My Favourite Places in Melbourne for Food and Coffee

Cappuccino in a Melbourne coffee shop

Mebourne is the food and coffee capital of Australia – don’t let Sydney tell you otherwise! I think that’s my favourite thing about living here, but it’s made me a bit of a coffee snob, because I’ve not been anywhere (yet!) where the coffee rivals that of Melbourne.

The food in Melbourne is heavily influenced by our multicultural society – you can find amazing Vietnamese, authentic Mexican, traditional Italian and great burgers, all within two streets of each other.

We love food here, and we do it really well, so I’ve rounded up a list of some of my favourite places for coffee or a meal.

Poncho:

Poncho is the first cafe that I called ‘mine’ – you know how everyone has a cafe that’s ‘theirs’? One that they go to regularly enough that the Barista knows their order as well as their name? Well, mine is Poncho. It’s just up the street from me, so it is seriously local, and in the days before I could drive, I would walk up there to get my coffee. Nowadays, I do a lot of my work for Xen there, with a great coffee by my side. I don’t mind the cafe noise while I’m working, in fact, the grinding of the beans and the steaming of milk is a nice kind of white noise. Check out Poncho for fantastic coffee by Inglewood, and my favourite scrambled eggs on toast!

Good Times Milkbar:

Good Times is about five minutes away from me, which is dangerously close because of how much I love their potato gems. It serves some of the best food in the Bentleigh area, including breakfast, burgers, and milkshakes. One of my favourite things about Good Times is that I actually remember when the building used to be a corner milkbar – hence it’s name. It also features a puppy-friendly courtyard, with seating for the humans, and some of the brightest, loveliest pastel decor going around. Head to Good Times for cafe food done really, really, really well, and great coffee by Small Batch Roasting Co.

Fonda:

I know this isn’t very sophisticated of me, but I do love Fonda. It’s a chain of restaurants serving ‘mexican street food’, (that part is in quotation marks because I don’t know how authentic Fonda’s ‘street food’ is). But I love their chipotle chips and the quesadillas and of course the frozen margaritas! There is a Fonda in the shopping center where I work, and it’s a nice place to go after work for a quick dinner or drink.

Grand Trailer Park Taverna:

This is a restaurant that I think of as quintessentially Melbournian. It’s burgers, done really, really well as well as awesome drinks and desserts. It’s themed around a trailer park, with fairy lights strung everywhere, and booths made from caravan parts. Situated in the middle of the theatre district of Melbourne, the Grand Trailer Park is a great place to grab a meal before or after a show, or to enjoy a cocktail as the sun goes down, they even have a terrace!)

Winkel:

Not technically local to me, Winkel is more than worth the travel time. Serving great coffee, and the most amazing breakfast burger you’ll get anywhere, Winkel is the perfect place in Richmond to grab a bite, or get some work done. Amazing food paired with bright and airy decor and friendly staff? Perfect combination.

Leave me a comment if you’ve been to any of my favourite places!

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My Favourite Bookstores From Around the World

By Kate Arnold

My Favourite Bookstore from Around the World

Bookstores are magical. They are some of my favourite places and when I’m travelling I often seek out famous or infamous bookstores. Here are some of my favourites from my travels.

The Strand | New York

This one might just be my favourite on this list of favourites. The Strand is located in the East Village of Manhattan and was opened in 1927. On my trip to New York visited The Strand twice and spend over an hour there each time looking at shelf upon shelf of books deciding what to take home with me. This iconic bookstore is known for having ’18 Miles of Books’ within its many levels and also sells a wide range book-related merchandise. The New York Times dubbed The Strand ‘the undisputed king of the city’s independent bookstores’ and truer words have never been written. The Strand sells new and used books and well as rare and out-of-print editions. 

Shakespeare and Company | Paris

Shakespeare and Company has a long history in Paris, the first shop opening in 1919 and became a gathering place for aspiring writers of the time such as Earnest Hemingway and James Joyce. The store closed in 1941 during the German occupation of Paris and was never reopened. In 1951 another bookstore by the name of Le Mistral was opened but it was renamed Shakespeare and Company in 1964 on the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. To this day the store remains open of the east bank of the river Seine in Paris. My favourite thing about Shakespeare and Company is that it continues to be a refuge for writers and artists. They offer a place to sleep at the bookstore in exchange for helping out at the shop. Their motto, ‘be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise’ holds true and they continue to host these ‘Tumbleweeds’ (as the guests came to be known). It’s a dream of mine to one day sleep amount the shelves of Shakespeare and Company and a Tumbleweed. 

