‘Magic’ coffee and back alley cafes: What's new in Melbourne since your last trip

From the trendiest eateries to an activity-packed coastal paradise, Melbourne-loving Singaporeans share their best-kept secrets

Hosier Lane Melbourne
You really can’t say you’ve been to Melbourne until you’ve dived into its hub of tiny alleys decorated with street art and murals. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

I was having coffee with a friend at a cafe in Brunswick, Melbourne, when he ordered a drink I had never heard of. He offered me a sip and that was it, I was hooked on Melbourne Magic.

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This drink — steamed milk poured over a double ristretto served in a 160ml cup — never appears on any menu, yet every barista in this coffee-obsessed city will make it on request. And you won’t find it anywhere outside of the state of Victoria. My friend, who grew up in Sydney, only discovered it after moving to its capital, Melbourne.

And that seems to be the key. I’ve drunk more than my fair share of coffee here, yet I too only discovered the Magic after many visits — testifying to the way Melbourne keeps its secrets close to its chest, revealing them slowly only to the most persistent of visitors.

Melbourne markets
There’s always something new and exciting to discover in Melbourne, says writer Charmaine Chan. PHOTO: CHARMAINE CHAN

I love Melbourne. The coffee is famous, as is the pho, while the hot doughnuts at Queen Victoria Market are legendary. But if you venture beyond the usual haunts, the city and its surroundings will unfurl its true riches, rewarding you with new, exciting experiences.

Whether you’re a traditionalist or a trend-seeker, there will always be something new to discover in Victoria.

Rose street Melbourne
Filled with local designers, buying clothes at Rose Street Market is like taking a piece of Melbourne home. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

Come for the hipster vibes, stay for the diverse culture

Eclectic is the word that describes Fitzroy, where art and history sit next to urban, sophisticated stores. At the heart of it all is Gertrude Street, recently voted as the second coolest street in the whole world in a TimeOut survey.

Singaporean Lim Chooi Lee who visits Melbourne regularly to visit family there, would agree. “I shop at Gertrude because it’s quirky and interesting.” Ms Lim buys art at Outre and frequents the Rose Street Market on weekends. “I like local designer brands Leonard St and Variety Hour,” she says. “Buying their clothes is like taking home a piece of Melbourne with me. Also, few people in Singapore will have the same thing.” 

After shopping, kick back with a drink at Naked In The Sky, one of Melbourne’s best rooftop bars. Enjoy its Basque-influenced Modern Australian cuisine with a cocktail — the bar boasts a wide range of vodkas, some of it infused in-house.

St-Kilda-Beach, Melbourne
Known as Melbourne’s seaside playground, St Kilda is famous for its palm tree-lined beaches, heritage buildings and eclectic dining scene. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

Reserve another day to explore St Kilda, a neighbourhood famous for its wide seaside boulevard and Bohemian vibe. Stroll along the shimmering ocean and take in the heritage charm of the Palais Theatre, the Esplanade Hotel and Luna Park.

When it’s time for a pick-me-up, go for a taste of tradition along Acland Street. “I like going to Monarch Cakes for their plum cake or chocolate kugelhopf,” says Singaporean Mr Kok Chuen Chiat, 51, who has a sweet tooth and has lived in Melbourne for a year.

St Kilda, Le Bon Cake Shop
The traffic-stopping display of goodies at Le Bon Continental Cake Shop will lure you in and satisfy your sweet tooth. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

“Sometimes they will also have stollen or apple strudel, which are my favourites,” he adds. Indeed, the bakery, along with Acland Cake Shop and Europa Cake Shop, is famous for its old-fashioned, delicious Polish sweets. If you have time, make a pit stop at Le Bon Continental Cake Shop, you won’t be able to resist their eye-catching display of sweets and pastries.

Meyers Place Melbourne
One of Melbourne's oldest laneways, Meyers Place’s grey walls have been brought to life by green galleries. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

The city is your date – get acquainted via foot or tram

Every city has its own unique character and Melbourne’s is defined by its laneways and trams. 

