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  • Writer's pictureAcacia Gabriel

Guide to Melbourne’s Northern Suburbs

Updated: May 2

There's a good reason why Melbourne's High Street was named the "coolest street in the world" by TimeOut. The Northern suburbs showcase the city's alternative, artsy, and queer culture. Imagine young people with shaved heads and septum piercings walking greyhounds in vintage outfits; this gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect. There is room for everyone to be their most colorful, expressive, and genuine selves.


Melbourne is also considered the food capital of the country if not the continent. Boasting cuisines from more than 70 countries, in Melbourne you can eat around the world in just one city.


The North also has an intricate nightlife scene that balances hole-in-the-wall spots with large beer gardens. The bars host spoken word nights, jazz performances, and live music. The streets are covered in op shops (the Aussie slang for thrift shops), and most people opt for second-hand clothing rather than anything name-brand.


In classic Australian fashion, there is a heated rivalry between the Northern and Southern suburbs. They are split by the Yarra River and the CBD , and they each have their own, distinct vibe. I lived in the Northern suburbs for the year, and I believe they are what make Melbourne uniquely wonderful.


If you're thinking about moving to Melbourne or you want a guide to follow while you explore the city, here is a breakdown of the Northern suburbs:


Fitzroy 

Fitzroy is arguably the trendiest suburb in Melbourne. Between Brunswick Street and Smith Street, it has some of the funkiest cafes and bars in the city, and there are heaps of good restaurants and shops.


It’s very close to the CBD which makes it easier to get around with public transit. That being said, everyone wants to live in Fitzroy, so finding housing can be very competitive and/or expensive. It’s also a lot noisier than other suburbs because it’s in the middle of the action. 


No matter where you live in the North, there’s a good chance you’ll be heading to Fitzroy for its nightlife and shopping. So you’ll get to check it out either way! 


Things to do in Fitzroy:

  • Go op shopping - If you want to get lost in a massive vintage store that is full of treasures, check out Lost and Found Market on Brunswick Street.

  • Have a picnic in the Edinburgh Gardens - The Edi Gardens are a great place to spend a sunny day. Pick up food from Alimentari or Just Falafs, grab a bottle of wine, and lay out on a blanket in the fields.

  • Shop at Rose Street Market - Fitzroy hosts an artist's market with handmade goods every weekend.

  • Play pool at the Red Triangle - Red Triangle is a snooker club in Fitzroy that plays great music and has a ton of tables. You can't buy any alcohol there, but it's more of a late-night, wind-down spot.


Restaurants and cafes in Fitzroy:

  • Alimentari - This is a beautiful brunch spot. They have two locations in Fitzroy, but the one on Smith Street is bigger and feels more like a restaurant. The one on Brunswick Street is more like a deli, but they still have yummy takeaway salads and sweets.

  • Lune Croissanterie - Known for having some of the best croissants in the city. People will line up all morning just to try them. You have to get the almond croissant.

  • Izakaya by Tamura - Japanese pub foods and cocktails. They also serve rice lager which I would be curious to try.

  • Fitz Curry Cafe - Fitz Curry Cafe doesn't have the best decor -- you can walk by it a hundred times without noticing it -- but it's affordable and delicious.

  • Gabriel - Gabriel Cafe is my favorite place to work in the city. They have good food, great coffee, and super functional wifi (which is rare in Melb). I love sitting on the little outdoor ledge, especially when it’s nice out.


Bars in Fitzroy:

  • Rooks Return - One of my favorite bars in Melbourne. On most nights it is cute, vibey, and quiet, especially in the smoking area. They also have weekly events including free jazz shows on Wednesdays and Honky Tonks on Thursdays (cowboy line dancing).

  • The Black Cat - Very trendy cocktail bar in Fitzroy. They have a Pacman game, DJ sets, and a really cozy design. It's as nice during the day as it is at night, and it is a very popular date spot.

