Has my love of Melbourne survived parenting and a pandemic?
This is an expat’s guide to the- much changed- World’s Most Liveable City.
I was never meant to move to Melbourne. I was actually meant to spend six months living in (whispers) Sydney…
But a chance encounter with a pair of 50-somethings on a New York street and an Irish backpacker in a storm at sea (perhaps stories for another day) convinced me to give Melbourne a go. From the second I stepped off the Skybus at Southern Cross Station in March 2015, I felt like I was coming home. Maybe it was the friendly face of a school friend I hadn’t seen in a decade; maybe it was the delicious dumplings we ate that night at Red Door; maybe it was the insanely good Bloody Mary’s we drank at Borsch, Vodka and Tears at brunch the next morning.
Whatever the secret city sauce is, Melbourne had it in spades. Within 24 hours I was hooked.
Why is Melbourne so great for Expats?
Whether you're moving here on a Working Holiday Visa, have a job lined up, or are moving abroad for love, Melbourne is a great place to end up. I have no idea what the official criteria is for the ‘World’s Most Liveable City’, but I do know that Melbourne won it for seven years in a row. If there is a ‘How great a city is for its Expats’ criteria, Melbourne would get top marks there, too.
So, what makes Melbourne so great for expats?
1. There are loads of us
All over Melbourne there is a sense of global community and the city is bursting with food, art, music and language from all over the world. There are suburbs where you can feel like you are in Italy or Vietnam or Greece. In fact, famously Melbourne has the largest Greek population of any city in the world beside Athens!
2. The city is both really big and really small
The CBD (Central Business District- the name given to the city center or ‘downtown’ of cities in Australia) is really neat and easy to navigate with its grid system of roads and great public transport. It is also a Free Tram Zone, so you can whizz all over hopping on and off trams to your heart’s content.
However, you also have a huge spread of spread of brilliant and diverse suburbs in every direction. From trendy South Melbourne with is markets and bars, to hipster-heaven Brunswick, to edgy Footscray, buzzing Windsor, beautiful Brighton, swanky Armadale, the choice of places to explore is endless. Hang tight and I'll dive more into these neighborhoods in just a bit.
3. You can do pretty much anything
Thanks to Melbourne’s location it is possible to spend a month in Melbourne and do something completely different every day.
- You want to go to the beach? Great! Head to Brighton, Elwood or further out to Black Rock.
- You fancy some art and culture? No worries! Spend the day at the NGV where you will find incredible temporary and permanent exhibitions all year long.
- Feel like a stroll in nature? Ideal! Head to any of the stunning gardens around the city (The Royal Botanical Gardens and Fitzroy Gardens are some of my favorites.)
- Or you can head further afield and hike in the Dandenong or Macedon ranges, both of which are within easy reach of the city.
There is snow in winter, surf in summer. Enjoy all you can of shopping, riding, kayaking, climbing, yoga, painting, studying, performing, comedy, and even more in this vibrant and fun city.
4. Melbournians take food and drink very (very) seriously
No matter where you find yourself in Metropolitan Melbourne you are never more a hop and skip from something delicious. Thanks to the many global influences, you will find scrumptious banh mi right next door to perfectly flaky spanakopita.
And don’t even think about discussing coffee with a Melbournian. The obsession is real and the debate as to where to get the best is as hotly contested as any sporting event.
5. Melbourne is incredible for events- especially sport
Hosting the Grand Prix and the Australian Open each year is kind of a big deal. Throughout the year there are also sporting events weekly if not daily- Cricket, AFL (Australian Football), Soccer, Rugby, Basketball- if you are into it- you can find it in a stadium here.
If sport isn’t your thing, there is the annual Melbourne Comedy Festival; theatres abound and the Melbourne Arts Precinct puts on musicals, operas, plays, ballets and concerts throughout the year.
Melbourne neighborhoods at a Glance
As with a lot of cities there is a strong North vs South rivalry. In my totally unbiased (Southerner 'til I die) opinion, the South is where you want to be! That being said, there are SO many incredible communities and corners all over Melbourne, that wherever you visit, explore or live, you will find unique and wonderful experiences.
Here are some of my personal favorites to explore:
Melbourne CBD 3000
This is the heart of the city center and where you will find awesome laneways (check out Hosier Lane and Degraves Street), rooftop bars, theatres, shops, and offices.
Here, heaps of bars and restaurants line the Yarra River and you can spend a very pleasant day/afternoon/evening checking out the street performers, munching on a delicious meal, and sipping an elaborate cocktail.
I lived in three different spots along Chapel Street for my first five years in Melbourne- I just couldn’t leave. If you like music, shopping, yoga, bars, brunch, markets, parks, gardens, and theatre, you will want to check out this area.
St Kilda 3182
This area can be touristy especially in summer, but there are plenty of spots that locals love, too. You can play volleyball at the beach, before heading to one of the stunning beach bars or try out one of the scrumptious cake shops and head to Luna Park for some vintage theme park fun.
If you are heading north of the river, Brunswick is a buzzing, friendly, multicultural suburb with loads of hip and trending shops, cafes, bars, restaurants, and galleries. Psssst... Make sure you check out Sydney Road- there are some absolute gems including Dejour Jeans- where you can get jeans tailor-made to fit you in one day for under $60.
This suburb was once known for being a bit gritty, but has slid into edgy and fun. This is a great spot to explore Melbourne’s multicultural foodie scene as well as art, music, and markets.
If you are looking to live in Melbourne long-term, these suburbs will give you all the goodness of Melbourne living but are slightly further out from the city and are lots more affordable:
- If you love the Melbourne hipster vibe, check out Northcote and Parkville.
- If you are searching for the beachy lifestyle, consider Hampton, Parkdale, or Mordialloc.
- If you fancy leafy living and cool cafes, have a look at Rowville, Rosanna, or Kew.
A Look Into My Life in Melbourne
On a personal level, living in Melbourne has changed a great deal. I went from being a girl-about-town living in Windsor, to an expat mama living Bayside. What this meant was I moved from a teeny and adorable house 50 meters from Chapel Street with its bars, nightlife, and epic shopping, to a beautiful house in the beach suburb of Mordialloc.
The fact is, Melbourne can totally pull this off. Where once my weekends were spent brunching, shopping, and bar-hopping, they are now spent at Braeside Park, at the beach or at one of the very family-friendly breweries or food truck parks.
I love the fact that, as a parent, I know my child has access to so many incredible opportunities, whatever his interests might be. There are a dazzling number of free local activities and events for children- at libraries, at playgroups, in parks, and playgrounds, as well as the amazing lifestyle that living right by the beach can offer.
Of course, the last two years hasn’t all been plain sailing- excuse the beachy pun- for Melbourne. The city went from being famous for its liveability to being famous for its lockdown. That has taken a toll: businesses have struggled, some have closed; events have been postponed and cancelled. A lot of what was great about Melbourne was put on pause for the best (worst!) part of the last two years. However, a lot of what was great about Melbourne carried right on: people were still friendly; beaches were still beautiful; parks were still blooming; and yes, coffee was still delicious-even out of takeaway cups!
So, what next for expat life in Melbourne?
In 2022, it has been beautiful to see the things I have loved about Melbourne budding and blossoming again. I have loved venturing back into the city to explore the laneways, eat delicious food and check out the galleries. I can’t wait to go to the theatre again and to show my son the magic of his hometown.
My relationship with Melbourne has certainly gone through a rocky patch in the last few years, but like any love story, there has to be some obstacles thrown in the path to test the strength of the bond, and our love has come out stronger than ever.