We've spent a lot of time locked inside in the last year and it's likely got you thinking about all of the things that you love about our city but took for granted in the before times. In early 2020, we never could have imagined that in the coming months we would be stuck inside, unable to visit our world-class restaurants, theatres, art galleries, museums, music venues, bars, beaches and parks.
But be honest with yourself. How often did you visit those things when you could? When was the last time you took a trip to the Yarra Valley or the Mornington Peninsula? Did you visit that 40-year-old Melbourne institution restaurant, or did you just pass it and think, "Someday I will definitely go there." Were you grateful for our efficient and wide-ranging (and in some spots, free) public transport network? Or did you grouse about broken air-conditioning and crowded trains?
Here are some pretty incredible things about Melbourne that we promise we will never, ever take for granted again.
1. Really old restaurants that have been around forever
Sometimes it can feel like a new restaurant opens every week in Melbourne. But there’s something to be said about the old favourites that we keep coming back to. Abla’s, A1 Bakery, Pho Tam, Bacash. These restaurants have been around for so long they’re part of the fabric of Melbourne as a whole, knitted in there next to Queen Vic Market and Flinders Street Station. A classic is a classic for a reason – and these restaurants continue to churn out high-quality food and excellent service that keep us coming back.
2. Being able to book a table at a restaurant
Yes, many restaurants still prefer you to rock up and wait. But the vast majority of Melbourne restaurants give you the option to call up or book a table online. Do you know how great that is? You can 100 per cent guarantee that you’ll have a spot to sit and food will be served to you at the time you want it to be. You can even go out in your uncomfortable shoes! No walking across the city in search of a restaurant for you, baby.
3. Our public transport network
You never truly understand how great it is to have access to free public transport in the city centre until you go to a place that doesn’t have it. The free tram zone is bonkers good – you can travel to major Melbourne attractions, restaurants, artistic institutions and shopping precincts without having to pay a cent. Yeah, sometimes we wish it would extend further… but let’s not forget how great it is for locals and tourists alike. And yes, our trains can be crowded. But they reach vast swathes of our city, are very clean when compared to trains in other cities, and are an efficient way to get around. We promise to stop taking public transport for granted.
4. We can drive for one hour and be at a country getaway
The Yarra Valley is so close, you guys. One second, you’re driving on a freeway, the next you’re passing suburbia, then boom – cows, vineyards and chocolate shops. The same can be said for a (proper) beach getaway – hello, Mornington Peninsula!
5. We can show off our entire wardrobe in one day
It’s all about perspective, friends. We get to show off our entire wardrobe when the weather spikes at 27 by noon and drops to 16 by 6pm. It’s part of a Melburnian’s DNA that they know you need to wear layers every single day. Be thankful we have variety – because who would want to live in a place that stays a temperate 24 degrees all year round? Boooooring.
6. You can walk everywhere in the CBD
In the grand scheme of things, Melbourne is tiny. To get around cities like New York or London you have to hop on a train or get in a car. But in Melbourne, it’s actually possible to walk, roll or run from one corner to the other in a decent amount of time. If you’re able to, we recommend ditching the Uber or tram for a pleasant stroll through the grid. Some of the buildings you find on your way might surprise you.
7. Our beautiful parks and gardens
Fitzroy Gardens is stunning. Not to mention Treasury Gardens, Flagstaff Gardens and the holy grail: the Royal Botanic Gardens. Seek out these pockets of green around our city, and you can get up close to native plants and wildlife, plant your feet on actual grass (not that fake stuff they put on so many apartment terraces) and relax (read: people watch) with your fellow Melburnians. We're going to spend a lot more time in these green oases from now on.
8. Inner-city cultural hubs
You can take a quick trip to places like Footscray, Northcote or Springvale and find authentic pho or injera bread, or the best cannoli this side of the Mediterranean Ocean. Turn a corner and discover a bar with a gamelan player, or a gallery with art from all over the globe. We can't stress how much we love these pockets of Melbourne – long may they survive and thrive.
9. You can get a world-class meal in a bar
There’s a reason we award the Best Bar Food at our annual Time Out Bar Awards. Gone are the days of communal peanuts and rubbery pizza slices – Melbourne bars have stepped up their game, offering enough good food to make a meal out of it. Take Old Palm Liquor, the East Brunswick wine bar that serves more than 300 low-intervention and biodynamic wines alongside 12 tap beers and a super-slick menu cooked over coals with a South African inflection. There’s a reason we keep coming back to that fried shallot.
10. Our festivals
There's always something going on in Melbourne, with world-class music, art, comedy, food and drink festivals on just about every month of the year. We have the third-largest comedy festival in the world, and people come from all over the country to see our art exhibitions. Don't find yourself saying, "Oh no, is the festival already over? I guess I'll have to check it out next year." Make the most of it while you can.
11. Our coffee culture
Call us snobs – we won’t care. Where would we be without Pellegrini’s or Market Lane? Probably ordering expressos and drinking percolated mud. No, Melbourne is well versed in coffee and can spot a good cup from a kilometre away. The luckiest part? Seems like every corner of the CBD sells excellent coffee. The saddest part? We only really appreciate how good that is when we can't get access to it.
12. The south side
People bang on about Melbourne’s north side a lot. Like, a lot a lot. And it’s a shame, because the south side is a riot of a good time. We don't need to tell you about how beautiful St Kilda Beach is as the sun sets on a breezy summer day. We also don't need to remind you about how good the kugelhopf at Monarch is or the dimmies at South Melbourne Market are. Ripponlea Estate! Attica! Half Moon Bay! The Palais Theatre! It's beautiful down south, no doubt about it.
13. Our laneways and arcades
Melbourne built dozens of mini streets behind main streets to dispose of waste. Luckily they've moved past their feculent past, and are now home to cute cafés, world-renowned bars and restaurants, quiet little boutiques and so many street art exhibits. And don't get us started on the arcades – I mean, have you seen Royal Arcade? That high-ceilinged, checkerboard-floored shopping precinct deserves to be in a museum somewhere, not smack bang in the middle of a city. But we're glad it's where it is, and we solemnly swear not to take our mini streets and shopping precincts for granted.
14. Our camaraderie
Now, more than ever, we need to keep our spirits up. It’s easy to get bogged down with anxiety about what the future holds. But for now, let’s take a breath. Melbourne is going quiet physically, but our voices have never been louder. This is the time to think about how you can be a better citizen of this great city. Check in with your neighbours, make sure your local restaurant is still getting your business, and be kind to one another. We need to be strong and we need to be together to get through it.
If you're wondering how to help struggling Melbourne artists, restaurants, bars and businesses right now, we've put together a list of ways you can help.