Waterstones | Amsterdam

Waterstones is known for being a UK based bookstore chain but the Amsterdam location stole my heart. This bookstore is four floors of shelves full of books, in both English and Dutch. The quiet atmosphere of this Waterstones feels like that of a library and there are seating areas so that you can read a chapter and see if the book is for you. Like The Strand, you’ll find a range of book-related merchandise, such as tote bags, stationary and bookmarks.

Gay’s The Word | London

Gay’s the Word is a bookstore in the Bloomsbury district of London that sells queer fiction and non fiction. They hosts events for those in the LGBTQIA+ community such as a Lesbian Discussion Group every Wednesday evening and TransLondon meetings on the third Tuesday of every month. This is the first and last surviving bookstore in the UK that is dedicated to selling exclusively queer literature.

Embiggen Books | Melbourne

If you want to buy a beautiful book and get a latte in the same place Embiggen Books is where you need to go. This gem is hidden away on Little Londsdale Street in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD, not far from the Victoria State Library. This bookstore has a vintage vibe and, to complete you book searching experience, there is a coffee cart in the store that will serve you a great Melbourne quality coffee.

Where is your favourite bookstore? Is it one that you’ve found while travelling or one that you love in your home town? Have you been to any of the bookstores I’ve mentioned above or would you like to? Are there any Tumbleweeds out there? I’d love to hear about your experience!

Carols By Candlelight | Melbourne

By Kate Arnold

Vision Australia’s Carols By Candlelight is an annual concert in the heart of Melbourne, just a short walk across the Yarra from Flinders Street Station, which raises money for the charity Vision Australia. All proceeds of ticket sales directly support children who are blind or have low-vision. It’s a magical evening for friends and families to enjoy and get into the Christmas spirit.

One of my favourite Christmas traditions is watching Carols By Candlelight on TV with my mum, grandma and my sisters. We crack open some white wine and buy nice cheeses and sing along to the whole show. Last year we went to Carols at the Sidney Myer Musical Bowl for the first time and here’s our experience and what we would do differently next time.

Get There EARLY

Every one knows this (theoretically WE knew this), but let me say it loud and clear for everyone in the back: Get. There. Early. The event starts at 8pm but you want to be getting there at 6:00 at the latest if you want to get great seating. We bought general admission lawn seats (the cheapest you could buy) so we weren’t expecting great views, but the only seats we could get were at the very back of the lawn and we arrived around 6:30 – 6:45. People camp out all day to get the best lawn seats so just be aware that that’s what you’re competing with.

Bring Blankets

I know, I know. Christmas is in the summertime in Australia but last year we were freezing. You can buy blankets at the event but they sell out pretty quickly and cost unspeakable amounts of money. You’ll want a picnic blanket to sit on (and some pillows because after a while the grass doesn’t feel so soft anymore) and fold up chairs are a good idea for any older family members you are bringing with you. 

Airport-like Security

It didn’t occur to us that there would be airport grade security to get into an event like this but of course there has to be. This means longer lines to get in, longer waiting times and bag searches. You are allowed to bring in bottled water that’s in a sealed plastic container (not environmentally friendly but a safety precaution). You are not allowed to bring in alcohol or any other drinks that are not in sealed containers (like the iced tea I’d made and sadly had to tip out onto the grass). You can buy alcohol at stands around the venue but it will cost you a pretty penny. 

Bring Food

Bring a picnic. Likewise with the alcohol you will be able to buy food like hot chips, burgers and other carnival foods but it’s damn expensive. We brought cheeses and crackers as well as homemade gingerbread biscuits and other finger food. Remember that the event goes over dinner time and you’ll be there pretty late so bring something substantial to eat so that you don’t end up spending hundreds on chips and sausage rolls and the food carts.

Consider Going to the Rehearsal

If you’ve already got Christmas Eve plans and you’re still interested in the event or you don’t want to shell out the money for the tickets then you should consider going to the rehearsal night on the 23rd of December. Tickets only cost $25 for adult and $15 for children. Unfortunately because the tickets are so cheap the rehearsal sells out fast – faster than the actual event – and there are none left for this year’s Carols By Candlelight rehearsal but you should definitely keep it in mind for next year. 

