Melbourne CBD area guide

The best restaurants, bars, shops and events in Melbourne

Melbourne CBD skyline from Southbank
Photograph: Roberto Seba

From the shopping precincts of Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne Central and the glitzy Paris End of Collins Street, to the markets and galleries of Federation Square, the CBD is a hotbed of activity.

Jump on the free City Circle tram if you’re a newb, which will trundle you past sights like the Melbourne AquariumOld Melbourne Gaol and Parliament House – and of course you’ll want to jump out and explore the coffee, boutiques and street art of the laneways and old arcades.

When you're spent and hungry try to find Izakaya DenCookieCumulus IncMoVida or one of the many iconic Melbourne hangouts. Need a drink? The CBD's best bars and pubs are listed below.

So do the time-honoured thing: meet someone under the Flinders Street Station clocks and explore.

Melbourne highlights

The Melbourne bucket list
Things to do

The Melbourne bucket list

Where to eat lunch in the CBD
Restaurants

Where to eat lunch in the CBD

Four bar crawls in the CBD
Bars

Four bar crawls in the CBD

The best Flinders Lane restaurants
Restaurants

The best Flinders Lane restaurants

The best restaurants in the CBD

Maha
Restaurants Book online

Maha

There’s turquoise and shiny metallics, but the revamp of this subterranean haunt isn’t about to bash you over the head with any overt Middle Eastern-ims. The copper-wire chairs and stools are more chic than souk, and the ornate ceiling detail is a clever way of de-bunkerising the space. 

Word is Shane Delia, he of SBS’ Spice Journey series, spent anywhere from $500,000 to a cool million on his refurb, a celebration of buying himself out of the Made Establishment umbrella group (The Press Club, Hellenic Republic et al) and going alone. The economics behind it are mystifying, but hey, it looks good. Hit Maha for dinner and the menu comes with six options, starting from two courses for $55 and heading up to six courses for $120 a head. It’s a bit of a misnomer: `course’ in Maha-land is not really one dish but a number of them. Call it mezze-style, call it traditional, but the overall feeling about the simultaneous arrival of a smoky hummus pebbled with minced lamb and cashews, cured swordfish, and heirloom baby carrots with cumin and labne – Noma by way of Lebanon – is one of generosity. Maha’s busy to the point of busy-busy and if the waiters are occasionally distracted by their lengthy to-do lists, they’ll also hit the pause button to advise on the wine list (lengthy and global, with an arak and raki chaser) or to explain the mysteries behind the 'black sea salad' (it’s black garlic lending that heady, rich silkiness to the 'weeds and greens' with smoky outbreaks of du

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Book online
Vue De Monde
Restaurants

Vue De Monde

Vue De Monde. It's expensive, spectacular and the mod-Oz crowning glory of chef Shannon Bennett’s predominantly French empire, but above all, it’s a pain in the arse to get into. Here’s the deal: they do two sittings at Vue. The early shift is readily available, but you’ll only get one hour and forty-five minutes in which to do the four course a la carte menu or attempt a speedy six-course deg. And at $150/$210 we can’t recommend it. You need time to do this place justice. And that means shooting for Sunday lunch, or trawling the website for late evening tables that won’t be flipped. Why they don't tell us this, as we're bemusedly inquiring how one actually does their premium ten-course degustation, we'll never know. But now you do, wait it out and book assertively, because the experience of dining here is incomparable. At the top of the Rialto, immersed in that dark space of matte blacks with glass orbs hovering above, and city lights glittering far below, you’re suspended in a galaxy. You’ll be smashing liquid nitrogen frozen herbs at altitude, and should your wallet be thick enough, sipping something outlandish while you do. And while upwards of eight staff, (including chefs) make cameo appearances at your table, service is a smooth ride from the second you step from the private elevator, to the moment you’re whisked back to Earth clutching your goodie-bag of brioche and tea for take-home breakfast. Don’t let the nitro trick fool you. Bennett likes to put on a show, but

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
San Telmo
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San Telmo

