Melbourne: Things to do

Melbourne Insider
Rhinos at the Werribee Open Plain Zoo (Photo: Lonely Planet Images / David Wall)
Beauties and beasts at the Werribee Open Plain Zoo
"If you don't have time to head to the Mornington Peninsula or Yarra Valley, the cellar door of Shadowfax Winery is only 20 minutes across the Westgate Bridge."
Melbourne Insider

Donna Wheeler shares some of her best tips and secret spots around Melbourne, including country pleasures, where to grab top chef's creations and how to make the most of the Yarra.

Diffusion-label dining

Many of the city's top chefs have "second" restaurants where you can sample their talent if you’re not in the mood for of fine dining. Shannon Bennett's Bistro Vue and Café Vue flank his luxe Vue de Monde. Snap up a lovingly prepared casual lunch (wagyu burger, duck rillettes jaffle, pumpkin bouillabaisse, Yorkshire pud) for around $15 in the cafe (wagyu burgers and carafes of well-priced house red keep the local lawyers happy), or try the trad-bistro menu in provincial comfort. The larger Café Vue 401, feeds the hungry corporates and creatives of St Kilda Rd, and is handy to parkland and the Botanical Gardens.

In St Kilda, Melbourne Wine Room's Karen Martini sends out perfect pizza at fashionable Mr Wolf. Andrew McConnell of Fitzroy's wonderful Cutler&Co serves up his simple, fresh and surprising food all day at Cumulus Inc.

Getting a table for Frank Camorra's top-rate tapas at tiny MoVida is always tricky, but you can order Iberian snacks at MoVida Next Door or head up Bourke Street for a slap up paella at MoVida Aqui. Teague Ezard's modern hawker joint Ginger Boy gives you his Ezard at Adelphi flair in a menu of small dishes that can be enjoyed at the bar or in the glamorous dining area.

The Press Club's George Calombaris does lavish mezze spreads at Maha or back to the taverna at East Brunswick’s Hellenic Republic.

The Yarra

Melbourne's muddy Yarra isn't known for its beauty — it's often described as "upside down" — and for much of its history, has been used and abused. But Melbournians make the most of it, with food, art and old fashioned bucolic charm standing in for stunning vistas. Get lost a mere hop from the city on Herring Island, which sits between leafy South Yarra and industrial Richmond. This wildlife haven is only accessible via punt from October to April and has public barbecues, picnic tables, shelters and a collection of environmental sculptures.

Collingwood Children's Farm has the requisite barnyard animals, but also a beautiful bush aspect bustling outdoor café and monthly farmer's market. Next door the Abbotsford Convent has a wood-fired baker, one of Melbourne’s most idiosyncratic bars — Handsome Steve’s House of Refreshment — a contemporary gallery and a packed calendar of events. Further upstream, about 20 minutes drive northeast, Heide Museum of Modern Art is dedicated to Australian work and is set in rolling pastures. There’s also a Café Vue outpost that makes the trip even more tempting.

Country pleasures

If you don't have time to head to the Mornington Peninsula or Yarra Valley, but fancy an afternoon among the vines, the cellar door of Shadowfax Winery is only 20 minutes across the Westgate Bridge. If you overindulge, you're but a short stumble past the plantings to the Mansion Hotel, a stylishly refurbished old seminary now managed by Sofitel. (Staying the night is particularly attractive if you're arriving or departing via Jetstar's Avalon base.) There's the heritage listed Werribee Mansion to explore and the Werribee Open Plain Zoo is also nearby.

Our Ned

The State Library of Victoria isn't just a destination for the studious. Many of its priceless treasures are on show to the public, and its central location and concise displays make for a quick but fascinating history hit. Ned Kelly met his end around the corner at the Old Melbourne Gaol, but it's at the library that you'll find his iconic suit of armour. There's also a bookishly chic onsite cafe — Mr Tulk — a bijou branch of Melbourne's legendary Readings books. The library is also home to the Wheeler Centre, with an inspiring calendar of talks, readings and workshops.

Got any more near the beaten track suggestions? Have your say using the comments form below.

Next: Shop 'til you drop

User comments
I recommend checking out Yarraville, it has a lot of cute little spots, you can catch a flick at the old time Sun Theatre a beatifully restored and maintained theatre that has offers a touch of old world, followed by a stroll down the little shops, then drinks around the corner at the Acqua Del Vino a beautiful little bar with a big warm open fire place
I have always found Trotters at the bottom end of Lygon Street to have great home cooked food and light dips to eat which are good value for money for both singles and families. If you are after a cake for dessert, then just cross the road at Browns for a small indulgence. Across the road at Jimmy watsons for the pre-dinner drink with friends after long day at work and good vibe for visitors to Melbourne.