Want to discover some of the best things to do in Melbourne's CBD? We've spent a lot of time exploring the inner city, and have put together a list the highlights.
1. Try The Food
There is a near unanimous decision that Melbourne is the food capital of Australia. The city is home to more than 3,500 restaurants, representing cuisines from more than 70 countries; including Attica, the highest-ranking Australian restaurant on The 'World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.'
Even Heston Blumenthal has heaped praise on the city, saying that "Melbourne should be on anyone’s list of cities to dine in. I love it. It is exciting, cultural, vibrant, and has a fantastic diversity of restaurants."
So while you're spending time in Melbourne, you better damn well indulge in the food, and luckily, a lot of the best restaurants can be found in the CBD.
Chin Chin is one of the few Melbourne restaurants that hold celebrity status. Both locals and tourists regularly spend hours waiting to get a seat - they only allow bookings if they're 10+.
Chin Chin has spawned countless imitations, and yet nothing has dampened the crowds that began forming all the way back in 2011; it has become a Melbourne institution.
But why is Chin Chin so popular?
Firstly the food, it’s damn delicious. Mostly Thai inspired, the menu is a 'quintessentially Australian take on Asian food.' You'll find rich curries, sashimi, spring rolls, pad-thai, fried chicken and a whole lot more.
And secondly, the vibe. It’s part night club, part restaurant, part bar. The music plays a little louder, and it’s always busy, which makes for a fun night, and achieves their mission of delivering a 'sensory overload.'
Our advice: Don’t go to Chin Chin on a weekend because the wait is going to be long. Back in 2016, Ryan Shelton wrote about how he put his name down for a table, drove all the way to Torquay and back, and still made it back in time.
Instead try to visit on a weekday, close to when it opens. We’ve done this several times and went straight in, no waiting!
And order the 'Feed Me' option; they keep bringing you out a whole bunch of dishes and even dessert. You’ll get to try a lot of different dishes, and you can pretty much eat until you’re satisfied.
Want to try something other than Chin Chin? Chris Lucas has since opened several other venues. There's Kisumé (just down from Chin Chin) a Japanese restaurant. There's Kong, serving Asian BBQ, and there's Baby, a pizza house.
A Chin Chin Alternative: Not keen to brave the wait at Chin Chin? Then we can recommend Red Spice Road. Combining flavours from all over Asia this is another city icon, with delicious food and a great atmosphere.
Forget Tex-Mex, for over the past decade, Melbourne has welcomed several Mexican restaurants that channel a more authentic experience. You won’t find nachos here, instead you’ll enjoy soft-shell tacos and drink from a large range of tequila and mezcal.
Mesa Verde - Spanish for ‘green table’ - offers an authentic Mexican experience, 6 floors above Swanston Street. It takes its name from the town in Sergio Leone’s 1971 film, ‘Duck, You Sucker,’ a story based during the Mexican revolution.
As well as tacos - for which they use the tortillas from the award winning La Tortilleria - they also serve quesadilla, tostadas, a good selection of sides and more. We personally have a soft spot for their fried chicken ribs, covered in a hibiscus-morita chilli BBQ sauce.
The selection of drinks at Mesa Verde is just as strong, with one of Australia’s largest collections of tequila and mezcal. If you would like to dip your toes into the world of mezcal - an agave based spirit - they have a selection of flights that make for a great introduction. Are you an agave afficiando? They’ve got you covered as well.
The flavours of Mexico extend onto the cocktail menu. Several cocktails feature habanero and jalapeño and boy, do they have a little kick. Try the Jala-Pino, with tequila, tepache shrub, jalapeño and charred pineapple.
Whilst Melbourne is home to a lot of vegans (hello Brunswick!) there are still plenty of those that love their meat. San Telmo is an Argentian restaurant that serve juicy cuts of meat from their custom grill.
Never enjoyed an Argentinian meal? Don’t worry, neither had most of Melbourne until San Telmo came onto the scene. Argentinian cuisine is a blend of Mediterranean influences, with the main focus being on being ‘asado’ - the argentine BBQ. And for that, San Telmo imported a 2.5 metre parilla charcoal grill, handmade by a master craftsman who’s former customers include former Argentine Presidents.
They cook their by default, to medium rare - and it's delicious. Most of the cuts are beef - there's also lamb and chicken - ranging from the more affordable pasture fed hanger steak, all the way up to a 500g dry aged rib eye.
The sides are just as good, we can recommend the Zanahorias (burnt carrots) and the Batatas (sweet potatoes) - they're both tasty and generous enough to be meals of their own.
