When it comes to neighbourhoods in Melbourne, I’m kind of an expert.
Over the past decade, I’ve based myself in well over a dozen suburbs in this wonderful city, from Footscray to St Kilda to Northcote to Richmond to Fitzroy to South Yarra to…
Yeah, it’s a lot.
Partially, it was due to the pandemic. I found myself “stuck” behind Melbourne’s closed borders back in 2021, but wasn’t able to sign a rental lease as I hadn’t yet had my Australian residency approved.
That instability turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it gave me the opportunity to try multiple neighbourhoods on for size, racking up month-long stints in dozens of different spots across the city.
When you combine that with over a decade of annual trips to Melbourne to see family — during which I always spent a month or two checking out a different neighbourhood — I find myself in the fortunate position of knowing this city like the back of my hand.
In other words, I’m perfectly placed to write an article about where to stay in Melbourne.
In this guide, I’ll be covering the coolest neighbourhoods, recommending the most family-friendly suburbs, and sharing which areas are best for those on a tight budget. Most importantly, I’ll also be listing my favourite accommodation in every neighbourhood — all to make your trip planning easier.
So with all that being said, let’s get started.
Carlton: For Foodies and Culture Vultures
Carlton is a fantastic neighbourhood and one that I never tire of returning to. It’s an excellent choice for first-time visitors to the city, filled with wide, tree-lined streets, beautiful Victorian terraces, sizeable parks, and some of the best Italian restaurants outside of Italy.
To me, the highlight of Carlton is the Queen Victoria Market: a sprawling foodie wonderland — it takes up two city blocks! — that’s packed full of local produce, street food stands, and souvenirs. If you’re going to have access to a kitchen in your accommodation, you’ll want to make this your first port of call — it’s so much better than going to the supermarket! If not, be sure to go anyway, just to sample dishes from the many food stalls. Every Wednesday, the space converts into a bustling night market; ideal for sampling delicious snacks from around the world.
Carlton is also home to the wonderful Lygon Street, which is one of my favourite places to eat in the city. You can think of Lygon Street as the heart of Italian culture in Melbourne — you can’t walk more than a few metres without passing a pizza parlour, gelato store, or espresso bar. And the quality of the food here is so good; you can thank the generations of Italian immigrants for that.
The suburb also has plenty to offer visitors outside of its dining opportunities. Taking a walk around Carlton Gardens is a wonderful way spend a sunny morning. Within its grounds, you’ll find the world-class Melbourne Museum and the equally impressive Royal Exhibition Centre; the latter is even a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Away from the park, Cinema Nova is one of the best places to catch a film in Melbourne, offering vintage-style, intimate, small-screen rooms, airing both mainstream hits and independent releases. There’s even an open-air swimming pool in the neighbourhood — Carlton Baths — for cooling off during those hot summer heatwaves.
On top of all of that, Carlton is located directly north of Melbourne’s CBD, which means that all of the main tourist attractions in the city will be within a 10-minute walk, or even shorter tram ride, of your hotel. To me, that gives you the best of both worlds: you can walk to most of the big sights, then kick back and live like a local in one of the best neighbourhoods to do so.
Where to Stay in Carlton
Zagame’s House (A$300 a night)
There isn’t a huge amount of excellent accommodation in Carlton, which means that Zagame’s House stands out from the crowd. This is one of the coolest properties I’ve ever taken a look at here at Everything Victoria, with its slick, modern interior stealing the show from all of those generic hotel chains. And for a five-star hotel? It’s actually really reasonably priced. Also included within that is access to a gym, private parking, lighting-fast Wi-Fi, and a restaurant. You can’t beat the location, either, with everything in Carlton within a 5-10 minute walk.
Footscray: For Budget Travellers and Vietnamese Food-Lovers
There’s no doubt about it: Melbourne is an expensive place to visit as a tourist. So if you’re on a tight budget, I’d encourage you to take a look at Footscray. This up-and-coming neighbourhood was once viewed as gritty and dangerous, but don’t buy into the outdated stereotypes: the buzzy suburb is now beloved by hipsters, artists, and appreciators of all things multicultural.
