Among the tall towering forests and natural surrounds of the Yarra Valley & Dandenong Ranges provides some top places to stop for a refreshing drink accompanied by a delicious meal at any time of day.
From intimate restaurants and contemporary cafes in the villages and townships to venues with spectacular views over the city's vineyards. Perhaps you'll find yourself enjoying fresh scones and Devonshire tea, or choose something savoury or sweet from the wonderful local bakeries and coffee shops.
Our distilleries offer tasting paddles, casually shared platters and full eight-course degustation options. There are restaurants with kitchen gardens that you can wander through, chefs with passion and local produce inspire people to keep returning to our tables.
No one is saying it is a great beauty, but the Yarra River is in Melbourne's centrepiece, slicing the city down the middle and creating a natural boundary for north-south rivalries.
Early in the morning, you can stand on the Princes Bridge and watch rowers training on its murky depths. Huge numbers of people walk its curves when they travel with mates from the city to the MCG.
This summer, though, the Yarra's edge has come alive again, as we embrace outdoor dining, and venues along its length have formulated ways to utilise once-wasted spaces. Here, we've revisited some old favourites and raised a glass to the new.
Great Restaurants With Yarra River Views
The Yarra River is one of Melbourne's greatest assets. Sure, it's not suitable for swimming or drinking, and sometimes it smells funny – but that's what we Melburnians love about it.
Finding a great spot to eat by the river can be hard – there are so many options, from Docklands to Richmond and in between – so here's my pick of the best restaurants and bars with Yarra River views, whether you are after a romantic dinner for two or a casual bite with friends. Life jacket optional.
Loading Dock Bar | Docklands
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner all weekend (lunch and dinner through the week), the Loading Dock Bar in the Yarra's Edge Docklands precinct is a hidden gem. Only a ten-minute walk from the city and handy to anywhere in Docklands, this waterside bar offers modern Australian cuisine, with a great view of the Yarra.
Whilst you sit and muse on which boat in the Marina you might like to own, enjoy thin-crust pizzas and an extensive menu that brings together your favourite Thai, Italian, Greek and seafood dishes. Webb Bridge is a beautiful sight over dinner, lit up to showcase the true beauty of this urban artwork, with the CBD in the background.
Wharf Hotel | Melbourne
A relatively new addition to the Yarra, the Wharf Hotel is kicking goals with its stout, food and views. Overlooking the Yarra from Crown Casino to Polly Woodside, the Wharf Hotel is an ideal spot to escape the crowds at the Convention Centre or soak up the sun on the timber-laden deck.
The timber theme continues throughout, complemented by a cosy open fire; couches and ottomans add warmth, while grass-covered stools are the final touch of quirkiness. Classic pub meals fill the menu, and the gang's all here – parma, steak, burger, and fish 'n' chips, but the more substantial plates – salmon, pork belly, crab linguini – are what make Wharf Hotel one of the best riverside pubs in Melbourne.
Bangpop | South Wharf
Another of our fave restaurants with a Yarra River view is BangPop – named for the waterway it's perched along. In Thai, the word 'bang' means a village located on a stream, and while our river is a little more than just a stream, it's nice to know the team took into account their gorgeous view while selecting a moniker for the Thai Street Food restaurant. Eclectic and vibrant, the yellow, white, red and green interior of BangPop, punctuated with bicycles, says this is a happy place to be.
The menu is dotted with Thai spices – turmeric, lemongrass, basil and kaffir lime – while chilli is mentioned more often than not. Interesting sounding dishes, like the marinated chargrilled pork neck with nam, Jim soap and sticky rice, are adventurous, but there are also old favourites like Pad Thai to make you feel at home, but with a great river view.
Ponyfish Island | Southbank
With arguably the best views of the Yarra in Melbourne, Ponyfish Island sits IN THE MIDDLE OF THE RIVER, under the Southgate footbridge. Head down the stairs to discover a haven below that will have you turning your face to the sun whilst downing a beer in summer and snuggling up to the person next to you over a glass of mulled wine in the darkness of winter.
There are no cooking facilities here, so it's all toast and muesli for brekkie, and soup and subs for lunch and dinner, but the fillings are fancy and a little bit gourmet. Come along and experience what downing drinks with mates in the middle of the river, on a barge, in the greatest city in the world, feels like.
Pure South | Southgate
Perched on the banks of the Yarra in the Southgate complex, Pure South embodies the passion of Tasmania by creating a menu based on produce from the southernmost state of Australia.
Founded in 2004, Pure South has reached its tenth anniversary, celebrating all that is good about the apple isle – house-smoked bacon, King Island cheeses, pork belly, quail and those famous Tasmanian oysters – together with the best of Tassie wines.
My money is on the Cape Grim grass-fed Angus eye fillet – melt in your mouth delicious. The Southbank footbridge will lead you to the door of Pure South, but you may never want to leave. One of Melbourne's best Yarra view restaurants, Pure South, lets you take a holiday without leaving Melbourne.
