Melbourne's inner north is a vibrant and diverse area, home to a number of cultural and social icons of Melbourne. It is famed for the popular Lygon Street Italian district, while next door lies the University of Melbourne, the best university in Australia by many rankings. Numerous backpackers subside in the residential and cosmopolitan area of North Melbourne, just outside the city centre. Major tourist attractions such as the Melbourne Museum, Royal Exhibition Building and Melbourne Zoo are in the district. Much of the area is covered by parks, including the huge Royal Park in the north, the UNESCO-listed Carlton Gardens and popular Princes Park.
The area is bounded by Brunswick Road in the north, Victoria Street in the south, Nicholson Street in the east and the CityLink freeway in the west.
Carlton is the largest part of the district, and the traditional home of Melbourne's many Italian residents, most of whom settled in the city in the wake of the Second World War. The area's epicentre is restaurant-lined Lygon Street. Besides dozens of Italian restaurants and pizzerias to choose from, the street is also home to countless cafés, making Carlton somewhat of a pilgrimage destination for Melbourne's caffeine addicts. Interspersed amongst these eateries are theatres, museums and numerous sellers of fresh food produce, which have ensured the street remains one of Melbourne's most lively places. Melbourne Museum occupies a huge post-modern complex in the otherwise tranquil Carlton Gardens, which along with the beautiful Royal Exhibition Building forms one of only two of Australia's cultural UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A large part of the inner north forms the city's University district, housing the world-renowned and prestigious University of Melbourne in Parkville. The large student population enjoys the university's wide variety of architecture, ranging from grand old colleges from the 1800s to ultramodern structures of glass and steel. Parkville's north is covered by the massive expanse that is Royal Park, which offers a peaceful spot for a picnic in an otherwise busy city. Melbourne Zoo resides within the park, housing hundreds of species from Australia and around the world in generous enclosures.
North Melbourne is another cosmopolitan locality, which is still finding its feet as one of Melbourne's cultural hotspots. Mostly a residential area of wide, grassy avenues, it is the site of an old town hall, an upmarket strip of cafés and hidden bars and a variety of budget and backpacker accommodation.
Lying a kilometre or two north of the City Centre, Carlton, North Melbourne and Parkville can be easily reached by road, tram, bus, bike and even on foot.
Carlton is well connected by tram from the City Centre. All Swanston St and St Kilda Rd trams travel north to Carlton, with most terminating at the University of Melbourne tram stop, a short walk to Lygon Street. Routes 1 and 8 continue along Lygon Street (albeit a little north of all the action) to East Brunswick and Coburg in the north.
Nicholson Street (for Melbourne Museum) is served by Route 96 towards East Brunswick from along Spring Street, Bourke Street and Spencer Street in the City Centre. Nicholson Street also represents the division between Carlton and Fitzroy.
For Parkville, Route 19 runs along Royal Parade from Elizabeth Street, continuing to North Coburg. Alternatively, Route 55 from along William Street travels past the Parkville Hospital precinct, through Royal Park and passes by Melbourne Zoo.
The number 19 tram, which runs on Elizabeth Street in the CBD is an easy and scenic way to get to Brunswick. The tram passes through Royal Parade on its way to Sydney Road, passing many historic buildings, some of them part of the University of Melbourne. The 55 tram, which runs through West Brunswick, is not recommended for tourists to Brunswick; it mostly passes through boring suburban streets, with the exception of the Royal Zoo.
The busiest part of Lygon Street is served by buses 200 and 207 from Lonsdale and Queen Streets in the City Centre, which operate at a 10 minute frequency between them; these routes also link the area to Melbourne's inner east along Johnston Street. Rathdowne Street is served by buses 250 and 251, which can also be caught from Lonsdale and Queen Streets.
Alternatively, the Melbourne Visitor Shuttle operates via the inner north, stopping at Melbourne University on Grattan St and Lygon St.
Carlton is not served by Melbourne's suburban railway network, while Royal Park station on the Upfield Line is the only station in Parkville, adjacent to Melbourne Zoo.