Footscray is located in the inner-west of Melbourne, roughly five kilometres from the CBD; you’ll pay less for accommodation by staying further out of the centre, but the transport links mean it’s still quick and easy to venture in.
I spent a month in Footscray and came away with a particularly satisfied stomach. This suburb is primarily home to Vietnamese and East African communities and what that means is that you’ll have access to an exciting, diverse food scene. Feel like eating Ethiopian, Thai, Greek, or Malaysian? Here, it’s all possible. Head to the brutalist Footscray Market to admire the wide array of fresh produce, too; some of which you’re likely to have never encountered before.
Still, you can’t talk about Footscray without mentioning Nhu Lan Bakery. I’ve spent many months travelling across Vietnam, so I have high standards for what is one of my favourite cuisines. And still, the banh mis (a Vietnamese sandwich) that Nhu Lan serves up are better than any I’ve had in its homeland. I maintain a thorough round-up of the best banh mi in Melbourne, and Nhu Lan has never wavered from the top spot, despite me sampling dozens of alternatives. I recommend heading there for brunch, as the queues can stretch a block back during the busy lunchtime rush.
Outside of eating, one of my favourite Footscray activities is spending a few hours strolling the peaceful Maribyrnong River Trail. This is one of the best waterside walks in Melbourne, particularly because it offers up such impressive views of the skyscrapers of the CBD. It passes by Footscray Park: a spacious Edwardian garden filled with playgrounds, BBQs, a lake, plenty of walking paths, and great views over the city.
If you like your historic buildings, you’ll also want to check out the stunning Heavenly Queen Chinese temple while you’re in town — you can catch a glimpse of it from the River Trail. And you can’t forget the retro Sun Theatre cinema, either, in nearby Yarraville, which dates back to 1938. Talk about impressive architecture!
Where to Stay in Footscray
Plough Hotel (A$140 a night)
The Plough Hotel is located on vibrant Barkly Street, which means you’ll never be too far from all of the best restaurants and bars. Despite this, the rooms are surprisingly quiet so you should be able to sleep well. Speaking of: one of the features I appreciate most about this hotel is that all of the rooms have blackout blinds! Not only does this help with noise insulation but it also ensures you’ll have a great night’s sleep. The rooms themselves are clean and comfortable, and you’ll have access to off-street parking. In terms of location: it’s great! You’ll be a 5 minute walk from Middle Footscray train station, which can get you into the CBD within 20 minutes.
Fitzroy: For Die-Hard Hipsters in Search of Cool
If you’re anything like me, every time you decide to travel to a new city, you jump on Google and attempt to find out which is the coolest neighbourhood.
In Melbourne, it’s Fitzroy.
This is where you’ll find life-changingly good coffee, outrageously extravagant brunches, cool independent stores, sun-drenched beer gardens, and chaotic nightlife that never seems to stop. Yes, it’s a popular neighbourhood, and yes, it’s an expensive neighbourhood, but in my opinion? It’s also the best neighbourhood.
Brunswick Street and Gertrude Street are the two areas you’ll want to focus most of your explorations on. There, you’ll be greeted by anything from Afghani curries to Himalayan dumplings, from drag bingo nights to late-night chai bars, high-end cocktails to grungy live music, vintage stores to bustling coffee shops. It’s eclectic, diverse, exciting, and fun.
Head to Rose Street’s Artist Market on a weekend to pick up a locally-made souvenir from your trip, then hit up the Fitzroy Swimming Pool for an afternoon of cooling off. Sign up for a few hours of fun at Mystery Rooms; Melbourne’s best escape room, or wander the alleyways to uncover some of the best street art in the city.