Get in the Christmas Spirt

Carols is really a magical experience because it brings families and friends together at a time of giving. It’s a great activity to get you into a festive mood before the big day. There are so many wonderful Christmas carols all about loving one another and isn’t that what Christmas is really all about? 

Carols By Candlelight is a great Christmastime activity to do with your family, if you are in Melbourne I would highly recommend going at least once. This year I’m happy to be watching Carols from my living room again but I’m so glad that we went last year and I would definitely go again in the future. Tickets are still available for Carols By Candlelight here.

Don’t forget to check out Laura’s Christmas Guide to Melbourne where she tells you all about Carols as well as other great things you can do in the holiday season like watching Christmas Movies at the Moonlight Cinema and visiting the famous Myers Christmas Windows on Bourke Street and going to the Summer Night Markets at the Queen Vic Markets.

What are your Christmas traditions? I’d love to hear about them in the comments. Have you been to Carols By Candlelight in Melbourne at the Sidney Myer Musical Bowl or do you watch it on TV every year like we do? Let me know.

Happy Holidays!

Christmas Guide to Melbourne


Photo by Heidi Sandstrom. on Unsplash

On Day two of Xen’s 12 Days of Christmas, I’m bringing you a Christmas Guide to Melbourne. Whether you live in Melbourne, or you just want to see how we do Christmas here, this list has some fantastic options for getting into the festive spirit! 

Carols By Candlelight

Vision Australia’s Carols By Candlelight is my favourite part of Christmas in Melbourne. It’s an annual Christmas concert held on Christmas Eve at the Sydney Myer Music Bowl. It’s been a Melbourne tradition since 1938, where Australian musicians come together to perform Christmas carols to raise funds for Vision Australia – to support those who are blind or have low vision. Melbournian’s either watch the Carols from home on Christmas Eve, (like me), or they head to the music bowl to experience the Carols well, by candlelight. It’s my favourite way to get in the Christmas spirit, and relax before Christmas day. 

Summer Night Market

The Summer Night Market at the iconic Queen Vic Markets is the perfect way to start your Christmas celebrations off on the right foot – it’s basically a huge outdoor party, complete with strings of fairy-lights. Taking place on Wednesday nights from November 21 – March 20 (excluding Boxing Day), the market showcases over 60 global street food stalls, specialty shopping stalls, live music, and festival bars. It’s a lovely way to spend a summer night, maybe do some Christmas shopping, and start your Christmas celebrations with some loved ones. 

Moonlight Cinemas

You have to check out the film lineup at Moonlight Cinemas – in the lead up to Christmas you can watch Elf, the Grinch, and LOVE ACTUALLY under the stars in the Royal Botanic Gardens. If Christmas movies aren’t your thing, don’t worry – there are films on the program to suit everyone. You have several viewing options at Moonlight Cinemas, from packing your own picnic and relaxing on a blanket, to the ‘Gold Grass’ package, which includes a prime viewing location and food service. There are heaps of food and beverage options available to purchase (including alcoholic beverages!) – but remember that Moonlight Cinemas is now cashless, so don’t forget your debit card. 

Ice Skating (at the Summer Night Market)

Would you normally see ‘ice skating’ and ‘Summer night market’ in the same sentence? No. But, the Queen Vic Summer Night Markets have partnered with Air Canada to create the first outdoor Summer ice-rink in Melbourne! Have you dreamed on skating under the Rockerfeller Center’s iconic Christmas Tree? Or maybe in Central Park at Christmas time? Well, while I can’t offer you tickets to New York, I can tell you that you can take a spin around the ice-rink under the iconic sheds of the Queen Vic Markets. There will also be Christmassy treats to enjoy rinkside, including coffee, maple syrup ice-cream and poutine! The ice-rink will pop up for the first three weeks of Summer (closing on December 24), and will be a great way to add a little festive magic into your Christmas season!

Lido on the Roof

Another cinema-related entry – did you know that the Lido has a rooftop? That’s right, a rooftop cinema in the heart of Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn. The Lido is offering a bit of a Christmas program just like Moonlight Cinemas, so you can catch the new Grinch film, The Nightmare Before Christmas, or my personal favourite non-Christmas Christmas movie – Die Hard! Imagine kicking back on the roof of the Lido, drink in hand, and watching Die Hard in Summer night air. Sound heavenly? I think so. You can book tickets online or the Lido also offers gift vouchers if you would like to organise an experience for someone as a gift. 

