Wondering where to stay in Melbourne or where the coolest Melbourne neighbourhoods are? Firstly there are a few things you should know. Yes, the clichés are true (everyone wears black, we’re all obsessed with coffee), but the best thing about this city is that it’s full of secrets to uncover.
Whether that’s a hidden laneway bar, a ten-storey shopping adventure or an underground theatre space, everything worth visiting is within easy reach (and cheap as chips to get to, thanks to the city-wide free tram zone).
So if you’re wondering where to stay in Melbourne, it’s going to be really easy. Take heed of our neighbourhood guides below and create your own personalised Melbourne itinerary to match.
Melbourne’s best neighbourhoods
A local’s guide to St Kilda
In beachside St Kilda, backpackers, families and joggers converge on the Esplanade, where yachts and windsurfers can be seen on the bay. Boom-time mansions, historic sea baths and Luna Park’s eye-catching rides are reminders of the strip’s past as a glitzy resort. Fine-dining restaurants and old European cake shops can be found on Acland and Carlisle streets. Revellers fill the area’s pubs and music venues at night.
Explore the hidden gems of this popular seaside suburb, from the best local cafés and bars to restaurant institutions and not-to-be-missed activities and attractions.
St Kilda’s past is as colourful as its present. Long considered Melbourne’s seaside playground, it was first known for its elite holiday culture in the mid-19th century, before moving into its chapter as a red light entertainment district in the 1950s and ’60s.
The suburb soon became a haven for artists, musicians and a diverse LGBTQIA community thanks to its carefree bohemianism that lingers to this day, attracting hordes of backpackers each summer and all walks of life year-round.
What’s St Kilda known for?
Today, St Kilda maintains its vibrant sense of culture and pride (the Victorian Pride Centre will soon be unveiled on Fitzroy Street) and is increasingly known for its cosmopolitan inner-city lifestyle.
Thanks in part to two seasons of The Block, which transformed the infamous Gatwick Hotel and Oslo Hostel, the grit and grunge continue to gentrify at a rapid pace – but if you ask many of the locals, it’s precisely this contrast of character that defines St Kilda, making it different from anywhere else in Melbourne – and perhaps the world.
A stone’s throw from the CBD, the 3182 postcode is inexhaustible in its list of all that it has to offer. Home to many famous tourist attractions, a trip to Melbourne is not complete without a visit to St Kilda and its strip of palm tree-lined beaches, heritage buildings and eclectic dining scene, reminiscent of a curious cross between Venice Beach and San Francisco.
Why do the locals love it?
One of the things about St Kilda is its robust creative community, not just artistically creative but also in terms of being entrepreneurial.
St Kilda is constantly changing – it’s gone through several different stages of gentrification, and it has still got this edge, this vibrancy to it that the locals just love. I think that’s due to its transient nature.
St Kilda is a meeting place for people. It’s kind of known as Melbourne’s beachside playground. Then with Luna Park, there’s a carnivalesque vibe that I don’t think will ever change.Everyone leaves something of themselves in St Kilda, and they pick up something to carry with them forever.
How do I get to St Kilda?
Though it doesn’t have a train station, St Kilda is easy to access via public transport, with three trams (12, 16 and 96) running from Melbourne’s CBD to or via Fitzroy Street. Several other St Kilda Road trams will drop you at St Kilda Junction if you feel like a leisurely stroll past Albert Park and the excellent selection of restaurants and cafes opposite. There are several bus lines, too. If you’re heading to or from the airport, the SkyBus has four convenient stops around St Kilda.
St Kilda occupies prime real estate on Port Phillip Bay, between Middle Park to the west and Elwood to the east. Windsor and Prahran are a short walk to the north.
Pick up a selection of sweet treats from one of Acland Street’s many famous cake shops, harking back to the summers of the 1950s when European holidaymakers would descend upon the suburb. Share them with friends on the St Kilda foreshore or at the nearby Catani Gardens or St Kilda Botanical Gardens.
