With a love of innovation and a creativity born from our unique place in the world, Australian cities are bursting with new design spots and eateries to enjoy.
By Jac Taylor
What to expect
- Be welcomed by our creative communities and try your own hand at design
- Taste the latest in foodie design at top restaurants and cafés
- Take behind-the-scenes tours with experts and passionate professionals
- Time: 13 days
- Distance: 1,663 kilometres (1,033 miles)
- Transport: plane, train, car and walking
- Nearest major city: Brisbane
- Price: $$$
Throughout Australia, vibrant design communities make our cities' neighbourhoods a delight to discover. But the artistry doesn't end there. The innovation you'll find in so many Australian restaurants and hotels means your lunch or dinner may well turn out to be a work of art on a plate, while your hotel room might be transformed by murals, street art or elegant design. Every one of your 13 days travelling from Brisbane to Melbourne will be soaked in style.
Day 1: Brisbane
Begin your trip in Brisbane's centre of cool, Fortitude Valley. Drop your bags within one of the many artsy and arresting accommodation options, then pop over to the charming maze-like Alfred and Constance, for brunch. Though it's better known as a nightlife spot, Alfred and Constance's morning menu is surprisingly detailed, from bircher muesli with blueberry compote to a full breakfast complete with Cumberland sausage, leek and corn croquette and avocado. Walk it off in nearby Bakery Lane and soak up the productive vibe of incubator studios where local designers can stay, work and network among neighbours including The Tree House Bar and Phase 4 Records & Cassettes. Then it's time to check in and explore your hotel. The courtyard rooms at Limes come with swinging hammocks, and the popular rooftop bar not only serves up fabulous cocktails and substantial eats, but screens movies under the stars every Wednesday and Thursday night. Book a spot and enjoy a film while relaxing in one of two plunge pools.
Day 2: Brisbane
Today, choose between several of Brisbane's buzzing suburbs and spend the day strolling through parks, exploring quirky shops or dining and top-notch venues. Take a train from Fortitude Valley to the neighbourhood of Albion (less than 10 minutes) to visit Fox Street Factory, a cafe and taphouse offering the perfect cup of coffee along with pastries and bagels. Albion is also home to Vaquero, a chic Spanish-inspired eatery perfect for lunch or dinner. If you'd rather picnic in the park, head to New Farm, and check out which events and exhibitions are on at Brisbane Powerhouse, a repurposed powerhouse that's now a hub for all things creative. West End, less than 15 minutes from Fortitude Valley by car, is known for its quirky charm. Peruse vintage stores or stop into The Catchment Brewing Co. for beers brewed on site. Once back in Fortitude Valley, head to Gerard's Bistro, named Queensland's best restaurant, and delve into its international menu that will take your tastebuds anywhere from Africa to Europe – try the vine leaf wrapped quail.
Day 3: Brisbane
Wake up with a stroll to Brisbane's city centre (about 25 minutes from Fortitude Valley) for breakfast at the much-feted Greenglass, which serves French bistro food and encourages a "long breakfast". From here, it's a 10 minute walk to the central arts precinct of Brisbane, South Bank. Wander the innovative galleries of the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), which features a collection of more than 17,000 works. Enjoy lunch at Trocadero Long Bar before joining a creative workshop at Cork & Chroma, where you can spend the afternoon designing your own work of art with a glass of wine in hand. In the evening, take a ride on the Wheel of Brisbane and view the city from its enclosed gondolas 60 metres (200 feet) above ground, before indulging on a seven-course degustation at the opulent restaurant Bacchus.
Day 4: Brisbane to Sydney
Today you're heading to the harbourside city of Sydney, about a 90 minute flight from Brisbane. Check in to QT Sydney, a boutique hotel that that has transformed two historic city buildings and offers 200 designer rooms, a day spa, restaurant and bar. It's only a few steps from the main shopping district of Sydney, so take a walk down Pitt Street to the hallowed, Victorian-style Strand Arcade. Here, you'll find style icons such as Dinosaur Designs with its chunky resin jewellery, the luxurious fabrics of Jac+Jack, classic Australian designers Leona Edmiston and Scanlan Theodore, and to top it all, jaunty headwear from Strand Hatters. Then head to the Shangri-La Hotel down near the historic Rocks district to sample contemporary Australian food with incredible views over the harbour at Altitude Restaurant.