Due to the high student population, cycling is a very popular mode of transport, which has pressured the government to provide the appropriate infrastructure. A segregated cycleway runs along Swanston Street from the City Centre to the University of Melbourne. Additionally, many streets have painted bike lanes, including Royal Pde, Queensberry St, Rathdowne St, Arden St, Flemington Rd and Elgin St. Although it is legal to ride on any road, Lygon and Grattan Streets are generally unsuited to bikes due to their busy nature. Additionally, bike trails are plentiful in Royal Park.
Most of the City Centre's north-south streets extend into Carlton. Lygon Street is an extension of Russell Street in the city, Rathdowne Street of Exhibition Street, while Nicholson Street is connected directly to Spring Street. In Parkville, Royal Parade is the extension of Elizabeth Street.
From the airport, the Flemington Rd exit off CityLink is the best way to reach the inner north.
The inner north is generally very walkable, although covers a large distance. Trams and buses serve the main north-south thoroughfares, although it can be difficult getting east-west by public transport. The Route 402 bus operates at a 10 minute daytime frequency, providing an east-west link between Footscray and East Melbourne, through Macauley Rd in North Melbourne and Grattan St in Parkville and Carlton, past Melbourne University.
- 1 Carlton Gardens, 1-111 Carlton St, Carlton (A short walk from the city, or tram routes 30 or 35 (City Circle): Stop 9). Beautiful European-style gardens featuring a number of towering plane trees and majestic fountains, some of which date from the Victorian era. It's a World Heritage Site along with the Royal Exhibition Building there.
- 2 Royal Exhibition Building, 9 Nicholson St, Carlton (Tram routes 86 or 96: Stop 12), ☏ , 13 11 02 (in country only). Australia's only World Heritage listed building, it was completed in 1880 to host the Melbourne International Exhibition and was the site of Australia's first Federal Parliament in 1901. With its meticulously restored interior, expansive galleries and soaring dome, it offers a magnificent setting for trade shows, fairs and cultural events. Tours are available, although you need to call in advance to confirm dates. $5 adult, $3.50 concession.
- 3 Melbourne Museum, 11 Nicholson St, Carlton (Tram routes 86 or 96: Stop 12), ☏ , 13 11 02 (in country only). 10AM-5PM daily. Opening in 2000, the award-winning Melbourne Museum houses a permanent collection in eight galleries, including one just for children. $10 adult, children and concessions free.
- 4 Grainger Museum, Gate 13, Royal Pde, University of Melbourne, Parkville (Tram route 19: Stop 11), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Su-F 12-4pm. A small but fascinating autobiographical museum on the university's fast western side. Documents the life and times of Percy Grainger, a Victorian concert pianist who achieved international fame and success. In addition to the Grainger collection, there is also a broader variety of items relating to music. Free, tours $5.
- 5 Ian Potter Museum of Art (The Potter), 801 Swanston St, University of Melbourne, Carlton (Any Swanston St tram: Stop 1), ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Tu-F 10AM-5PM, Sa-Su 12-5PM. Houses and displays the university's wide collection of artworks, from classical antiquity to the contemporary, of Australia and European origin. Temporary exhibitions of other artefacts and artworks are regularly hosted. Free.
- 6 Italian Museum (Museo Italiano), 199 Faraday St (Bus routes 200 or 207: Faraday St stop; or short walk from any Swanston St tram: Stop 1), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Tu-F 10AM-5PM, Sa 12-5PM. Recounts the history of the tens of thousands of Italian migrants that came to Melbourne following World War II, including the impact that they've had on Australian culture. Also details the story of the Lygon Street precinct and how it has developed over time. Includes a number of permanent and rotating exhibitions.
- 7 Royal Park, Parkville (Royal Park Station or Route 55 tram). An expansive park just north of the city centre, containing grasslands, native gardens and many sporting facilities. It is also home to the city's zoo.
- 8 Melbourne Zoo (Royal Park Station or Route 55 tram), ☏ 1300 966 784 (local rate), ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 9AM-5PM daily. This very popular Melbourne attraction opened in 1861 from the proceeds of the Gold Rush, making it the oldest zoo in Australia and third-oldest in the world. There are over 320 species of native Australian and exotic animals, birds and butterflies. The enclosures are spacious and engaging for the animals, as well as visitors. Particularly good are the lion exhibit, trail of the elephants, butterfly house, aviary and seal enclosure. Feeding and entertainment shows also run regularly throughout the day, but find out the time and plan in advance. $30 adult, $13.20 children (4-15yrs; free on weekends/holidays), number of concession and family discounts available.