After the success of San Telmo, the same team have opened Asado, Pastuso and Palermo - all inspired by the culture and cuisine of Argentina. Expect the same quality as you would at San Telmo.
An alternative to San Telmo: If you love your steak, we can recommend Rare Steakhouse. They have several locations in the CBD and cook a magnificent steak.
2. Enjoy The Drinks
Back in 1916 the Victorian Government made it illegal for pubs to open after 6pm, this was referred to as the 6 O’clock Swill, and remained as law for the next 50 years.
The regulation was introduced in an attempt to reduce alcohol consumption, but by the time the law was removed, consumption had risen by 40%.
The Six O’clock swill is partly to thank for Melbourne’s - and indeed Australia’s - strong drinking culture. Melbourne is home to many amazing pubs, bars, lounges and secret drinking holes. You’ll even find Australia’s top bar, The Black Pearl, having scored a place within ‘The Top 50 Bars in the World.’
Thankfully, the CBD is filled with a wide array of awesome venues. Here’s a few highlights to tick off.
Curtin House, 252 Swanston St, CBD
Bar with a view
There’s just something about drinking on a rooftop that Melbourne loves. The original Rooftop Bar opened in 2003. 7 Floors up on Curtin House, Rooftop Bar (yes, that’s what it’s called) offers drinks paired with a fantastic view.
While there are many rooftop bars in the city, this one has the best view - probably because it’s the highest of them all.
They do food, with a burger shack on one end, and you’ll find the usual suspects on the drinks list.
During Summer, the bar is home to Rooftop Cinema, that screens both classic and new release movies. It’s a ticketed event, but quite popular, and runs generally from December through to March. This means that after 8pm (except for Monday & Friday) the roof is reserved for ticket holders.
It’s not ideal, especially during the summer months, so you’ll need to plan around that.
Rooftop Bar will give you an amazing view of the surrounding city, and if you can time it right, worth drinking at.
State Of Grace
27 King St, CBD
Modern European Bar & Restaurant
We have a soft spot for hidden bars - which is why we run a hidden bar tour in the CBD - because It’s exciting discovering secret drinking holes, places you can impress your friends with.
Some are down winding alleys, behind secret doors and down nondescript staircases. And thankfully, some of the best are in the CBD!
One of the coolest is Fall From Grace. How do you get there?
Step into State of Grace, and walk towards the bookshelf, now pull the right book - and just like the spy movies - watch as the door opens to reveal a staircase. Walk down and you’ll find yourself in Fall From Grace, a lush cocktail lounge.
State of Grace started its journey on Collin’s St, before moving to its current location on King St. It’s a big venue, spread over 3 levels. It also has a rooftop bar; essentially the best of all worlds here.
Discover More Bars To Drink At
Looking for more bars to drink at, whether they're in the CBD or inner suburbs? Read our guides.
3. Explore The Laneways
Melbourne’s CBD laneways have come to represent the city, filled with street art, cafes and restaurants, it’s a concentration of the city’s amazing culture.
The original town planners wanted these laneways to serve purely as access points and service lanes, but now they are the highlight of the CBD.
They have evolved independently of the main streets, and represent the creativity and life of the city’s citizens.
So while you’re spending time in the CBD, you really haven’t experienced the true Melbourne, until you’ve explored it’s laneways. They are spread out, and some are hard to find. Here are a couple that you need to visit.
Running between Flinders Street and Flinders Lane
Home to lots of street art
This is undoubtedly the most popular laneway in Melbourne for tourists. The walls are covered in stencils and paste-ups, and on any given day, you’ll see countless visitors walk down the famous bluestone cobblestone eager to take a few happy snaps.
Hosier lane is central, just across from Federation Square, and you can enter either via Flinders St or Flinders Lane (yes, they’re different streets.) And it’s home to several popular venues, including Bar Tini, Movida and Movida Next Door - all Spanish venues run by the same team.
The art in Hosier Lane is an eclectic mix, and is open to anyone to contribute; sometimes you might even catch an artist midway through a piece. Our favourite piece is by Adnate, and it looks over the cobblestone from high up on the side of building. Adnate has several pieces around Melbourne, with his most ambitious work on the side of the housing comission flats in Fitzroy.
While you’re visiting Hosier Lane, you also need to visit ACDC Lane. It’s not far away.
