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10 days of shopping, design and art

Discover Australia's arts-loving cities as you travel down the east coast and indulge in a little retail therapy along the way.

By Jac Taylor

What to expect

  • Gallery hop through creative neighbourhoods
  • Explore exciting shopping precincts for original finds 
  • Discover controversial art at Mona

Fast facts

  • Time: 10 days
  • Distance: 2,520 kilometres (1,566 miles)
  • Transport: plane, taxi, walking, tram and ferry
  • Price: $$$ 

Australia's cosmopolitan cities are at the forefront of this country's love for the arts, innovative design and fashion-forward shopping. In 10 days, sweep through four cities and sample some of the best they have to offer.

Day 1: Brisbane city and South Bank

South Bank, Brisbane, Queensland

Brisbane might be known for its thriving cultural scene, but this subtropical city also has a flourishing fashion industry – big enough for major global brands, but small enough to offer edgy start-up labels and young, experimental designers. Begin your day at Queen Street Mall, a natural starting point with its long stretch of urban fashion boutiques and major department stores. Then venture over to Brisbane's City Hall to see the fascinating Museum of Brisbane, featuring boundary-pushing interactive multimedia works that will get you in the mood for the many arts highlights just a short walk across the river. Take the Kurilpa Bridge – a modern, multimillion-dollar artful masterpiece in itself – to Brisbane's primary arts precinct, South Bank. Here you'll find the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), the Queensland Museum and Sciencentre, and as you walk further south along South Bank, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. Between these three, you can enjoy some of Australia's most innovative artistic expressions, scientific achievements and performances. A 15-minute taxi ride north to the hip neighbourhood of Fortitude Valley will take you to the area's newest boutique hotel. Sage Hotel James Street is built around a local icon, the Queens Arms Hotel. Expect clean, modern architecture interspersed with heritage raw brick walls lined with living greenery and historic photography.

Day 2: Brisbane's Fortitude Valley and New Farm

Powerhouse, Brisbane, Queensland

Fortitude Valley's past as a rock'n'roll nightspot has given way to its new incarnation as a shopping district. The city's next generation of designers display their wares at Artisan, a design exhibition and workshop space. Nearby you'll also find two higher-end shopping experiences: the modern shopping centre Emporium and the boutique strip of Ann Street, both of which offer local clothing labels and global fashion names. Have lunch at Six Acres, a hip restaurant heavily into local produce, then browse the small art galleries hiding among the area's boutiques. A stroll along Brunswick Street will bring you to inspiring galleries such as Philip BaconJan MurphyRedsea and Edwina Corlette, and take you from Fortitude Valley to the beautiful, upper-class neighbourhood of New Farm. Here, visit the converted industrial space of the Brisbane Powerhouse, a contemporary arts centre on the river's edge and book tickets to one of its thought-provoking performances.

Day 3: Sydney’s Circular Quay

The Rocks Market, Sydney, New South Wales

An hour and a half by plane is all it takes to get from Brisbane to Sydney. Check in to Ovolo 1888 Hotel – a beautiful mix of crisp linen, contemporary artworks and giant hardwood beams in a 19th century woolstore – then explore the Circular Quay precinct. Here you'll find a spectacular walk along the water's edge, looping from the historic Rocks area around the bustling ferry terminals, taking in postcard views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and out to the gleaming white "sails" of the Sydney Opera House. If you are visiting on a weekend, pick up some local crafts at the Rocks Markets, where souvenirs might take the form of vintage photographs, unique jewellery or native spice blends, or be inspired in the waterfront Museum of Contemporary Art. As evening falls, take in a show at the Sydney Opera House: the program varies wildly, and may include anything from cabaret, ballet and Russian theatre to rock concerts, stand-up comedy, political talks and opera. 

Day 4: Sydney’s Oxford Street and Surry Hills

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales

Start your day at the shopping mecca, Pitt Street Mall. This strip is one of the most expensive locations to rent a retail space on Earth, and is filled with mega stores, global brands and designer fashion as well as a luxury shopping centre, Westfield Sydney. From here, take the pleasant 20-minute stroll through the city to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, one of Australia's leading cultural institutions and home to a significant body of work by Australian and international artists, as well as galleries dedicated to Aboriginal art (don't miss the Yiribana Gallery). Or spend the afternoon on Oxford Street in the trendy, upmarket neighbourhood of Paddington, home not only to some of Australia's most celebrated fashion (The Intersection and Desordre are both unmissable) but a thriving art and design scene. Check out works by Australia's big-name artists at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, or up-and-comers at Global Gallery. Music photography of the rock'n'roll variety can be found at Blender, and is very different to the exhibitions held in the hallowed Juniper Hall. On Saturdays you can shop for local art to take home at Paddington Markets. Join the fashionable Paddington social set for dinner at 10 William St, a restaurant and wine bar with an excellent roster of interesting, mostly natural wines.

