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Sills Bend aerial Heidelberg
Photograph: Lisa Saad

A local's guide to Heidelberg

Explore Heidelberg's top cafés, bars, restaurants and attractions with this detailed guide

By Samantha Allemann
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The beauty of Heidelberg is no new revelation. The Heidelberg School, a 19th-century Australian art movement, made it famous as it was often the location for the Impressionist paintings by the likes of Arthur Streeton and Walter Withers. Artists might still paint ‘en plein air’ and use the sprawling parklands as their muse, however, these days Heidelberg is also known for its array of multicultural cafés and restaurants.  

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What’s Heidelberg known for?

As well as playing a central role in the Heidelberg School movement, this suburb is today known for being the location of the Austin Hospital. Heidelberg is also known as being a confusing triptych of sorts with its siblings Heidelberg West and Heidelberg Heights. While these two areas are considered less popular than Heidelberg itself, they’re becoming more desirable due to their proximity to the city and inner suburbs.

Why do the locals love it?

Mary Martell, a volunteer at social enterprise café the Sycamore Tree, says the “variety of cafés and great public transport links” are what make Heidelberg great. “I enjoy walking my dogs Magnus and Hugo around the area,” she says. Keep an eye out for some more of Mary’s recommendations throughout the article.

How do I get to Heidelberg?

Unless you want to battle the traffic on Rosanna Road and Burgundy Street, take public transport instead. Heidelberg train station is directly opposite the Austin Hospital and just off vibrant Burgundy Street. The station also has a busy bus terminal which links Heidelberg to Melbourne University and La Trobe University.

What’s nearby?

The leafy affluent suburbs of Eaglemont and Ivanhoe are further south, with Preston to the west. Templestowe and its expansive Westerfolds Park are to the north-east.

Map of Heidelberg

If you only do one thing …

Okay, so technically it’s actually in Bulleen, but the Heide Museum of Modern Art was named after the Heidelberg School, so it’s often claimed by its more well-known suburb (no offence Bulleen). Stroll down Burgundy Street, packed with cafés and restaurants, to grab something to eat and then hop on a bus down Banksia Street to Heide.

The best things to do in Heidelberg

Plate of food from Zeins
Plate of food from Zeins
Photograph: Zeins/Supplied

Eat

Zein’s Authentic (134 Burgundy St) is the place to go for a hearty Lebanese feast. The portion sizes are generous, the produce is fresh and the dishes are bright and colourful. Plus, there are loads of vegan and gluten-free options to select from on the extensive menu. The homemade falafel in Mama’s Falafel Bowl is delicious, and the Fava Bean Heaven dish is another winner. The batenjen (grilled eggplant with walnuts, pomegranate seeds, tahini and spices) and malouf and warak areesh (stuffed cabbage rolls) are other choice picks. 

Proof Pizzeria (100 Burgundy St) is popular with the locals due to its huge menu. No one goes to a pizzeria for the salad, so skip straight to the pizza offerings. The Butcher pizza is sure to satisfy ardent carnivores, while Shrooms is here to remind us that mushrooms are the meat of the vegetarian world. The DOC Margarita pizza is the perfect salve for the ex-inner north resident who enjoys cheaper rent further out in the suburbs but misses being a stone’s throw from Carlton.

Little Black Pig and Sons (48 Burgundy St) is a must for any foodie who can’t bear eating the same meal over again. With a menu that changes weekly, sometimes daily, this fine-dining Italian restaurant keeps things fresh and interesting. The menu is pretty heavy on the meat and seafood, but most dietary requirements can be catered for. The extensive wine list comprises Italian, New Zealand and Australian wines, from the affordable to the lavish. 

Just a few doors down, Elia Greek Tavern (57 Burgundy St) is where you can tuck in to saganaki in style. As Aunt Voula cried in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, (“what do you mean he don't eat no meat? That's okay, I make lamb”) the menu at Elia is meat-heavy. The grill cooks up lamb and chicken skewers, lamb cutlets and Cypriot sausages, with mains being fish, chicken, pork, beef, and you guessed it, lamb. 

Tarin Thai (71 Burgundy St) sits opposite Warringal Shopping Centre towards the end of Burgundy Street. This family-run restaurant serves up popular Thai dishes such as gaeng keow wan (a green chilli and coconut milk curry) and pad num mun hoy (stir-fried veggies and meat in oyster sauce). Tarin Thai is Mary’s favourite Heidelberg restaurant – she can’t pass up the satay skewers, roti bread and fried ice cream.

Hamar Weyne Café (Shop 63, The Mall) is located up the road in Heidelberg West, next to Melbourne Polytechnic. The café’s name comes from a district in Somalia, with halal Somali cuisine on the menu. The portions are generous, the food inexpensive and the staff warm and welcoming, so it’s a great place to get a feed.  

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The Train Yard
The Train Yard
Photograph: The Train Yard/Supplied

Drink

The Train Yard (184 Burgundy St) is fittingly just a minute’s stroll away from the train station. In fact, you’ll get a great view of its beer garden whizzing by if you miss the stop and end up at Rosanna. The beer garden is a big drawcard, with live music on Friday nights. Serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner as well, this is a great place to catch up with mates.

You can’t miss Sir Henry Barkly Hotel (92 Burgundy St) by the corner of Cape Street – a true Heidelberg institution, dating back to the 1850s. While it's had a facelift since then and has been nicknamed the Henry, the pub continues to be a meeting place for locals (and those who’ve given up waiting for the delayed bus services at the stop directly outside). Check out the new undercover pop-up beer garden which replaces the drive-through bottleshop.  