Fitzroy is located three kilometres from the CBD, so getting into town isn’t difficult at all; it’s a great location for visitors to the city. It’ll take around 30 minutes to walk into the centre, but taking the tram will cut that time down to 10. Carlton Gardens and Edinburgh Gardens are both within walking distance of the suburb, too, so there’s plenty of green space for whenever you need a break from all of that eating and drinking.
Where to Stay in Fitzroy
Tyrian Apartments (A$250 a night)
Whenever I have friends come to visit, I direct them towards Tyrian Apartments. The rooms here are clean, comfortable, and secure — and because it’s an apartment, you also get access to a kitchen, laundry facilities, on-site parking, and plenty of amenities. You’re in a great spot for exploring Fitzroy’s food scene here, too, within walking distance of all of the best restaurants, bars, and cafes. Throw in a balcony and friendly staff, and you’ve got yourself a place that’s great value for money.
St Kilda: For Beach Babes and Backpackers
St Kilda is located in the inner south-east of Melbourne and is the city’s most famous beachy suburb. It’s home to great restaurants and lively bars, tons of backpackers, sandy stretches, palm trees galore, and even a colony of penguins!
Famous amongst tourists, infamous amongst locals, this suburb is where great poverty lives alongside great wealth; where you have unbelievably luxurious apartments mixed in with hostels that are jam-packed with British backpackers; seedy areas stubbornly resisting gentrification that are infused with some of the best restaurants in Melbourne.
It’s an interesting place and an awful lot of fun. There’s tons to keep you busy, too, so you could easily spend your entire trip to Melbourne here, beside the beach. I spent a full month living in St Kilda and still have plenty of activities left on my to-do list!
Luna Park is the big draw for many tourists; an amusement park that’s home to the oldest hand-operated roller coaster in the world! Within the park’s perimeter, you’ll find 20 other fairground rides, including a ghost train, dodgems, carousel, and ferris wheel, plus numerous swinging, spinning, and dropping-focused rides for any older visitors.
Even more popular than Luna Park, though, is the penguins. I adore the Little Penguin colony that has unexpectedly made its home here. Every evening, beside St Kilda Pier and just before dusk, a group of teeny-tiny penguins swim ashore after a day spent fishing at sea. This is a great free alternative to the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island, although do note it’s currently closed until early-2024.
So what else is there to do in St Kilda? Well, you’ve got busy Acland Street, which is yet another foodie hub in Melbourne. There, you’ll find all the best food in the suburb, plus plenty of buzzy bars. The St Kilda Promenade is made for strolling beside the sand before stopping off for a wine at one of the many beach bars. The Palais Theatre is a historic live music destination, so do take a look to see who’s performing while you’ll be there: I saw Tim Minchin at the Palais and it was such a great venue! And I love the St Kilda Botanic Gardens, which are compact in size but blanketed in beautiful palm trees.
In terms of exploring the rest of Melbourne, St Kilda is located six kilometres southeast of the CBD, so you’ll be needing to utilise public transport to get into the heart of the city. A tram will get you there within 30 minutes, so you’re not too isolated from the main tourist attractions.
If you love the beach and love your suburbs to be a little rough around the edges, St Kilda is the place for you.
Where to Stay in St Kilda
The Prince ($210 for a double room; $310 for a queen bed)
The Prince is a lovely little boutique hotel that’s less than a five-minute walk from the beach in St Kilda. It’s a beautiful property, with well-designed rooms that are full of thoughtful, calming features. It’s close to the main attractions in the neighbourhood, including all of the gems of Acland Street. Free parking is available, the tram runs from just outside the hotel, and the on-site restaurant is seriously impressive.
Richmond: For Sports Lovers and Music Fans
Richmond is located in the east of Melbourne, just 5 km from the CBD. And there’s a real sense of diversity here.
In the north, you have Victoria Street; one of the few real ungentrified areas of the inner city. It’s subsequently not the nicest of spots, so I personally wouldn’t recommend staying in this part, but it does offer up some excellent Vietnamese food; just as good as Footscray’s! Victoria Street, in fact, is often referred to as Little Saigon and the two weeks I spent living on said street may have seen me consume a banh mi every single day. If that sounds like your idea of heaven, do make the journey over there to sample one (I recommend Hung’s Bakery).