  • Naked for Satan - Rooftop bar with great views of the city. It's a bit touristy, but it's still a good place to take people when they are new to the city.

  • Nightcat - Live music venue that has performances most nights. If you look up the schedule, you'll find a lot of local bands. They also host salsa dancing on Sundays.

  • Beans Bar - One of the few lesbian bars in Melbourne. They host really interesting events including speed dating, sexual revolution panels, and Matilda viewing parties. Check their schedule to see what's going on.


Brunswick 

In addition to Fitzroy, Brunswick is another epicenter for nightlife, restaurants, and shopping. This is where I lived for the first few months. Sydney Road has everything you need, and I would get sucked up and realize that I hadn’t left Brunswick in days. However, that does give it a bit of a community vibe where you run into familiar faces at the Retreat, the Baths, or other Brunswick hotspots. 


If you are relying on public transportation in Melbourne, Brunswick can be a bit of a tricky location. It can take a while to get to the CBD, and you’ll need to take the bus to get to the other Northern suburbs. It’s a great place to live if you have a lot of friends in the same suburb, but commuting to other suburbs can get tricky. 


Things to do in Brunswick:

  • Go op shopping - If you close your eyes and throw a rock down Sydney Road, odds are you will hit about three op shops. The street is absolutely covered in them. Mutual Muse and Goodbyes are a bit more pricey, but they are nicely curated. If you are looking for classic, cheap thrift shopping, go to Vinnie's, Salvos, and Savers.

  • CERES - Going to CERES is one of the most wholesome ways to spend a morning in Melbourne. It is an environmental education center, an urban farm, and a social enterprise. Basically, you can get reasonably priced fruits and vegetables, brunch, and coffee while feeling like you're in the middle of the bush. Bring your own cups and bags because they do not have any single-use items.

  • Brunswick Baths - Brunswick's public pool also has a sauna, steam room, gym, and yoga studio. You can tan and read by the outdoor pool in the summer and warm up in the saunas in the winter. It's strangely social and chatty, and it's a running joke that young singles go to the Baths to flirt.


Restaurants and cafes in Brunswick:

  • A1 Bakery - Really delicious Lebanese bakery and grocer. It can get pretty crowded on the weekends, but it's worth the wait. I used to get the bread and salads to keep in my fridge for a quick lunch.

  • A Minor Place - Some of the best coffee in Brunswick. Also a nice place to get a toastie for brunch.

  • Green Refectory - Absolutely adorable and a Brunswick local favorite. The line gets crazy long on weekends, but it’s a bit quieter during the week. The food is great, especially for the price. I love their to-go salads. They don’t have wifi, but it’s a good place to catch up with a friend, draw, or read a book.


Bars in Brunswick:

  • Retreat Hotel - Everyone is obsessed with the Retreat and for good reason. It’s a huge venue so you can get whatever vibe you want. They have live shows, a pool table, an indoor bar, and a beer garden that’s covered in Christmas lights. On the weekends they have live DJs and dancing.

  • Cornish Arms - They have a nice rooftop where you can see the city. You can also get cheap pitchers or compete in a pub quiz. 

  • Brunswick Green - Chill vibes. Good place to get a drink or two (or three), and it's quiet enough that you can talk. The beer garden has a ton of heaters in the winter, and it's nice and sunny in the warmer months.

  • Flippy’s - One of the only lesbian bars in Melbourne. They host movie nights, comedy shows, and other events for the community.


Collingwood 

Home of the Pies (one of Melbourne's most popular AFL teams), Collingwood is an artsy little suburb East of Fitzroy. For such a small area, there are a lot of hidden gems like the street art studio, Fluffy Torpedo ice cream shop, and Hope Street Radio. 


Collingwood also has some of the city’s coolest street art and graffiti. There is a Keith Haring mural in Collingwood Yards, but you can also walk through the suburb’s many laneways to discover local pieces. 