You really can’t say you’ve been there till you’ve dived into its hub of tiny alleys — take in the street art and murals in Hosier Lane, ACDC, Duckboard Place and Centre Place; and savour wine in a hole-in-the-wall bistro along the cobblestone laneways of Degraves Street and Block Arcade. Don’t forget to stop by Meyers Place, one of Melbourne's oldest laneways. Its grey walls have been brought to life by green galleries.

Melbourne Trams
A tram ride is a quintessential Melbourne experience, plus it’s also free within the city. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

Riding the trams is one of the best ways to explore this vibrant capital, especially since trips are free within the city. Flinders Street Station with its iconic clock tower is a historic landmark and a great place to start. Hop on tram route 19 to get to the hipster neighbourhood of Brunswick where you will experience a true melting pot of cultures and cuisines, whether you shop, eat or drink there.

St. Ali Cafe Melbourne
A literal hidden gem, ST. ALi is known for being one of the city's best-known caffeine purveyors and also has an outstanding food menu to match. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

From flat whites to fresh seafood: Taste Melbourne in its exquisite local dishes

Cafe culture is indisputably one of the lynchpins of city life in Melbourne, and everyone has a favourite.

A jewel in the Collingwood scene, Proud Mary Coffee ranks on many lists because of its coffee and smashed avocado sandwich which comes topped with green tomato salsa verde and pickled shallots. Then there’s ST. ALi hidden behind a back alley famous for its artisanal coffee and inventive brunches in a trendy warehouse space.

Dame Melbourne
A signature dish at Dame Melbourne is its Muffuletta pressed sandwich of local cured meats, cheeses and pickles served with celery salt cucumber. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

Watch out for newcomers as well: Florian leads the pack on lively Rathsdowne Street with a relaxed vibe and unpretentious food — think gravlax, crisp pastries and perfectly executed egg dishes. Dame Melbourne, located near the Paris-end of Collins Street, boasts award-winning coffee and power 80s staples like Caesar salad, spicy bloody marys and gazpacho.

The dining scene stays fresh and vibrant here because of a constant injection of new trendy eateries. Check out Gimlet at Cavendish House, which provides an elegant dining experience in a restored 1920s building. Famous for its mid-afternoon Martinis and rock oyster platter, Gimlet is also the only Australian restaurant to make it to the World's 50 Best Restaurants 2022 longlist at number 84.

If eating local is your thing, Victoria By Farmers' Daughters will satisfy. Its provenance-based dishes boast ingredients that are only from Victoria. Or be adventurous and try Indigenous cuisine. My favourite is Big Esso Mabu Mabu, which is helmed by a Torres Strait Islander chef and serves up sea succulents, kingfish and fried crocodile.

Agatha Patisserie
The wait is worth it when you queue for Agatha Patisserie’s melt-in-the-mouth French pastries at South Melbourne Market. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

Relax at markets, museums and the Mornington Peninsula hot springs

If markets draw you, then South Melbourne Market is the place to go. The selection of gourmet foods, from cold cuts to seafood to cheeses and dried goods is amazing, while the range of clothing, jewellery, homeware and gifts is tasteful and tempting.

There are also great restaurants and cafes — the lines in front of Agatha Patisserie and Simply Spanish are worth joining because of the melt-in-the-mouth French pastries and delicious paella.

It is the go-to spot for locals, and a must-visit for travellers,” says Mr Kenneth Thong, 28, who cites the coffee, pastries and fresh seafood as the things that draw him back to the market. “Its mix of cuisines and people are quintessentially Melbourne – a melting pot similar to what we have back home,” says the Singaporean who has called Melbourne home for the past six years.

If you’re here in June, treat yourself to some of the most famous art in the world. The annual Melbourne Winter Masterpieces Exhibition brings in the work of legendary artists for display over 100 days at Melbourne Museum, National Gallery of Victoria and Australian Centre for the Moving Image. This year saw Picasso at the NGV, while previous years have hosted Klimt, Monet, Degas and Van Gogh.

