Speak to most of your friends or colleagues on where they’d like to go for the year-end break, and you’d probably hear plenty of mentions for Japan, Korea, Europe and even the U.S.
But if Melbourne is not on your 2024 list of places to go, you’re missing out. Sure, the year-end window isn’t the best time to hit the Garden City (yes, that’s a nickname it goes by) because Australia would be in the thick of the summer season, but make plans for their autumn or spring months next year to enjoy the best of the city.
Plus, with a stronger Singapore dollar now, experiencing the city’s iconic laneways and unique cultural activities – not to mention, the shopping – is about to get sweeter.
So dive into our guide in spending and maximising three days in the city ahead.
9.30am: If your first stop at Lune – the famed pastry shop – turned out to be a fail because of the snaking queue, then drop in on Vacation Coffee instead. Situated on the border of the CBD, the little coffee shop is known for their java that packs a punch. Get the Magic – a Melbournian special order – to go.
10.00am: Today is all about culture, so kickstart your learning journey with a visit to one of Melbourne’s best-loved musems, the National Gallery of Victoria, which houses a collection of artworks that range from Asian, Australian, as well as an international collection of works from famed masters. There’s also a good handful of fashion displays to excite your inner fashion history nerd. Past exhibitions include a rare display of Rembrandt pieces, a dissection of Alexander McQueen’s body of work, and a Chanel retrospective.
12.00pm: Walked up an appetite? Good, you’ll need it for your reservation at Tipo 00. The cosy Italian joint does a great menu of sophisticated dishes ranging from handmade pastas to heftier and meatier mains. With its many awards, including #41 on the list of Best Italian Restaurants Outside Italy in 2022 from Top 50 Italy, you know you’re in good hands. Must-tries are the Stracciatella (A$21) and the freshly-shucked oysters (A$6/oyster) for starters, and the Mafaldine (A$40) which comes bathed in a beefy, tomato and chilli dressing. Treat yourself to a wine from their extensive wine list, as you enjoy your leisurely long lunch.
How to get there:
Vacation Coffee is at 1 Exhibition St, Melbourne VIC 3000
National Gallery of Victoria is at 180 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne VIC 3006
Tipo 00 is at 361 Little Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000
2.30pm: Onwards with another noteworthy museum, ACMI. Known for its celebration of all things film, television and screen culture, the museum is dedicated to paying homage to iconic moments in pop culture and screen history. Past exhibitions include a retrospective of Martin Scorsese’s work and a look into the role of female characters on screen, and visitors get plenty of up-close facetime with actual props and costumes from famed Hollywood movies.
5pm: You’re probably aching from all the walking, so why not treat yourself to a little R&R at Sense of Self. Touted as Melbourne’s biggest bath house, Sense of Self – or SOS, since they’re here to save you from your aches and fatigue – boasts facilities for massages, cold plunges and a hammam steam sauna. All of these are set in its tranquil and zen-like interiors, so you can truly unwind away from the bustle of the CBD. Slots are hard to come by, so book early to avoid disappointment.
8pm: After a stop back at the hotel for a little refresh, Lucy Liu Kitchen & Bar is your dinner (and drinks) stop for the night. Any restaurant named after our favourite Charlie’s Angel is worth a gander, and like the actress, Lucy Liu Kitchen & Bar never disappoints. The menu features Mod-Asian cuisine, and some of the dishes that you can’t go wrong with include the Pacific Oysters with ponzu and housemade sriracha (A$5.50/oyster), Scallop Fried Rice (A$24), and the Lucy’s Soft Shell rab Jianbing (A$18). On the mains’ front, the Drunken Chicken (A$26) as well as the Cape Grim Shortrib Rendang (A$48) are safe bets, or inquire about their specials. Then sip the night away with their refreshing Floating Market cocktail (A$20.80) which combines rosemary-infused vodka with apple, lemon, lime and pear juices, or go for something a little smokier with the Super Dorai (A$23) that combines Sipsmith London Cup with apple & chestnut liqueur as well as a dash of sherry.
