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My sky-high expectations for Melbourne began when I was in college. It began when my roommate Kelly Anne decided to study abroad in Melbourne. At that point in time, Fairfield University only allowed you to do select study abroad programs that were either their own programs or through their partners, and none of the programs took place in Melbourne.
Kelly wanted to study in Melbourne so badly, she actually transferred out of Fairfield and enrolled in another university so she could take part in their study abroad program.
By contrast, I decided on a whim to apply for Fairfield’s Florence program. I got accepted in less than 24 hours.
“Why would you go through all that trouble?” I asked her. “You could have just done Fairfield’s Brisbane program. Or one of the Sydney programs.”
“No.” That one syllable she uttered was so chilling that I didn’t raise the subject again.
Kelly was adamant. Melbourne was the greatest city in Australia, and there was no way she would be missing it, even if it meant giving up half her summer for a chilly semester in the southern hemisphere.
Well, she went to Melbourne. She had the time of her life. And she transferred back to Fairfield as soon as her semester ended.
Kelly wasn’t the only one who harbored such strong feelings for Melbourne. It seems like all of my friends who visit Melbourne promptly fall madly in love.
Melbourne is an alternative city — independent, artsy, and filled with culture and counterculture. I’m a huge fan of cities like these, especially Berlin and Brooklyn, and I couldn’t wait to see what Melbourne had in store for me.
Like Berlin and Brooklyn, Melbourne is a bike-friendly city and has great coffee (some declare it the best coffee in the world). Another attribute these cities share? High tolerance of street art.
You see lots of street art all over Melbourne, much of it excellent, but the epicenter of this movement is Hosier Lane. This street is covered in layers upon layers of paint.
In Melbourne you see lots of buildings that look like they’re closed up and abandoned, but are actually home to new hipstery haunts — like The Herbert, a brand new coffee shop in the neighborhood of Northcote. While it looks like nothing on the outside…
…the inside is delicious!
Northcote was a wonderful surprise. I was generously hosted in Melbourne by my friends Dave and Meg, who invited me to crash in the spare room in their Northcote flat for a full week, even as they were deep into planning their wedding.
A decade ago, nobody cared about Northcote. Today, it’s hipster central. In my week here, I spent a lot of time checking out the restaurants and even became a regular at the Palomino Cafe.
And then there are Melbourne’s famous laneways and arcades. The laneways snake through the city center and are filled with cool cafes, tiny bars, interesting boutiques, and every bare inch of space is emblazoned with street art.
Kinki Gerlinki…so much fun to say! This is one of the boutiques.
The elegant arcades couldn’t look more different from the laneways, but they add to the cheerful mazes that lead you through central Melbourne. This one is Royal Arcade.
How much do you want to eat that dazzling tower of macarons? Be warned, it costs a few hundred dollars.
And food? Incredible. Melbourne has a fantastic ethnic food scene — definitely more so than anywhere else I went in Australia.
Dave and Meg suggested we go out to Shandong Mama, a cheap and cheerful dumpling joint. OH MY GOD, THESE DUMPLINGS WERE SO GOOD — fried dumplings filled with pork and chives, steamed “Melbourne dumplings” filled with chicken and a variety seafood. They were so good, we went back the very next night.
I also had some nice Malaysian food, some of the best pho I’ve ever had, ice cream made with liquid nitrogen, and more glorious Australian breakfasts than you can shake a fist at.
And if you want desserts, you are in trouble. Melbourne is a multi-ethnic city, but its largest ethnic contingents are Greek and Italian. That translates into a LOT of quality bakeries!
In Fitzroy, I was on the way to meet the lovely Torre DeRoche, author of one of the books I’ve enjoyed the most lately, Love with a Chance of Drowning, and I came across a row of houses with tantalizing iron work.
Some of them were overgrown, looking like Grey Gardens or maybe Miss Havisham’s estate, while others were perfectly manicured.
I was surprised to see them in Melbourne — they looked like something out of New Orleans or Savannah.
Come in, little children…
Fitzroy has long held a reputation as the cool neighborhood of Melbourne, and I agree — if I lived here, this is probably where I would spend the most of my time. The streets here are filled with interesting cafes, boutiques, and shops.
Have I said that already about other neighborhoods? Well, this is honestly the kind of city Melbourne is! It’s just so cool.
And then there was St. Kilda, the beachfront neighborhood in the south of the city, anchored by the famous entrance to Luna Park. It drove me crazy that I couldn’t find the perfect vantage point to get the shot I wanted.
