Ever thought of visiting, or even moving to, Melbourne? If not, perhaps you should. Because of all the world’s great cities, this cool and artsy jewel in Australia’s crown is perhaps the one most in tune with the creative soul.
Boasting a huge and lively creative community, Melbourne is effortlessly hip, and unabashedly multicultural, liberal, bohemian and progressive. The cultural, art and design capital of the continent, it’s packed with inspiring galleries, dynamic creative hubs, spectacular street art, a thriving live music scene, and a diverse collection of neighbourhoods, all infused with the Australian ‘can-do’ attitude that means it never sits still for a moment.
Established in 1835, Melbourne’s a relatively young city and its population is surprisingly young too; at the last count, half of them were under 36. At one time the world’s richest city, following the gold rush of the 1850s, it boasts some stunning Victorian architecture, and its inner city is the most European of any you’ll find down under. Public transport is cheap, safe and reliable, and all tram rides within the city centre are completely free, offering a great way to access the huge variety of galleries, cafes, bookshops and music venues.
All this, plus warm weather and sunny skies all year round, beautiful parks, and beaches near the city centre, means it’s unsurprising that in 2016, Melbourne was rated the world’s most liveable city by The Economist’s global liveability survey, for the sixth year in a row.
But while many of Melbourne’s best features lie on the surface, there are further hidden layers that are easy to miss. I work at Shillington in the city, so in this post I’ll offer some local knowledge and a few pointers to get you started. (In the meantime, if you fancy a longer stay, how about learning graphic design in Melbourne?)
The agency scene
From architecture to music, Melbourne is a dynamic hub for all types of creativity. And so it’s no surprise that it’s packed with the brim with creative companies, all jostling for attention, clients, and the brightest young talent.
The big names in global advertising are well represented here, including DDB, JWT, Leo Burnett, Ogilvy, M&C Saatchi and McCann. The latter’s Melbourne wing is particularly well known internationally, thanks to its viral campaigns such as the brilliant Dumb Ways to Die, and it’s been identified by AdAge as ‘the world’s most awarded creative agency’.
There are a ton of great design agencies in Melbourne too, including the likes of 10 Feet Tall, Deepend, Emote Digital, Flint Interactive, Hunt & Co, Ink Digital, JTB Studios, Krafthaus, Monkii, The Sphere, W3 Digital and Yoke, among others to numerous to mention. Complementing them nicely is a thriving tech scene, with the likes of Zendesk, Slack, Square and Hired making Melbourne the base of their Asia-Pacific operations. Not to mention homegrown tech companies like 99 Designs, SitePoint and Flippa, and a startup scene that’s constantly throwing up exciting new ventures such as Coinjar, Envato and Pocketbook.
In short, if you’re looking for work in a design or creative field, Melbourne is full of opportunities, whatever your interests or skillset.
Need to do some freelance or remote work while you’re in Melbourne? There are a huge number of top-notch co-working spaces vying for your attention.
And we’re not just talking desks and Wi-Fi. Co-working in Melbourne is all about collaborative culture, with the top workspaces attracting small businesses and tech entrepreneurs alongside lone freelancers, and providing a range of professional facilities for meetings, networking and more.
The biggest and best known workspace in Melbourne has to be The Commons. Offering ‘insanely fast internet’, 24 hour access, yoga, beer and cider, free coffee and a beautiful, eco-design, the company has spaces in Collingwood and South Melbourne, and floating desks start at $450AUD a month.
Or perhaps you’d prefer to be in arty Richmond in the east of the city, known for its live music and pub culture? Then you should head over to Spaces, part of a co-working chain originating in Amsterdam. Their Melbourne space is beautifully designed, in a high-end contemporary style, and its desks, tables, sofas, super-fast WiFi and informal meeting areas provide everything you should need to work and network. Desks here start at $350AUD a month.
Spaces should not be confused with Space & Co, which has two branches in the heart of Melbourne’s Central Business District. With a stunning interior design that’s full of character, Space & Co offers rapid Wi-Fi, meeting rooms, showers, and a bike cage, with passes starting at $60AUD a day or $210AUD a month.
If want somewhere a little quirkier, though, you might want to check out Revolver in the suburb of Prahan, 5km south-east of the Central Business District. Here, the old Revolver Music Arcade has been converted into a 1,000+ sq m co-working space with a cutting-edge, semi-industrial look. Online magazine Foundr and tech startup Powered Local are among the creative businesses who’ve landed in the building, which offers an in-house coffee shop, casual lounges, gallery space, event space and private meeting rooms. Rates start at $100AUD a week.
Working in the games industry? Then there’s a special place for you in Melbourne: The Arcade, a not-for-profit, collaborative studio space focused on indie game development. Based in the Central Business District, it offers workstations, meeting rooms, full kitchen facilities (including three group head coffee machines) and a communal lunch area; it also claims to be “home to some of the nicest and most talented people you’re ever likely to meet”. Hot desks here start at $33AUD per day.
The best bars
Aussies love a drink, and Melbourne boasts a dizzying array of places to get one.
At the hipper end of the scale lies Section 8, an edgy, open air bar with DJs, graffiti-covered walls, chairs made from wooden palettes, and drinks served from shipping containers. It’s the centre for a weekly battle between artists across a range of disciplines.
Similarly quirky is The Berlin Bar, which is inspired by the division of the German capital during the Cold War era. The bar, too, is divided into ‘East’ and ‘West’ sections: the latter opulent and luxurious, the former a grim looking, Communist-style bunker. Naturally, a good range of imported German beers is available here, alongside suitable bar food such as Currywurst and Schnitzel Burgers.
