If Melbourne, Australia doesn’t occupy the top slot on your travel list, you need to rethink your priorities. Enjoying 50,000 plants in the lush Royal Botanical Gardens, iconic stacked limestone along the Great Ocean Road, and spectacular sandstone mountain ranges in Grampian National Park are merely icing on the cake of this city’s finest offerings: edgy art and eclectic food. Read on to find out why Melbourne’s vibrant food and art scenes are the best-kept secret south of the equator. Find yourself a great hostel on Hostelbookers and get on with exploring everything Melbourne has to offer.
Melbourne has gained international notoriety for its street art, and as one of the first cities to embrace stencil art has been knighted the “Stencil Graffiti Capital.” As one might imagine, Melbourne’s unique street art scene rejects conventional containment in the safety of a museum in favor of pumping across the walls of its inner city veins. And deep within the labyrinth of Melbourne’s metropolis is where you’ll find the cream of the crop. Take, for instance, the laneway art gallery of Andrew Mac—a pioneer of the 90s movement to transform vacant corporate cubes into dynamic gallery spaces after a severe recession emptied office blocks and slashed rent. Mac’s gallery, called Citylights, employs twelve illuminated street-side boxes mounted in the cobblestoned Hosier Lane to showcase the works of local, international, and up-and-coming artists. Open all day everyday, rain or shine, a late night or rainy day stroll is a must—wander by and witness the gallery’s divine and ghostly glow.
Innovative art doesn’t stop at building surfaces; it seeps into their crevices to produce mind-bendingly original hole-in-the-wall art galleries. Tucked away in Crossley Street, Gallery Funaki has been recognized as a frontrunner in the promotion of Australian contemporary jewelry for over eighteen years through its display of the world’s most highly acclaimed jewelers. You may not be able to buy (even though you’ll be dying to), but a trip to the exhibitionary Funaki is a must for everyone, both art enthusiasts and the artfully disinclined alike. Highlights include the sculptural paper jewelry of Dutch artist Nel Linssen. Also be sure to check out the sleek Murray White Room, another hole in the wall contemporary art gallery tucked inside an old car park.
If you need a break from all of this (amazingly cool) urban and contemporary stuff (never!), relax at the National Gallery of Victoria with some art of the past. As Australia’s oldest public art museum, NGV’s collection encompasses Indigenous (Australian Aboriginal) art, Australian colonial painting, and Australian Impressionist painting. International collections also boast an impressive and diverse collection of works from Bernini, Cezanne, van Dyck, Manet, Monet, Poussin, Rembrandt, Rodin, Rothko, Rubens, and Picasso. Make sure to see the painting “Madonna and Child with infant Saint John the Baptist” by the masterful Correggio, one of the most influential figures of the Italian High Renaissance. The painting was acquired in 2011 when the NGV celebrated its 150th birthday, and at $5.2 million is the single highest priced acquisition in the NGV’s history.
Now it’s time to enter foodie territory—via the world’s greatest restaurant festival. For four days in November, over fifteen of Melbourne’s greatest and hottest restaurants fashion special menus of tasting dishes for hundreds of attendees around the world, including “icon dishes” prepared by chefs to reflect their food philosophies and showcase seasonal ingredients. Whether you learn how to become an expert mixologist at a cocktail masterclass, watch Melbourne’s top chefs cook up a demonstration storm in the Taste Kitchen, or join wine experts and a panel of sommeliers in the Wine Theatre is up to you. Just don’t miss this festival.
The Queen Victoria market is the Queen of all markets, and at 17 acres is the largest open-air market in the Southern hemisphere. This is where both tourists and Melbourne natives alike come to see Melbourne’s culinary eclecticism on full display. Stop by and join the locals as they pick up fresh fruit and groceries, and be sure to stock up on a few of your own if you plan on staying in the city for a few days (you’d be crazy not to). Also be sure to purchase from the market’s well-known donut van, which after operating for over half a century has become part of local tradition. Their jam donuts are legendary. The market is open five days a week—Tuesday, and Thursday through Sunday.
Last stop: Australia’s most famous wine-producing region. Becoming more and more famous across the globe for its pinot noir, shiraz, and chardonnay, Australia’s Yarra Valley is easily accessible from Melbourne with several options when it comes to modes of transportation. Take a one-hour drive or coach tour and soak in the sights of the impressive Dandenong Ranges and cellar doors along the way, experience the deep parts of the Yarra Valley via the oldest train stream in Australia, or hike if you want more dramatic scenery. For the most dramatic scenery of all? Soar in via hot air balloon. In the land of adventure down under, there’s no other way to go.