Melbourne is Australia’s ‘European-style city’ – brimming with world-class hotel, cafe, restaurant and fashion options. However, if you feel like taking a walk on the wild side, it’s also home to some more unusual experiences…
Melbourne and Sydney have a (no doubt eternal) friendly war over which city is Australia’s pre-eminent centre for arts and culture, architecture, education, dining and shopping. It boils down to a debate over which of our two most famous cities is the coolest.
The locals are very proud of the fact that Melbourne is home to many of Australia’s best-known institutions and landmarks, such as the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the National Gallery of Victoria and the World Heritage-listed Royal Exhibition Building. Sport is one of the main arteries of Melbourne, and so whenever you visit, there will be something great to see and another story to tell afterwards.
This is all well and good, but Melbourne is also quirky, so you should unearth some of the things that the locals might send their best friends or visiting family members along to see and do, if they want them to see another side of their city.
Unusual things to do in Melbourne
Fancy a relaxing, old-worldly thing to do in the centre of Melbourne? Punting on the Lake (see below) offers an opportunity to relax and unwind on a half-hour guided punt tour of Ornamental Lake followed by high tea at Terrace Café overlooking the grounds and lake. Allow a few hours to enjoy the experience as this really can be a city in which to take things slowly and smell the roses. If you want to take things up a notch and still do something calming, see the city from above on a Melbourne Balloon Flight. It’s a once in a lifetime experience that is worth waking up early for, and it can be teamed with a punt around the lake and a champagne breakfast. What a way to start the day. Ad why not dress up as the locals love to do?
If you are feeling quite the opposite of calm, there’s a place in the suburb of Collingwood that gives you the chance to get into the ‘guilt-free’ exercise of breaking things, with the owner and founder asking potential visitors questions such as: ‘Has your Ex moved on a little too quickly?’ ‘Is your boss burning you out?’
These are just two reasons why you might like to visit The Break Room, where you can freely bust, break and destroy things with none of the guilt or remorse afterwards. The mission of this establishment is for participants to come out calmer and happier than when they went in. Hopefully with a cheesy grin on their face.
You’d be right in wondering – “Is it safe?” Rest assured that the staff are always around to make sure you’re keeping yourself out of trouble, and before you go into a break room you are decked out in coveralls, gloves and a sturdy motorbike helmet. Participants must be 18 years or over and there’s only one person allowed in a room at any one time. There aren’t too many other rules, and you can play music and break as much stuff as you like during your assigned session.
Once that pent-up tension is gone, there are plenty of other things in Melbourne to get into…
Discover Melbourne’s street art
Simply walking the streets of Victoria’s capital and taking in its abundance of ever-changing street art is a joy that can be spread across entire days. Melbourne is also one of the best places in the country for people watching, as there is such a huge spectrum of characters and fashion sense on display – the individuality on show gives Berlin and New York a run for their money.
If you want the stories straight from the creatives themselves, then Melbourne Street Art Tours is the way to go, as it is the only street art tour company in Australia run by the artists. The guides will treat you to some hidden gems and underground treasures, as well as sharing some of the technical aspects of their art form.
The team also shines a light on the social and political aspects of street art and answer some of the questions you may have long wondered: ‘What political statements are the artists making?’ ‘Are the pieces important enough to be seen as art… or is it just graffiti after all?’ One thing is for sure, by the time the tour ends at the famous Blender Studios where participants get exclusive VIP tour of the studios and gallery, you might well have a fresh state of mind when it comes to viewing street art, wherever you might come across it in the world.
Where to stay in Melbourne
After a day of off-beat exploring, you’ll be wanting to check into a place to put your feet up, have a drink and a bite to eat, and perhaps just relax. Staying true to Melbourne, we’re going to suggest hotels with style and quirkiness in mind.
The newly refurbished Jasper Hotel offers super stylish rooms and suites with WiFi, flat screen TVs, dining services, a gym and an uber cool business centre, but it’s the smart decor and the colour palette that wins so many people over. It’s Japanese minimalist in style, with dashes of bright 70s colours (here and there) added to the neutral tones. The relaxing zen-like courtyards with orderly terraced flowerbeds add to the ambience and sense of not being in a city at all.
