiny and you might need to wait for a table if you’re part of a group, but I’ve always found it easy to get a seat when visiting alone.
To be fair, Shoreditch is probably a reasonable prediction of what Fitzroy will be like in five years. ↩