Things to do in Collingwood:

  • Take a street art tour - Localing's street art tour gives you a great overview of some of the best pieces in the suburb. On our tour, we also got to check out a street art studio and speak with local artists.

  • Learn more about Melbourne's coffee culture at a roastery - Proud Mary Coffee Roasters is a great place for coffee lovers and caffeine addicts. They have some of the best coffee in the city and they sell coffee equipment, single-origin beans, and merch. It's a great place to learn more about the city's elite coffee culture.


Restaurants and cafes in Collingwood:

  • Jim's Greek Tavern - After living in Athens for five months, I was happily surprised by the quality of Melbourne's Greek restaurants. Melbourne is fondly known as “the third largest Greek city,” and Jim's Greek Tavern embodies this subculture. Every dish is delicious, and the BYO policy and ordering style make it feel more like a family dinner than a restaurant.

  • Molly Rose Brewery - While it's a small brewery with a diverse range of beers, I also enjoy Molly Rose's lunch and dinner menu. The SouthEast Asian-inspired menu is great for sharing with a big group, especially because you'll want to try everything. We split the spicy corn fried rice, the Laotian sausage with pear chutney, and the kingfish.

  • CIBI - CIBI is a blend of food, wine, design, and architecture. It is meant to blend the founders' Japanese sensibilities with their evolving Australian lifestyles to create a welcoming, warm, and exciting space. You can enjoy the cafe's traditional lunch plate before shopping in the design store for your new favorite mug or tea towel.


Bars in Collingwood:

  • Hope Street Radio - Hope Street Radio is a sweet wine bar in the Collingwood Yards. They have natural wine options (which are very popular in Melbourne) and picnic tables spread out under the big trees. In the winter they have bonfires to keep you warm, and in summer it's a great place to day drink and enjoy the long days.

  • Runner Up - Runner Up is also in the Collingwood Yards, right across from Hope Street. It's a rooftop bar with a quiet outdoor space as well as an indoor area with DJs and live music. Follow them on Instagram to see if they have any events on while you're in town.

Carlton 

Carlton is the suburb next door to Fitzroy, so it’s walking distance to everything you’d want to do. The streets are pretty and clean but it’s a bit more expensive. 


There is a lot to do in Carlton including Cinema Nova, the Melbourne Museum, and strolling through Lygon Street’s collection of Italian restaurants.

Things to do in Carlton:

  • Carlton Gardens - The Royal Exhibition Building was the first building in Australia to be granted UNESCO World Heritage status -- meaning it was recognized before the Sydney Opera House. They host flower markets, beer festivals, and other events here throughout the year. However, the gardens are also a lovely place to enjoy the sunshine. I found myself visiting Carlton Gardens throughout my year in Melbourne, and I loved seeing how the trees changed with the seasons.

  • Cinema Nova - If you're living in Melbourne, odds are you'll end up at Cinema Nova's Cheap Mondays. It's a great arthouse movie theater, and they have a popular, rowdy late-night screening of The Room every few months.

Restaurants and cafes in Carlton:

  • Brunetti - The flagship location is in the CBD, but the Carlton Brunetti is much quieter. They have Italian food and coffee, but people really go to Brunetti for the pastries. It's my favorite place to get a cake for a birthday or any other celebration.

  • Tiamo - Lygon Street has a ton of amazing Italian food options, but Tiamo is one of the most popular.


Bars in Carlton:

  • Curtin Hotel - This bar has become a rock'n'roll icon. Bands play on the top floor while DJs spin vinyl downstairs.


Northcote 

Northcote is home to the majority of High Street -- a street recognized by TimeOut magazine as the coolest street in the world. High Street offers music venues, op shops, hidden bars, restaurants, and more. On a nice day, you can stroll from one end to the other to explore the Inner North. 


There are a few iconic streets in Melbourne -- such as Brunswick’s Sydney Road or St Kilda’s Chapel Street -- but I think High Street earns its title because it is so unassuming.  Like many suburbs in the North, it exudes a gentle confidence without being too showy.


