Nothing reveals the real flavour of a city more than its neighbourhoods. These are the places where locals meet, gather, and entertain themselves. Plan a visit to one of these neighbourhoods the next time you are in Melbourne on an Australia vacation.
I have always, when visiting a large city, sought out what the locals call their neighbourhoods. On trips to trips to Australia, of course, you want to take in the important highlights of Melbourne such the Eureka Tower, the Royal Botanical Gardens, and the Melbourne Zoo, plus visit the exceptional city museums and art galleries, etc. Many city tours include these but they are geared to the possibly first time visitor and don’t always show another side of the city.
Let’s take a look at some of the key neighbourhoods in Melbourne, a city which is blessed with many and which add so much to its vitality. All of Melbourne’s neighbourhoods are easily accessible.
St. Kilda, immediately south of the central district, is located on the ocean. To sum up the character of St. Kilda, it would be a neighbourhood which started out as a pleasant seaside suburb and which became an arty/alternative place, followed by a certain amount of gentrification. There is nothing like being by the ocean, and here, St. Kilda has a good beach and a vintage pier. So if you want to combine a swim with your Australia vacation, this is available. Afterwards, you can make use of the high concentration of restaurants, ranging from luxury to inexpensive. If there on a Sunday, check out the lively arts and crafts market. An iconic site is Luna Park, one of the world’s oldest fun and entertainment parks. Acland Street is a good place to enjoy some excellent desserts and cakes at one of its cafes.
Fitzroy is very close to Melbourne’s centre but has its own individual character. It has been described as hip, funky, and a people-watching neighbourhood. All true but it is also a colourful place with lots of charm plus interesting boutique-style shops, wine bars, pubs, and restaurants. Additionally, there are a number of art galleries and museums. The main thoroughfare is Brunswick Street where you will find the most activity plus vintage clothes shops and second-hand bookstores. Every Saturday and Sunday, you can take in the Rose Street Market, where artists and designers display their handmade goods. Not far from Fitzroy is the lush and green 21 kilometre/13 mile Merri Creek Trail where you can walk or cycle passing by the CERES Environmental Park, a community centre featuring an urban farm. Another green spot is Edinburgh Gardens, a large park and a pleasant place for a stroll.
Brunswick is north of Fitzroy and a little further from the centre. It is an older district with large Italian and Greek communities. It is developing to be a “second Fitzroy,” but perhaps is more unique as it is known for its bohemian culture and arts community, with influences from the nearby University of Melbourne and its students. It has been described as arguably the trendiest inner city neighbourhood. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants featuring cuisine from all over the world.
Carlton has some of Melbourne’s most historically significant 19th Century buildings, including the Victorian Trades Hall and the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Carlton Gardens and the Royal Exhibition Building. It is also known as “Little Italy.” The northern part of Argyle Square, adjacent to the main thoroughfare, Lygon Street, has been redeveloped into an Italian-style piazza, known as Piazza Italia. This, of course, goes hand in hand with quality Italian restaurants, gelato kiosks, and espresso coffee bars – mainly on Lygon Street. There are five main garden squares – Carlton Gardens, University Square, Lincoln Square, Argyle Place, and MacArthur Place. Lincoln Square has a Bali Memorial dedicated to the victims of the bombing in 2002. The Melbourne Museum in Carlton has a special gallery for children with exhibits ranging from the educational to fun.
Collingwood is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Melbourne and is noted for its historic buildings, which include many 19th Century houses, shops, and factories. However, some of the trendiest restaurants and bars make their home here as well as art galleries. It is the city’s second-largest gay district and features several gay-oriented entertainment venues. There is a farmer’s market every second Saturday of the month where locals come to buy their fresh produce. The Collingwood Children’s Farm is a place where children can milk cows, feed chickens, and ride a pony.
Prahran is one of the more upscale neighbourhoods and is Melbourne’s premier fashion shopping district. Chapel Street is lined with high street chain stores and speciality boutiques. It is also a place to see professionals going about their daily life, heading to the boutiques, movie houses, nightclubs, and art galleries. Prahran is the place for fine dining, on your Australia vacation, and also designer stores. However, there is another side to Prahran. Greville Street is home to a number of vintage clothes and record stores. Every Sunday from noon to 5pm, the Greville Street Market offers arts, crafts, old clothes, and jewellery. For a beautiful array of the freshest local produce, try the Prahran Market.