- 1 La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday St (Bus routes 200 or 207, Faraday Street Stop, or tram route 1 or 8 to Lygon/Elgin Street stop and walk 5 minutes), ☏ . Contemporary theatre showing the latest in Melbourne's emerging theatre scene. In a front row seat you can literally see the actors sweat. Check their website for upcoming plays. Be sure to check if your play is at La Mama or La Mama Courthouse (see entry below).
- 2 La Mama Courthouse Theatre, 349 Drummond St (Bus routes 200 or 207, Elgin/Lygon Street Stop, or tram route 1 or 8 to Lygon/Elgin Street stop. Walk 5 minutes along Elgin St and turn right into Drummond St), ☏ . When booking a play at La Mama, double check if it's at the main theatre on Faraday Street, or the Courthouse on Drummond St. Don't miss your play by going to the wrong address!
- Melbourne IMAX Theatre, Rathdowne St. Films screen every day on the hour, 10AM-10PM, except Christmas Day.
There is always something going on in the inner north.
- Carlton Italian Festa, Lygon St, Carlton, ✉ email@example.com. This annual festival held in October celebrates all things Italian. Along with a variety of musical and comedic performances in Lygon Street's Piazza at Argyle Square, there are a number of Italian culinary stalls, cooking workshops, European vehicle displays and sporting events.
- Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. Late March or early April.
Lygon Street has a unique range of stores and products, in addition to being a foodies' paradise. There are bookshops, music stores and specialty outlets offering a wide range and variety of goods to choose from.
- New International Bookshop, cnr Victoria & Lygon Streets (opposite the Old Melbourne Gaol and the 8 Hour Monument), ☏ . noon-7PM. Melbourne's oldest radical bookshop, located in the basement of the historic Trades Hall building. It offers a large selection of books on Australian history and politics (including Aboriginal history, women's and LBGTI struggle). It has a large second-hand section covering all genres, including a $1 book section. This bookshop is a not-for-profit co-operative that runs literary events on most Wednesdays at 6:30PM. Refreshments and snacks are available, as are badges, stickers, cards and other souvenirs.
Carlton's main eat street is Lygon Street. It's largely Italian, interspersed with the odd Asian restaurant and pub. Unsurprisingly, there are also some tourist traps. Generally, and there are exceptions, the more established, authentic and affordable eateries are at the northern end of the strip, between Grattan and Elgin Streets. The western side of the street (on the left heading away from Central Melbourne) is generally better. Finally, look for the eateries without a spruiker outside: the enthusiasm of the spruiker is generally inversely proportional to the quality and value you will find inside.
Lygon Street between Elgin Street and Faraday Street
- Trotters, 400 Lygon St, ☏ . Favoured by Carlton residents and Melbourne Uni students, Trotters offers laid back ambiance and wholesome, traditional fares such as big breakfasts and hearty Italian pastas.
- Brunetti, 380 Lygon St, ☏ , fax: . A large Italian cafe that does cake and coffee on a huge scale, with multiple counters and a ticket system to ferry you around. The Italian hot chocolate is worth the fuss.
- Milk The Cow, 323 Lygon St, ☏ . Noon to late, open until 1am Friday and Saturday nights. Fairly expensive but absolutely delicious licenced fromagerie. They will serve 4 cheeses matched with 4 small serves of wines, beer or spirits, and have cheese-based dishes like baked camembert and fondues. The deluxe $50 cheese platter is worth splurging on. Friendly and knowledgable service.
- Tiamo 2, 305 Lygon St. Consistently crowded, it rates highly among the locals for its modern Italian food and attentive service. Be sure to try the 'spaghetti don giovanni', it always delivers.
- Lygon Foodstore, 263 Lygon St, ☏ . A Lygon Street institution, it has an expansive deli section with delicious varieties of cheeses, antipasti and a tempting array of breads.
Lygon Street between Faraday Street and Grattan Street
Lygon Street between Grattan Street and Queensberry Street
- Koko Black, 167 Lygon St, ☏ . Koko Black is a chocolateria. You can order expensive chocolates by the kilo here, but most people visit for the hot chocolate. There are no reservations, and on busy winter nights, there can be a 20-30 minute wait for a table, so rug up and bear it!