Nobu | Southbank
High-end Japanese food is where it's at, so with the most renowned Japanese restaurant in the world sitting smack bang next to the Yarra River, why wouldn't you take the opportunity to experience it? Housed in the Crown Casino complex, Nobu is widely considered Melbourne's best Japanese restaurant, and has been treating people to glorious food and great rivers ever since.
Enjoy lunch or dinner by the water, with cherry blossom-adorned ceilings and a touch of elegance in the air. Choose Nobu for a special anniversary, an important business meeting or a milestone birthday – it's the kind of meal you want to remember. Favourites include the zuke tuna with ginger salsa and the lobster salad with spicy lemon dressing.
Pilgrim Bar | Melbourne Cbd
Down by the water on the underside of Federation Square, the vaults of days gone by have become the watering holes of the upwardly mobile in the 21st century. Pilgrim Bar is a hit day or night, with the water mere metres away from the timber-topped tents and a Mediterranean tapas-style menu to graze or indulge in, depending on your mood.
From midday, perch riverside to watch rowers go by and soak up the sounds of the city buzzing above while enjoying the lamb, saffron and split chickpea broth with harissa, sweet dates, figs and coriander, with a bit of Qatar pizza on the side. By night, the lights come on, and you can't go past the wine list with the personal annotations to each drop. In a word? Fun.
It's long been a favourite pit stop for anyone walking between the city and MCG, but there are a couple of other reasons – apart from its riverside perch – to stop by Pilgrim Bar. Did you know, for example, that (almost) everything on its drinks list is from Australia?
There's Starward whisky, Dead Man's Drop rum, 23rd Street vodka and small-batch gins from right across the country. Those gins are being given top billing during summer as Pilgrim does two-hour bottomless G&Ts and tapas Thursday to Sunday. It's $59 ahead, and you need to book.
Left Bank | Southbank
When looking for a bar with great Yarra River views, you can't go past Left Bank. Much like in Paris, Melbourne has a left and right bank, and, presumably, Left Bank sits on the 'left side of the river – but that probably depends on which way you are looking at it.
Either way, Left Bank is a bar and restaurant worth looking in on Southbank just past the Sandridge pedestrian overpass. Offering à la carte dining, the menu is not extensive but hits home runs with the chosen few.
Burgers and pizzas are Friday night favourites, but a confit duck leg is a little more French, I think. The wine list runs to pages, and a spot on the deck is the perfect place for to people watch the mighty Yarra River.
Taxi Kitchen | Melbourne Cbd
With 360 degree views over the Yarra River, the CBD, arts precinct and Federation Square, Taxi Kitchen is the perfect balance of location, location, location, and unpretentiousness.
The light and airy eatery have a simple menu offering small, medium and large plates, with interesting sides (Brussel sprouts with lap Cheong sausage and chilli sambal, anyone?) and amazing sounding desserts (Taxi's famous espresso soufflé with Baileys & white chocolate ice-cream – swoon!). A six-course tasting menu will set you back $85, but you'd pay at least that for views like this.
La Cassolette | Melbourne Cbd
An unassuming European bistro hidden behind Flinders Street (Clarendon St end), La Cassolette faces the parkland and river opposite the Casino on little known Rebecca Walk. The minimalist dining room appears calm, but with traditional French cuisine that will make your mouth water, you know they are putting in the hard yards in the kitchen.
The Parisian style mash melts delicately on the tongue, next to a Cassoulet of pork belly and French sausages, while a simple Croque monsieur for brunch is pleasing to the eye and stomach. Wear a beret and sit outside, imagining for a moment that the Yarra is the Seine as you dive into a panna cotta. Magnifique!
Places To Eat And Drink Beside The Yarra River In Melbourne
Beers and more
Beer bar Hopscotch has joined the fray, launching Yarra Kitchen & Bar right outside and perched on the water's edge. There's nothing better on a sunny day than an offering from the spritz list – the Sicilian combines gin, lemon, jasmine water, limoncello and soda – alongside a loaded Aussie prawn roll.
Of course, given its heritage, there's a good selection of tinnies as well as the new summer favourite, seltzer. The bar is hanging around 'til March and, best of all, it's dog friendly.
Sandridge Wharf, Southbank, yarrakitchenbar.com.au
On a roll
Pull up a daybed, grab a set of boules and set yourself up for leisurely revelry. Inspired by the beach bars of Capri, Petanque Social is one of the newest venues along Southbank and allows guests to enjoy the best of many worlds.
Each of Crown's riverfront restaurants has a hand in the menu here, so if you feel like salmon and spicy tuna sushi maki rolls from Nobu, but your bud wants loaded chilli fries from San Antone, you're both in luck. Of course, there's full bar service, along with big screens for all the summer sports action, DJs and jazz on Sundays.
Crown Riverwalk, 8 Whiteman Street, Southbank, crownmelbourne.com.au
Float to nowhere
Back for its fifth year is Arbory Afloat. There's a beach-house vibe this time around, with terracotta-hued umbrellas fending off the afternoon rays, lush greenery surrounding slatted timber tables, and a plunge pool to lower the temperature. As always, there's an excellent selection of Euro-inspired snacks, seafood and wood-fired pizza to fuel a serious session.
