There’s nothing like warm summer nights, cocktails on a rooftop bar or sun-drenched pool parties. So naturally, this year’s summer isn’t exactly the same as last year’s, but we’re ready to make up for lost time and enjoy everything safely.
This is your guide to having your best Melbourne summer ever, whether you’re keen on road trips or just lazy afternoons in a park or at an outdoor cinema.
Once again, Australia’s cultural capital delivers a stellar city-wide line-up this summer. And after the year we’ve had, we certainly deserve to enjoy some safe, physically distant fun. From ground-breaking exhibitions to socially distant festivals, there’s plenty to explore. So treat this as your guide to everything you need to do before the end of summer.
It’s hard to fully comprehend the impact that artist Mirka Mora had on Melbourne. The French-born artist emigrated to Melbourne in 1951 following the Holocaust and quickly set about ingraining herself and her playful art within the city’s growing bohemian scene.
There have been many exhibitions on Mora, but none quite like this. The Jewish Museum of Australia has announced Mirka: the most extensive survey of Mirka Mora ever. The museum is turning into an “immersive Mirka-world” for the exhibition, which features never-before-exhibited works from the Mora family and Mirka’s studio archives.
Alongside these works, Mirka tells the artist’s story through her sketchbooks, letters, diaries and audio recordings from the Jewish Holocaust Centre’s archives. Mora and her family evaded the Nazis during World War II by hiding in French forests. The Jewish Museum of Australia planning to depict all the colours of the artist’s life from her Parisien childhood to the founding of Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne.
To celebrate International Museum Day on Saturday, May 15, the Jewish Museum of Australia is opening its doors after hours for guests to explore Mirka. There are two evening sessions on this date, one at 6.30 pm and one at 8 pm. These after-hours sessions are ticketed separately.
Melbourne Music Week Extended
Every year Melbourne Music Week explores the undercurrent of Melbourne’s vibrant local music scene in some of the city’s most forgotten corners. Usually, the “week” is more like ten days, but in 2020 the event really outdid itself regarding stretching said week.
In 2021, MMW will run all summer long to give Melburnians all the live gigs they’ve been missing (and to also allow for maximum events and artist opportunities while adhering to health restrictions).
For the first time ever, MMW showcases a 100 per cent local line-up of artists – all 330 of them. From December 9 to February 28, more than 200 gigs and music events will sound out across 35 Melbourne venues, regarding including the hallowed halls of Cherry Bar, Section 8, Curtin and (making its MMW debut) the Forum.
MMW 2021 will launch with Wominjeka (MMW Welcome): a city-wide Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony curated by Kee’ahn and Dijirri Dijirri dance group.
Other highlights of MMW 2021 include a performance from local hip hop star Baker Boy at Melbourne Recital Centre, Adalita taking to Melbourne Town Hall’s Grand Organ (everyone needs to hear it played at least once in their life) and post-punk trio Cable Ties at the Forum.
In addition to a slew of gigs, MMW will also present a number of music events, kicking off with an all-day party featuring the dynamic sounds of Jordan Dennis at North Melbourne’s warehouse bar, the Third Day.
Other events to put on your calendar include a Vogue dance workshop with Kiki Dévine; Techno Bingo with the fashion-art power couple, The Huxleys; and a dog-friendly music event, Dog Day Afternoon with Henry Wagons. Further events will be announced will also be announced in January.
The centre of MMW each year is the festival hub, the venue for which changes every year. However, this year, there will be no festival hub to support multiple local venues and offer artists and businesses greater flexibility after the garbage fire of 2020.
As usual, there will be a mix of free and ticketed events, both in-person and online. It’s been a rough year for the live performance industries, so if you do have the means to support artists through tickets or merch, please consider doing so.
Get amongst some free live comedy
The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is the second-largest comedy festival in the world, with thousands descending on the city every autumn for a hearty dose of hilarity. But the locals love to laugh at all times of the year, which is why you’ll find regular comedy shows happening every day of the week here in Melbourne.
Melbourne has one comedy club that runs almost every night of the week (the Comic’s Lounge) and is definitely worth checking out. But there are plenty of other rooms that operate one, two or three nights a week as well.
