As Australia’s cultural capital, Melbourne, Victoria is more about what you experience than what you see. (You can keep your opera house, Sydney). Travel there is an immersive, participatory act, whether you’re admiring edgy street art, attending one of the most thrilling sports events in the southern hemisphere, or sampling bush tucker in an award-winning bar. Not only is Melbourne frequently ranked as one of the planet’s most liveable cities (the city tram system is the biggest largest in the world), it also happens to be one of the trendiest. Laid-back and palpably young with a distinct European vibe thanks to its Victorian architecture, it’s a destination perched on the cutting-edge of fashion, food, and design with chic neighborhoods like Collingwood and Fitzroy that are packed with retro vinyl shops, queue-worthy bakeries, and impossibly good coffee shops. (Starbucks didn’t make it in Melbourne for a reason, you know — along with its many other superlatives, the city is also considered a coffee capital).
From a Grand Slam that’s more Coachella than country club and a scenic ocean drive that’s akin to the Pacific Coast Highway — but with koalas! — Melbourne knows how to do it all in style. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss when you’re in town.
Live the High Life
As the only major city in the world that allows hot air balloons to fly overhead, a Jules Verne-inspired adventure in Melbourne affords views like nowhere else. Book a sunrise ride with Global Ballooning and take off before dawn to see stunning shades of pink and orange from thousands of feet in the air before gently drifting along Melbourne’s skyline and the snaking Yarra River (also known as Birrarung, or river of mists). Afterward, toast your expedition with a decadent Champagne breakfast.
Where to Stay
Located in a former movie theater, QT Melbourne offers an industrial chic hideaway for Melbourne’s cool kids (and visitors) in the center of the city. The buzzy Rooftop at QT and Hot Sauce Laneway bars might be Luxe amenities like Kevin Murphy toiletries, free new release films, and a minibar stocked with local craft spirits will make you feel right at home.
Cheer on Your Favorite Team
If you’re sports crazy, Melbourne is the place for you — so much so that it’s actually been ranked as the sporting capital of the world. Why? In addition to top Australian rules football, soccer, and cricket teams, Melbourne hosts many special events throughout the year, including the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in March, the Cricket Boxing Day Test Match in December, the Melbourne Cup in October or November, and the Australian Open in January. At each, partying is equally as important as the game itself. At the Australian Open, for example, you can sip an Aperol spritz and dance to a live DJ at the two-story Courtside Bar and splurge on a SuperBox catered by star chefs like Alejandro Saravia of Farmer’s Daughters. No wonder it’s dubbed the Happy Slam.
Dig Into the City’s Multicultural Food Scene
Thanks to its proximity to Asia and diverse citizens (the city has the 10th largest immigrant population in the world), Melbourne boasts some of the most multicultural food in Australia, alongside easy access to Victoria’s just-picked produce. Stop by Osteria Ilaria for ricotta tortelli with green tomato and geraldton wax, Molly Rose Brewery for fried rice with fermented egg, corn, and chili, and Gimlet, located in a landmark 1920s building, for oysters with seaweed butter and rye. Can’t make up your mind? Head out on a Hidden Secrets Progressive Degustation Walking Tour to learn more about Melbourne’s fusion cuisine and sample dishes at popular restaurants and under-the-radar gems alike, such as Mejico, Izakaya Den, and SuperNormal.
With 192 maze-like laneways and progressive graffiti laws, Melbourne has embraced street art like few other destinations. One of the best ways to immerse yourself in this contemporary creative movement is on a private tour with Localing Australia. Your guide will lead you to Melbourne’s Instagrammable murals, and with advance notice, it’s possible to plan a visit to EverFresh Studio, where you’ll meet a local artist and even learn how to spray paint your own graffiti tag.
Sip Hyper-Local Drinks
Focusing exclusively on native Australian ingredients, Byrdi — named on the World’s 50 Best Bars list — makes many of its own spirits and syrups. (Think strawberry gum liquor and tomato malt powder). Creative flavor combinations like green tree ants, pine spruce pollen, red stringy bark honey, and distilled almond are an education for the palate, as well as for travelers who want to learn about the richness of bush tucker. Meanwhile vino obsessions, won’t want to miss Carlton Wine Room. This Melbourne institution offers an ever-evolving list of bottles (many of which are from Australia) along with seasonal bites.
Soak in Style
At Comma, it’s possible to find zen in the middle of the city. The moody boutique bathhouse and spa invites guests to make like the Scandinavians and sweat their troubles away, rotating between a traditional Finnish sauna, magnesium hot tub, and ice-cold pail shower. After you reset, indulge in a signature treatment like the Last Resort, which includes a detoxifying body clay treatment and a lymphatic massage.
Enjoy the Ultimate Beach Day (or Three)
Embark on a scenic coastal drive along the Great Ocean Road, a magical 150 mile stretch of southwest Victoria that begins just outside Melbourne. With Great Ocean Road Private Luxury Tours as your guide, you can take your time exploring the region’s pristine beaches and lush rainforest. Catch some waves at Bells Beach, where Rip Curl and Quicksilver got their start. Shop for swimsuits and cover-ups in the quaint seaside towns of Lorne, Apollo Bay, and Port Fairy. Indulge in farm-fresh ice cream at Timboon. Helicopter over the teetering rock formations of the 12 Apostles. Pay a visit to Wildlife Wonders, an award-winning conservation ecology center, and get up close with koalas and kangaroos. Sample savory smoked eel pate and arancini at Budj Bim, the world’s earliest living example of aquaculture with a history of eel farming dating back over 6,000 years. If you’re staying in the region, spend the night at Anchors Port Campbell, where the charming cottages nestled into limestone cliffs provide soaring views.