Cover Photo: Jean-Paul McAllan

Melbourne—also known by its traditional Aboriginal name, Naarm—is a city that caters to the curious. We explore its thriving creative scene through the eyes of its artists

If you know, you know. That more or less sums up the spirit of Naarm, or Melbourne, Australia—a city that carries a quiet, confident coolness about it. Just last year, Smith Street in the Fitzroy neighbourhood was named “the coolest street in the world” for its line-up of understatedly chic wine bars, laidback cafés, restaurants and independent boutiques frequented by Melbourne’s creative set. The neighbourhood, once a stomping ground for street gangs in the 1800s, has a long, proud history of sticking it to the man and defying the mainstream.

It’s an attitude that has remained and become innate in modern Melburnians; naturally the city has become a breeding ground for artists and innovators. Given the city’s plethora of multicultural pockets that celebrate its diverse immigrant population, proud Indigenous heritage and position as a cultural hotspot, we asked some of Melbourne’s established and rising stars in the art world to narrow down the options and share their favourite local haunts.

MEGGS, VISUAL & MURAL ARTIST

Edinburgh Gardens

Also known as Eddy Gardens, this is a large park that everyone on the Northside has visited to eat lunch and have a drink (or many) with friends. It’s spacious, has a skatepark, is kid-friendly and is an overall great outdoor hub.

Flinders and Cape Schanck

I love to go surfing, swimming and walking around Point Leo, Flinders and Bushrangers Bay, and to Cape Schanck and Gunnamatta Beach.

Great Northern Hotel

An old-school pub with a classic, cosy front bar, good vibes, cold pints and outside tables that face west for some end-of-day rays of late-summer sun. 

YVETTE COPPERSMITH, PAINTER 

My top places to visit are the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Tarrawarra Museum of Art, McClelland Gallery and the National Gallery of Victoria’s International building and sculpture garden.

There’s a wonderful, rich gallery scene in Melbourne: commercial, artist-run, house museums, and private and public institutions. It has been an inspiring place to grow as an artist. The four places I’ve picked are all fabulous exhibition spaces situated in beautiful natural settings, with great restaurants and cafés—nourishing on many levels.

Melbourne has an incredible diversity of culture. Even for locals, there will always be more to discover about the city, with an eclectic range of events, festivals and exhibitions.

JEAN-PAUL MCALLAN, PHOTOGRAPHER

Migrant Coffee

Melbourne is full of special cafés but one of the best is my local neighbourhood one, Migrant Coffee. The Migrant slogan is “From here, but not here”, and it perfectly sums up the neighbourhood of Footscray—one of the most multicultural areas in Melbourne—and the successive waves of immigration to the city.

The two owners, best friends Melodee Malazarte and Stacey Earsman, are themselves the proud daughters of immigrants and have dedicated their space to bonding with the community, all while providing amazing coffee, bagels and all-around good vibes. Last year, I collaborated with Migrant Coffee to help curate a photographic exhibition held at the café titled Our Family, which was a homage to our loved ones who made a new life in Australia. The exhibition shared archival photos from the early days of families moving to Australia to create a celebration of cultural diversity and of sharing our stories.

Footscray Park

Footscray Park is a 15-hectare park located on the south bank of the Maribyrnong River, and overlooks the city skyline on one side and Flemington Racecourse on the other. It is registered as a historic place because it is the most intact public garden from the Edwardian period in Victoria, planned by noted architect Rodney Alsop (who won a competition for its design) in 1911. All year round, the park sees people barbecuing, picnicking and playing sports, and provides a well-needed escape from the urban sprawl of Melbourne. I’ve spent many sunny days there, hanging out with friends and family, and have made a lot of good memories there. 

See also: 9 Gorgeous Green Spaces in Asia for a Breath of Fresh Air

Wabi-Sabi Salon

When moving to Australia after living in Japan for most of my childhood, I was homesick for everything Japanese for years—and still am. One thing I especially miss is Japanese “home-style” cuisine. After years of only ever finding either inauthentic or super-upmarket Japanese restaurants, I stumbled across Wabi-Sabi Salon and found exactly what I was looking for. To this day, it is still my favourite Japanese restaurant in Melbourne, and my wife and I have eaten there so much that we have now become good friends with the owner, Tomoya Kawasaki. They even catered our wedding. Drop in if you are in Melbourne and looking for some of the best Japanese food, sake, natural wine and cocktails.

ANNE U, SCULPTOR

Libraries & Bookstores

One great thing about Melbourne is the quality of public libraries and curated bookstores. The State Library of Victoria has free access to historical displays and art exhibitions, and a beautiful grassy lawn to hang out on. Toward the opposite end of Swanston Street, near Flinders Lane, you will find City Library and the not-for-profit Melbourne Art Library, both spaces that are ideal for artists, designers and creatives to find inspiration and conduct research for their practices.

Melbourne’s independent, specialist bookstores are magical—my recommendations are The Paperback Bookshop on Bourke Street, which contains a maze of my favourite books on philosophy and poetry; Metropolis Bookshop in Curtin House for its books on photography and art; and Bookshop by Uro at Collingwood Yards for all things architecture and design. What is wonderful about all these places is that they contain carefully curated material, the antidote to the abyss that is the information freely disseminated across the internet.

Craft Victoria

Craft Victoria, tucked away in a basement on Watson Place, is a quirky but sophisticated retail and exhibition space that showcases contemporary craft and design by Australian makers. It’s known for fostering creativity and contributes to the creative community at large by providing educational programmes and workshops for its artists. It is my go-to recommendation for beautiful works spanning ceramics and glassware to textiles and jewellery.

Sun Theatre

A fully licensed, art deco-style, independent cinema in the inner western suburb of Yarraville, showing both classics and modern film in screening rooms named after closed-down cinemas across Melbourne. Sun Theatre is one of the few remaining boutique cinemas, with passionate projectionists presenting films in various formats, including the rare and spectacular 70mm format. 

YING ANG, PHOTOGRAPHER

Napier Quarter

A hidden gem. It’s very small with a considered wine list and does an excellent seasonal menu. Napier Quarter is situated on a picturesque corner in the back streets between the cool neighbourhoods of Collingwood and Fitzroy. Sit outside under a generous tree on a beautiful day and watch the world meander by. 

Fitzroy Gardens

A beautiful park for some spectacular walks, especially with the gold-leafed trees in autumn. Fitzroy Gardens has a gorgeous peach-coloured conservatory where I got married. It is a wonderful place—and it’s magical to have such a special memory of our own that we can revisit regularly.

Marion Wine Bar

Marion is quintessential Melbourne dining: interesting neighbourhood, relaxed and lively atmosphere, and outstanding food. Andrew McConnell, who is behind the wine bar, also owns some of the other amazing places to eat that Melbourne is famous for, such as Supernormal, Gimlet and Cutler & Co. They are all definitely worth a visit.

Lucy Folk

A quirky and gorgeous designer of clothing and jewellery with a unique showroom in a converted warehouse. Lucy Folk has a signature style that is easily recognisable and utterly unique.

A La Grecque

A day-trip destination in a town called Aireys Inlet, which has a breathtaking position on the Great Ocean Road. Less than two hours’ drive from Melbourne, Aireys has a charming lighthouse that overlooks the ocean over dramatic red rock cliffs that fall away the beach. Take a walk along the clifftops and settle into A La Grecque for a Greek fine dining experience with the salt wind in your hair.

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