Comedy at Spleen
Spleen’s regular weekly comedy nights are back, with two shows every Monday evening from January 2021. The bar (found at the top of Bourke Street) has been hosting live comedy for more than a decade and is regarded as one of the top locations to see a gig in Melbourne. Sure, there’s plenty of up and comers on show, but a night at Spleen Comedy might also find you enjoying new material from some of Australia’s leading comics.
Back in the olden days (that is, pre-2020), Spleen was known to pack out its Monday comedy gigs, withstanding space only right to the door. It was popularity achieved partly due to the great line-ups… and partly because the entry was by gold coin donation. These days, of course, there’s a set number of tickets, and they’ll cost you (a still very affordable) $10, but you’ll still want to capture your spot early to avoid missing out. FYI ticket sales can usually be found online via the event’s Facebook page.
There are two shows every Monday, at 7 pm and 8.30 pm. Before and after performances, you may also wish to acquaint yourself with Spleen’s food and drink menu, which is packed with American diner fares like hot wings, hot dogs, chilli fries and hefty cheeseburgers. Plus, the bar stays open till 5 am most nights (and till late on Mondays), so there’s plenty of time to get a Spleena Colada after the show.
Local Laughs is the best comedy room on the south side, hands down. It takes place at the Local Taphouse – a European-inspired neighbourhood tavern specialising in craft beer and great food. It almost sounds too good to host stand-up, but it works perfectly. We’d argue this is the most beautiful and cosiest room on the scene. Sometimes punters stay sitting around long after the show has ended.
Every Monday, you can catch some of the best comics from Melbourne and Australia, plus the occasional international too. With upwards of five acts every night, you are sure to be entertained. So make a night of it and come in early to try one of their many delicious tap beers (it’s in the title).
Comedy at Classic
Classic Cinemas is stepping in to provide another outlet for laughs in Melbourne’s southern suburbs.
Classic Cinemas in Elsternwick hosts a weekly live comedy gig featuring some of the country’s funniest every Monday night. What’s more is that since a cinema hosts the comedy nights, you’ll be enjoying your show with all the creature comforts of a cinema, such as access to the candy bar (which at Classic means craft beers, local wines, cocktails and cheese platters from Milk the Cow).
Tickets can be bought online for $15, but seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. So arrive early (doors open at 7 pm for a 7.30 pm start) if you want to risk it in the front row or hide from any potential audience participation in the back.
Explore a model Tudor Village at Fitzroy Gardens
Head to the scenic Fitzroy Gardens located amidst Melbourne’s busy cityscape. Take a stroll around the park and take in the natural landscape and historical sights located throughout the gardens.
Heritage highlights include Captain Cook’s 1755 family home uprooted from Yorkshire and re-assembled here in the 1930s, a conservatory, and a collection of similarly strange fountains, statues, memorials and follies accumulated over the park’s 150 years.
A model Tudor Village is located in the middle of the gardens, created by London pensioner Edgar Wilson back in the 1940s. This miniature village is a replica of a typical Kentish village built during England’s Tudor period. It was unveiled in Fitzroy Gardens by the lord mayor in 1948.
The park is blissfully underused, especially on the weekends. However, you can always find a secluded spot from which to admire the avenues of mature elms and rare specimen trees from the 19th century.
Fitzroy Garden’s star attraction? That has got to be the conservatory. This Spanish Mission-style conservatory was opened way back in March 1930. It currently exhibits five floral displays annually, meaning it’s in full bloom all year round, with a mix of hydrangeas, fuchsias, begonias, cyclamens and calceolaria all making an appearance at some point. Pro tip: make sure your nasal passages are clear – the smell is incredible.
Most beautiful buildings in Melbourne
Royal Exhibition Building
Designed by architect Joseph Reed (who also did the Melbourne Town Hall and the State Library of Victoria) and completed in 1880, the Royal Exhibition Building is one of Australia’s most impressive architectural beauties. It is one of the world’s oldest remaining exhibition pavilions and was built to host the first official World’s Fair in the Southern Hemisphere. While smaller sections of the building were demolished or ravaged by fire, the main building, known as the Great Hall, has survived.
Not only is the building impressive from the outside, but the ornate decor of the Great Hall also needs to be seen IRL (you can get a good peek at select events throughout the year, including the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show, the Dog Lovers Show and the Finders Keepers Market). Fun fact: the Royal Exhibition Building was the first building in the country to be awarded UNESCO World Heritage status (take that, Sydney Opera House!).
