Welcome to My Place . . . Melbourne
The Australian city’s best eats, drinks and sights chosen by environmental health officer Niamh Connolly
Niamh Connolly on Hosier Lane in Melbourne, famous for its street art. Photograph: Damian Scanlon
Niamh Connolly, originally from Westmeath, has been living in Melbourne for the past six years. She has a Masters in occupational health and safety and is also a qualified food safety auditor. She works as an environmental health officer, “so I get to see the good, the bad and the ugly of Melbourne’s food scene from the inside”, she says.
Where is the first place you bring people to when they visit Melbourne in summer?
Riverland – a line of little bars nestled beside the River Yarra that can be accessed by an unassuming stone staircase. Melbourne is a city of contrasts. and taking the staircase down from the tourist hub of Federation Square to this hidden gem offers refuge from the hustle and bustle above. It requires a bit of local knowledge to find it. So, although it draws a bigger crowd than when it first opened, it still retains a certain elusive feel that makes having a few after work or pre-dinners drinks a bit more fun.
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Take a wander. Melbourne is known for its laneways and I enjoy nothing more than grabbing a takeaway coffee from one of the European-style cafes on the cobbled stoned Degraves Street and having a wander around.
The city appreciates the talents of their street artists and certain laneways are almost considered outdoor art galleries. Hosier Lane is probably the most famous of these laneways due to the sophistication of its graffiti art. Every time I pass through here there’s a new edgy, sometimes political, piece of art to look at.
The City Circuit Tram is a free heritage tram that runs along Melbourne CBD circuit and stops at most of the attractions in the city. It was really intended as a convenient way for tourists to explore the city but Melbournians use it just as much. You can hop on and off this vintage-style tram as you please and there is often a commentary on board explaining the different sights at each stop.
Visit the city markets. Queen Victoria Market (no, it’s not named after the Eastenders watering hole but rather as it’s on the corner of Queen and Victoria Streets), is a major landmark in Melbourne and worth a stroll to see buskers, find souvenirs, gadgets you never knew you needed and to sample the fresh produce and treats in the Dairy Hall. There’s a little white van that sells piping hot jam doughnuts just outside and they’re worth joining the queue for.
If you want to venture a little out of the city, hop on the tram to the beachside suburb of St Kilda, which is my neck of the woods. There is a market there every Sunday which runs along the esplanade. It’s lovely to browse the handcrafted wares and chat to the artists who created them. I often buy gifts for home here and it’s always nice to see something from a stall in St Kilda in my Mum and Dad’s place in Ireland when I get back.
Where do you recommend for a meal eaten out doors on a sunny day?
The Arbory is an old railway line that has been converted into a beautiful outdoor restaurant and bar. It can be found nestled between two of the city’s icons: Flinders Street Station and the River Yarra. It is outdoor all year round but has plenty of warm heaters for a chilly evening – Melbourne is famous for having four seasons in one day. My top tip is to skip dessert and have one of their espresso martinis instead; you’d be hard pressed to find a better one in town.
Where is the best place to get a sense of Melbourne’s place in history?
The Aboriginal Heritage Walk in the Royal Botanic Gardens is a great way to get an insight into both the gardens and Aboriginal history. It’s relaxed and really nice way to spend a summer’s afternoon. The tour guides are all Aboriginal and are happy to answer questions about their indigenous heritage.
Cook’s Cottage is Australia’s oldest building and is located in heritage-listed Fitzroy gardens in the city. Amazingly, the cottage was originally located in Yorkshire, England and built by the parents of Captain James Cook. Each brick was numbered and shipped to Australia in barrels. It’s a fascinating piece of history and lovely to be able to wander inside the cottage. It really is like taking a step back in time.
What should visitors save room in their suitcase for after a visit to Melbourne?
You can’t leave Melbourne without taking home some freshly ground coffee beans from one of the locally famous coffee roasters. Melbourne takes its coffee very seriously – though I have converted a few Aussies to Barry’s Tea. And throw in a packet of Tim Tams too, they go with both.
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