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Brunswick Town Hall
Photograph: CC/Wikimedia Commons

A local's guide to Brunswick

Discover fun things to do, brilliant bars and restaurants for all budgets with our insider guide to Brunswick

By Dani Leever
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Brunswick’s reputation is as a hipster hotspot, but there’s a lot more to this vibrant area than just smashed avos and fancy lattes. A hub of art, culture and fantastic bars, the area also has historically been home to Greek, Italian and Middle Eastern populations, which is evident in Brunswick’s food scene and community spaces. A true gem of the north, Brunswick is bustling, artistic and lively – the place to be if you want great craft beer, delicious coffee and to see why Melbourne is known for its exceptional art and music scene. 

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What’s Brunswick known for?

Being one of the only Greens electorates in Victoria, the area is quite left-leaning, and those politics feel evident in many of the venues you’ll visit. Wandering the main drag of Sydney Road, you’ll see hip vintage stores, art galleries, bookshops and family-owned restaurants all sandwiched between lively pubs and music venues. It’s a buzzy suburb of art, activism, vintage shops and delicious food. 

With the variety of eclectic venues, there’s always a good local band, art exhibition, tattoo flash day or pop-up shop to check out. Plus, the neighbouring Brunswick East is packed to the brim with cosy wine bars for hot dates, as well as some of Melbourne’s most celebrated restaurants.

Why do the locals love it?

Brunswick is a community of communities. There are pockets of artists, musos, lefties, coffee nerds and a huge population of LGBTQ+ folks living in share houses around the suburb. As well as this, there are Middle Eastern, Greek and Italian communities that have lived in the area for decades. 

A melting pot of communities that all bring something different to Brunswick, it’s an eclectic and buzzing place where there is really never a dull moment. 

How do I get to Brunswick?

Brunswick is on the Upfield train line, with Jewell, Brunswick, Anstey and Moreland stations running just next to Sydney Rd. This makes it easy to hop off depending on which section of the area you’re visiting. Sydney Road also has the 19 tram which will take you through to Coburg, and a host of bus routes.  If you’re driving, side streets off Sydney Road might be your best bet. Brunswick is a very bike-friendly suburb, with countless bike paths and set bike lanes on many of its roads. 

What’s nearby?

Brunswick is surrounded by fantastic suburbs: Coburg to the north, Thornbury and Northcote to the east and Carlton North and Fitzroy North to the south. 

Map of Brunswick

 

If you only do one thing?

Get yourself a cheese pie (or ten) and a falafel wrap from A1 Bakery, take a seat outside and soak up the Sydney Road atmosphere. While you’re waiting for your food, browse the selection of delicious Middle Eastern groceries and stock up on tasty pita bread. 

Brunswick highlights

Pasta at Compass Pizza
Pasta at Compass Pizza
Photograph: Graham Denholm

Eat

If you’re in the mood for live jazz music, craft beer and mouth-watering garlic bread, head to Compass Pizza (319 Lygon St). The delicious pizzas are made even better when enjoyed in the comfort of the smoky, old-school Italian space. The space was once a pizzeria called La Bussola, and the team decided to keep the cosy Italian bistro feel, with neon signage, exposed brick and pizzas cooked to perfection in plain view of diners. They’ve got excellent deals every night of the week that change often, but keep your eyes peeled for their $13 Margheritas and $13 Spritz and Negronis. 

Shinwa Izakaya (139 Sydney Rd) is a Japanese food lover’s dream, with an extensive list of delicious sake and a classic izakaya menu. You’ll get a mind-blowing feast no matter what you order, but the nasu dengaku (miso-glazed eggplant) is a must-try. 

You can’t visit Brunswick without stopping by A1 Bakery (643-645 Sydney Rd), a northside institution with a well-deserved reputation. Since 1992, A1 has been slinging authentic Lebanese breads, pitas, pies and pizzas to lucky locals, or patrons who travel far just to visit. At great prices, you can afford to try a bit of everything on the extensive menu - just don’t miss out on a cheese bagel and a zaatar. 

For the perfect takeaway option (or hangover cure), Brunswick Burrito (102 Henkel St) is the place to visit. It's absolutely among the best burritos in the area, and the vegetarian options are particularly great: with haloumi, roast veg and plant-based 'beef' are all delectable stars of the menu. 

Brunswick is home to many amazing Lebanese restaurants, one of which is Téta Mona (100A Lygon St). With flavoursome hearty dishes in an eclectic space, it’s the perfect weeknight dinner spot. The banquet will always be a good option, but if you’re ordering individual items, the arnabeet tahina cauliflower will blow your mind. 

For a cheap and yummy meal out, Green Field (376-378 Sydney Rd) is a local favourite. Open for lunch and dinner, the menu is jam-packed with Vietnamese favourites at great prices. The lunch specials are perfect for an unpretentious and affordable bite, plus almost every dish has a vegetarian option. 

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Wine and food at Old Palm Liqour
Wine and food at Old Palm Liqour
Photograph: Parker Blain

Drink

Old Palm Liquor (133B Lygon St) got many Brunswick folks through isolation in 2020 with phenomenal takeaway beers and wines. Now that it’s open for dine-in again, sliding into one of their cosy booths and enjoying the vibe is a must when visiting the area. It’ll be busy on weekends, so booking ahead is essential if you’re looking to choose from one of the many, many, many wines and slurp up some oysters.