Flinders Street Station
Ah, Flinders Street Station – its dome so iconically Melbourne it’s featured on a million tourist brochures. Rumour has it that the original designs for Flinders Street Station were accidentally mixed up with the plans for Mumbai’s (then Bombay) main train station. It makes sense: Mumbai got a looming, gothic building, and we got a vaguely East Indian-inspired design. Whether it’s true or not, Flinders Street Station is one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks.
Construction began in 1900, with the original designs laid out by Fawcett and Ashworth reminiscent of a French Renaissance style, including a large dome over the main entrance and a clock tower over the Elizabeth Street entrance. The building’s elusive top floor ballroom was a later addition and has been largely abandoned since the ‘80s (though lucky punters might sneak a peek during the annual Open House event).
State Library of Victoria
Melbourne’s central library was established way back in 1854, making it one of the first free public libraries in the world. Architect Joseph Reed was behind the design, which initially combined a library, museum and gallery in the one building (the National Gallery of Victoria eventually moved to St Kilda Road in 1968, and the Melbourne Museum moved to Carlton Gardens in 2000).
The first stage of the library opened in 1856, with a collection of 3,800 books, and included most of the front wing and the Queen’s Hall reading room (which was reopened in 2019). The library’s famous Domed Reading Room opened in 1913 and was designed by Bates, Peebles and Smart (now known as Bates Smart), which was a successor to Reed’s architect firm.
Unfortunately, in 1959, the dome’s skylights were covered in copper due to water leakage. Fun fact: most of the furniture found in the Domed Reading Room (including those rickety wooden chairs) has never been replaced.
Popular Melbourne Beaches
St Kilda Beach
One of the most popular of the Port Phillip Bay beaches, St Kilda is a wide, sandy beach that is suitable for swimming and a host of other activities. St Kilda Pier is a favourite for promenading and taking in fabulous city skyline views and sunsets. A ferry service operates to Williamstown and Southbank; the marina has extensive boating facilities, including ramps. Nearby reserves have picnic, barbecue and play facilities, and there are paths suitable for bicycling, walking and rollerblading.
This long stretch of safe, sandy bay swimming beaches includes Dendy Street beach, Middle Brighton and Brighton beaches. The area is famous for quaint, colourful bathing boxes along the beach set against the spectacular Melbourne city skyline. Extensive foreshore reserves have a barbecue and play facilities. In addition, there is windsurfing, yachting and boating and a walking and cycling path.
Port Melbourne, South Melbourne and Middle Park
These sandy, swimming beaches on the bay area close to central Melbourne. With playgrounds and walking and bicycle paths, they make up a series of favourite ‘top of the bay’ beaches. Some areas allow off-leash dog walking, and Middle Park is also a popular spot for kitesurfing and beach volleyball.
A trendy stretch of wide, sandy Port Phillip Bay swimming beach that has special zones that exclude boating, power ski and sailboard to protect swimmers. There is also a playground and a walking and cycling path.
An excellent sandy bay beach for swimming, sailing and boating. Extensive foreshore reserves have a barbecue, picnic and play facilities. There is a walking and cycling path and boat ramps nearby.
This expansive bay swimming beach is located next to a series of excellent reserves. As a result, there are opportunities for other water-based leisure activities and nearby barbecue and playground facilities.
Even though some COVID restrictions are in place, there’s still plenty of opportunities to make the most out of this last Autumn weekend. So get stuck into the celebrations of the RISING Festival, catch a glimpse of podcast royalty, sample over 80 types of rum and hunt for the best vintage goods, all while social distancing and wearing a mask, of course.
Gin Song Korean Pop-Up At Arlechin
In recognition of their Korean chefs and team members, the intimate Italian-based bar Arlechin is hosting a Korean pop-up, presenting an exclusive authentic Korean menu by Grossi chefs Jinhyeok Lim and Wonchang Song. With dishes like handmade pork, prawn or kimchi mandu, the chefs’ take on bibimbap and a dessert of smoked milk, red bean and dates, there’s no telling how tasty this dinner is going to be.
