Things to do in South Yarra, Melbourne, include checking into the retro-cool Ovolo South Yarra for a rock star experience of one of Melbourne’s fashionable neighbourhoods, shopping Chapel Street for Australian designers and Prahran Markets for Australian produce, ambling the botanic gardens, absorbing art, sampling local food, and sipping South Yarra inspired craft cocktails.
This guide to 6 things to do in South Yarra, Melbourne, is the first in a series of new and updated travel guides we’re going to resume publishing. Soon after the pandemic started we segued from a travel site with some food content to a food site with some travel content in response to reader demand.
As we’re starting to see renewed interest in our travel coverage, we’re in the process of updating our destination and hotel guides, and will be sharing new guides and itineraries to some of our favourite places in Australia, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and beyond.
We’re kicking off with this guide to 6 things to do in South Yarra, Melbourne, because we so enjoyed re-visiting the neighbourhood on our last trip to Melbourne, as much for our favourite restaurants that have been there forever, such as Dainty Sichuan, and the mouthwatering Prahran Markets, to the general casual vibe of the streets.
Despite being Sydney-born (moi) and Brisbane-born (Terence), we’ve probably visited the Australian cities of Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Darwin, and Alice Springs more times than our home towns over the last decade, combining trips to see family and friends with road trips to research and photograph travel guidebooks and stories.
Melbourne is one of the cities we’ve visited most frequently and it has a special place in our hearts and stomachs, home to many of Australia’s most delicious food and wine experiences, best restaurants, markets, cafés, and food festivals. While much has changed during the pandemic with many spots closing, many stalwarts of the food scene fortunately survived.
Until our next trip home, when we’ll thoroughly update all our Australian content, one of the things we’ll be doing is honing in on city neighbourhoods and regional towns and updating our guides to hotels and things to do, starting with South Yarra, one of Melbourne’s most agreeable neighbourhoods to spend time in, for interstate visitors as much as travellers from overseas.
The pandemic may not be over – although many are certainly acting like it is – so you’ll need to be vaccinated to enter Australia and should take sensible precautions: do wear masks whenever possible, even when they’re not mandated, to protect our elders, First Nations peoples and immunocompromised Australians.
Now before I share this guide to 6 things to do in South Yarra, Melbourne, I have a favour to ask. Grantourismo is reader-funded. If you’ve enjoyed our travel guides, itineraries, stories and recipes on the site, please consider supporting Grantourismo. You could buy us a coffee or use our links to book accommodation, rent a car or campervan or motorhome, buy travel insurance, or book a tour on Klook or Get Your Guide.
We may earn a small commission from any booking or purchases you make on those sites or sites such as Amazon, from which we’ve collated these round-ups of cookbooks by Australian chefs, cookbooks for culinary travellers, travel books to inspire wanderlust, gifts for picnic lovers and gifts for travellers who love photography.
You could also shop our Grantourismo store on Society6 for gifts for foodies, including fun reusable cloth face masks designed with Terence’s images. Now let’s tell you about these 6 things to do in South Yarra, Melbourne.
Things to Do in South Yarra, Melbourne – Where to Stay, Shop, Eat, Drink and Explore
Check into the Ovolo South Yarra for the Rock Star Experience of Melbourne
One of the first things to do in Melbourne is to check into the retro-cool Ovolo South Yarra, for a rock star experience of one of Melbourne’s most fashionable neighbourhoods. The vibrant design-driven interiors are inspired by the heyday of disco, and pop and rock icons, such as Sonny and Cher.
The plush albeit snug rooms are feature chrome fittings, velvet upholstered lounge chairs and retro wallpaper. Categories include Go Go, Boogie, Groovy, and – the pick of the bunch – the Rockstar Suite, complete with a record player and vintage LPs, mini cocktail bar, and a tangerine-coloured sofa.
Legendary local chefs Ian Curley and Shannon Martinez, Melbourne’s vegan queen, head the funky restaurant, Lona Misa, which dishes up Latin-inspired vegan and vegetarian food (more on that below), while the stunning bar offers seasonal craft cocktails.
NOTE: Luxury Escapes, where you can book luxury stays for a whole lot less than you’d normally pay, has an amazing package on offer right now for a 2-night stay from A$399 / US $299 (at time of publication), including daily à la carte breakfast at Lona Misa, nightly ‘social hour’ drinks and nibbles, complimentary in-room minibar replenished daily with wine, beer and soft drinks, a welcome ‘loot bag’ with surprise snacks, and a 12pm checkout (late by Australian standards).
Shop Chic Chapel Street and Mouthwatering Prahran Markets
The Ovolo is located near the corner of Toorak Road and Chapel Street, South Yarra, which has long been shopping central. Shops on Toorak Road are on the posher and more conservative side, while Chapel Street offers a real mix of established Australian designers, such as Zimmerman, Dinosaur Designs and Gorman, along with more youthful offbeat street fashion, and the usual global franchises.
Food-lovers should make a beeline for Commercial Road and Prahran Markets for excellent coffee (Jasper’s), cheeses (Cheese Shop Deli), charcuterie (Pete n Rosie’s Deli), and dips (Naheda’s Choice), amongst the stalls specialising in beautiful fresh local produce. If you’re peckish, pick up a spinach and cheese borek from Anatolia Gozleme Kitchen or falafels from the Falafel Man.
