The perfect introduction to Melbourne from a local.
Prior to arriving in Melbourne, whenever I mentioned the city during my travels, people would say, “Oh yeah, they have loads of cafés there!” I assumed Melburnians had a thing for coffee, but surely there had to be more to it. Wanting to be surprised, we opted for a local guide to bring us around, and Hugo from Localing Tours was the perfect fit.
It was our first day back to the city from our Great Ocean Road road trip, so we checked into our glamping hotel, St. Jerome’s in the morning, then met Hugo, our guide for the day. Like an old friend, he asked us what we wanted to do and what we were interested in seeing, then tailored the day to our interests. I told him we hoped to see hidden gems, visually appealing sites, learn some fun facts and experience the authentic side of Melbourne. Secret spots were also quite welcome! Hugo, having lived in Melbourne his entire life, was the ideal guide to show us the hidden gems and even better—he was full of fun facts!
Fun fact #1: Melbourne was almost named Batmania because one of the founders was named John Batman.
This meal above is how we ended our day, which was probably my favorite part of the tour because it involved delicious food, but we’ll get to that in a little bit.
Hidden alleyways of art
Starting the day off exploring Melbourne’s laneways, Hugo brought us to a hidden alleyway where local artists feature their work. I would never have known to randomly wander down this street to find a collection of art waiting to be admired. Next to these frames was a secret pub that had no sign, could fit less than a dozen patrons at a time and served custom cocktails to each guest. It was still early morning so we didn’t try any concoctions, but I’m sure they were as tasty as the colorful art outside.
Next up was an introduction into Melbourne’s street art scene. Hugo shared that certain laneways are for practice purposes while the more established laneways are frequented only by the best, like Hosier Lane.
I was really impressed with the city’s various forms of creative expression. From the street art to graffiti lanes, impeccable store design and branding to a restaurant made up of subway cars on the roof of a building, everything had an artistic edge. The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is a popular art museum covering Eastern, Western, decorative, modern and fine arts with compelling shows like the Viktor & Rolf fashion exhibition, up while we were there.
Another surprising element I found was the European influence on the city, especially as seen through the arcades and cafés. For example, Block Arcade and Royal Arcade both felt nostalgic and glamorous with fancy chocolatiers and fashion boutiques sprawled throughout. We learned that the wealthy used to frequent these arcades in their best clothes to see and be seen, and maybe find an appropriate suitor. Additionally, the mix of modernity and tradition was very interesting, like finding a traditional French café with a graffiti-covered wall outside.
Fun fact #2: Melbourne was the capital of Australia for 26 years starting in 1901 before Canberra took the mantel.
There was also a wide array of architecture sprawled throughout the fourteen square mile city. I appreciated the design of the State Library of Victoria and asked Hugo if there were other similar thoughtfully designed spaces so he brought us to the National Gallery of Victoria and Federation Square. Because our timing was open, we were able to go at our own pace and shift the sites as we progressed.Our day was a mix of driving and walking. Localing really thought of every detail–the car even included nice amenities like local chocolates from Hunted + Gathered and Aesop skin products. Did you know Aesop started in Melbourne? We passed by one so popped in for our free hand wash (don’t judge–I know you’ve all done it before).
Fun fact #3: Melbourne has more restaurants and cafés per capital than any other city in the world.
A local lunch in Fitzroy
Perhaps my favorite part of the day was eating at Grub in the hipster neighborhood of Fitzroy. Up until this meal, I was very unimpressed with the food choices in Australia. This meal changed it all. The owners originally wanted to create an herb farm for supplying spices to local restaurants, but because of permit issues, decided to open up their own restaurant and café instead. The outdoor café space has a 1965 Airstream van parked in a rug-covered courtyard, while the indoor space is a greenhouse overflowing with plants and herbs.
For each tour, Localing includes a meal, adding to the personalized feel while highlighting the Melbourne foodie scene. We also enjoyed getting to know Hugo over lunch while munching on scrumptious local specialities.
It’s true, Melbourne is a city made up of many cafés, but I found out she has so much more to offer. The culture, food, art, design, history, architecture, laid-back lifestyle, proximity to incredible nature and nice people like Hugo really sold me. This is a city I can’t wait to return to for more exploration!
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