The Adelphi Hotel (pictured below) was voted the best boutique hotel in Victoria for four years in a row, and all guest rooms are kitted out with a complementary mini bar, Hunter Lab amenities and a personal coffee station. There’s also an overhanging rooftop pool, outdoor deck and Om Nom Kitchen, which is a delightfully whimsical bar where guests can indulge in cocktails, delectable desserts and tasty bar snacks.
It’s a haven for lovers of High Tea, with savoury offerings such as mushroom, thyme and bacon tartlets, and scones with gruyere cheese and truffle honey. They’re both lip-smackingly good. Or you could give in to your sweet tooth and order the lemon meringue profiterole or the signature ‘Lamingtart’ – a raspberry jam, coconut ganache with a raspberry crunch.
If you’re after a stay in the CBD that merges simplistic style, the convenience of central city access, and a suite that puts the awesome Melbourne skyline front and centre stage, Vibe Hotel Melbourne is a modern reincarnation of the grand 1873 building in which its housed – the metal accents and the use of raw materials merging to form a dramatic yet inviting feel. The reticulated glass of the modern accommodation tower and penthouses provide unobstructed views across the city to the Yarra and it sits proudly on the intersection of two of Melbourne’s most iconic streets – Flinders and Queen Streets. Here you will find some of Melbourne’s top architectural delights such as Flinders Street Station, St Paul’s Cathedral and Federation Square.
Speaking of unusual, Fed Square (pictured below), as it’s now known, was a hotly contested creation at the time of its opening in 2002, but it now brings endless joy to locals and tourists. It’s like an ultra-modern village of galleries, museums, bars, restaurants, cafes and cool stores that also hosts big markets and events. Don’t miss the ACMI, which began as the State Film Centre of Victoria. In 2002 it became the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, and it was reinvented again in 2020, emerging as a multi-platform museum.
When it comes to places to go out and enjoy a city’s nightlife, Melbourne’s offerings are nothing short of overwhelming. So make yourself a list of a couple to visit every night, and we’ll kick you off with a few tried and tested faves.
The Ice Bar is quite literally the coolest place in town. Once inside, you’ll be wrapped in a snow cape, glove and boots and then ushered in to check out the ice sculptures, take photos and enjoy a few drinks. Kids are welcome, but must be always accompanied by an adult.
Want something more low key yet still rather unusual? Then head over to Chinatown where you’ll find The Croft Institute Melbourne. The general design makes one think of a classroom – with the ground floor having the feel of a science lab, and the second floor is reminiscent of a gymnasium, where you’ll find a dance floor and a well-stocked bar. The cocktails are tailor made to suit your mood and your taste buds.
If you want to wrap up your stay with even more unusual experience in Melbourne, jump aboard Easey’s in Collingwood. As their website states: ‘Burgers & Beers served five stories up in a rooftop train carriage overlooking Melbourne City. Beat that.’
For quirk, fun times and great, simple food, this venue is actually quite hard to beat.
The three train carriages sit on top of the venue, their fronts hanging over the edge. Maybe don’t sit at the front if you’re scared of heights. And you can have another dose of street art while chowing down and listening to cool music. No need to worry about a lack of conversation starters, as the art around diners continually changes – from the trains being painted to the graffiti tags inside the building, photography and bold installations – local artists always ensure there is something to music upon and chat about.
The menu was designed by James Hurlston (aka Jimmy’s Burger’s) and it’s inspired years galavanting around the globe on a mission to track down the world’s best burgers. The offerings utilise the highest quality produce, and you can pick and choose from things such as Louisiana-style fried chicken sandwiches, deep fried mac and cheese croquettes, or a rowdy cheeseburger. In the words of the owner, “We honour the classic fish and chip shop with potato cakes and dim sims whilst also serving American inspired burgers and sandwiches.’
For a hit list of our must-sees in Melbourne, check this out: 12 places you can’t miss on your next Melbourne getaway