In contrast, the southern reaches of Richmond bring you to Swan Street, where you’ll leave the grittiness behind and find yourself surrounded by sunny beer gardens, live music clubs, and an abundance of Greek restaurants. Swan Street is home to the best food in the neighbourhood so is a popular place to go for a drink before the game — if you can find a pub that isn’t yet overrun with fans, that is.
Speaking of the game: what most people come to Richmond for is the footy.
Well, all kinds of sports, if I’m being honest, but this is Melbourne, after all: this city is mad on its AFL.
The hallowed turf of the MCG is located on the western border of Richmond and summons fans of the sport from far and wide. It’s not just the footy that’s played here, however. When summer rolls around, the venue brings cricket to the masses; most notably on the 26th December when the iconic Boxing Day Test is played. With a capacity of 100,000, the MCG is the 11th biggest stadium in the world; this sporting behemoth really does have to be seen to be believed.
In addition to the MCG, nearby AAMI Park is home to regular Rugby League and Rugby Union games, while tennis fans gravitate towards the Rod Laver, Margaret Court, and John Caine Arenas during the Australian Open in January.
Richmond is also the live music epicentre of Melbourne. The famed Corner Hotel is a Melbourne institution and one of the most popular performance venues in the city. Playing host to legendary artists like Pink Floyd, Mick Jagger, Blink-182, Interpol, Queens of the Stone Age, and the White Stripes… it’s a particularly impressive feat once you discover it can only hold 800 people inside! Any rock music fan will definitely want to check this one out.
If all of those activities start to wear you down, Richmond is located on the Yarra River, which makes a walk in nature particularly accessible. If you’re feeling as athletic as your sporting heroes, you may feel inspired to tackle the Yarra Trail all the way over to the CBD and back (a distance of 5 km each way).
Where to Stay in Richmond
The Motley Hotel (A$225 a night)
The Motley Hotel is one of my favourite properties in the city due to the excellent value for money it offers. Sure, it’s more than $200 a night, but it’s also brand new for 2023, a five-star hotel, and one of the best-rated hotels in Melbourne. Everything feels luxurious here, from the soft lighting to the even-softer linen, right down to the high-tech features and achingly-modern interior design. Their rooftop bar is ideal for grabbing a beer before the game, while the cafe downstairs offers a remarkably tasty breakfast.
Middle Park: For Family-Friendly Parks, Beaches, and the Australian Grand Prix
Middle Park is a true sleeper hit in this city. It’s rarely included in best neighbourhood guides for Melbourne, but this is a suburb that has so much going for it.
For starters, it’s bordered in the north by the incredibly picturesque Albert Park. This is my favourite patch of green in Melbourne, primarily due to those epic views of the city skyline. Within Albert Park, you’ve got a sizeable lake that’s full of birdlife, as well as a walking trail that runs along the circumference of the water. The loop is 5 km in length, so it makes for a particularly scenic excuse for getting your steps in. I lived here during one of Melbourne’s many lockdowns and loved having the ability to get out into nature so easily.
Albert Park is also the famed location for the Australian Grand Prix, so if you love your F1, this is going to be the ideal place to base yourself. If you’re coming to Melbourne for the event, you’ll be minutes away from all the action while if you’re visiting when the racetrack isn’t in use (April – December), you’ll be free to tackle the course for yourself. Just watch out for any unaware pedestrians!
Not only is Middle Park a five-minute walk to Albert Park, but it’s also a five minute walk to the beach. Middle Park Beach is a lovely spot; it’s quieter and cleaner than St Kilda’s stretch of sand, so makes for a especially relaxing getaway. The promenade along the beach provides another opportunity for stretching your legs; it takes just half an hour to get to St Kilda. The entirety of Middle Park is safe, quiet, and family-friendly, so if you’ll be travelling with little ones and want to stay beside the water, this is a great option.