Things to do in Northcote:

  • Take a stroll down High Street - On a nice day, you can stroll from one end to the other to explore the Inner North. There are a ton of hidden gems to discover, and the street is full of music and life.

  • Go for a swim at the NARC - Melbourne's public pools are a summertime staple. NARC -- the Northcote Aquatic Recreation Center -- is brand new and it's a lovely place to spend the day. You can swim laps in the indoor or outdoor pools, sweat it out in the sauna, and then lay on the grass in the sun.

  • Have a barby at All Nations Park - Most parks, beaches, and public spaces in Australia have free barbecues for public use. All Nations Park is a big park with a skatepark, cricket pitch, and basketball court.


Restaurants and cafes in Northcote:

  • Mesob - Mesob is an inconspicuous, authentic Ethiopian restaurant. The menu was designed to share and it is all served on platters. It's heavy and filling; we always go straight to bed after dinner at Mesob. Get the omnivore platter and prepare to be rolled home.

  • Zsa's - European bistro with a rotating menu that changes weekly. It's a bit fancier than most of the restaurants on this list and requires a reservation, but it's a great place to treat yourself to a nice dinner.

  • All Are Welcome - They have great coffee, but I love to go there for the homemade bread. It's a neighborhood favorite and lots of people sit outside with their dogs. Sit by the window if you want to people watch on High Street.


Bars in Northcote:

  • Northcote Social Club - There are a lot of shows at Northcote Social Club, but it's about more than live music. It's a huge venue with a restaurant, a backyard, and an upstairs. They have restaurant deals throughout the week and you always run into someone you know.

  • Wesley Anne - Wesley Anne is such a gorgeous bar; it feels like a cathedral or wedding venue. The beer garden in the back is covered in pretty lights and they often have live bands.

Thornbury 

Thornbury is a bit more suburban than the other areas on this list. High Street also runs through Thornbury and offers many bars, restaurants, cafes, and shops. Then, once you get off the main road, many streets are just houses and families. I really liked living here, but I admit that it’s mainly because I loved my housemates. 


If you don’t know many people in the city, you may prefer to live closer to the action. However, Thornbury is pretty affordable and it’s very charming.


Things to do in Thornbury:

  • Welcome to Thornbury - Welcome to Thornbury has a beer garden, arcade, and food trucks. It's a chill place to spend the day if you're looking to play arcade games and drink a beer.

  • The Keys - The Keys is a great date spot with a bowling alley, pool table, beer garden, bar, and bistro. The vintage bowling alley has a great aesthetic and you could spend a whole day hanging out, playing games, and listening to good music.

  • Thornbury Picture House - Thornbury Picture House is a small but mighty movie theater in the middle of Thornbury. Get there early to enjoy a glass of wine or a snack in their charming outdoor area.


Restaurants and cafes in Thornbury:

  • 1800Lasagne - Best lasagne in Melbourne. It's really cute and they have a nice set-up, so we would also go for aperol spritzes and drinks.

  • Short Round - Cute cafe that feels nice and homey. They have great wifi, so it's a good place to work remotely. Their menu changes with the season, and they have amazing pastries and coffee.

  • Capers - In the old Thornbury Newsagency, Capers is a Greek-inspired restaurant with heaps of vegan options. They have great cocktails and share plate options like the dolmades and moussaka.

  • Farro Pizzeria - They have a ton of different options so I would recommend bringing friends and trying a bit of everything. The truffle potato pizza is my favorite.


Bars in Thornbury:

  • Thornbury Local - Local artists will come and play at Thornbury Local, so it's a good spot for live music and a glass of wine.

  • Cactus Room - Another live music venue with a great beer garden in the back. It almost feels more like a house party than a bar.

  • Kitty Somerset - Cocktail bar on High Street. A very trendy place that doesn't take reservations. As the Instagram says, "first in, best dressed."

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