A very similar upscale neighbourhood is South Yarra, which is adjacent to Prahran. Again, it is home to more expensive designer stores and restaurants. It is also a good place to enjoy a neighbourhood café. To quote a caffeine aficionado, “The zenith of coffee-obsessives in a coffee obsessed city is South Yarra!” It is also home to some of Melbourne’s most prestigious residential addresses. There are many historic mansions including Como House and Garden, one of Melbourne’s earliest mansions built originally in 1847 and named after Lake Como in Italy. It gives an interesting and informative glimpse into Melbourne’s past. There are other grand homes here owned by some of Australia’s elite families. A walk around the district, on your Australia vacation, will show you some of the opulence. Another part of South Yarra will show you some of Melbourne’s best-preserved Victorian terrace houses. For fans of Art Deco, there are a number of apartment buildings reminiscent of those found in Hollywood, California.
Docklands is a district of ongoing urban renewal. Perhaps a good comparison might be the London, England docklands district. It is a sought-after address for business, attracting large conglomerates. Once simply an industrial area, it is now very contemporary-looking. On the waterfront are a number of restaurants, shops, and cinemas. Also, a number of modern apartment buildings have been constructed. Waterfront City is a shopping and entertainment area that is home to the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel. In Docklands, there is a great view of the skyscrapers of downtown Melbourne.
Historically known as Emerald Hill, South Melbourne is one of Melbourne’s oldest suburban areas and is noted for its well-preserved authentic Victorian houses, located on tree-lined streets. If coffee is your thing, then head to this neighbourhood, as cafes abound here. A highlight of the district is the lively South Melbourne Market, with its many butchers, bakers, grocers, and fishmongers. It is one of the best fresh produce markets in the city.
Richmond was one of Melbourne’s earliest settlements and is a diverse and multicultural neighbourhood noted for its historic streets. It has a mix of expensive converted warehouse residences and Victorian terrace houses. Bridge Road cuts right through Richmond and is known for its small stores selling everything from vintage fashion to furniture. One feature of Richmond is its street art, allowing many local artists to paint eye-catching murals and graffiti on public walls. Victoria Street reminds many of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), with its numerous, inexpensive but authentic Vietnamese restaurants. Melbourne’s largest concentration of fashion factory outlets and second-hand stores are found in Richmond on Swan Street and Bridge Road. In Richmond you can also find Greek tavernas, typical Aussie pubs, and farmers’ markets. It is also home to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the largest stadium in the Southern Hemisphere.
Want to see where the rich, affluent and influential live, while on your Australia vacation? Then head to Kew. This is where you will find the most expensive properties in Melbourne, located on its wide, leafy streets. There are plenty of Victorian and Art Deco homes here and they would be among the most expensive to purchase. In other words, this is one of the most prestigious suburbs in the city. For art lovers, try a visit to the Lyon Housemuseum which occupies part of a private collector’s home. It exhibits works of contemporary art, sculptures, architecture, and design, and the museum is considered to be one of the largest and most significant of its type in Australia. The Kew Court House is a heritage building that houses an intimate performance space, a large workshop area, and a community access gallery ideal for smaller exhibitions. For relaxation, head to Studley Park Boathouse, Australia’s oldest boathouse, and rent a rowing boat or have a picnic on the banks of the beautiful Yarra River.
Want to have fun looking at street art on your Australia vacation? Then Windsor is the place. There are so many walls in this neighbourhood which display amusing graffiti, that this could be just one reason to go there. Have a look at the many Art Deco buildings which stand side-by-side with Victorian architecture. This neighbourhood has a bohemian vibe to it, partly emanating from its many vintage clothes shops. You can head to the Chapel Street Bazaar to search for everything from toys to retro furniture and vintage cameras. On top of this, there is a distinct coffee culture, and at night, the bars come to life. How could you resist a vodka bar called Borsch, Vodka and Tears! Then there is the pub called, naturally, Windsor Castle.
Williamstown is a historic district situated at the mouth of the Yarra River, on the waterfront of Melbourne, offering stunning city views across the water. It has a rich, architectural heritage with streets named Nelson Place and The Strand – both lined with historic buildings, many of which are now restaurants, hotels, and art galleries. It was Melbourne’s first sea port and has now become a fashionable neighbourhood. Williamstown is surrounded on three sides by water, with the eastern coastline dotted with piers, gardens, and remnants of Williamstown’s maritime history. Scenic views of Melbourne’s city skyline can be enjoyed from Gem Pier, where you can join a cruise on the Yarra River. The rocky south-eastern coastline consists of open parkland, which includes the Point Gellibrand Coastal Heritage Park. The southwestern coastline is Williamstown Beach, which has a large expanse of sand, allowing for sheltered swimming. You can visit the fascinating Seaworks Maritime Precinct which preserves Williamstown’s heritage of historic buildings, piers, and the Maritime Museum.
Believe it or not, there are even more neighbourhoods in this vibrant and colourful city, but I need to stop here. If you get the chance to visit Melbourne on your Australia vacation, why not add some of these neighbourhoods to your bucket list. It will certainly add another dimension to your time here.