Alba Thermal Springs & Spa
Experience a luxurious bathing experience with salt baths and herbal-infused pools at Alba Thermal Springs & Spa. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

Another way to warm up during winter is to head to a hot spring. The underground aquifer in the Mornington Peninsula (a 90 minutes’ drive from the city) was a fairly recent discovery and led to Peninsula Hot Springs resort, which offers over 70 bathing and wellness experiences, as well as spa treatments and accommodation.

A new addition to the scene is Alba Thermal Springs & Spa. Just opened this year, it provides a luxurious bathing experience with salt baths, herbal-infused pools, sunken courtyards and a minimalist design aesthetic.

The Nobbies
Take in magnificent coastal views as you stroll around The Nobbies. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

Immerse yourself in nature and wildlife, it’s just a stone’s throw away

Once you have filled up on your urban experiences, it’s time to expand your horizons and get acquainted with Victoria’s diversity. A short drive from Melbourne reveals drastic landscape changes, as vistas unfold around expansive vineyards, stunning coastlines, pristine forests and more. Many head to Phillip Island, about 90 minutes away, to see its famous Penguin Parade – watching the little penguins cross the beach at sunset.

Philip Island Penguins
Watch Phillip Island’s resident little penguins retreat to their nests as night falls. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

If you head to The Nobbies, you’ll also get to observe Australia’s largest colony of fur seals from a distance and witness an explosive blowhole in action. The boardwalks are also perfect for leisurely strolls and catching the sunset.

Wildlife Coast Cruises offers opportunities to see fur seals all year round, while whale-watching is an option in winter. Thrill-seekers can hop on jet boats and underwater scooters with Ocean Adventures, while those who enjoy a bird’s eye view of things can opt for a helicopter ride over Cape Woolamai and the island’s rugged coastline.

fur seals at The Nobbies
Observe Australia’s largest colony of fur seals at The Nobbies. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

Fuel up with fresh seafood at San Remo Fisherman’s Co-operative for lunch, and wind down for dinner at breezy Bang Bang Bar with its Asian-inspired menu and creative cocktails. Make sure you also try the unique handcrafted small batch beers at Phillip Island Brewing Co.

Ready to go a little more off-grid? Take a 20-minute ferry ride from Cowes, the main town in Phillip Island, to the paradise that is the French Island. Book a half-day tour with Naturaliste Tours and you can explore all the best parts of this little slice of heaven onboard a 4WD drive, including lunch at Mandalaye Park Estate, a stunning, restored farm stay property. Visit historic sites such as the iconic Chicory Kilns, spot koalas and other wildlife in their natural habitat and stop for photos at vistas and look out points.

The Sheltered Glamping Co.
The Sheltered Glamping Co. features safari-style tents furnished with plush bedding and nestled among paperbark trees PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

With so much to see and do, it makes sense to stay the night. Opt for a luxury cabin at Five Acres, or book a sustainable stay with The Sheltered Glamping Co. Furnished with plush bedding and nestled among paperbark trees, this safari-style tent setup comes complete with a kitchenette, hot shower facilities, composting toilets and runs on solar power.

There will be even more to look forward to in the later part of 2023 when Saltwater Hot Springs opens, offering up relaxation pools, day spas and a restaurant.

Mt Hotham
Also known as Australia's powder capital, Mt Hotham caters to more advanced skiers and offers a great après-ski atmosphere. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

Your next magical alpine experience is closer than you think

If you’re into winter sports and looking to escape the heat during the mid-year break, Victoria’s snowfields will be a good option. All of them boast ski in and ski out accommodation and welcome any skill level, from beginners to expert skiers.

An easy three-hour drive from Melbourne, Mt Buller is the most accessible snow resort and boasts 300 hectares of skiing and snowboarding terrain; while Falls Creek is a family-friendly alpine village where little ones can also join in the fun, plus there is also a cross-country ski centre.

If you want to up the ante, head to Mt Hotham. Known as Australia's powder capital, this resort caters to more advanced skiers with its steeper terrain, and offers a great après-ski atmosphere.

Make the most of your next trip to Melbourne and around Victoria. Plan your itinerary today.

In partnership with Visit Victoria and Singapore Airlines.

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