If you only have a little bit of time to spend but want to experience the best Melbourne has to offer, we have you covered. From lush parks and gardens to world-class museums and out-of-the-way secret bars, here is an itinerary to make the most of your precious hours.
48 hours in Melbourne
Yes, you will have to queue to get into Chin Chin (or, better, put your name on the door and nip into nearby Cherry Bar to have a few drinks in Melbourne's legenday rock'n'roll bar while waiting for a call that your table is ready). Yes, it will be worth it. Flavours here are zesty, exciting and complex, with the cabal of sour, salty and bitter things keeping that attention-seeking sweetness in check.
Try the chargrilled pork chop, properly cooked to just-pink, and properly rested before being sliced and delivered to the table under an avalanche of meaty oyster mushrooms and fragrant holy basil. It’s a hands-across-the-ocean display of East-meets-West diplomacy.
How Melbourne can you get? Eau de Vie is hidden down Malthouse Lane behind a signage-free door that you’d easily mistake for a service entrance. Once you’ve made it through the clandestine entrance, you’ll be greeted by waistcoated staff and buoyant, boisterous jazz tunes. There's an incomparable sense of bonhomie among the drinkers within, as though everyone had stumbled into an exclusive, exotic club. But all of this energy and joie de vivre would be for naught if the drinks weren't up to scratch. In fact, the cocktails and whisky selection are among the country’s best. Slip into the clubby, handsome whisky lounge for your choice of 200 single malts, or secure a seat at the bar for a slice of the mixing, shaking and stirring action.
There is a reason The New York Times said Lune Croissanterie's croissants were "the best in the world" and "alone worth a trip across the dateline". You can get them with only a trip across town to Kate and Cameron Reid's climate-controlled Fitzroy lab. Lune croissants are almost mathematically perfect: crisp and golden with visible layers of delicate pastry. Come early if you want to nab a twice-cooked almond croissant or the lemon curd cruffins, piped to the gills with a tart curd and sprinkled with citrus sugar.
One of the baristas takes coffee orders from the queue to the pastry service counter and by the time you pick a croissant or cruffin and have it served to you warm from the oven, your coffee will be ready.
Spend your late morning strolling around the historic (and free!) Abbotsford Convent. You can feel the weight of the past as soon as you step onto the grounds and look up to the gothic spires. It’s a hub for artists, makers, community radio broadcasters and teachers – as well as a beautiful place to explore.
If strolling around the gardens makes you hungry, grab a vegetarian lunch at Lentil as Anything. The restaurant is run by volunteers, and you pay what you feel the meal is worth.
You definitely should spend some time checking out (and 'gramming) Melbourne's famed street art. The best place to start looking for jaw-dropping murals is Hosier Lane, opposite Federation Square and joining Flinders Lane with Flinders Street. From there walk to Centre Place (off Flinders Lane between Elizabeth Street and Swanston Street). A few more blocks and you'll find ACDC Lane (off Flinders Lane between Exhibition and Russell streets). If you've been to Cherry Bar you'll be familiar with it, but in daylight you can enjoy the cool murals. From there it's a 10-minute stroll to Croft Alley, which is definitely worth checking out.
At the end of Croft Alley you'll find the Croft Institute, a most unusual bar spread over three floors, each dimly lit and infused with the same cold, slightly creepy atmosphere. The ground floor resembles a dark and eerie med-school classroom, with display cases of laboratory equipment, polished tiles and little gas taps for hooking up Bunsen burners. Upstairs, pass through a waiting room complete with flickering, wall-mounted television to the Departments of Male and Female Hygiene (aka toilets), which bear an unsettling resemblance to hospital examination rooms. The top floor, which opens after 10pm, is styled after an old-fashioned high school gymnasium with bleachers for seating and live grass growing on the bar. Many cocktails are served in syringes, for that full mad scientist vibe.
Around the corner from Croft Institute you'll find yourself in Chinatown – and there are few restaurants in the district with as long a pedigree as Supper Inn. The menu is long. As in really, really long, but among the best dishes are: the congee with chicken, flecked with ginger; whole steamed flounder; sizzling chilli quail; hotpot with pork; and the roasted suckling pig with the sweetest meat and skin like chewy, salty toffee. Plus, Supper Inn is open until 2.30am, so take your time.
Grab a takeaway coffee and a pastry and make yourself a breakfast picnic in one of the most beautiful oases in Melbourne: the Royal Botanic Gardens. Located on the city’s fringe, this expansive garden is home to a cool 8,500 plant species, zen lakes and lush lawns. It's free to enter. Once you've finished your brekky, stretch your legs and take in the verdant scenery. The camellia collection is one of the world’s best, with more than 950 different types; Fern Gully recreates a cool forest, which showcases many fern species; and the Tropical Glasshouse is filled with colourful flowers and palms.
Emerge from the gardens refreshed and ready to take on Australia's oldest and most popular art museum, the National Gallery of Victoria (universally called the NGV). The permanent collection includes a Rembrandt, a Bonnard and a Tiepolo. The ground floor is where you'll usually find the gallery's major exhibitions, and it's also where you'll find the magnificent, boiled lolly-like stained glass ceiling in the Great Hall. Upstairs you've got the permanent collections, as well as the smaller visiting exhibitions. Visiting exhibitions sometimes cost money, but the permanent collection is free. When you've feasted your eyes, you can fill your belly with the seasonal menu items at Garden Restaurant.
If you've got time for one more museum, make sure it's the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. ACMI often has a fascinating international exhibition (recent highlights include Wallace & Gromit and Friends, David Bowie Is and DreamWorks Animation: The Exhibition), which costs money, but the permanent collection is free. Learn fascinating facts about film history in the Screen Worlds exhibition, or play some cutting-edge video games (or even Mario Kart) in the Games Lab. Make sure you exit through the gift shop for some great film-related shopping.