Things to do
Australia’s oldest theme park, Luna Park, opened its doors to its first visitors in 1912 and has since welcomed millions of excited people through Mr Moon’s giant smiling mouth. The heritage-listed Great Scenic Railway wooden rollercoaster (which inspired the famous Cyclone rollercoaster at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York) remains the park’s heart, providing riders with the best (and most exhilarating) views of Port Phillip Bay, especially at sunset.
Opposite Luna Park, the Palais Theatre makes up the other half of St Kilda’s iconic duo. Built in 1927 as a pivotal aspect of the suburb’s seaside entertainment precinct, the Palais’ ongoing refurbishment will ensure its hallowed stage hosts the world’s best entertainers for generations to come. It would be remiss in visiting St Kilda without visiting the duo, if only for a photo.
Then there’s the St Kilda Ferry. Embarking on its maiden voyage across Port Phillip Bay to Williamtown in 2016 and offering an excellent vantage point towards Melbourne’s CBD, the Coastal Flyer has proven popular among day-trippers and those wanting to escape Melbourne’s heaving road traffic. Route options include a pitstop in Beacon Cove, Port Melbourne. In addition, you can phone ahead to bring your bike for transport to the other end.
To witness something exceptional, head to the end of the St Kilda pier to the St Kilda breakwater shortly after sunset any night of the year. There you may be lucky to spot St Kilda’s colony of more than 1,000 little penguins (St. Kilda Penguins) standing on top of the rocks or shuffling from one side of the breakwater to the other. Remember to keep your distance and turn the flash off your camera.
Random International’s Rain Room has also set up stumps in St Kilda. Housed in the Jackalope Art Pavilion and accessed via the lift in the Prince Hotel’s car park off Jackson Street, this internationally renowned interactive art instalment lets you walk around in a rainy room without ever getting wet.
If you’re craving some drama, Theatre Works (14 Acland St) has been sharing powerful and culturally relevant performances with the people of Melbourne from an old Parish hall in St Kilda for the past 40 years. Check out what’s showing right now via the website.
A local’s guide to Fitzroy
Fitzroy is an eclectic suburb with a rich history etched into its old pubs and gay bars, narrow streets and terrace houses, long-lasting retailers and modern wine bars that have kept the old decor.
The suburb was once long associated with the working class and was known to have a bohemian vibe but became a casualty of gentrification in the ’80s and ’90s. Yet despite undergoing urban revitalisation, many heritage buildings and Victorian-era architecture have lasted through the decades and play a vital role in the area’s ambience – right next to the street art.
You’ll find various characters within Fitzroy’s nooks, including many students, young professionals and those of the older generation that have called the community home for decades.
It’s economically diverse, too, having one of Melbourne’s most prominent public housing complexes while also putting up some of the most exxy rent in all of the city. It’s hard to pigeonhole the area but, after all, why would you want to?
The land’s traditional custodians are the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung of the Kulin Nation, and the Kulin name for the area is Ngár-go, meaning high ground.
What’s Fitzroy known for?
Fitzroy is known to be a cultural hub with a vibrant heart and celebrated for its unconventional, arty and eccentric nature. Head along Gertrude Street, and you’ll be met with designer shops and independent retailers nestled in beside bars known for their drag bingo and queer nights. Head down Brunswick Street, and you’ll be treated with espresso martinis, bottomless tacos and vintage shops with plenty of corduroys.
And everywhere, live music can be heard – from gigs at pubs and bars to blasting through open windows above shop fronts. Fitzroy also the main home to Melbourne Fringe Festivalempoweris because where else would an event empowering cultural expression through inclusion and diversity reside?
Why do the locals love it?
Christian Ferrante, Market Director of Rose Street Markets, knows a thing or two about the local area and itsover community.