Look out for Four Pillars Beach House Gin (pictured), created especially for this floating bar. Distilled using layers of citrus flavours – grapefruit, orange, lemon peel and lemon myrtle – as well as strawberry gum, Davidson plum and pineapple sage, it comes on tap and as a base for summer-fun cocktails.
2 Flinders Walk, Melbourne, arboryafloat.com.au
Putting on the spritz
Does anyone remember a time when Riverland Bar wasn't a part of Melbourne's scene? When the old vaults beneath Federation Square were converted into the undercover areas of a bar sitting right on the Yarra, it was pure genius. It stands the test of time, serving up frosty tap beers and glasses of local sparkling wine that go perfectly with an afternoon in the sunshine.
Get in quick because the summer special is a fix of pizza and spritzes – $49 for all you can eat in a two-hour window.
Vaults 1–9, Federation Wharf, riverlandbar.com
On the roof
It's fair to say that, despite its central location, Melburnians often forget about Transport Hotel, the massive venue that takes up a decent wedge of Fed Square. Its third level, rooftop Transit Bar, is the place to be as the sunsets. The views over the river are superb, and there's often something on Sunday DJ sessions, comedy on Wednesday, and live jazz on Saturday nights.
Federation Square, transporthotel.com.au
Island in the stream
Sitting smack bang in the middle of the Yarra, opposite Como Park is Herring Island. On this tiny patch of tranquillity, you'll discover a picnic area and sculpture park. There's a free punt service at weekends and public holidays from January to April, but you can access the island yourself by kayak or water taxi during the week and outside the summer season.
Start a fire
What's better than being beside the Yarra? Being on top of it, of course. For something a little different, grab your mates and hire an Aqua Donut. These electric boats, circular in design, come with a gas barbecue station in the middle of a picnic table, as well as a sunshade.
All you need to bring is something to cook, drinks, some music and a sense of fun. There's no need for a boat licence – you'll be given instructions before you head off.
84 New Quay Promenade, Docklands, aquadonut.com
It's a day to celebrate when an old favourite gets a Palm Springs-inspired makeover. That's what happened at Ponyfish Island, the bar beneath the Evan Walker Bridge. An update of the former dive bar had long been in the works, but it wasn't until the forced lockdown that owners had a chance to make it happen.
Punters can now sit at terrazzo-topped tables beneath custom-made shades while sipping on a jug of sangria. Of course, there's also icy cold beer, Australian wines and a tempting list of cocktails, served up alongside a regularly changing menu of snacks.
Southbank Pedestrian Bridge (off Southgate Avenue), ponyfish.com.au
FAQs About Melbourne Restaurants
The lower section of the Yarra River meandered through the heart of Melbourne City and was instrumental in making Melbourne into the city it is today. Most of Melbourne’s attractions are in close vicinity to the river.
The river was a significant food source and meeting place for indigenous Australians from prehistoric times. The Yarra River was initially called Birrarung by the Wurendjeri people. It is thought that Birrarung is derived from Wurundjeri words meaning “ever-flowing”.
The river was utilised primarily for agriculture by early European settlers. The landscape of the river has changed dramatically since 1835. The course of the river has been progressively disrupted and widened in places.
The Yarra is often called “the river that runs upside down” due to its muddy coloured water – caused by significant land clearing and development after the 1800s, which resulted in tiny clay particles being washed downstream.
The murky appearance of the river doesn’t mean it’s not clean.
The first crossing across the Yarra River was Princess Bridge which was built in 1844, this was the beginning of the Victorian gold rush, and the river was extensively mined, creating the Pound Bend Tunnel in Warrandyte. Princess Bridge was later replaced with the current bridge in 1888.
The Yarra River has one island called Herring Island, which is approximately 3kms from the CBD in Como and is only accessible by boat. Herring Island was created from dredging spoils in the 1920s when a new river channel was cut at Burnley to prevent flooding of the Yarra River.
Elemental to Melbourne's identity, the Yarra River is one of Victoria's iconic waterways. It has spiritual and cultural significance for Aboriginal communities. To the Wurundjeri people, the river, known as Birrarung, was life and an important meeting place.
Mention the Yarra River, and you might think of the last few kilometres that cut through the city – but it's so much more. This iconic river flows 242 kilometres from its source on Mt Baw Baw in the Yarra Ranges National Park, northeast of Melbourne, all the way to Port Phillip Bay.
It has high ecological, social, aesthetic and recreational values as it flows through the city and eastern suburbs of Melbourne to Port Phillip Bay. It is a 'salt- wedge' estuary, where the mixing of salt and freshwater is influenced by freshwater inflows over Dights Falls.
The name 'Yarra' is attributed to surveyor John Wedge, who in the 'Rebecca' accompanied John Batman on the 1835 party of exploration on behalf of the Launceston-based Port Phillip Association. Wedge asked local aborigines what they called the cascading waters on the lower section of the river.
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