There is a healthy rivalry between glamorous Sydney and its more low-key neighbor, Melbourne. I once heard someone say that “Sydney is the girl you date; Melbourne is the girl you marry”. Perhaps there is some truth in that. Whereas Sydney is all sun-drenched and showy, Melbourne is more cultural and down-to-earth, carrying a feeling of old world elegance and sophistication. Sure, it may not boast a glittering harbor or fine city beaches, but what it lacks in that area it makes up for with an abundance of green parks, open spaces, and an underground edge of creative cool.
In Melbourne, there is an everlasting buzz of creative energy; a feeling of authenticity. Locals thrive on art and music, as well as a hard-to-beat food and coffee culture. Coffee, in fact, is a serious game. You will be hard pressed to stumble upon a bad cup, though finding the perfect brew oftentimes comes down to how well you get along with your barista; sometimes it’s as much about the banter as it is about the coffee.
And in Melbourne you will truly experience four seasons, sometimes all in one day. Unlike Sydney, Melbourne offers a real winter, and thus a number of cozy, fireside drinking dens to warm your bones when the cold hits, too.
The city is divided into unique neighborhoods and each one offers a lot to discover. The Yarra River is its dividing force: people either live north of it (on the ‘northside’) or south of it (on the ‘southside’). The latter is known for its bay breezes, green parks, beautiful blondes, fitness, footballers, and four wheel-drives; the former stands for artists, underground music, warehouse parties, farmers markets, bicycles, vegan food, terrace houses, and postmodernity (Melbourne’s answer to Berlin). Here, we walk you through the ultimate day on Melbourne’s Northside: coffee shops, bike rides, music and more.
Start on Faraday street: grab a quick coffee from Market Lane – you won’t miss its cute storefront – then bike across to Rathdowne Village for a memorable breakfast at Small Victories. After pottering around the area’s quaint little stores (check out the organic goods at Clay), get back on your bike and ride over to Gertrude, Brunswick and Smith Streets for some shopping. Keep an eye out for these independent clothing boutiques we love: Kloke, the Standard Store, Mr Kitly, Dagmar Rousset, and Gorman.
After a little retail hit, you will no doubt be hungry again. If it’s a weekday, grab lunch at Mina-no-ie in the backstreets of Collingwood for heart-warming, Japanese-inspired food in a converted warehouse; if it’s the weekend, grab tacos from el chino on St Georges Road or sandwiches from Dench (on Melbourne’s finest bread) plus a bottle of wine from Piedimontes and go picnic-style in the lively Edinburgh Gardens. After lunch, re-caffeinate at Aunty Peg’s – a bright, friendly coffee “cellar door” (think wine, but for coffee) and satisfy your sweet craving with a gelato from Gelato Messina around the corner (I recommend the apple pie flavor). The queues will be out the door.
If time allows, ditch your bike and grab an Uber to Heide – a beautiful modern art museum and riverside estate. Just 20 minutes outside the city, it offers a unique combination of art, architecture, social history, and landscapes. It’s a beautiful mini-escape. After some time wandering the gardens, head back into Collingwood for an afternoon drink at the Grace Darling (you’ll get a glimpse of Melbourne pub life at its finest), or in the sun drenched laneway of newcomer Rupert on Rupert. Prepare to feast some more on jalapeno and cheddar croquettes, crisp filo logs of lamb, and Korean bbq pork ribs at Huxtable. And even if you think you have filled your ice-cream quota for the day, save room for the ice cream fudge sandwich.
The day doesn’t end there, though: from Collingwood, zip over to Longplay in North Fitzroy, or Joe’s Shoe Store up the hill in Northcote for one last drink. These neighborhood spots are cozy and friendly and always offer good vibes. If you really want to keep the night moving, see who is playing at the Northcote Social Club and catch a band before bed. A true Melbourne experience.
Whichever side of “the river” you choose, you will no doubt be impressed by the laidback, warm and hospitable vibes that resonate from this lovely city full of European charm. Sydney packs a lot of punch, but Melbourne does too. You’ve just got to dig a little deeper to find it. It’s beautiful here.
Words by Georgia Hopkins, photos by Brett Danielsen.