Between Flinders Lane and Collins St
As Melbourne as it gets
Centre Way has become the poster child of the Melbourne lane way scene; when people think of Melbourne lane ways, this is what they imagine. It’s a lane way filled almost entirely with cafes; during lunch time it’s very popular with the business crowd.
You’ll find ShanDong MaMa Mini, a fledgling outpost from the very popular dumping house in Chinatown. There’s Jungle Juice, a teeny tiny juice bar, and also a couple of bars - both Lustre Bar and Hell’s Kitchen are upstairs overlooking the thoroughfare.
Centre Place continues through to Centre Way which will take you to Collins St.
An Alternative To Centre Place: there isn’t really an alternative to Centre Place, but while you’re there, head down Degraves St. It’s literally just opposite Centre Place and is another very popular laneway filled with cafes.
Discover More Lane Ways To Visit
Looking for more laneways to visit in the CBD? Here are some more to check out.
4. Visit City Sights
Unlike Sydney, Melbourne doesn’t have a flagship city attraction. Those Sydney-siders have both the Harbour Bridge and The Opera House, found on postcards that have travelled the world.
Instead, Melbourne is filled with many smaller attractions, but in our humble opinion - they’re much better than you’ll find up in NSW. Most of these legendary Melbourne attractions can be found in the CBD, and they’re all walking distance from one another.
The State Library
328 Swanston St, CBD
The oldest public library in Victoria
The State Library was established in 1854 - just 19 years after Melbourne was founded - and is the oldest public library in Australia.
Originally The Melbourne Public Library, it was championed by then Lieutenant-Governor Charles Latrobe and was one of the first free libraries in the world.
Now it is home to a massive collection of books, art, manuscripts, maps and historical artifacts, with a strong focus on Victorian history; some of Ned Kelly’s original armour can be found there, as well as the surveyor chains that town planner, Robert Hoddle, supposedly used to map out the city grid.
Just down from RMIT University, it’s a popular place for students to (attempt to) study, but it is also a fantastic place to spend an hour or two.
The highlight is the La Trobe Reading Room, a massive doomed room that stretches 34.75 metres high. You can wander around - just be quiet - and even climb the levels around the dome to get a bird’s eye view.
There are also some incredible Australian pieces of art in the gallery, many that document critical times throughout Australia’s history.
Little Bourke St
Dumplings, noodles and more
Melbourne’s ChinaTown is the oldest continuous Chinese settlement in the Western World. It was established during the gold rush (1854 - 1884 ish) when many Chinese immigrated to Australia to work in the gold fields.
Now it’s home to the city’s best dumplings, noodles and some fantastic bars. During the day it’s lively, but it really shines at night, when the Chinese lanterns glow and the restaurants are bustling.
A lot of the restaurant windows feature some type of animal - whether it’s hanging ducks, or a tank filled with slow moving lobsters. If you’re going to eat, we recommend trying some dumplings - they are the star of Chinatown.
Some local favourites are The Empress of China and the super popular Shanghai Dumpling - both of which have a line come Friday and Saturday night.
5. Visit The Arcades
Melbourne knows how to have fun, and there’s plenty of options in the CBD to explore your inner child. From bowling, gaming arcades, laser tag and mini-golf; it’s all waiting for you!
The Block Arcade
The Block Arcade is the finest example of a 19th-century shopping arcade in Australia. Spanning from Collins to Little Collins, The Block Arcade – originally Carpenter’s Lane – features a mosaic floor, carved stone finishings and a beautiful glass dome centerpiece.
Inside are a collection of boutique retailer’s, including the iconic Hopetoun Tea Rooms. Opened for The Victorian Ladies’ Work Association in 1892 by wife of then Victorian Governor – Lady Hopetoun – these tea rooms provided a place for women to relax in between their day of shopping.
The most magnificent feature of The Block Arcade is the glass dome. Architect David C. Askew, was asked to take inspiration from the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan, Italy’s oldest active shopping centre.
The Royal Arcade
Built in 1870, The Royal Arcade is not only Melbourne’s most popular arcade, but also the oldest in Australia. Part of the Victorian Heritage Registrar, The Royal Arcade is a marvel to walk through, with its checkered tiles and glass ceiling.
At the Little Collins end, there are two giant carvings of the mythical figures of Gog & Magog: biblical figures that were said to be allies of Satan. They stand flanking a large clock that was designed by Thomas Gaunt, once ‘the only watch maker of the Australian colony.’
Originally the south of the arcade ended with a Turkish bath, but in 1902 it was removed and the Little Collins entrance was opened.
Inside the arcade you’ll find cafes, chocolate stores, gift stores and more.