How to get there:
ACMI is at Federation Square, Flinders St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Sense of Self is at 30-32 Easey St, Collingwood VIC 3066
Lucy Liu Kitchen & Bar is at 23 Oliver Ln, Melbourne VIC 3000
11.30am: After all the walking of the day before, you deserve a lie in and a late start. First stop is Farmer’s Daughters for brunch, which has a deli and restaurant setting. Our pick is the former, so settle in for a menu of small dishes all designed to be shared for a convival experience. Ingredients are sourced from the farms and communities locally, adding to the rustic charm of the menu. The cured Blue Eye (A$25), handmade Mozz Balls with mushrooms, black garlic and savoury macadamia (A$24), as well as the Chicken & Celeriac pie are all tasty hits. Cap your brunch with the Panna Cotta (A$15) made with Cuvée 65% chocolate and a selection of Gippsland cheese (from A$15) for a waistband-bursting feast.
1pm: The theme for today is concept stores, so begin your window shopping with Marais, a multi-label store that packs the best in cult brands and clothing. With a designer roster that ranges from Givenchy and Loewe to contemporary brands such as Jacquemus, Off-White and Ambush, the curation here is an on-point mix of covetable streetwear, designer sneakers and rare designer bags.
Just a few doors down from Marais is Incu, another cult destination for shopaholics in Melbs. Where Marais feels like you’re entering an ultra-exclusive club in Berlin, Incu’s vibe is a little more bohemian and warm, but no less cool. The racks are a chockful of It brands in fashion include Bode, Acne Studios, Simone Rocha and many other recognisable names. Beyond menswear and womenswear, they also host a selection of home and living items for the fashionable homebody.
How to get there:
Farmer’s Daughters is at 95 Exhibition Street, 80 Collins Precinct, Melbourne VIC 3000
Marais is at QV Melbourne, Shop #286/288 Swanston St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Incu is at 23 Oliver Ln, Melbourne VIC 3000
2pm: A late lunch stop takes us to Nomad Melbourne, where the fare is a modern interpretation of Middle Eastern food. Standouts for this writer include the delicately prepared Zucchini Flowers (A$32) and the Wood-fired flatbread with homemade za’atar (A$15). In the mains section, the Wood-roasted lamb neck is a must try (A$52) as a juicy cut of lamb is served with fresh cabbage and a delicious gremolata to cut through the gaminess of the meat.
3pm: We’re making tracks down south now, to the cool interiors of One Fine Secret. This multi-label beauty emporim is a must-visit for those looking to flex under-the-radar brands that can’t be found in your local Sephora. The team only stocks products and brands that meet their exacting standards on ingredient safety, ethical practices and conscious beauty, so you can shop the best in cult beauty brands guilt-free.
4pm: Is a trip to Melbourne complete without a stop at the iconic Brighton Beach? If you’re headed there in the spring or summer months, pack a towel and a good book, and relax by the coast as the fuzzy sounds of crashing waves and seagull calls lull you into a state of relaxation.
6pm: Since you’re already in the area, stop in at Atlas for an early dinner. Much like its name suggests, Atlas takes you on an epicurean journey with a constantly revolving culinary focus. At press time, they’re in the heart of Greek cuisine, and a 5-course meal (A$110 per person) starts with Whipped Fetta that’s heavenly light, before adjourning to a series of Greek-inspired dishes like Octopus, Saganaki with juicy Honeyed Figs, and their elevated interpretation of Lamb Gyros.
How to get there:
Nomad is at 187 Flinders Ln, Melbourne VIC 3000
One Fine Secret is at 437 Chapel St, South Yarra VIC 3141
Atlas is at 133 Commercial Rd, South Yarra VIC 3141
9am: One of the great things about Melbourne is that it’s a great starting point for some fun roadtrips. If a roadtrip that rewards you with good tipple and yummy nosh appeals to you, then consider renting a car to drive out to Yarra Valley. Sure, you could hop on a tour going out to the Valley, but it’s much more fun when you can plan your own route. Be sure to ask the car rental staff for any tips on navigating the roads, because they’d likely know the fastest way out of the CBD.
First stop? Yarra Valley Dairy, where you settle into the cosy and rustic confines of a giant barnhouse to savour homemade cheeses like savourine, goat curds and plenty more to pick from. There’s also a small selection of cold cuts and toasties to fill your bellies, and be sure to check out the little in-store merch range for plenty of local produce ranging from homemade salad dressing to handcrafted wooden platters.
