5 Reasons We Want to Head Directly to Melbourne

Sep 25, 2019

Odds are, you’ve been wanting to see what all the buzz is about: why this one city has spent the vast majority of the last decade atop the Global Liveability Index; how the local restaurants, cafes and bars have become nonnegotiable stops on any true foodie’s world checklist; where the most Victorian of outposts (literally, Melbourne became the capital of the British colony of Victoria in 1851) has transformed into a capital of cool.

And there’s no better time to see why people can’t stop talking about Melbourne: As of Oct. 29, you’ll have notably expanded nonstop service from the west coast.  United Airlines, which already flies to Melbourne from Los Angeles, is adding nonstop flights from San Francisco—part of the airline's largest ever international route expansion out of SFO. And the service isn't simply direct: Because it's taking place exclusively on Boeing 787 Dreamliners, it comes with the largest and smartest windows (they're actually self-shading) in the friendly skies, smooth ride technology—and 20 percent more eco-efficiency than a 767. Also included? Complimentary meal service and snacks, even in Economy. To the happy surprise of many, that goes for your beer and wine, too—a nice, stage-setting bonus en route to such a land where both drinks are taken so seriously.

Then there's the fact that Dreamliners rank among the world's fastest passenger planes, which you'll particularly appreciate as you're putting an ocean between yourself and North America’s falling temperatures and shorter days. At the other end of your flight, the Southern Hemisphere's springtime energy will be spilling out into Melbourne's famed laneways, open-air events and natural surroundings. Read on for four more reasons we hope to be soaking in the scene, too.

The laneways and arcades are an amazing world unto themselves

Though a year-round hot spot, Melbourne's pedestrian-only laneways really come alive in spring and summer (Northern Hemisphere translation: now and for the next several months), when the increasingly long and sunny days encourage strolling, snacking, shopping and people-watching for hours. If you’re the kind of traveler who believes that getting lost is the best way to discover a place, a solo wander through the laneways will make you very, very happy. Otherwise, start with a guided tour so you can get your bearings and some insider intel: Hidden Secrets Tours, the original walking tour company of Melbourne, offers a deep-dive into the Lanes and Arcades that covers history and culture—plus a hyper-local perspective on where to find the perfect flat white, among other must-tries.

Or plot your own greatest-hits itinerary. Ours would start on the main artery of the inner-city laneway district: Flinders Lane, home to top-rated restaurants Chin Chin, Ezard and Cecconi’s, acclaimed exhibition spaces Anna Schwartz Gallery, Flinders Lane Gallery and Craft Victoria—plus the ultra-hip Adelphi hotel, where the rooftop pool has to be seen to be believed.

Architecture buffs — or anyone who just appreciates beautiful, old buildings — will love The Block Arcade. Unveiled in 1892, it’s a grand statement of French Renaissance style and scale, now home to upscale brands including Georg Jensen, French Jewelbox and Haigh’s Chocolates.

If Insta-worthy street art scenes are high on your list of priorities, you’ll want to add on Hosier Lane. The walls of this sloping alley are drenched in the colors of enormous, intricate murals that make the perfect backdrop for Only-in-Melbourne shots. The art continues on nearby AC/DC Lane, where the Aussie rockers' iconic lightning bolt is actually part of the official signage (and the stuff of more insta-gold).

Not to be outdone, the laneways of Melbourne's boroughs (basically, cool old suburbs) are undergoing a renaissance that's making waves around the world. Not long ago, in fact, The Telegraph ranked Fitzroy among the most hipster neighborhoods on earth, ahead of the likes of Paris's Canal Saint-Martin and London's Shoreditch. The main draw, the editors' estimation? The local laneways, where the street art, coffee purveyors and shops are said to make for the perfect afternoon—one capped off by rooftop drinks at Naked in the Sky. (On a side note: If you'd like a rooftop bar with water views, head to Captain Baxter in the beachy borough of St. Kilda.)

For a deep dive into laneway-born culture, hit the borough of Footscray (just named to Time Out Worldwide's list of the World's Coolest Neighborhoods) for the highly anticipated Laneway Festival. The just-announced 2020 acts, whom you can catch in Footscray Park on Feb. 8, include the nation's Hot 100 winner (Ocean Alley), among other huge names on the music scene.