6. Have Some Fun
Melbourne knows how to have fun, and there’s plenty of options in the CBD to explore your inner child. From bowling, gaming arcades, laser tag and mini-golf; it’s all waiting for you!
Holey Moley is on a mission to make putt-putt great again. Once a past time for the little ones, this mini golf is adults only - it's not one for the kids.
Spread over 2 levels in the CBD, Holey Moley has 27 holes inspired by pop culture - think Game of Thrones, The Simpsons and Pac Man. Each floor has a Caddyshack Bar, serving golf themed cocktails.
We recommend making a booking - sure, they talk walk-ins, but they're quite often booked out. Holey Moley is by the same team behind Strike - bowling and laser tag - and also B. Lucky and Sons - an arcade and gaming bar - both also in the CBD and lots of fun.
Bartonica combines two great things; alcohol and vintage gaming. This underground bar off Flinders Lane is filled with old school gaming consoles, and has a little bit of everything.
There's the much loved shooter Time Crisis, Daytona Racing, several pinball machines, and of course, Mario Kart 64. Have a crew? Book one of their private booths and challenge the whole squad.
7. See A Show
Melbourne loves shows, with dozens of performances happening every week. From musicals, comedy nights, burlesque shows, jazz and dramas - the city has it all.
Love a laugh? Melbourne has a large population of comedians looking to make chuckle, and one of the city's many open mic nights.
Our favourite one? Monday night at Spleen Comedy Bar. It’s an intimate venue, showcasing around 8 comics every week. Most of the talent are up-and-comers, but it’s also the testing ground for a lot of established comics, like Wil Anderson, Frank Woodley, Sammy J, Jimeoin and Fiona O'Loughlin. During the comedy festival this place goes off, playing host to several international acts that are kept secret until the night.
There are cheap drinks, and entry is free - they only ask for a gold coin donation. While some acts might fumble, it’s usually held together by a strong host, making Spleen a great night out.
8. Drink The Coffee
Melbourne has the best coffee in Australia - hands down! The espresso machine was introduced to Melbourne during the gold rush, when many Italians migrated on their hunt for riches. Legend says that the first espresso machine in the CBD was introduced by Pellegrini’s, which opened on Bourke Street in 1954.
Since then, Melbourne has embraced coffee, and weaved it into the city’s identity. There are now countless cafes and many roasters. So while you're here, you need to try Australia’s much loved flat white - One part espresso, five parts milk - or even a 'magic' - a uniquiely Melbourne coffee made of a double ristretto topped with five ounces of creamy frothed milk.
Here are several CBD cafes to start your caffeine adventures.
Dukes Coffee Roasters
You'll find Duke Coffee Roaster’s on Flinders Lane, responsible for providing lot of CBD workers with their regular coffee. Duke’s - there's are only 1 location in Melbourne - roasts their popular blends at their roastery and training centre in Richmond. There's a small amount of seating inside, otherwise order it takeaway and go exploring down Centre Place.
Another super popular cafe is Patricia, found at the Western end of the CBD it’s a little escape from the corporate buildings that surround it. Standing room only, it’s a perfect place to get a dose of Melbourne’s coffee.
9. Catch A Gig
Melbourne loves its music with around 465 live music venues, which works out to be 1 venue for every 8,915 residents, more than New York, Paris, London, Berlin and Tokyo. With plenty of musicians performing throughout the week, it's easy to catch a gig. Here are some of the best spots to enjoy some live music.
With the rise of streaming services, many music stores have been forced to shut shop over the past decade. But Basement Discs remains, an underground music store that also puts on several live (and free) performances a month. You'll find it off Block Place, one of Melbourne's popular lane ways. For a full schedule of gigs check out their website.
This purpose built Jazz club is the first of its kind outside of New York. Since the 1950's, the Birdland New York was known for being Charlie Parker's - an influential saxophonist - resident jazz club. As Alan Morrison, the long time editor of Ebony Magazine, put it, “Birdland was both a cultural vantage point and a barometer of trends where all the big names in jazz performed”. And so Melbourne is the first city to host a Birdland venture outside New York city.
Encompassing more than just jazz - there's also R&B, funk, pop & rock - Bird's Basement showcases leading acts of their genre. The tickets are very reasonable, regularly around $30.
10. Admire Some Art
While you will see some great art on the Melbourne streets, some of our best can be found at our many galleries. While there are often ticketed exhibitions, many of them also offer some sort of free exhibitions. Here's a collection of galleries in the CBD definitely woth your time.