“Traditionally, I’ve loved the eclectic nature of Fitzroy. It’s an open sort of place where anything goes,” he says. “That sense of excitement that you really don’t know what you might see on any given day, just walking down the street there’s always something interesting or something massive happening.”
How do I get to Fitzroy?
Fitzroy hasn’t seen a train station since 1888, taking a preference instead to the tram life. The number 11 tram runs through the heart of Fitzroy, taking you from St Georges Road, along Brunswick Street and right through to Victoria Parade. Otherwise, the 96 tram runs from Brunswick East to St Kilda Beach, passing through Fitzroy, making it your best bet to end up along Johnston, Moor or Gertrude Street. The area is also very bike-friendly if you’re a fan of getting on the pedals.
Fitzroy is sandwiched between Collingwood on its right and Carlton on its left, separating the two AFL rivals. Just above the suburb, you’ll find Fitzroy North and below is East Melbourne. The suburb is bordered by gardens, including Carlton Gardens to the west, Edinburgh Gardens to the north and, funnily enough, Fitzroy Gardens (which aren’t actually in Fitzroy) a block to the south.
Things to do
The Fitzroy Swimming Pool (160 Alexandra Parade) is a favourite spot for leisure among locals. The pools are pretty cool; you get a perfect mix of locals and posers, which is kind of funny. It’s got this exciting feeling, you really do feel in the city, like that urban feel, but then it’s kind of like this little oasis, which is pretty cool and very unique to Fitzroy.
Wonder through the eight gallery spaces of Brunswick Street Gallery (Level 1 and 2/322 Brunswick St) and feast your eyes on diverse works from local and national emerging and mid-career artists. Then head nearby to Sutton Gallery (254 Brunswick St) to peruse contemporary works from Australia and New Zealand.
Check out and take a photo with the greyscale Everfresh Fitzroy mural on the sidewall of live-music venue The Night Cat (137-141 Johnston St), which reads “Welcome to sunny Fitzroy”. The wall was painted back in 2009 by Everfresh Studio and so far is standing the test of time.
If you feel like giving your brain a workout and going on a detective hunt, try your hand at the Mystery Rooms (303 Napier St), where you can follow in the footsteps of Ancient Egyptians or be a witness to the Kelly gang’s Last Stand in 1880, all while solving a puzzle.
A local’s guide to Carlton
From the riches of ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ to being designated “slums” in the 1950s, Carlton has lived thousands of lives. Today, the suburb is a mixture of cultures and the past and the present – mixing timeless restaurants and cafés that have existed for half a century with innovative venues pushing the boundaries.
What’s Carlton known for?
Carlton is one of Melbourne’s best-known suburbs because of Lygon Street. Although there’s plenty else to see in this jam-packed neighbourhood, Lygon Street is home to Melbourne’s Little Italy and is where you can get some of the best authentic Italian in the city. Carlton is also well known for the historic Carlton Gardens, Royal Exhibition Building and the Melbourne Museum.
Why do the locals love it?
We talked to Mark Rubbo, the managing director of Readings (Carlton’s best-known bookshop), a regular Carlton for decades. “Carlton is a wonderful neighbourhood to hang out in with its wide tree-lined streets and Jewish, Italian and artistic heritage,” he says.
On a sunny day, you might see couples picnicking in the middle of these streets on the nature strip, kids running around the Carlton Baths, or teens eating gelato at one of the many gelaterias.
How do I get to Carlton?
Carlton is very easy to get to. It’s a suburb just north of the eastern part of the CBD, and many attractions are walkable from the city or Parliament Station. If you wanted to tram, a 96 would take you to the Carlton Gardens and all the way up the Fitzroy/Carlton border, while the 1 and 6 will take you to the top of the Italian area of Lygon Street.
To the east is Fitzroy and Collingwood, where you can enjoy cafés and restaurants on Brunswick Street, clubs and pubs on Smith Street, and incredible street art on Rose Street. To the west is the University of Melbourne campus in Parkville, which has heritage-listed buildings with more than 150 years old and speciality museums worth visiting.