The Myer Christmas Windows

A list about Christmas in Melbourne wouldn’t be complete without the Myer Christmas Windows. This is a free Christmas exhibition in the shopfront of Myer, Bourke Street which has delighted young and old alike for 63 years. This year the theme is Alice in Wonderland, so the windows will be decorated to the nines in magical Christmas-Wonderland style. The lines are almost always long, especially the closer it gets to Christmas, so you will probably have to wait. However, there’s almost nothing more iconically Melbourne at Christmas time than this tradition. 

There you have it – a Guide to Melbourne at Christmas-time. I hope some of these Melbourne experiences help you get into the Christmas spirit! 

Let me know below if you try out any of these experiences, or if you have in past years! 

-Laura

7 Mistakes I’ve Made While Travelling

By Kate Arnold

7 mistake I've made while travelling

What would be a trip without making some mistakes and learning from them? Here are some mistakes that I’ve made while travelling so that you don’t have to learn the hard way, like I did.

1. Not Doing Enough Research

If you’ve read my article A (Bad) Day in Paris then you’ll know that I made the huge mistake of going to Paris while the soccer was on, simply because I didn’t do research what was on at the time. I didn’t think about the knock on effects of being in a city where a huge sporting event was happening and this impacted my time in Paris immensely.

2. Not Booking Ahead

When Laura and I went to San Francisco we assumed that we would be able to book a tour of Alcatraz and go that same day or at the very latest the next day. In fact the tour was booked out for a solid week, by which time we would be back in Melbourne. We were so disappointed but this would have been solved if we had have booked before getting to America. Check out Laura’s Tips for Visiting San Francisco.

3. Writing Down My Hostel Address Wrong

When I was staying in Wellington I got off the bus from Rotorua and got on a shuttle to the airport because I knew that I hostel was on Tory Street, a short distance from there. Except that it wasn’t. My hostel was actually on Troy Street in the CBD of Wellington (which, if I’d thought about it for a moment, would have made so much more sense). After walking around in the dark for an hour I backtracked to a service station I’d passes (cried in the bathroom for a bit) and then asked the man at the service desk to call me a taxi to take me back into the city.

4. Almost Leaving My Phone in the Taxi

Yep. It was the same taxi that too my tired ass back into Wellington. I got out at the hostel only to have the driver chase after me to give me my phone, which I’d left on the seat. I’m so lucky that he did. All of my booking information, my ID (except for my passport), my bank cards, even my flight details were all on my phone. I shudder to think how bad my night would have been if I hadn’t gotten it back so quickly.

5. Overpacking

There’s nothing worse than opening up your suitcase at the airport because it weighs too much and you have to try and stuff it into your carry on or decide what to throw out. That’s exactly what I had to do at Heathrow Airport when I was coming back from my trip to London. These day I have a smaller case and I pack much less clothing, make up and other miscellaneous things that I think I will need but never end up using. Read Laura’s article Travel Accessories You Don’t Need to find out which items are worth your baggage allowance.

6. Poor Flight Timing

When I was in New Zealand and I was coming home, I flew from Wellington to Auckland and back to Melbourne but I timed the layover so badly. I basically spent a whole day in Auckland airport because I had an early flight out of Wellington and my flight to Melbourne was in the evening. I wasted so much time, just to save some money on flights.

7. Not Waiting or Asking for Deals

I love to save money but when it comes to making big purchases such as flights and accommodation I’ve definitely overspent because I haven’t waited for deals or I’ve booked too late and everything is more expensive. In the past I’ve also been too shy to ask for deals. I’m getting in the habit of asking if airlines/travel agencies/hostels/hotels/etc. have any promotions, coupons or deals going on, or simply asking ‘is that your best offer?’

Travelling is all about learning and so is making mistakes. I’m becoming a savvier traveller with every trip and I’m sure I’ll continue to make more mistakes as go on more trips but as long as I get wiser every time, I don’t mind so much. Check out Laura’s article How I Got Scammed in New York, and see how you can avoid making that mistake. Have you made any travel mistakes? Let us know in the comments!