The local food scene is the one to beat

Melbourne swept the pool at last month’s prestigious Gourmet Traveller awards, when the city added a swag of trophies to its already groaning mantelpiece. (And yes, that sentence was loaded with Aussie-isms—you’ll want to start getting used to them.) Praised for re-inventing fine dining under the direction of visionary chef/owner Ben Shewry, Attica beat out some super-tough competition to be named Australia’s Restaurant of the Year. If you’re a diehard foodie, book the table before the flights—reservations can be so tricky to come by, they may be the cornerstone of your whole itinerary. And while the degustation menu costs about twice as much as you’ll spend on any other meal in Melbourne, Shewry’s unparalleled focus on indigenous Australian ingredients creates an experience that’s impossible to forget.

Meanwhile, Melbourne’s Di Stasio Città was named Australia’s New Restaurant of the Year. The design-driven space serves fine Italian food with a side of stellar modern art in a prime theater district location—so this is a great spot to keep in mind for a dinner-and-a-show kind of night.

Rounding out the trifecta of distinctions, Leanne Altmann took top honors as Sommelier of the Year. Drink to her good taste as beverage director for Melbourne-based chef Andrew McConnell’s wine-centric venues Cutler & Co, Marion and Supernormal.

Recent awards aside, Melbourne has long been known as a foodie heaven. High/low, casual or splurge-worthy, sunny outdoor lunches or moody midnight bites, the offerings here appeal to every possible plate. Melbourne is where passionate restaurateurs from around the world are bringing the flavors of home to an audience that really knows its haloumi from its halva. And by the way, you’ll find pizza as good as any in Naples (nab a table at DOC in Carlton, if you can, to see what we mean). Then there’s the cutting-edge coffee culture, which will ruin you for all others.

As for Melbourne’s wine bars, small is mighty. Ask a local to show you the way to the city’s speakeasies and other tucked-away little spots—current favorites include Bar Margaux and Eau de Vie—for a proper taste of local nightlife.

With two of the country’s top wine regions — the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula — less than an hour’s drive from the city, true wine enthusiasts will want to go straight to the source on a guided winery tour, of which there are blessedly many.

There’s no end to the festivities

Melburnians love a good reason to dress up, and if the occasion also calls for a fabulous hat—as the Melbourne Cup does on first Tuesday in November—so much the better. Buy or borrow the craziest chapeau you can find, and you'll fit right in. If rocker chic (or just rocking out) is more your thing, you'll want to be here when Melbourne Music Week celebrates the festival's 10th anniversary this November. Catch live performances and talks during this celebration of a city that—to the shock of SXSW veterans—has even more live music venues than Austin.

The festivities continue apace into summer—especially when the Australian Open rolls into town in January, when the biggest names in world tennis battle it out at Melbourne Park. In fact, between the qualifying and championship matches, the entire second half of the month is consumed with tennis fever, especially because the tournament runs the concurrent AO Festival—a mix of live music stages, a chef series and pop-up restaurants, for starters.

Then March brings the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, with no fewer than 250 events: celebrity chef demos, tastings, talks and more. Come hungry and pack your stretchy pants.

Nature calls—just beyond city limits

There are some who would say that the Penguin Parade alone is worth the trip to this part of the world—and you won't find us arguing the point. Because really: penguins on parade. Specifically, the inhabitants of Australia's largest colony of Little Penguins, who are as insanely adorable as you'd imagine. To see for yourself, head south from Melbourne for about 90 minutes and pull into the new Phillip Island Penguin Visitor Centre. Already an International Architecture Awards winner by the time it opened, this stunning and eco-ambitious facility (think sustainably sourced Victorian Ash beams, recycled rainwater and almost 700 solar panels) is the best place to learn about the spectacle that awaits you on the beach at sunset: a procession of winged, waddling local residents making their way from the surf to the sand. You won't see all 30,000+ members of the colony, but however many turn up when you do, trust us, you'll be endlessly slain by their cuteness.

If the Southern Hemisphere’s blue-sky spring and summer days make you want to explore farther afield—and they will—hit The Great Ocean Road for iconic surf breaks, National Parks, rainforest, wildlife (hello, koalas and kangaroos!), fishing villages and through November, riotous wildflower displays (the stars of the show include banksias, boronias, parrot peas and wild orchids).

But the real highlight of any Great Ocean Road itinerary is the series of limestone stacks—known as the 12 Apostles—that rise dramatically out of the water off the coast of Port Campbell National Park. Plus, this iconic Australian coastal drive has just turned 100, and celebrating it in person is one of the best gifts you'll ever give yourself.  

Ready to head down under to Melbourne? Book a direct flight on United via Los Angeles or San Francisco.

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