- Il Dolce Freddo, 114 Lygon St. Offering a mouthwatering selection of icecreams, sorbets and gelati
- Lazzat on Lygon, 112 Lygon St, ☏ . Affordable and tasty Malaysian, Singaporean, Indonesian food.
Other Carlton eateries
- I Carusi, 46A Holmes St. Just a bit away from the crowds and spruikers of Lygon St, I Carusi is one of Melbourne's best kept secrets and has one of Melbourne's most finest pizzas. Try the ‘Gamberi Piccante’ (prawn, semi-sundried tomato and fiore di latte) or ‘Pizza for a Friend’ (roast pumpkin, pine nuts, rocket and goats cheese). All pizzas fit neatly within the $11-20 price range and makes for happy eating.
- Piazza 51, 51 Sydney Rd, ☏ . Large range of pizza, pasta and other Italian dishes available. Cash only and licenced. Italian staff.
- Pizza a Metro, 29 Grattan St, ☏ . Pizza a Metro serves pizza and pasta. The pizza is Italian-style: simple but tasty toppings. Unusually, the pizza is sold by the meter, in 20 centimeter (8 inch), 50 centimeter (1.6 foot) and 1 meter (3.2 foot) servings, each 20 centimeters across. Students claim that the appropriate pizza ratio is about 1.5 meters of pizza for every 6 people; diners will definitely want to stick to a 20 centimeter serve unless they're sharing.
- Shakahari's, 201 Faraday St, ☏ . For fancy but not overpriced vegetarian food that will have even the meat lovers savouring every bite.
- Thai Thalia, 86 Lygon St, North Carlton. Behind its unassuming exterior contains what some locals regard as the best Thai food in Melbourne. Extremely cheap, but tasty and leaves you feeling like you unearthed one of Melbourne's hidden gems.
If Melbourne's coffee culture has a home, it is the Italian precinct surrounding Lygon St. There are numerous outlets, almost too many to list. Here are some of the more outstanding ones worth trying:
Lygon Street between Elgin Street and Faraday Street
- Brunetti's, 380 Lygon Street, ☏ , fax: . This is a Melbourne institution for good coffee and a fiendish selection of Italian sweets and gelato. The cafe also pioneered the now ubiquitous use of environmentally precarious gas heaters to let customers sit outside, even in the winter months. Hours: Su–F 7AM–11PM; Sa 7AM–midnight.
- Carlton Espresso, 326 Lygon St, ☏ . from 7AM weekdays. Almost all Italian staff, authentic delicious seasonal dishes. Handmade pastas, fresh breads and salumi.
- Tiamo 1, 303 Lygon St, ☏ . A traditional, no-fuss Roman style espresso bar beloved by Mafia bosses and those seeking an authentic espresso.
Lygon Street between Faraday Street and Grattan Street
- Grinders Coffee House, 277 Lygon St, ☏ . The family behind Grinders has not only been supplying Melbourne's cafes with coffee since the 1960s but at their first store you can also get a shot of your favourite brew. Hours: M–Th 9AM–5:45PM; F 9AM–6PM; Sa 9AM–12:45PM.
- 1 Porcelain Tea Parlour, 149 Elgin St, ☏ (mobile 0411 828 670 ), ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. W-F 5-10pm, Sa 2-10pm, Su 2-7pm. Wonderful little tea parlour with a range of special teas and infusions, and cards, books and board games. A small range of cheese, both dairy and cashew, and in summer the cool kombucha is refreshing. The best idea is Tea and Post: a pot of tea with stationery and a stamp for you to write a letter to someone you love. Pot of tea $12, Tea and Post (envelope, stationery and stamp) $16.
- Rydges Carlton Melbourne, 701 Swanston St, ☏ 1300 857 922 (local rate). An easy walk to the charming atmosphere and bustling cafes of Lygon St, the Rydges offers 107 boutique rooms with a heated pool, spa and even a BBQ on the rooftop.
- Melbourne Metro YHA, 78 Howard St, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. 24-hour reception. Excellent hostel on the fringe of the city, about 10 minutes' walk to the centre. Great facilities and very clean. Free car parking on-site. Shared room from $30.50, double/twin from $81.50, Ensuite rooms from $91.50 (YHA members get $3.50 discount).