This suburb, in fact, used to be the beachy destination for wealthy locals back in the 1800s, and many of their Victorian and Edwardian homes are still standing today. These heritage buildings are incredibly well-preserved, so just walking around the neighborhood provides ample opportunity for taking photos
In terms of location, Middle Park is 5 km southeast of the CBD. Getting there is as simple as anywhere else I’ve mentioned so far: a direct tram gets you into the centre of Melbourne in exactly 30 minutes.
If historic architecture, green parks, quiet beaches, and a family-friendly location checks all of your Melbourne requirements, consider Middle Park.
Where to Stay in Middle Park
Cosy Hideaway (A$176 a night)
This property is in a great location in Middle Park, just steps away from Albert Park and the beach, but also surrounded by plenty of cosy cafes and restaurants. A tram stop is also just over the road, which makes getting around the city so easy. The apartment itself is surprisingly large and well-equipped, with a living room, a decent kitchen, and (in some rooms) a balcony. The surrounding area is peaceful, quiet, and private, which is always appreciated! If Middle Park is the neighbourhood for you, you’ll struggle to find better accommodation.
South Yarra: For Bougie Boutiques, Brunches, and the Botanic Gardens
My title may be full of B’s, but for me, South Yarra gets only straight ‘As.
(Is that the cheesiest sentence I’ve ever written? Don’t answer that.)
If you like to slip on a sheath of exclusivity when you travel, South Yarra is the neighbourhood for you. It’s glitzy and glam, clean and calm, attractive to the wealthy and well-off. Is today alliteration day or something?
South Yarra is where old money in Victoria resides.
Back in the 1840s, affluent Melburnians gathered in South Yarra to build a life outside of the CBD. Mansions sprung up, wide streets were lined with trees, and green spaces blossomed. Today, South Yarra is the place to come if you prefer to accompany your brunches with a glass of champagne, if you like to surround yourself with heritage buildings, and if you aim to punctuate your explorations with wide, open parkland.
If vast mansions call to you, you’ll delight in the sights of the Domain Precinct; one of the most prestigious areas of the city with some of the highest property prices. You’ll find estates and terraces to admire all along Walsh Street, Darling Street, and Caroline Street, while Como House is a historic mansion from 1847 that’s open to the public. The tour is fascinating but I especially recommend bringing a picnic to enjoy in the lush grounds afterwards.
When you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Prahran Market, which is the bougier version of the Queen Vic Market. There, you’ll find fresh produce, high-end meats, and gourmet accompaniments. There’s plenty of food stalls, too, if you fancy a quick snack as you wander.
If South Yarra is sounding a little stuffy to you, a walk along Chapel Street should nip those opinions in the bud. Here, you’ll find a much younger crowd, attracted to the street’s tasty brunches, diverse dining options, pumping bars, and wild nightlife. Unexpectedly, this is one of the best places to party in the city.
I lived in South Yarra for a month and what I loved most about this polished suburb was its accessibility to green space. The Royal Botanic Gardens are just minutes away and make for a particularly wonderful spot to have a picnic. The nearby war memorial, the Shrine of Remembrance, is well-worth a visit to pay your respects. In addition, the Yarra River borders South Yarra to the north (the clue’s in the name) and makes going for a long stroll a pleasant, feasible way to spend a day — I’d often walk into the CBD (it’s an hour’s walk away) and back on a sunny afternoon. And there’s even Herring Island, a leafy, sculpture park in the middle of the Yarra that’s only accessible by boat.
Where to Stay in South Yarra
The Como – MGallery (A$260 a night)
A stint in South Yarra practically requires you to opt for the luxury option. The Como provides just that. You’ll have access to a combined indoor/outdoor heated swimming pool on the rooftop, for starters! Combine that with the well-equipped fitness centre and sauna, the ability to use BBQs on the sundeck, and a glass of champagne on arrival, and it’s hard to imagine you’ll be disappointed. The rooms are spacious, clean, and comfortable, the hotel is centrally located within South Yarra, and the staff are only too happy to help you get the most out of your time in Melbourne. Overall, this is a great boutique hotel.