10 Free Things to do in Melbourne

By Kate Arnold

FLAT FINDERS REALTY

Visiting Melbourne can be kind of expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s plenty of free things you can do if you are on a budget. Here’s 10 free things to add to your to do list if you’re travelling in Melbourne.

1. Take a Tour of the Street Art

Melbourne is renown for it’s graffiti and street art culture, so while you’re in the city you’d be remiss is you didn’t seek any out. Hosier Lane is the most famous graffiti street, which you find off Flinders Lane. Continue on to AC/DC Lane and Union Lane to see more incredible street art.

2. Say Hi to the Penguins on St. Kilda Pier

On a sunny day the St. Kilda beaches are full of swimmers, sunbathers and kite-surfers. Take a towel and a book and spend a chilled day reading on the sand, or bring your swimmers and take a dip in the sea if it’s a warm enough day. But don’t go away when the sun goes down; at sunset you’ll see the fairy penguins returning to land.

3. Jump on the City Circle Tram

Trams in Melbourne are a way of life for locals but the City Circle Tram (route 35) is completely free and audio guide will tell you all about the sites that you pass on your commute. You’ll see places such as Federation Square, Melbourne Aquarium, Docklands, Parliament House, the Princess Theatre and the City Museum as you travel in on of Melbourne’s classic W-Class trams. The City Circle runs in both directions every 12 minutes from 10 am – 6 pm Sunday to Wednesday and from 10 am – 9 pm from Thursday to Saturday.

4. Hang Out at the State Library of Victoria

Libraries are a great place to take a breather (and charge your phone!) while travelling. If you’re desperate for some free wifi and somewhere to sit in peace and quite you’ll find it at SLV. The library has some of Melbourne’s most famous architecture is a free exhibition of full of old books and texts that is always available to visit.

5. Have a Picnic at the Royal Botanical Gardens

The Royal Botanical Gardens are the perfect place to spend a leisurely afternoon. Take some lunch for a picnic or take advantage of the free walking tours that are held everyday. These tours begin at 10:30 am and 2 pm and each run for about an hour and a half. A guide will talk you through the different types of flora and fauna in the gardens while you take a stroll though the park.

6. Pay Your Respects at the Shrine of Remembrance

While you’re at the Royal Botanical Gardens you might as well look in at the Shrine of Remembrance, where you’ll find a memorial to the Victorian soldiers who fought in World War I, relics from the war and the eternal flame, which has been burning since 1954 when it was lit by the Queen to commemorate those who perished in World War II. From the Shrine you’ll see stunning views of Melbourne skyline

7. National Gallery of Victoria International

On your way back to the city from the Shrine of Remembrance you’ll pass the NGV International, where their ongoing collection of international art at the Ian Potter Centre is always free to visit. You’ll find a range of names that you recognise such as Picasso and Monet on as you wander around the gallery. NGV International is also the home of the worlds largest stained glass ceiling, where you will find people lying on the floor to get a good view.

8. Head to Spleen Bar on Burke Street for a Free Comedy Show

Every Monday night Spleen Bar holds free comedy nights (though a gold coin donation is appreciated). Some of Melbourne’s best comedians, such as Wil Anderson, Claire Hooper,  Tom Ballard, Frank Woodley, Sammy J and Josh Thomas have performed at Spleen. Grab a drink and get ready for some laughs

9. Trivia Night at Common Man at South Wharf

Tuesday night is Trivia Night at Common Man, which is free to enter, grab some friends to form a team and test your knowledge. Drink specials are also on offer as well as $10 pizzas to complete your bargain evening.

10. Check Out a Market

Melbourne is full of markets that you can take a stroll through, the most famous being the Queen Victoria Markets, where you will find gadgets, clothing and toys as well as food and fresh fruit and vegetables. The Camberwell Markets are on every Sunday mornings and though they do require a gold coin donation for entry, you’ll find secondhand and vintage clothes, jewellery, shoes, books and other bric-a-brac. The Rose Street Artists’ Market in Fitzroy is full of local artwork. There’s also Esplanade Market in St Kilda and the Sister’s Market in Brunswick. A trip to any one of these markets would be a great excuse to get out of the CBD and check out one of these ultra hip suburbs.

Spending a day in Melbourne doesn’t have to be expensive. There’s so much to do in this city that doesn’t cost a cent. If you check out any of these places, let us know! What’s your favourite free thing to do in your city? Don’t forget to check out Laura’s article on free things you can do in New York City!