Giddy up, meat fans. San Telmo has ridden into town like an Argentinean gaucho (that’s a cowboy, kids), brandishing hefty slabs of flame-grilled cow and some serious Buenos Aires swagger. Don’t know Argentina? Here’s a cheat sheet: it’s all about salt, antiques, Fernet Branca and cola, spicy malbec wines and bar-be-cue. Owners Jason and Renee McConnell, and brothers Michael and Dave Parker, have done a bang up job of getting all this into San Telmo. It’s named for the bohemian, antique loving Buenos Aires ‘hood and while Sydney's Argentine star, Porteno, is all about rockabilly good-time vibes, this joint is bringing an authentic South American brand of funk, including a no-steak-too-big attitude, Latino tunes and staff who take the time to stop by for a chat. There’s also a staggeringly impressive parrilla grill. This friends, is two and a half metres of charcoal fuelled firepower, custom made in Argentina and getting a red-hot workout from head chef Michael Patrick (Ladro, Supermaxi). There's plenty of vege dishes on the list (try the charred heirloom carrots dabbed with goats cheese) but that grill was destined for meat. The broad and deep room is wall-to-wall leather and skins. Menus, placemats, stools, and even the waiters are all decked out in buffed hide. This is no place for vegans, folks – unless you stick them at the back bar with a bracing Hanky Spanky (a Hanky Panky anywhere else), made with gin, sweet vermouth and Fernet Branca. Outdoor seating makes this back s

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Book online
Magic Mountain Saloon
Restaurants

Magic Mountain Saloon

It’s also a welcome new addition to the hospo family that includes next-door louche-fest Boney as well as the (by comparison) positively august Cookie, The Toff in Town and Revolver Upstairs. Cookie’s your best jumping-off point for understanding the new sibling. It has the same fiery approach to Thai food courtesy of chef Karen Batson, who doesn’t pander to any namby-pamby local palates when firing up the chilli guns. A raw dish of excellent whole green prawns and cured kingfish with a smooshy green chilli and garlic dressing makes like an atomic bomb (although the promised bitter melon has either gone AWOL or been subsumed into the gloop). You’ll be breathing fire and garlic for the rest of the evening but that, in our opinion, is a fair price to pay. Magic Mountain Saloon is an out-there name for an out-there place. An abject Irish theme pub has been no-expense-spared into a tri-level eating and drinking house with no clear delineation between zones save for the DJ on the second-floor mezzanine, spinning the kind of sounds that makes everyone think their mobile phone is ringing. There’s neon, there’s white marble, there are high seats and low seats and proper napkins and staff as friendly as a pack of Golden Retrievers (with better drinks-carrying skills). On that front, it’s as much a bar as a restaurant – with an ouch-inducing 3am closing time – so the drinks list is fully fledged on the cocktail front and solid on the wine front, with a bunch of spritzers bridging t

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Gazi
Restaurants

Gazi

George Calombaris, everyone’s favourite chilli-hating MasterChef judge, has reinvented the Press Club as a casual Greek canteen. And Melbourne diners are lining up to prove his decision a good one. Gone are Press’s banquettes and fancy crockery, replaced by backgammon sets, a ceiling festooned with hundreds of upturned terracotta pots and fluorescent pink floodlit toilets. It’s like the louder, brasher Malia-loving cousin to Calombaris’s other Greek joint Hellenic Republic. Food-wise they’re pushing the same sort of sharp, uncomplicated Greek gear, from satiny beetroot dips to big hunks of meat – here done spit roast-styles – but a big bar pushing cocktails ($6 espressotinis!) and plenty in the way of snacks means you’ll find as many fly-by punters downing Mythos beers and fancy souvlakia as those doing serious banquets. That souvlaki is a winner – a pillowy flatbread enveloping the likes of juicy charred chicken, with plenty of mustardy mayo, wisps of red onion, parsley, and a bundle of salty French fries. It’s the souva you don’t try to forget. The tasting menu is a good option so long as you don’t mind playing it safe. You’ll start with dips and golden slabs of fried saganaki boosted by bittersweet cumquat compote – stretchy, fatty, sharp – it’s everything you want from a plate of fried cheese. Hopefully you’ll get the king prawns too – soft-shelled and salty thanks to being braised with a dice of black olives and capers – followed by heaving plates of roasted pork i

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Gingerboy
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Gingerboy