The CBD: For the Most Central of Locations
You’ll have noticed that every suburb I’ve included in this list so far has had a brief rundown of how far away it is from the CBD. After all, that’s where most of the city’s major tourist attractions can be found.
So why not just stay in the centre of Melbourne and make your holiday easier?
It’s definitely an option, although by staying in the centre, you lose a little of personality you gain from venturing further afield. If convenience is your priority, however, it makes sense for you to stay in the heart of it all.
When it comes to central neighbourhoods, you have three main options: the CBD, Southbank, and Docklands. These areas are all in the centre of Melbourne, so well-placed for helping you explore.
Still, I think the CBD is the best option out of these. Docklands doesn’t have much to offer tourists: it’s windy, sterile, and often referred to as a ghost town by locals. And Southbank? It’s similarly lifeless, but filled with glass skyscrapers rather than a surplus of concrete structures.
The best option, then is the CBD, where you’ll never run out of things to eat and attractions to explore.
Where to begin? You’ve got the iconic Flinders Street Station with neighbouring Federation Square just steps away. There’s the vibrant Chinatown area; home to some of the best dumplings in town. Victoria State Library’s angular design is famous on Instagram, so it’s definitely worth having a look around here. Of course, you can’t forget the street art-lined laneways and bustling arcades: two of the most photographed areas of the city.
There’s plenty of opportunity for getting your culture on, too. You’ve got the National Gallery of Victoria and the Old Melbourne Gaol. There’s the Immigration Museum and the SEA LIFE Aquarium, not to mention the lively theatre district. Then you have the Melbourne Skydeck, which offers better views of Melbourne than anywhere else in the city. And, of course, you can’t forget the fabulous Queen Vic Market, which I raved about in the Carlton section.
The trams are also free to ride within the CBD, which makes getting around particularly affordable.
So if you’re in Melbourne for the first time and are here to focus on the biggest attractions in the city, the CBD will place them minutes from your hotel doorstep.
Where to Stay in the CBD
Rydges Melbourne (A$230 a night)
One other advantage to staying in the CBD is its surplus of accommodation! Most other suburbs only have a couple of well-rated properties to choose from, but here, you’ve got dozens of options. Still, for me, the winner has to be Rydges. And not just because it has a rooftop heated swimming pool — although it certainly helps. This 4.5 star hotel was refurbished in mid-2023, so is in particularly impressive condition right now. You’ve got a modern fit-out, comfortable beds, wonderful staff, and a location that’s right beside the train station. Throw in the ability to check-in in advance of your arrival, a world-class fitness centre, and some impressive views from the rooms, and you’ve got yourself a seriously luxurious stay in Melbourne.
And Those Are the Best Neighbourhoods in Melbourne!
Phew! That was quite a lot to take in, right? In all honesty, you could choose any of these neighbourhoods to base yourself in and I doubt you’d be disappointed by any of them. This is a fantastic city, with some of the coolest suburbs in the world, so don’t worry about making a poor decision.
To summarise my recommendations, here’s what I think each neighbourhood is best for:
- Carlton: For foodies and culture vultures
- Footscray: For budget travellers and Vietnamese food lovers
- Fitzroy: For die-hard hipsters in search of cool
- St Kilda: For beach babes and backpackers
- Richmond: For sports lovers and music fans
- Middle Park: For family-friendly parks, beaches, and the Australian Grand Prix
- South Yarra: For bougie boutiques, brunches, and the Botanic Gardens
- The CBD: For the most central of locations
So there you have it! The best neighbourhoods in Melbourne. So now I want to know: which one did you decide on? Let me know in the comments below, then come back after your trip and share how it went!
All images copyright Everything Victoria unless otherwise noted