Day 5: Sydney
Sydney's streets are unlike the grids you'll find in many cities. Their wonderful mix of different architecture styles, histories and fascinating laneways and cross-streets shooting off in multiple directions makes for great exploring. Sign up for an architectural tour by foot or by bike with local architects who love to share the secrets of their city, whether you choose the modern tour, or the Utzon tour examining Jorn Utzon's most famous creation, the Sydney Opera House. If you opt for the latter, lunch inside one of the Opera House's famous "sails" at Bennelong restaurant is a must. It's run by renowned chef Peter Gilmore. After lunch, stroll into the nearby Royal Botanic Gardens and embark on an Aboriginal Bush Food Experience, where you'll learn about the world's oldest living culture as you gather, prepare and taste bush foods from around the gardens.
In the afternoon, take a five-minute taxi to the inner city neighbourhood of Darlinghurst and enjoy the lowbrow art movement hidden among its streets. Pick up surrealist art or strange ceramic pieces at Outré Gallery or peruse the Paddington Markets (held on Saturdays), then stop across the road for a whisky-based cocktail at the Shady Pines Saloon. Head another 10 minutes by taxi (or a 20-minute walk) to the dining precinct of Potts Point, and enjoy dinner in the glamorous metal and wood interior of Monopole.
Day 6: Sydney
From Town Hall station in the city centre it's a three minute train ride to Central Station, where you can walk The Goods Line across Sydney's Chinatown to the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo. At the Powerhouse you'll find 20th century design objects, furnishings, inventions and contemporary art pieces side by side in a fascinating and diverse collection. Lunch can be had at Lotus Story - a converted warehouse where you can tuck into Vietnamese banh mi and rice paper rolls, or instead walk to Spice Alley for a selection of Asian street food vendors. Spend the afternoon strolling through nearby Surry Hills in stores that combine design and retail to beautiful effect: visit The Minimalist, Vampt Vintage Design and Clickon Furniture, and stop for a caffeine and art fix at Saint Cloche. Then it's off to Sydney's only wood fire-driven restaurant, Firedoor, in the back streets of Surry Hills, with a menu that changes daily and is entirely fuelled by fire.
Day 7: Sydney
This morning head back to Surry Hills for a rare glimpse behind the scenes of some of the best opera design in the world. The Opera Centre conducts tours every weekday at 10am and 2pm (bookings essential) that delve into its 60-year history of costuming, prop design and staging. Participants must have a good level of fitness as there are many stairs to climb on the tour. Refuel at the trendy Nomad restaurant, dining on Middle Eastern-inspired cuisine and great Australian wines. From here it's a 15-minute taxi ride to Koskela, a gallery, furniture store and temple to original design in the formerly industrial (now ultra hip) neighbourhood of Rosebery. Join a macrame or necklace-making workshop, view local art exhibitions or shop for Aboriginal weaving work. Next door, grab a sweet treat at Black Star Pastry, or see world-renowned gin and other spirits made by hand at the Archie Rose Distillery. Design your own gin blend at a workshop here, or simply head on to dinner at pizza mecca, Da Mario, where the main dish is approved by Italy's Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana.
Day 8: Sydney to Canberra
From Sydney it's a 55-minute flight (or three-hour drive) to the national capital city of Canberra – no stranger to design. The product of a design competition to form a new city in 1911, Canberra was drawn up in the finest detail by American architect Walter Burley Griffin. Hire an electric picnic boat from GoBoat to sail around Lake Burley Griffin, and don't forget to pack a picnic for the journey. You might see a few of Canberra's famous design and architecture landmarks as you float, such as the National Library, the sculpture garden at the National Gallery of Australia, and the National Carillon as its bells toll their haunting and lovely tune.