The fact that nearly ten years after opening Gingerboy is packed by 7pm on a wintry Tuesday night suggests that snappy Asian flavours, sharp service and schmick surrounds hold lasting appeal. Gingerboy is like a glamorous bat cave: its black bamboo walls, transparent ‘ghost’ chairs and red chandelier sit bewitchingly in the gentle gleam of fairy lights that dot the ceilings and walls. Young, assured and vigilant, the staff cruise the room, happy to act as knowledgeable Sherpas guiding you through a hawker-style food menu that references the cuisines of Thailand, China and Malaysia. Settle in with one (or two) cocktails. They’ve got swagger, and the bobbing hunks of ginger and generous slugs of chilli and lime deliver quite a zing. Small, flavour-packed snacks get the taste buds revving. They tend to come in trios but you can add or subtract according to the size of your posse. Son-in-law eggs, with their gnarly brown exterior, are popular. Each should be consumed in one fell chomp to accommodate the yolk explosion, and throw in a mint or Thai basil leaf to cut through the gooey richness. Plump oysters are bound in a light tempura batter and accompanied by prik nam pla (Thai chilli sauce). If you want to resist the treasures of the deep fryer, the clean flavours of the pretty swordfish tataki, topped with avocado chunks and shiso, make virtue a pleasure. On to bigger dishes, the green vegetable curry consists of an uncommon combo of vegetables – cauliflower, bab

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Book online
ShanDong MaMa
Restaurants

ShanDong MaMa

If this isn’t the best little hole-in-the-wall dumpling den in Melbourne, we’ll eat the menu. Just watch us. The space is no more than a plain canteen with compulsory good luck cat waving its little paw, and it’s located in a Bourke Street arcade. But what they lack in décor and ten point precision pinches on the rustic dumplings, they make up for in crazy freshness and flavour. Go the fish dumplings – they're unique in this city. They're ugly-beautiful: a loose mince of oily mackerel, fragrant with ginger, coriander root and chives, captured in the thinnest white dinner jackets. Pan-fried chicken and prawn dumplings are shaped like little open ended cannoli and are all crunchy golden skin and juicy meat, with distinct accents of ginger and black fungus – the result of every one being made fresh daily. This is some genuine home-style Shandong cuisine. Meiyan Wang (aka Mama) isn’t a chef. For 30 years she did her duty by the Chinese government keeping books in Yantai, and now she’s moved to Melbourne to build a restaurant with, and for her family. Never has dumpling eating been so disconcertingly civil. Colin Chee, Mama's godson, beams his way around the room, doling out dishes of soft peanuts infused with five spice and soy to alleviate the wait (free snacks!). At one point, he offers to run and grab someone a Coke since they’ve sold out. Eating here feels almost healthy too. Get spinach with a wasabi kick, and sesame dressed tangle of cabbage and translucent jellyfish i

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Users say
5 out of 5 stars
MoVida
Restaurants

MoVida

"Which one?" It's the question we're asked when we call to book a table at MoVida, and it's a fair one. In the ten years since Frank Camorra and business partner Andy McMahon opened their Hosier Lane flagship tapas restaurant, the pair have launched an Armada of Spanish eateries that now includes MoVida Next Door, MoVida Aqui, a taco stand and bakery – not to mention outposts in Sydney, Pulpo at Tullamarine Airport and even the MCG. But don’t let all that rampant breeding put the fear of neglectful parenting into you – MoVida is captained by a trusty crew and still offers one of the best bar dining experiences in Melbourne. Camorra annually pillages Spain for all things delicious and preserved from rosy haunches of jamon to tasty tinned things, which head chef Dave Roberts converts into seriously ramped up versions of traditional Spanish tapas, all matched head on by some of the best grenache and tempranillo wines the Rioja and Victoria can throw your way. Perhaps there will be a wafer-thin crouton piggybacking an oil-slicked brown anchovy, tiny capers and a savoury ball of smoked tomato sorbet. It’s a hell of a riff on the anchovy-on-tomato-rubbed-bread Catalonian classic. Crisp shelled croquetas shoot a rich, satin-smooth paste of blood sausage right across the table when you bite into them. Order a few and put your lap on high alert. Or how about a fancy party pie? Empanadilla are two-bite wonders of juicy minced partridge and chestnut caught in super short olive oil

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
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The best bars in the CBD

Eau De Vie
Bars

Eau De Vie

Like all good underground operations, EDV takes some seeking. It’s 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 the 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 – and although there has been a changing of the guard of late, the service hasn’t skipped a beat. 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. Dapper, suited staff hand-cut ice for a sultry EDV Old Fashioned, stirred with Zacapa Rum, Pedro Ximénez, muscovado sugar and spice, heady with warm caramel and chocolate notes. Or choose your own Martini adventure in the Noble Experiment: your selection of a dozen vodkas and gins, plus rinses, bitters and garnishes, served in a flurry of liquid nitrogen. Dirty it up with a slosh of olive brine, dry it out with a whisper of bitters, or funk it up with anchovy-stuffed olives. They’re also fans of tableside theatrics, here, so the absinthe for your No Sleep Till Brooklyn could be ignited right beside you, or your Smoky Rob