When: 6pm until 8pm & 8:30pm until 10:30pm, Friday 28 May – Saturday 29 May
Where: Arlechin, Mornane Place, Melbourne
1R Music Week At South Yarra
Get your pump on with 1R’s Music Week. One of the newest gyms to hit Melbourne, they’re organising over 110 classes themed around catchy pop classics you can’t get out of your mind. If you’re keen for more than sweating alongside Britney, they’ve also got ten live music classes in the evening featuring local artists to keep you moving. Finish strong with a closing party with live performances and free-flowing prosecco.
When: Various times, now until Friday 28 May
Where: 1R, 10/625 Chapel Street, South Yarra
I Hart Rum Festival 2021
With so many gin events happening lately, it’s time for rum to take the spotlight. Whitehart Bar is hosting a festival celebrating all things rum, with more than 25 distilleries participating and 80+ rums from around the world for you to sample. Based on showing off the sugarcane spirit, rum masterclasses will be running all day, along with living entertainment, Jamaican food trucks and your own spanking new glass to take home.
When: 12pm until 3pm, 3:30 until 6:30pm, Sunday 30 May
Where: Whitehart Bar, 22 Whitehart Lane, Melbourne
What better pairing with winter than hot soup? Slurp down a range of different signature broths that change daily at RISING’s soup stall, headed up by Melbourne food Queen Julia Busuttil Nishimura alongside a raft of top talent chefs, including Tony Tan and social enterprise Free to Feed filling you up. Expect bowls of Vietnamese Phở, Japanese Miso soup, Ramen and French Consommé to be among the iconic dishes showcased here.
When: 12 pm until 8 pm, Wednesday 26 May until Sunday 6 June
Where: Melbourne Town Hall, Swanston Street Forecourt, Melbourne
If you’ve always wanted to put a face to those podcasts you’ve been binging, now’s your chance. Melbourne Central is welcoming a podcast studio with opportunities to tune in and interact with your favourite podcast hosts every Friday. This week, the boys from region QLD’s Betoota Advocate will appear, along with So Dramatic! and A1: The Show, so don’t miss the chance to check them out live.
When: From 4 pm, Friday 28 May
Where: Ground Floor, Melbourne Central, Melbourne
La Tricolor Latin Party
Get down and dirty on the dance floor at the La Tricolor Latin Party, with a free shot of Guaro or Tequila with entry. As this week is Latin retro-themed, dance your heart out with only the best Latin oldies from all types of genres, be it salsa, reggaeton, bachata or merengue.
When: 9 pm until 3 am, Saturday 29 May
Where: Watermark Docklands, 800 Bourke Street, Docklands, Melbourne
The Night Line
Anonymous late-night messages. A cryptic underground club. Paired with an old rotary-style telephone and switchboard, be immersed in a listening experience only RISING can pull off. Listen to over 600 actual messages left on ‘The Nightline’, which were left by sleepless Melbourne residents throughout the midnight hours and will only be heard by you.
When: Various times, Wednesday 26 May until Sunday 6 June
Where: Cohen Place and Smythe Lane, Melbourne
Round She Goes Market
A carefully curated event for women’s clothing, jewellery and accessories, Round She Goes offers a wide range of pre-loved vintage apparel at prices your wallet will be satisfied with. With multiple labels to choose from, ranging from designer to local and handmade, expect to come out with full bags and a new wardrobe.
When: 10 am until 3 pm, Sunday 30 May
Where: Coburg Town Hall, 90 Bell Street, Coburg
Gruesome Playground Injuries
This highly engaging theatre performance from Deepcut Productions follows the lives of Kayleen and Doug, who have an unshakeable connection filled with sarcasm, stitches and scars. It might not be for the faint of heart, but that shouldn’t stop you from seeing what this new theatre production company has in store.
When: 6:45 pm, Friday 28 May and Saturday 29 May
Where: The Butterfly Club, 5 Carson Place, Melbourne
Opening Celebration of Damien March’s Emanation
With successful shows in Sydney, Hollywood and Beverly Hills, Damien March is an international mixed media artist from Melbourne whose artwork has been displayed in prominent collections worldwide. This exhibition was created and mostly completed during the lockdown, March’s emotions flow freely on the expressive watercolour-fused artworks now exhibited at the No Vacancy Gallery.
When: 6 pm until 8 pm, Friday 28 May
Where: No Vacancy Gallery 34-40 Jane Bell Lane, Melbourne