The Old England Hotel (459 Lower Heidelberg Rd) is another 3084 stalwart. Built in 1848, it was the first hotel in Melbourne’s north and was, therefore, the drinking hole of choice for Heidelberg School painters. This sprawling hotel, one of the oldest in Victoria, contains a rooftop bar, lounge, dining room, bottleshop and accommodation. 

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Superdays Coffee
Superdays Coffee
Photograph: Superdays/Supplied

Coffee

The Sycamore Tree (185 Burgundy St) is more than a coffee shop. As a social enterprise, it gives a foot in the door for people such as Mary who want to gain hospitality experience. Started in 1986, the café is now run by the Banyule Network of Uniting Churches. As well as being a cosy spot to enjoy a beverage and something light to eat, the Sycamore Tree is used as a meeting space for the Café of Dangerous Ideas and LGBTQIA group Alphabet Soup Heidelberg.  

Previously known as Capeside Coffee, Superdays Coffee (3/119 Cape St) is a lovely little spot to grab a cuppa. It turned into a little shop during the pandemic, with eggs, bread and condiments available for sale amidst supermarket shortages. With Seven Seeds coffee brewing, order a toastie or baked good to help soak up that sweet, sweet caffeine. Bread and pastries are baked by Northcote's ultra-popular All Are Welcome Bakery – beat the northside queue by loading up on your croissants here instead. 

If you’ve caught the train and are in need of a caffeine hit as soon as you alight, Bean There Espresso Bar (89 Mount St) should be your first port of call. Situated on the corner near the bus terminal, this small café has a selection of sandwiches and pastries as well as what you came for – coffee.  

Heidelberg Heights hasn’t yet got a mention, but The Chairman Café and Foodstore (15 Francis St) makes it impossible to not pay credit to it. Serving lunch and dinner, it’s also a nice spot to savour a coffee or pot of loose leaf tea. 

Also in Heidelberg Heights (67 Haig St) is Crate Specialty Coffee. There’s not much sitting room inside so you’re best off getting a takeaway. The brew is roasted by Duke's Coffee Roasters, with rotating single origins from guest roasteries. Bags a Dr Marty’s crumpet too. If you’re travelling by train, it’s actually closer to travel to Rosanna station and walk the 20 minutes to Crate.

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Ivanhoe Cycles
Ivanhoe Cycles
Photograph: Ivanhoe Cycles

Shopping

As the name suggests, Leo’s Fine Food (133 Burgundy St) is where to go for something a bit fancier than Jatz and Kraft Singles. One of three Leo’s stores (the others are in Kew and Glen Iris), this is arguably the greatest. There is an impressive wine selection and you’ll find brands you don’t get in the Big Two. Leo’s is well-known for its freshly squeezed orange juice for which there can be a queue for on hot days, but it’s worth the wait.

“I like the bargains at TK Maxx,” says Mary of the brand bargain store located in Warringal Shopping Centre (56 Burgundy St). Having arrived in Australia in 2017, this chain store can give you the big brands without the big prices.

Hahndorf's Fine Chocolates (G01/120 Burgundy St) is a great stopover to boost your sugar levels with some chocolate samples. The rows of finely crafted chocolates look too pretty to eat, but they’re unlikely to last long.

Vinnies Heidelberg West (40/44 The Mall) has the advantage of being tucked away, not on the main strip. As it’s not usually on the itinerary of northern op-shoppers (who are likely making a beeline to Savers in Greensborough), there’s less competition for snaring a great find. Salvos (181 Burgundy St) is also worth a visit to search for some gems. 

And just as Heide is in Bulleen, Ivanhoe Cycles (72 Bell St) is actually in Heidelberg Heights. If you’re in the market for a bike or just want to marvel at all the shiny things, this bicycle shop is the place to go. The staff really know their bikes and there’s a huge variety on offer, from e-bikes to retro models to BMXs. You can bring your bike in for a service too, with the turnaround time usually pretty quick.

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Banyule Flats swamp Heidelberg
Banyule Flats swamp Heidelberg
Photograph: Lisa Saad

Things to do

It can be hard to believe that just over traffic-jammed Rosanna Road lies peaceful parklands, winding through Heidelberg and up to Lower Plenty. Warringal Parklands comprises 35 hectares of reserve by the Yarra River. By walking a loop (as shown here) you’ll get to take in lots of sights, from the wetland to the river to woodland. On Saturday mornings you can join in on a free 5km run or walk with Warringal Parklands parkrun.

Within the Parklands, Possum Hollow (Beverly Rd) is a much-loved playground for parents and their littlies. With a flying fox, ropes and suspension bridge in addition to the slides and swings, there’s heaps for kids to enjoy here. Chancez Café at Possum Hollow, an initiative by Banyule City Council and disability support service Araluen, will help you fuel up after playtime.

The Heidelberg School Artists Trail includes some spots in Heidelberg, with signs featuring paintings by artists such as Tom Roberts, as well as the aforementioned Streeton and Withers.  

Cartmell Street Walkway, between Cape and Hawdon Streets, is off the beaten track. The laneway murals, depictions of Heidelberg School paintings, are worth a peek if you’re in the area.  

Heidelberg Historical Society Museum (Jika St and Park Lane) is located inside the old courthouse building. The museum contains a wealth of information on the history of Heidelberg and holds special exhibitions on occasion. Open for only a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, admission is $5.

The Melbourne Institute of Massage and Myotherapy (68 Mount St) is also a great way to get an affordable massage. Due to restrictions, MIMT’s student clinic is expected to reopen in early 2021.

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