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Hihou

Hihou

Wear your best socks if you plan on staying a while at Hihou. Once you’ve located the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it entrance on Flinders Lane, near the corner of Spring Street, you’ll be ushered upstairs to a sultry sake den. You can keep your kit on if you’re dining in the front room, home to padded bar stools and tiny, shrunken tables for two, with leafy views over Treasury Gardens. If you’ve booked a spot in the plushly carpeted top-tier dining space, however, you’ll be asked to slip off your shoes before sliding under one of the low-slung tables. Hihou has a stellar hospitality pedigree, hailing from Simon Denton and the crew behind Kappo (Time Out’s 2015 Restaurant of the Year) and Izakaya Den, so the risk of toe-exposure is a small price to pay for the remarkable Japanese fare. There’s the must-order Hihou hot dog, a smoky arabiki pork sausage on a sesame-dusted bun, served with sharp pickled onions and bottles of wasabi mayo and tonkatsu (barbecue sauce) to dollop as you please. ‘Cuban’ spicy tuna cigars are another staple: crisp brik pastry cylinders filled with a fine dice of tuna sashimi and seven-flavoured shichimi pepper. Teriyaki-sweet anago (eel) gets bundled into nori rolls with black rice and the refreshing crunch of cucumber. And golden lotus root chips make perfect beer fodder. You could happily make a meal out of these individual snacks, but if you’ve gone to the effort of untying your shoelaces, you may as well dip into mains territory, too. Pile slices of po

Time Out says
5 out of 5 stars
Book online
Rooftop Bar
Bars

Rooftop Bar

Many a Melburnian has weighed up the merits of waiting for the slow-moving Curtin House elevator or trudging the seven flights of stairs up to Rooftop Bar. Usually, the latter wins out, taking you past Cookie, the Toff in Town, and whichever curious design store has popped up since your last visit. Once you've made the hike, reward yourself with a pint of beer, a carafe of ruby-hued sangria or a mug of mulled wine, depending on the weather. Thanks to acres of AstroTurf, garden furniture and sturdy plastic glassware, there’s a chilled backyard-barbecue vibe to Rooftop, even in winter when you’re huddled around heaters. In summer, fair warning though, you might be kicked out once the movie starts at sunset. But once you have a few beers and a burger under your belt, the walk back down the stairs isn't nearly so bad.

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
Users say
4 out of 5 stars
Section 8
Bars

Section 8

After squeezing past the huge bouncers to get into the much-hyped Section 8, you might be disappointed to find yourself standing in what amounts to a vacant lot in Chinatown. Odds are you’ll soon get over it though, when you discover that it’s loaded with booze, good-looking hipsters and enough intriguing graffiti to fill a whole other laneway. While some of the barstaff are more ornamental than skilled, the drinks selection is solid and ranges from top-shelf spirits to longnecks. The bar is housed in a converted shipping container, as are the toilets to the rear, while the rest of the lot is scattered with wooden pallets for seating, with a few Chinese lanterns and parasols to pretty up the bare scaffolding above. The crowd skews young and is heavy on arty types - Section 8 is one of the CBD’s best spots for people watching and there’s a see-and-be-seen element to any night here. It’s a popular venue for DJs and MCs and is busy - and loud - most nights.

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
Users say
5 out of 5 stars
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The best hotels in the CBD

Grand Hyatt Melbourne

Grand Hyatt Melbourne

There are some travellers that love staying in the heart of a city and walking the town. Admittedly, it’s a favourite past-time of ours here at Time Out and if you haven’t explored Melbourne by foot, there’s never been a better time to do so than now. Located at the ‘Paris’ end of Collins Street, thanks to many high-end French fashion labels that call this part of town home, Grand Hyatt Melbourne is ideal for the bar hopper, shopper and urban adventurer alike. The hotel is looking the finest it has ever been following an extensive refurbishment to the lobby areas, bars, restaurants and a number of rooms, and its club lounge is up there with the best in town. Absolutely request one of the newly-renovated, Joseph Pang-designed rooms which are as equally comfortable for singles, couples and families alike. The couches in front of the windows - even in the standard guest rooms - means some canoodling, snogging or perhaps more with one of the best views in town.

