How to Spend a Perfect Long Weekend in Melbourne

Here's everything to do in the Australian city, from laneway cafes and clubs to beaches and independent art galleries.

Melbourne city skyline over Yarra river after dark
Melbourne, Australia. Universal Images Group via Getty

Melbourne, in Australia’s south-eastern state of Victoria, is sometimes overlooked by travelers in favor of the glitz and glamour of Sydney. Melbourne, however, is the epitome of understated chic when it comes to cities, or the low-key luxe, if you will. Rather than throwing an Opera House and Bondi Beach in your lap, gleefully demanding your full attention, Melbourne invites you to discover its gorgeous laneway cafes during the day and amber-lit bars at night. The National Gallery and Melbourne Museum are fine, but it’s much more satisfying to take a tram or bicycle to the suburban streets of nearby Collingwood, Fitzroy, St Kilda and Carlton to seek out independent, artist-run galleries in renovated warehouses and garages. 

In Melbourne’s Central Business District (CBD), the expansive, architect-designed Federation Square provides a central space for performances, as well as entry to galleries, museums, bars and restaurants with a view to the nearby Yarra River. Across the road, the historic Flinders Street Station—with its signature line of clocks—is the beating transport heart of the city, carrying people all around the locale with relative efficiency.

You could stay in the CBD and traverse the grid of laneways for hours with their treasure trove of fashion boutiques, stand-up cafes, art galleries, Pilates studios and world-renowned street art. Equally, if you’ve got a few days, you could plan a walk along St Kilda esplanade, with stops for coffee and brunch, before exploring the historic Astor Cinema, and the vintage stores and boutiques of Chapel Street in nearby Prahran.

Here’s our guide to making the most of a (long) weekend in Melbourne.

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Where to find a top coffee

A cozy coffee shop with seating.
Hells Kitchen.

Hells Kitchen

20A Centre Pl, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia

In Melbourne’s laneways, you could walk for 10 minutes and find at least three cool and creative little nooks to grab a fantastic espresso. Our personal favorite pick is the multi-level, cozy Hells Kitchen, with a small pavement space if you’re quick enough to nab a table out front. The dark, dimly-lit upstairs bar area, with windows out to the laneway below, is a great place for whiling away some time alone, and people-watching.

Where to catch live music

The Corner Hotel

57 Swan St, Richmond VIC 3121, Australia

Melbourne is almost synonymous with live music. In fact, don’t forget to seek out AC/DC Lane and Amphlett Lane in the CBD, both paying homage to our world-famous musical icons. One of the longest-running and best-known venues is The Corner Hotel in Richmond, boasting big-name talent (which sell out fast) and local acts with a budding fanbase. From rock and punk to metal and grunge, and even folk, there’s a richness of variety on their schedule. And if you come for a beer and a parma, but bypass the live show? Great. Check out the rooftop area with views of Richmond and the MCG.

The Gasometer

484 Smith St, Collingwood VIC 3066, Australia

In Fitzroy, locals proudly flock to “The Gaso” for live music and great pub meals. The Gasometer favors local acts, with a mix of bands and artists with heavy radio rotation in Australia alongside newly formed or experimental acts.

A close up of a gamaphone in a pink-lit space.
George Lane.

George Lane

1 George Lane, St Kilda VIC 3182, Australia

In the bayside suburb of St Kilda, which has a long music history in Melbourne, the relatively new George Lane venue boasts country, folk, acoustic and rock acts. The velvet lounges, vintage lamps and rugs, in addition to a dedicated outdoor lane space, provide for a more intimate experience than the more spacious Corner and Gasometer.

Where to find independently-owned and run art galleries

The outside of a community stone building.

Footscray Community Arts Centre

45 Moreland St, Footscray VIC 3011, Australia

Melbourne’s western suburbs haven’t always been considered the top place for thriving art, hospitality and fashion, but that’s changing. Footscray Community Arts Centre is an ever-changing home to contemporary arts and community events, which has been operating since 1974. Whether it’s dance, music, visual arts or workshops that you’re interested in, this is a locally-beloved institution.

People admiring a wall of art.
Linden New Art.

Linden New Art

26 Acland St, St Kilda VIC 3182, Australia

In St Kilda’s Acland Street, Linden New Art is a low-key, not-for-profit contemporary art gallery that is conveniently accessible by tram. It offers an always exciting gallery space with lofty ceilings and a sense of spaciousness, while still feeling inviting and homely.  Impressive works by Australian artists are the heart of the gallery’s modus operandi. Plus, the annual Linden Postcard Show is a beloved institution, presenting postcard-sized works from hundreds of artists.

A wood-lined gallery space with art on the walls.
Backwoods Gallery. Backwoods Gallery

Backwoods Gallery

25 Easey St, Collingwood VIC 3066, Australia

Backwoods Gallery is one of those IYKYK spaces that is deserving of word-of-mouth recommendations. The name stems from the back entrance to the gallery, which avoids the predictability of commercial work in favor of unusual, idiosyncratic and emerging contemporary art. It was launched by Alexander Mitchell and Izabel Caligiore, providing space for Australian artists including Ghost Patrol, Rone, Reka and Meggs to exhibit their work, somewhat simplistically described as “street art,” though it has arguably transcended that genre.

Where to take a scenic walk

Yarra Trail
Yarra Trail. Getty Images

Yarra Trail

There are so many varied trails to explore in Melbourne, but the Yarra Trail offers a lengthy, winding route from the city to the suburbs. If you begin in Richmond, entering underneath the Swan Street Bridge, you could walk all the way to Dights Falls. Along the way, you’ll spot New York artist Ugo Rondinone’s gigantic and cheerful rainbow sculpture, Our Magic Hour, the Collingwood Children’s Farm and the Abbotsford Convent. 

Port Melbourne to St Kilda

At sunrise or sunset, this walk will make you fall in love with Melbourne. The view of the bay from St Kilda Pier is especially divine on sunny days, and depending on the time of year, you may witness penguins, too. The smell of sea air and a sprinkle of palm trees reminds you of how beautiful the expanse of bayside Melbourne is, and it can provide relief from the hustle and bustle of the city.

A steep rock face.
Organ National Park.

Organ Pipes National Park

Melbourne schoolchildren are taken to Organ Pipes National Park by bus to witness the historic and beautiful natural geology, but it also provides visitors with a beautiful and unique insight into Melbourne’s landscape. The 299-acre park is located just off the Calder Freeway, less than 13 miles north of Melbourne. The  two and a half million-year-old basalt columns resemble organ pipes, explaining the name of the park. There’s a short circuitous walk around the park, but you might want to make time to linger, and observe the land and wildlife that call this home.

How to Spend a Perfect Long Weekend in Melbourne