St. Kilda has a very different feeling from the rest of Melbourne and reminded me a lot of southern California. My friends Christine and Beverley each lived in St. Kilda and loved it, but I didn’t like it as much as Fitzroy and Northcote. It was nice for an afternoon visit, though.
After a few days in Melbourne, I was already figuring out how I could get myself to live here for a while.
Of course, the reality of living here would mean being constantly broke because Melbourne is ridiculously, painfully expensive, as is the rest of Australia. That and the fact that it’s about as far from everything else in the world as you can get. Getting home to Massachusetts or to Europe — or anywhere — would be both challenging and expensive. I would have to resign myself to staying put in Australia.
That said…it’s nice to dream. If the right circumstances brought me to live in Melbourne for a year or two, that would be great.
If I did live here, you can bet I’d be getting myself a red Vespa. Because that’s how I’d roll in the coolest city on Earth.
61 thoughts on “Scenes from Melbourne: The Coolest City on the Planet”
Oh my goodness, what fantastic photos! We’re heading to Melbourne in a couple of weeks and this has made me really excited. I can’t wait to check out all these places!
Oh man, if only I had the money! I’ve never visited, but I’ve been fascinated with Australia since the fifth grade. I love how all of the buildings are “secret” awesome spots on the inside. So cool! Your pictures are fantastic, thanks for taking me on a tour. 🙂
Melbourne looks so cool! I’m a huge tennis fan, so I’ve always wanted to go there for the Australian Open, but it looks like there are a million other reasons to visit as well.
As much as I loved living in St Kilda–I was right across the street from Luna Park and could see both the roller coaster and the bay from my window!–I’ve always said that if I went back, I’d live in Fitzroy. Such a cool vibe up there, and I spent a lot of Saturdays having brunch and coffee and wandering through the vintage shops up that way. Ahhhh–these photos just brought back all of my love for Melbourne! Would still love to get back someday.
What a PERFECT write up on Melbourne. I didn’t get the chance to make it there which now bums me out after seeing this. I love a good street art scene, this looks so beautiful. How were the locals?
Australians are awesome, period. Anywhere you go. They’re fun, friendly, and have a lot of stories!
That’s definitely what I encountered on the East Coast too. So great to hear it’s friendly all across the board.
I haven’t been to Melbourne, but I’ve pretty much only heard great things about it. If I ever go to Australia for a working holiday, I think I would chose Melbourne as my base.
And, the fact that you compared it to Berlin even further solidifies it for me!
I’ve never been to Melbourne before – my time in Australia has been limited to Sydney, which I absolutely loved! Although reading this, I think that Melbourne would be exactly my kinda place! Although I do wonder if the men are as hot as Sydney guys. Drool…
Melbourne holds such fond memories in my heart! I went there with a dwindling bank account to work in a cafe while I saved for more travels. I didn’t expect it to be such an amazing with so much cool culture. I stayed in Fitzroy and not only fell in love with the cafe culture but even ended up falling in love with my boyfriend of almost three years while staying at the Nunnery (a great hostel in Melbourne).
I didn’t get to travel up the coast because I figured I could stretch my dollar way further by going to Southeast Asia but I will definitely be back.
That’s what I’m going to be writing about soon, Shaz — whether it’s worth it to travel extensively in Australia when you’re on a long-term trip.
Greta shots! Melbourne is one of my favorite cities as well. You just feel at home there almost as soon as you arrive. I went there in college but hope to create my own post on the subject for my blog.
What a timely post! I’m sat in the airport now waiting for my flight to Melbourne. This has cemented everything I’ve already heard about the city. I cannot wait to be a part of it all.
Thanks for the brill post 🙂
Oh I miss Melbourne. If I decide not to live in Tassie when I get back to Aus, I’ll be moving to Melbourne. Mostly for the footy though. I’m baffled by why everyone thinks it’s so expensive though. I just spent another weekend in Paris……ouch!
Paris is definitely expensive, but I found Melbourne even more expensive than Paris! Though that may be that I’ve been to Paris often enough to know how to find cheaper stuff.
I wouldn’t mind trying those dumplings and sipping the coffee in one of those hipster cafés. It looks like Melbourne has much to offer to pretty much everybody.
We’re totally with you. We fell head over heels for this city as well. Gerard particularly with the graffiti art. 🙂
I love Melbourne too – definitely the best city I’ve been to for coffee.