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InterContinental Melbourne The Rialto

InterContinental Melbourne The Rialto

Proving that grand is what 5-star hotels are all about, this property has been redefining what the ‘traditional’ hotel experience should be. InterContinental Melbourne The Rialto doesn’t just also boast a brilliant location in the heart of the CBD, it can also lay claim to be one of Australia’s greenest buildings - when it opened in December 2008 after a huge refurbishment and transition from Le Meridien, it was the first hotel in the world to be Green Globe rated. Now, you could be forgiven for thinking you're staying in a building lined with jail cells thanks to the classical architecture inside the main atrium, but once inside the rooms, you'll find contemporary, spacious digs with the latest technology and top of the line beds. The rooms are comfortable and the grandeur adds quite a romantic feel to any stay - whether it be someone special or a companion you met in a Flinders Lane drinking den a few hours before.

Users say
2 out of 5 stars
Book online
Hotel Windsor

Hotel Windsor

Before you even enter this 1883 grand dame, you know you’ve stumbled upon something special. Located opposite Parliament House on Spring St in all its nineteenth-century splendor, The Windsor has played host to Muhammad Ali and Sir Laurence Olivier to name a few. Even if you're not a hotel guest, stop by for afternoon tea - it's a must.

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The Victoria Hotel
Travel

The Victoria Hotel

In the heart of the CBD, this iconic Melbourne hotel is conveniently close to all the city's major attractions and venues. Since its inception in 1880, the Victoria Hotel has been the pitstop for thousands of interstate and national tourists.

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More great venues in the CBD

Australian Centre for the Moving Image
Museums

Australian Centre for the Moving Image

Major exhibitions relating to movie culture happen here as well as screenings in two cinemas.

Queen Victoria Market
Shopping Book online

Queen Victoria Market

The open-air Queen Vic is loud and proud, packed with veteran stallholders who are passionate about fresh produce. Whatever you seek you will find, from fruit and veggies to cured meats and organic poultry.

Book online
Emporium Melbourne
Shopping

Emporium Melbourne

By now you’ve probably heard about the big guns: there’s Japanese casualwear giant UNIQLO, the multi-level Topshop Melbourne flagship and the oh-so-fancy café court. But if you’re going to do Emporium, you might as well do it properly, because there are lots of little surprises hidden within its six floors and 48,000 square metres of retail space. Our tip: start at the Lonsdale Street entrance. You’ll get a little pang of nostalgia as you walk through the grandiose 1911 Myer façade, chased with a futuristic hit from the monolithic concierge desk devised by Qantas A380 interior designer David Caon. This is the ground floor, and it’s home to a mixed bag of old favourites like Nine West, Peter Alexander and Swarovski, as well as newbies like Austrian enamel jeweller FREYWILLE. You'll also find top-tier brands include Michael Kors, Victoria’s Secret, Oroton, Furla and Chanel. A ground floor hero also has to be Superglue: a double-storey buffet of brands that's also home to a denim specialist, cafe, lolly pop machine and lots more. As a hub for youth and urban wear, the ground level level is part hipster-tastic, part sport-chic. Delve deep into the darkly-lit Superdry store for some Americana-meets-Japanese-graphics street wear. Turn right toward David Jones, where you’ll find Industrie, Capsule and Mag Nation. The Waiting Room by Dr. Denim – the first stand-alone store in Melbourne from the Swedish jeansmiths – will deck you out in clothes befitting a morning spent with a long

State Library of Victoria
Museums

State Library of Victoria

Step into the Dome Reading Room at the State Library of Victoria, and you can almost hear the cogs turning in the minds of visitors. People are studying, examining old books, and expanding their knowledge on anything from rare birds to architectural history. But there’s more to the library than first meets the eye. Time Out is taken on an hour-long tour of the library by Cathy Miller, volunteers and tours manager, who has been working there in various roles for over 30 years. (We’ve dubbed her Melbourne’s ultimate book worm.) The library is full of surprises, and you can discover them on the free daily 2pm tour. A guide takes visitors to the far reaches of the library, even to places not open to the general public. We start off in the Queen’s Hall, a grand old reading room that is currently closed off to regular visitors. Miller explains that when the library first opened in 1856, the books had only arrived the night before. “Sir Redmond Barry [the library’s founder] took responsibility for ordering all the books from England,” she says. Here in Queen’s Hall, “Redmond was up all night unpacking books with his sleeves rolled up”. Miller tells us there is allegedly a ghost who plays the piano at night, even though no one has ever died in the library. “I have been told by the managers that they have seen her," she says, "and the electricians never come in here at night.” The domed La Trobe Reading Room is the most extravagant room at the library. It’s so peaceful; every page

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