Duration: 2-3 hours
Price Guide: $0
Look up as you walk along. While most of the street-level architecture is given over to shops and cafes, above them are some of Melbourne’s fine original buildings, but you’ll only spot their beauty by looking past the shopfronts.
Start this tour from Flinders Street Station (on the city loop). (You can also start at Melbourne Central Station if you wish, as the two are only a few blocks away from each other, but starting at Flinders Street will avoid any backtracking). Over the course of this tour you may get hungry for lunch – on this particular tour you’ll pass too many possible lunch venues to mention, of every conceivable variety. While in Melbourne I sampled many cafes and restaurants and have yet to have a bad experience in one, so relax and take your pick. Many of the quirkier, one-off shops require a little more exploring to find, but follow this guide and you’ll be in the right track. Also, check out our Cheap Eats section for some more ideas.
Walk out through the main entrance at Flinders Street Station and cross over to the Swanston Street and Flinders Street corner, outside Young Jackson’s Pub.
Opposite the station, on the south-eastern corner of the intersection, is Federation Square. Boasting some of Melbourne’s hottest bars and cafes, plus the Ian Potter Centre: National Gallery of Victoria, it’s a hotspot for both locals and visitors. Just past Fed Square (as it’s known to locals) is Birrarung Marr, Melbourne’s most recently created major park. It can be reached from the Federation Square car park, by heading down the stairs along the southern side of Fed Square or by taking the path along the river next to the Princes Bridge.
Continue north along Swanston Street.
Swanston Steet offers both compelling architecture and shopaholic bliss – from one-off boutiques to tacky souvenir stores (cork hat anyone?) there’s something to suit everyone. Better-known brands housed on the strip include Mango and Quicksilver. By following Swanston Street all the way up you’ll pass – in this order – Melbourne Town Hall (on the corner with Collins Street), the State Library (on the Latrobe Street corner, it also has free internet) and Melbourne City Baths, just past RMIT up the top end of the city. All are on your right as you go along and all of which are worth a visit. In terms of clothes shops, it’s better to turn off and explore the streets, lanes and arcades that make up the grid of the city centre. Also, if you fancy it, there are horse-drawn carriages available for hire to take a leisurely spin around the city’s highlights.
After crossing over Flinders Lane, turn left or right (you choose) at the next intersection, taking you on to Collins Street.
Collins Street is undeniably an awe-inspiring streetscape – the wealth invested in this street over two hundred years is obvious as you pass the grand banks and stores such as Tiffanys and Chanel. Other sights to see on this street include Scots Church and St Michaels Uniting Church (140 and 120 Collins Street), as well as the Regent Theatre (191 Collins St).
An absolute must see whilst wandering through the city is the Block Arcade. You can enter it either through Elizabeth Street or Collins Street – inspired by the Galleria Vittorio in Milan, the design is beautiful, and having been restored, fully intact. There are a few specialist shops spread out inside (of most note to me, Haighs chocolates). Block Place connects the arcade with Little Collins Street, which consists of a tiny street rammed full of delightful cafes (I strongly recommend breakfast at Caffe Cortile).
If you had turned left from Swanston Street onto Collins Street, turn right at the end of the street onto Elizabeth Street and continue walking until you see Bourke Street on your right. Or, if you chose to turn right, turn left onto Russell Street then walk down the hill to Bourke Street. Turn left onto Bourke Street and walk down to the corner of Swanston and Bourke.
Be sure to check out Jetty Surf too for a huge range of summer fashion and beachwear, also PriceLine; a discount store for cosmetics and toiletries – there are several of these stores dotted around the town centre, the biggest of which can be accessed from both Swanston or Bourke Street.
When you’re done shopping on Bourke Street Mall, return to the Swanston Street corner, continue to head north and you will soon see an entrance to Melbourne Central – enter this central-city mall and you will find yourself amongst four floors of bars, cafes, a cinema, homewares and – you guessed it – more fashion, not to mention a food court.
Lunch: if you haven’t eaten lunch already, you could give one of the many restaurants here a try.
Exit Melbourne Central back onto Swanston Street, turn left onto Latrobe Street and continue walking down the hill until you reach Elizabeth Street.
Elizabeth Street has a couple of boutiques dotted along it, such as Shibuya (which is quite pricey) also several shoe shops. The shopping’s not nearly as glamorous as Collins or even Bourke or Swanston Streets, but if you have a motorbike fan with you, they’ll be in heaven as Elizabeth Street is packed with motorcycle shops with their wares arrayed on the footpath.
To get back to where you started, walk south down Elizabeth Street and you’ll soon see the familiar golden-yellow bricks of Flinders Street Station in front of you. This is the back entrance to the station. You can simply walk east along Flinders Street to get to the main station entrance if that’s where you need to be.