Have to agree with Megan on the expensive thing though. Everyone complains about Australia being expensive, but places like Paris are way ahead in terms of how much stuff costs. 🙂
Melbourne is my home town! I love it there, I’m going crazy waiting to leave Brisbane and spend a month back there before I head overseas again.
It’s never seemed overly expensive to me though. It helps that minimum wage here at my age is around $24 an hour, so when you’re earning AUD it’s fine. I’m guessing I might feel a bit different when I go to the US for a while next year. I always hear how cheap everything is there.
The Australians would constantly rave about how cheap the US was. I grit my teeth and smiled. 🙂
I’ve just come back from 5 weeks in the US, so not long term travel, but the US does seem MUCH cheaper than my home town (Perth, Western Australia). I guess it is different if you are earning the average wage in each currency.
A 600ml bottle of coke in Perth is $5. We paid $1.80 in the US.
I pay $20 for a bottle of OPI in Perth… the US sells them for $6
Clothes were much cheaper (my $37USD levis are $150 at home)
Eating out was about the same…
We looked up rents for apartments, as they were similar to rents at home (however, much smaller spaces)
I think perth has passed NYC in terms of living costs though.
Great post on Melbourne, it really is a fabulous city. I love the fact that each time I go I feel like I am exploring.
Great prices — thanks for adding them! Is that OPI as in nail polish? Sheeeeeet.
I’m in Sydney now and will be heading to melbourne soon, and these photos make me even more excited! I can’t wait to explore all the different cafes and coffee shops on offer. Great post!
Whenever I think about a trip to Aus I picture the beaches, and think I’ll avoid staying in big cities (if that’s even possible?) but this looks really nice!
Between you and Christine you’ve got me totally sold on Melbourne and I’ve never even been! (also, I withdrew from college to do my study abroad in China too! my school was pissed, but tuition in China for the semester was like 30 times cheaper, no joke.)
If you can save that much cash, there’s no reason not to!
I’m from Brisbane, but I LOVE Melbourne! My sister lives there so I’ll take any excuse to fly down. I recently wrote a post about Melbourne’s laneways that might conjure some fond memories!
Unfortunately most restaurants in Australia are expensive. Many Asian restaurants are quite well priced. We, Aussies have only just become “foodies” in the past 10 years with all the master chef tv shows. So restaurants can put any price on meals. People told me New York was expensive but you would never get a bacon egg n cream cheese bagel and coffee for $2.50 in Australia anywhere. I am a true blue Aussie and am happy to answer any questions anyone has about brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne . Just pop over to my website and leave a comment.
Great post Kate, always interesting.
Melbourne IS my city!! It’s so great to see it here (I’ve been living OS for 2 1/2 years). And I can’t believe you went to Northcote, that’s where we lived before we moved overseas. How cool is it? It used to be an old place, no wanted wanted to live there, but in the last few years it has become a very hip place. Well, you’ve just made me homesick now! 🙂
I loved Northcote! 🙂 It’s so hot right now!
Girl, come live in Melbourne! Yes, prices are expensive, but minimum wages start at around 20$ – work 40 hours a week at that rate, and you’re laughing all the way to the bank!
You know…it’s a pretty attractive option. 🙂 We’ll see!
Im settling up in Oz for a few months in 2015 and EVERYBODY raves about Melbourne. Im so torn because I’m attracted to the Beach bum scene and nightlife of Sydney! I’ll have to figure it out on the road I guess.
There’s always St. Kilda. Not as nice as Sydney’s beaches, but still, it’s a beach in Melbourne!
Great photos of Melbourne! I’m curious how you think it compared to Sydney? I used to live in Sydney and the cities have a huge rivalry when it comes to things like, everything. So I’m naturally bias. I have been to Melbourne and did enjoy it, but Sydney will always be home 🙂
I loved my time in Sydney — but I mostly loved how beautiful it was. The beaches were awesome; the harbor was amazing. But in terms of hanging out, Melbourne SO wins that round!
My biggest regret after studying abroad in Sydney for 6 months was that I didn’t find the time to visit Melbourne. It pulls at my heart strings to read this post because I know I would have loved it as much as you did.
It’ll be worth going back to Australia for the sole purpose of exploring Melbourne.
Love this post. My boyfriend is from Melbourne and, although I’m totally baised toward San Francisco, I’ve heard it’s just incredible. We are headed there at the end of this year to work for 6 months. This article has given me some good tips for places to check out! Thanks!
YES! Hands down the greatest city in the world (that I’ve seen anyway!)