To many locals, the Charles Weston (27 Weston St) is the perfect pub. With a massive beer garden, a pool table and a great selection of tap beer, it’s the sort of place where you can easily spend a whole day. The Westy is also great all year round – with cosy couches and a fireplace for winter and a vibrant outdoor area for warmer days. Plus it’s wheelchair accessible, dog-friendly and has a m enu of innovative share plates. 

Noisy Ritual (249 Lygon St) will please even the fussiest of wine snobs. It’s a full-scale urban winery in a trendy open-plan space, with an endless list of wines and expert staff who will help you find the perfect drop. To enjoy with your vino, grab a grazing board of local cheese and bread sourced from Ovens St, a Brunswick micro-bakery. 

Despite being located in the heart of Sydney Road, the Brunswick Green (313-315 Sydney Rd) feels like a tucked-away little paradise. The eccentric and kitsch decor makes it feel very Brunswick, while its impressive drinks list has something for everyone. It’s a northside staple for a reason – particularly due to its sprawling beer garden. 

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Code Black
Code Black
Photograph: Code Black

Coffee

Boasting one of the best breakfast menus in the north, A Minor Place (103 Albion) is a local favourite for good reason. It’s often pretty busy on the weekends, so a weekday brunch is a good option. Take your laptop or book and settle in for specialty coffee and delicious food, and make sure you order something with halloumi. 

If you’re feeling like a bagel and a specialty coffee, Take Two (105 Lygon St) is the place to be. The tagline “the home of Bagel Devotees” is a fair call, one that you’ll believe as soon as you try the freshly baked bagels with tasty fillings - particularly the thyme portabella bagel. Paired with St Ali specialty coffee, it makes for a great morning meal. 

Tucked away next to Lygon St is Lucy Lockett (140 Barkly St), a hip cafe with a creative menu and brilliant breakfast options. Each plate is remarkably colourful, which contrasts with the sleek, minimalist design of the space. The B*tch Peas dish is a crowd favourite. 

Code Black (15-17 Weston St) is a must-visit for any coffee nerd. It's a Melbourne coffee institution, supplying countless high-quality cafés, so checking out the HQ and roastery is a dream. You can grab a cold brew, purchase beans to take home, check out the state-of-the-art roastery and even join in on a cupping session. 

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Garlic at CERES
Garlic at CERES
Photograph: Graham Denholm

Things to do

Brunswick’s strong arts and culture scene mean that there’s always something exciting to get up to. You could Visit Blak Dot Gallery (33 Saxon St), a contemporary Indigenous-run gallery to see some brilliant artworks from First Nations folks. 

Plan ahead and have a look at the classes that the Laneway Learning team are hosting out of their Brunswick site, the Brunswick Mechanics Institute. Take an affordable class and learn about anything from homemade gnocchi to salsa dancing to flower arrangement. 

If you’re looking to get a new tattoo, Little Gold Studios (1 Pitt St) is home to some of Melbourne’s most celebrated and creative tattoo artists. As a specifically queer-friendly studio, the space is a dream to visit. Make sure you book far ahead with your favourite artist, as they don’t take walk-ins and often have long waiting lists. 

On a sunny day, nothing is better than a walk through CERES (Stewart x Roberts St), the environmental education centre, urban farm and social enterprise. Grab some delicious organic food or coffee from the café and wander through the extensive gardens, learning all about environmental sustainability while you do. 
  

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A Greener House plant nursery in Brunswick
A Greener House plant nursery in Brunswick
Photograph: Maggie Dunleavy

Shopping

Whether you’re a fern aficionado or a nervous first-time plant buyer, you’ve got to visit Greener House (95 Sydney Rd). It’s a family-owned and run nursery that feels like plant heaven as soon as you walk in. Maggie and Josh are ridiculously knowledgeable, and they have all the time in the world for your green thumb questions.  

The Mediterranean Wholesaler (482 Sydney Rd) states on its website that it’s not just a supermarket, it’s “an experience”. It's totally right – take a trip down the countless aisles of groceries (with more than 250 types of pasta), wines and European sweets to stock up on goodies you won’t find anywhere else. Starting in 1961 as a small family-owned delicatessen, it’s now Australia’s largest continental grocer. Make sure you stop by the deli and pick up some mouth-watering cheeses. 

Sell your preloved clothes or pick up secondhand designer threads at Goodbyes Brunswick (127-129 Sydney Rd). You’ll find unique pieces from local and big-name designers and be able to purchase them for a fraction of their original cost. Go hunting and find yourself a gem.  

Word nerds will fall in love with Brunswick Bound (361 Sydney Rd), an independent book shop in the heart of Sydney Rd. There are endless titles for you to peruse, as well as vinyl, local jewellery, stationery and gifts. Have a chat to one of the friendly staff and they’ll be able to recommend a brilliant book to sink your teeth into. 
 

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Mark your calendars

The Brunswick Music Festival celebrates artists across a huge variety of genres, taking place in amazing music venues throughout Brunswick. The program always features a fantastic and diverse selection of events.

 

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