Day 5: Sydney’s Chippendale

Kensington Street Social, Sydney, New South Wales

Over the past decade, the once working-class streets of Chippendale have been transformed into a hip precinct of pop-up galleries and excellent mid-tier restaurants, which you'll find dotted amid a network of heritage laneways, backstreets splashed with street art, and original Victorian architecture. Start at the soaring Central Park shopping centre (you won't miss it – it has the Southern Hemisphere’s largest living green wall on one side, and an enormous, wind-activated sculpture called Halo on the other), to find urbane, street-smart fashion brands and the world's favourite Japanese two-dollar store, Daiso. If it's Sunday, look out for the Brewery Yard Markets, a collection of quirky art and craft stalls set up in the park next to the shopping centre on the first and third Sunday of each month. Enjoy an affordable lunch from one of the atmospheric stalls at the hidden laneway, Spice Alley (don't miss dessert at Koi, run by one of Australia's favourite former MasterChef TV show contestants) then visit the incredible White Rabbit gallery in time for the guided tour at 2pm (Wednesday to Sunday). Set up by a Sydney philanthropist as a means of sharing her passion with the public, it houses one of the world's largest and most significant collections of Chinese contemporary art, and the tours offer insightful interpretations of China's modern political and cultural landscape (entry and the tour are both free). If you have time, check out other nearby galleries such as aMBUSHKensington Contemporary and Galerie pompom, then dine at much-hyped Kensington Street Social. On site at boutique hotel The Old Clare Hotel, it's a shining example of Chippendale's evolving dining scene. Expect an accessibly priced menu by a Michelin-starred chef (Jason Atherton), featuring exquisite food in equally artful surrounds.

Day 6: Melbourne's Federation Square

Federation Square, Melbourne, Victoria

From one art-loving metropolis to another. The flight from Sydney to Melbourne is another mere hour and a half. After arriving in Melbourne, check in to the dessert-themed Adelphi Hotel and perhaps have a swim in the striking rooftop lap pool with transparent floor, which juts out over the street. Then walk the 400 metres (437 yards) to Melbourne's dynamic Federation Square. This is where you'll spend the afternoon, soaking up the fascinating exhibitions on display at institutions such as the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, The National Gallery of Victoria (especially its Ian Potter Centre, with all Australian art), the No Vacancy Project Space, and ArtPlay, where junior artists under 12 can try their hand at something new.

Day 7: Melbourne's city and arts precinct

Emporium, Melbourne, Victoria

The shopping areas of central Melbourne are linked via tunnels, laneways and arcades. Have a wander and discover shopping centres such as Emporium MelbourneMelbourne Central and Bourke Street Mall, before heading across the Yarra River to the Melbourne Arts Centre, about five minutes walk from the shopping centres. This complex of theatres and concert halls marks the middle of Melbourne's arts precinct, and is the place to catch meaningful diversions of every kind, from the gigantic laced facade of the Recital Centre, to the rust-coloured elegance of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. Complete your night out with a visit to a restaurant that turns dinner into an event: Vue du Monde, on the 55th floor of the iconic Rialto Building, serves an unforgettable 10-course degustation dinner beneath a ceiling of glowing lamps that mirror the sparkling lights of Melbourne below you.

Day 8: Melbourne's St Kilda and Fitzroy

Acland Street, St Kilda, Victoria

The quirky beachside area of St Kilda offers a rich shopping experience along its twin strips of Fitzroy Street and Acland Street, joined by the bustling Esplanade and famous beach. This funky, vibrant neighbourhood is also home to a thriving arts community, represented by the contemporary-meets-classic Linden New ArtGasworks Arts ParkPumpkin Lane gallery and studio, and excellent Aboriginal art at Art Yarramunua gallery. Across the city, via a half-hour tram ride, you can find the alternative, cultural melting pot of Fitzroy. Colourful street art around the main shopping strip of Brunswick Street provides the perfect backdrop to Fitzroy's many art galleries and eclectic boutiques.

Day 9: Hobart's Salamanca and Battery Point

Salamanca Market, Hobart, Tasmania

Fly from Melbourne to Hobart (1 hour 15 minutes) in time for a Saturday, and you'll be treated to one of the country's most spectacular and wide-ranging markets. The Salamanca Market offers creations big and small from local makers. While you're there, drop in to the Salamanca Arts Centre to see handcrafted jewellery pieces at Hammer and Hand, and innovative, emerging art at the not-for-profit Inka Gallery. Stroll to nearby Battery Point with your camera at the ready: the historic, often brightly painted houses are testament to Hobart's love for its ubiquitous Georgian design. Among these beautiful streets you'll find art houses such as the Colville Gallery and Despard Gallery, the city's largest space for commercial art. If you check in to your room at Henry Jones Art Hotel in Salamanca by 4pm, you can take the hotel's free art and history tour to appreciate the many artistic and heritage features of this masterpiece of accommodation in a former industrial warehouse.

Day 10: Hobart's Mona and Rosny

The Source Restaurant, Hobart, Tasmania

Today starts with visit to one of Australia's most controversial and fascinating art museums. The privately owned Mona (Museum of Old and New Art) is a short, scenic ferry ride from the city. Much of its collection is underground, with staircases, tunnels and towers making it feel like Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole. Have lunch in the shiny glass surrounds of The Source Restaurant at Mona, where the food is locally sourced and artfully served, much like the museum pieces themselves. For another unique experience, head across the river to Rosny on the eastern shore and take in contemporary and performing arts in the 1800s stone Rosny Barn. Grab one of its Artbikes to tour the area to see other museums and public artworks on the boardwalk along the shore.  

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