Things to do
Cinema Nova (380 Lygon St) is the best arthouse cinema in the country. Cheap Mondays are absolutely packed, and we can recommend the rowdy late-night screening of The Room that happens every few months.
The Royal Exhibition Building (9 Nicholson St) beside Carlton Gardens is one of the oldest surviving buildings from the Great Exhibition era. If you can get inside on a day where there is a market or an expo, the hall – with all its restored art and huge archways – is stunning.
The Melbourne Museum (11 Nicholson St) is just across the way, filled with treasures such as a living forest, a taxidermied Phar Lap, and some fantastic rotating exhibits. The IMAX cinema also shows documentaries and new-release movies if you need a couple of hours off your feet.
The Carlton Gardens itself is also a sight to behold. The Gardens make up 26 hectares of land, taking up a significant portion of Carlton. A popular picnic spot, the Victorian-era gardens have trees that are over 100 years old and come from all over the world.
If you’re in Melbourne during the warmer months, the Carlton Baths (216/248 Rathdowne St) is a lovely place to cool off. Although the centre is open year-round, the pools are outdoors and only available from October to April. If you have little ones, there’s a toddler pool area complete with a waterslide.
Then there is La Mama Theatre (1/205 Faraday St), arguably Melbourne’s best independent theatre venue. It’s the spiritual home of Australian theatre.
A local’s guide to Footscray
When they came up with the phrase ‘west is best, they must have been thinking about Footscray. This inner-city suburb is the brightest jewel of Melbourne’s west, primarily thanks to the migrant communities that have come to call Footscray home.
A melting pot (or wok pan) of cultures spanning from Vietnam to Ethiopia has given the suburb touches of their home countries, which means you can scoop up a goat curry with fresh injera, slurp up pho and hunt down the best cannoli in town all in the same street.
What’s Footscray known for?
Footscray is located only six kilometres from the CBD, right beside the Maribyrnong River. It’s lined with a few main shopping and eating drags – the main one is Barkly Street, close to where you’ll find the giant mural of Franco Cozzo welcoming you with open arms and a cheery “grand sale! Grand sale!” The migrant communities that call Footscray home are why the suburb is one of Melbourne’s most thriving and exciting – especially if you’re into food.
Why do the locals love it?
When Footscray was voted the most incredible neighbourhood in Melbourne in 2019, one Time Out reader put it best: “It’s multicultural, has great bars and food, and it’s cheap(er) and has fewer annoying wanker bros than other parts of the city.”
We asked the Footscray Community Arts Centre staff for their top picks of Footscray, so look out for them in the below sections.
How do I get to Footscray?
The suburb is well served by train – Footscray station is planted right in the thick of things. Otherwise, you can go further west towards Middle Footscray and West Footscray stations. The 82 tram also runs toward Barkly Street via Gordon Street.
Seddon and Yarraville are further south, and Ascot Vale and Kensington are to the northeast. Maidstone and Highpoint Shopping Centre are close by as well.
Things to do
Footscray Community Arts Centre (45 Moreland St) has well and truly earned its stripes as an institution in Footscray and Melbourne-wide. It caters to everyone, from the curious to the established artist, and has a day program for people with disabilities to get involved in artistic experiences.
The centre is a perpetual buzz of activity – there are often exhibitions dedicated to West Melbourne, where you can view the area through the eyes of artists that call Footscray home, as well as exhibitions curated from the broader global community.
Laze about on the FCAC lawn and check out those primo city views, then take a walk north along the Maribyrnong River, which passes by lots of parklands, the port and the Quang Minh Buddist Temple.
Another great place to hang out in Footscray is Maddern Square (2 Chambers St). Vy from FCAC says it’s a great quiet spot with cool public art – and it’s within walking distance of all the eateries.