My family live in Melbourne, and I currently live in London. But, nothing will ever compare to Melboure – such an awesome city all-round. I’m glad you like it!
Most people in Australia (From other states such as where I’m from in Queensland) think you’re mental going to Melbourne (“It’s so cold!! You’re crazy!” So they all say)
I feel homesick whenever I see photos of Melbourne and these are amazing photos! I only lived in Melbourne for 5 months but I felt at home right away and still crave to go back. One day I will have to return but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to live their again because of the visa situation :’-( Sob!!
I will always recommend anyone going to Australia visit Melbourne. It is awesome! I lived in the city centre and St Kilda. The city is loads better as it’s so cosmopolitan. St Kilda is full of Irish backpackers! Not that there’s anything wrong with the Irish. lol!
I’ve never been to Melbourne, but I’d love to, because I heard it’s artsy (just like you said here). I think I’ll go crazy there.. :))
Definitely did not think Melbourne had this much culture and style. Loved the pics!
I LOVE Melbourne! We lived there for six months, and we miss it a lot already. However, unless you’re working it’s a VERY expensive place to live in. That said, if money was no object I’d move there in a heartbeat!
How hard was it to get into the florence program at your school?
This was ten years ago, Vanessa, so anything could have changed since then. I’d contact them directly. It was easy — I just needed a 2.8 GPA and a few recommendations.
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Oh my god, I want to go to Melbourne SO much. Soon.
Thanks for this great post, really enjoyed reading about city, even though I’m slightly said I can’t just nip there tomorrow!
Ha, this is funny because I was like your friend Kelly Anne. I was absolutely set on studying abroad in Australia, even choosing my university because it allowed me to. I wasn’t set on Melbourne, but when I went there I fell head over heels in love with it and I’m so happy I chose the city to live and study in.
So happy you picked out some great highlights of Melbourne – you totally got the vibe of it! I loved Brooklyn when I visited, and I’m going to Berlin for the first time this weekend – already know it’s going to be exactly my kind of place!
I’ve loved your SOTM Tour posts by the way. And hey – welcome to London!!
You are such an inspiration to anyone wanting to do something they love.The laneways seem so cool, almost made me thing of harry potter…
Thank you, Meghan!
Im canadian and I was lucky enough to spend a year here. one of my favourite cities in the world.
This is lovely. I am living in Melbourne at the moment and totally loving it. Like you mentioned, it can get pretty expensive. I live in the suburbs where food around is cheap as well. So the city can really turn out cheap for those who know how to go about doing things budget-friendly.
Although Europe is pretty far, I feel staying here makes me feel I am close to Asia, especially with the cheap budget airlines from Australia to other Asian countries.
I just discovered your blog as I’m researching travel blogs for a trip to the USA in a couple of weeks. I’m from Northcote, Melbourne and loved reading your post. I always enjoy seeing how people from other countries view my beautiful city, but reading about Northcote just spun me out. Thornbury, (next suburb to Northcote), however is the new kid on the block in terms of hipness so if you do ever come back to Melbourne, be sure to check out Thornbury especially this: http://welcometothornbury.com/
So delighted to hear this, Grania!
Hi Kate, thanks for sharing your travel experiences,, I always enjoy reading your story.
Melbourne is a beautiful city, a bit like European countries and multi cultural, but Sydney is still the best place in Aussie for me… 🙂 may be it’s because I studied and stay in Sydney for a year. Taking the ferry from Circular Quay to Darling Harbour while listening to a good music was very relaxing for me… Visiting Darling Harbour at night is the best, standing outside and look around from there make me feel the world is wide… 🙂
I didn’t realize that Australia has such an expensive living cost. The last time I went there was in 2011 and I went to Japan 2 months ago, for me Tokyo is only slightly cheaper than Sydney especially in a food selection. UK is more expensive than Australia for sure.
However, no wonder Australia is expensive now, because some of your comment mention that minimum wage is $20/hour nowadays while back to 1998 when I stay in Sydney it’s only $12/hour and for the last 5 years Aussie Dollars has been appreciated against US$.
Once again thanks for this entertaining and inspiring blog Kate. Keep on travelling… 🙂
Cool post! I Love Melbourne !!!
If you have a chance please drop by at my blog http://www.weloveitwild.com .. I have also written about Melbourne 🙂
I am moving to Australia from the Boston area within the next couple months, and I have been going back and forth on where I want to start my adventure. I think you just sold me 🙂 I’m so excited!