If you fancy a cocktail while checking out some of the best work by Melbourne’s creatives, then head to The Workshop. This bohemian space features a rotating roster of work by Melbourne’s visual artists, alongside music from DJs five nights a week, craft beers, cocktails, wines and $9AUD pizzas.
Or maybe you’re looking for a bar with a view? There are dozens of rooftop bars in Melbourne, but our favourite is Loop Roof, which provides a bird’s-eye view of the skyline in a beautiful botanical setting. A recent offshoot of the arts-focused Loop Project Space and Bar downstairs, Loop Roof offers gas heaters and a large awning to protect you from the elements whatever the season. And you simply can’t leave without trying one of their vodka snow cones.
The best cafes
Or course, drinking isn’t all about alcohol. If there’s one thing you need to know before coming to Melbourne, it’s that they take their coffee seriously here. While in other cities, artisanal coffee joints might be dismissed as a pointless hipster cliche, here striving for high-quality coffee is less a pose and more a way of life. They really do mean it.
So where to go for a cup of quality Joe? In the centre of town you’ll find Mister Close, a trendy counter-service cafe with a freshly made, seasonal menu that changes daily, and specialty coffee that’s sourced straight from the producers. A short walk from here, you’ll also find superior, super-smooth coffee at Degraves Espresso Bar, a grungy old-school bar with recycled cinema seats that attracts an eclectic crowd.
Venturing further afield, if you’re visiting Collingwood, the epicentre of Melbourne’s street art scene, make a beeline for Proud Mary, a cafe and shop that serves breakfast and single-origin coffee in a hip, spacious, exposed-brick setting. Or if you’re passing through the arty hub of Richmond, another great place to get your caffeine fix is Top Paddock, which offers excellent, ethically produced coffee, as well as roasting their own beans in-house.
Where to eat
Described by Gordon Ramsey as “Australia’s culinary engine room”, Melbourne is teeming with amazing places to eat, from fine dining restaurants to small, unpretentious cafes; exotic ethnic restaurants to crowd-attracting food trucks. So to list all the great places to eat in the city would take far more space than we have in this article. But here just are a few you might want to consider.
If you’re looking to stretch your tastebuds and widen your horizons, someone entertainingly experimental cuisine can be found at Lûmé. A 15-course degustation featuring everything from cow’s udder to calamari entrails and cured emu can be experienced in this South Melbourne restaurant, in a converted terrace house that was once home to a burlesque club. Or if you prefer your experimentation with an Asian flavour, then check out Nora, run by a husband and wife team. In this softly-lit Carlton cafe they serve up what they describe as “Thai food, pulled apart, questioned and reimagined”
Both of these venues are a little pricey, but if you’re on a budget, Melbourne is full of places to get good, honest and cheap food. There’s Soi 38, for example, a rather wonderful noodle restaurant that started life as a popup but has now come down to earth to offer a short menu of four dishes, all costing $10AUD. If it’s Italian you’re after, try Heartattack & Vine in Carlton. Named after a Tom Waits album, it’s based on the classic European model of neighbourhood bar/café, open day and night, where things are kept simple. Meanwhile vegans, vegetarians and those on a gluten-free regime will find their cravings for Mexican food catered for at Trippy Taco, a specialist cantina serving meat-free street food.
Five touristy things you must do
As the cultural capital of Australia, there are so many inspiring places to visit in Melbourne, there’s no way we could list them all in one post. But if you only have a short time to spend in the city, here are five things you must try to fit in.
Firstly, Melbourne is home to a dynamic street art scene, decorating locations throughout the city. There’s a list of the best places to see this colourful and energetic work, including a downloadable map, here. If you’re short of time though, we’d recommend taking a street art walking tour of the city, so you can take in as much as you can.
For more traditional forms of art, head to The National Gallery of Victoria. Australia’s oldest, largest and most visited art museum houses an encyclopaedic collection of more than 7,000 artworks, across two sites in Melbourne, and its free to enter. Like the Louvre in Paris, this is one of those places where you feel an entire day still won’t be enough to take everything in. The extensive Australian collection, which stretches from Aboriginal art through to the Heidelberg School and contemporary mixed media, can be found in the Ian Potter Gallery in Federation Square.
The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, meanwhile, serves as one of the main hubs of contemporary art, providing new artists with the space to exhibit daring and boundary-pushing work. Right now, it’s home to ‘Mother Holding Something Horrific’, a major exhibition by Claire Lambe encompassing sculpture, photography and theatrical mise-en-scène; and ‘Do You Think That You Can Help Her Brother?’ by He An, an installation made from retrieved heritage signage from Beijing. Located in the inner suburb of Southbank, the imposing minimalist iron architecture of the Centre is in itself an impressive work of art.
The best place to get some perspective after all that introspection has to be the 88th floor of Eureka Tower, the highest public view in any building in the southern hemisphere, Named in recognition of The Eureka Stockade, a rebellion of gold prospectors in 1854, the 975ft tower is suitably adored with a gold crown and gold-plated windows. Visit just before sundown to get an incredible view of the city by day and night.
Finally, there aren’t many world cultural capitals that are right next to a beach, especially not with the kind of weather to enjoy it properly. So it seems wrong to visit Melbourne without making a dash to St Kilda’s beach, near Balaclava Station and just 6km south of the city centre. While you’re there, be sure to check out the Victorian-era St Kilda Pier and Pavilion, which even hosts a little penguin colony.
Main image, Melbourne street art, Eureka Tower, and the pier at St Kilda courtesy of Adobe Stock