12pm: You’re probably a little filled up with great cheeses by now, so it’s time for your first booze stop at St. Hubert’s Cellar Door. There are plenty of other wineries that host guests for tastings, but St. Hubert’s handsomely-decorated interiors of wooden accents and an airy, light-filled room calls for plenty of ‘gram snaps. Choose from the different tasting sets that are priced in a range starting from A$20, and their attentive staff will walk you through each glass, highlighting the notes you should expect from each sip.
1.30pm: As your head starts to feel a little lighter, your tummy will likely be calling out to you. Fortunately, located on Hubert Estate is Quarters, a casual dining place that serves up fuss-free, delicious bites. Definitely head for the wood-fired pizza – the Prawn flavour (A$29) comes with spicy garlic prawn and chunks of zucchini, as well as fior di latte to tame the heat – or order up a bunch of sharing plates if you’re in the mood to graze. The Miso Salmon rudo (A$19), Foraged Green Risotte (A$31) and Grass fed Southern Rangers Scotch Fillet (A$48) are our recommendations to start with.
How to get there:
Yarra Valley Dairy is at 70 McMeikans Road, Yering VIC 3770
St Hubert’s Cellar Door and Quarters are at 1/3 St Huberts Rd, Coldstream VIC 3770
3pm: Onward to your next stop, the famous Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery. Here you’ll find everything from hot cocoa bombs, metre-long chocolate sticks (just because) and shelf upon shelf of every chocolate product imaginable. It’s like stepping into Willy Wonka’s factory, if it were real and situated in Australia. There is also a cafe attached if you need to further satisfy sweet cravings.
4pm: Looking for something else other than wine? Stop by Four Pillars, an Australian gin distillery that allows you to rest your tired feet whilst toasting with their delicious cocktails. They offer a gin & tonic paddle (A$15) which comes with three types of gin, tonic water and matching garnishes so you can sample their wares before making a purchase at the gin shop on your way out. If you’re not up for a tasting, order up any of their delish cocktails that are changed up seasonally for added variety. Just make sure you’re drinking in moderation, or you’ve got a designated driver because you’re about to drive back into the city.
7pm: Cap off a long day with a hearty Armenian dinner at Sezar in the city. Nestled in a quiet alley corner, the room is lit in warm, low lights, setting the mood for a romantic dinner experience. We did the ‘Leave It To The Chef’ 5 course menu (A$98 per person), but if you want a little more control over what makes the table, the a la carte menu has plenty of eye-catching dishes worth trying. The Spanner Crab Manti (A$30) served with spiced butter and yoghurt is an explosion of sweet and briny tempered with some heat and tanginess. The Slow Roasted Celeriac (A$34) draws out the natural sweetness of the vegetable, and is served with a pickled fennel salad for a nice palette cleanswer. And definitely try the Pistachio Malabi (A$16), which comes with a floral-tasting granita and macerated strawberries.
How to get there:
Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery is at 35 Old Healesville Rd, Yarra Glen VIC 3775
Four Pillars Gin Distillery is at 2A Lilydale Rd, Healesville VIC 3777
Sezar is at 6 Melbourne Pl, Melbourne VIC 3000
Accommodation: Melbourne has plenty of great neighborhoods, but if you’re short on time, you’d want to try and swing for a hotel or apartment in the CBD instead. Within this compact collection of streets and blocks, you’d find plenty of dining, shopping and hotel options to pick from.
Use the free trams: If you’re moving around in the CBD, then all tram rides within the area are free. This means you can just hop on and off without having to worry about getting a Myki pass – the city’s version of our EZ Link card. Trams outside of the CBD as well as buses and trains will require a Myki pass. Andriod users can also enjoy greater convenience with mobile Myki passes. Australian public transport does not support Apple Pay just yet, so you won’t be able to use your iOS devices to tap on or off.
Pack comfy shoes: There’ll be plenty of up-and-down hill slopes in the city, so make sure your footwear can keep you on your toes comfortably. This will come in especially handy for shopping days.
Tax refund: If you spend A$300 or more within a single receipt, you can get a tax refund at the airport. Do go early because the tax refund counters often draw snaking queues. You’d need a valid receipt with your name printed on it. Some stores ask you to fill the name in yourself, and that’s a bit of a risk because tax officers may call into question the validity of your receipt (as has happened to this writer). There are also two stops – one before immigration for the items that are above the handcarry volume such as alcohol and heavy beauty products, and one after immigration. The best option is to visit both and ask which types of items they are checking.