Don’t miss The Essential Ingredient for cookware, cookbooks and specialty ingredients from Australia and abroad, including native ingredients, fruit preserves, jams and honeys, olive oils, mustards, capers and cornichons, chocolate and confectionary, Asian condiments, sauces and pastes, Middle Eastern spices, and so much more.
Another gem is Shop Neutral, which has a huge range of ethical eco-friendly products, including beeswax food wraps, cotton produce bags, reusable cups, and locally made cosmetics, beauty products, and bath salts.
Dine on Vegan, Italian or Sichuan Cooked by Local Culinary Legends
It’s rare that we recommend hotel restaurants, however, the Ovolo South Yarra’s Lona Misa is not any old hotel diner. Firstly, two Melbourne legends are behind the menu, chef Ian Curley, the King of Comfort Food, and Shannon Martinez, the Queen of Vegan.
Martinez is best known for her enormously popular vegan restaurant and deli Smith and Daughters and a series of best-selling vegan cookbooks, while Ian Curley helmed a long list of buzzy bistros such as the French Saloon, Kirk’s Wine Bar, and, one of our favourites, The European, specialising in hearty fare.
The result is a mostly vegetable-driven menu that will keep even the most devoted meat-lover sated with roasted padron chilli peppers and manchego croquetas, a ‘paella verde’ or vegetarian paella with spring vegetables, and traditional tapas favourites, such as a Spanish potato tortilla and patatas bravas.
If you want to get out, there are two excellent local choices close by, including the iconic Caffe E Cucina around the corner on Chapel Street for some of Melbourne’s finest Italian cuisine in an atmospheric dining room – order the Linguine di Mare al Cartoccio with seafood baked in parchment paper – and Dainty Sichuan on Toorak Road for authentic fiery Sichuanese cuisine.
Indulge in Decadent Desserts from Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio
If you know British born Melburnian Darren Purchese from MasterChef Australia (or his time at Peter Gilmore’s restaurant Bennelong in Sydney) you’ll be delighted to know that Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio (647 Chapel Street, South Yarra) is nestled beside The Olsen Art Series hotel, another of our favourite Melbourne boutique hotels.
However, since the pandemic, pastry chef extraordinaire Darren Purchese has taken all business online, which means you’ll need to order one of his heavenly handmade creations online for pick-up at the back of the building or delivery to your hotel.
Melbourne locals swear by his Basque cheese cake, peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies, and lemon, lime and Four Pillars Gin and Tonic tart, but we suggest ordering one of each of his chocolate and salted caramel tart and passionfruit, mango and coconut tart for dessert in your hotel room.
If you really have a sweet tooth or are travelling with family or friends, order the Sweet Dreams Selection Box and bottle of Pommery! Plus the lamington cookie sandwiches, which must be the ultimate Australian edible souvenir.
Absorb Nature, Culture and Art in the Nearby Gardens and Gallery
Every Australian capital city is home to beautiful botanic gardens and Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens of Victoria are no exception. Established in 1846, the lush gardens sprawl over 38 hectares and boast numerous lakes and islands, a Tropical Glasshouse, the Melbourne Observatory, and an Arid Garden featuring over 3,000 cacti and succulents.
There are loads of activities, including various guided walks, such as an Aboriginal Heritage Walk with a First Peoples guide through the gardens, a significant cultural site for the local Kulin Nation. On the stroll, you’ll get to learn about native plants, Aboriginal plant uses and customs, as you gain an insight into the history, culture and ongoing connection to Country of Australia’s First Nations’ peoples.
A short amble from the gardens, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is one of Australia’s oldest art museums with an impressive collection of international and Australian art spread across two buildings, the NGV International, closest to the gardens on St Kilda Road, and the NGV Australia, just across the river at Federation Square.
The permanent collection features more than 70,000 works of art spanning thousands of years and browsing is free – as are curator guided tours and guest talks. Current temporary exhibitions include Bark Ladies: Eleven Artists from Yirrkala, a collection of work by Yolŋu women artists from Northeast Arnhem Land, the show Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto, focused on the Coco Chanel’s contribution to twentieth-century fashion.
On Friday nights there’s exclusive after-hours access to the Chanel show and French-inspired dining, bars and a line-up of local DJs.
Sip Locally Inspired Craft Cocktails, Victorian Beers and Australian Wines
Whether you’re dining in or out, you could kick off the evening or round off the night with a drink in-house of locally inspired libations from the South Yarra Cocktail List, which features a short list of drinks crafted from “the freshest locally and sustainable sourced ingredients, inspired by the lush green gardens and vibrant botanical wonders”.
There are also local beers and kombucha on tap, native G&Ts, Latin classics such as the Hemingway Daiquiri, house made macerations, cold pressed juices, and a concise offering of Australian and European wines by the glass, including drops from the nearby Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula.
Nearby, you can sip wines sourced from small vineyards in Victoria, Australian beers, and mostly Australian spirits at light-filled Shadowboxer Bar and Kitchen (302 Tookrak Road, South Yarra). There’s outdoor seating within a white picket fenced terrace.
Or you can soak up more Seventies style at Leonard’s House of Love (3 Wilson Street, South Yarra), which has an interior decorated like the Brady Bunch’s holiday cabin, with timber-panelled walls and a stone fireplace. There’s also outdoor seating with heaters in the cooler months.
We’d love to know what you think of our 6 things to do in South Yarra, Melbourne, in the comments below.
Images courtesy of Luxury Escapes and Ovolo Hotels.