If you'd rather witness some hands-on design, the Canberra Glassworks in Kingston is a hotspot in more ways than one. Inspire yourself in the glint and shine of the art-filled gift shop, and take a behind-the-scenes tour to witness some of Australia's greatest glass artists creating their works before your eyes. If you're visiting over the weekend, be sure to join a one-on-one workshop with resident glass artists, in which you can make your own glass masterpiece using hot glass, fire and tools. Stop by the stylish Kingston Foreshore precinct for lunch at burger and beer specialists Beef & Barley, then head across the lake to shop in fashionable, quirky Braddon. Lonsdale Street is where you'll find boutiques such as Pink Ink and Mussen. Nearby, dinner awaits at the funky and fun Akiba.
Check in to boutique Ovolo Nishi, an amazing piece of contemporary architecture that proves Canberra is still at the forefront of design. Take a snap of the soaring, timber-filled Grand Stair then ready yourself for dinner at Monster Kitchen and Bar, located within the hotel and open late.
Day 9: Canberra
There's no need to go far today, since your hotel is in the centre of NewActon, one of Canberra's trendiest neighbourhoods. Take a yoga class with a view, complimentary for Ovolo Nishi guests, then soak up some art or architectural exhibitions at Nishi Gallery. After lunch at Mocan & Green Grout, where you can enjoy ethical, nutritious and locally sourced food, catch an art house film or new release movie at the nearby Palace Electric Cinema. Then take in some fresh air in the NewActon community garden (where Mocan & Green Grout grows some of its produce) before diving back into Ovolo Nishi's dining and bar scene. Taste a Canberra wine in A Baker’s intimate bar, move on to the gorgeously appointed Parlour Wine Room for dinner and go underground for a nightcap at Black Market.
Day 10: Canberra to Melbourne
The flight from Canberra to Melbourne takes just over an hour. Once you've landed you'll get your first taste of Melbourne's love for the sculptural and artistic. The CityLink motorway is an artwork in itself, with its vibrant cantilevered poles (a work known as the Melbourne International Gateway), undulating concrete, and an elliptical bridge tunnel named the sound tube. Things only get more visually arresting as you check in to The Olsen hotel in South Yarra. After check-in, explore your surrounds and head to the Prahran Market, which sells high-quality produce as well as tasty dishes from food stalls. Alternatively, take a cultural journey on a Koorie Heritage guided walk. Stroll alongside your Koorie guide and visit culturally significant sites and art installations, learning about a culture that's tens of thousands of years old. Tonight, eat at the art-filled Two Wrongs restaurant.
Day 11: Melbourne
Melbourne's famous trams are a great way to get around, but The Olsen also offers an eco-friendly, art-muralled smart car for or a vintage-inspired Lekker bike to borrow. Either way, you are free to explore Melbourne's famous laneways today. Start by having breakfast in the city's Degraves Street, known equally for its café scene and colourfully graffitied walls. Then move on to Hosier and Union lanes, sharing the title of the best place to enjoy Melbourne's street art. Head west to Southern Cross Station, even if you don't need to catch a train; its wavelike architecture is stunning and a treat for photographers. Continue to Docklands for lunch and a look around this equally architectural area. There's great shopping here, as well as the ArtVo Immersive Gallery, a large-scale, three-dimensional gallery that covers 1,900 square metres (0.5 acres). For dinner, head to Melbourne's cool and quirky suburb of Fitzroy. Dine at Charcoal Lane, a social enterprise restaurant that not only provides guidance and opportunity for young Aboriginal people but also a seasonal menu that showcases native Australian ingredients.
Day 12: Melbourne
Enjoy breakfast at The Kettle Black (order the hotcakes or coconut chia) in South Melbourne. Next, visit the South Melbourne Market and head straight for the SO:ME Space stall, a unique retail concept dedicated to design, fashion and creativity. Don't miss a visit to the National Gallery of Victoria in the city centre. The gallery hosts fascinating art exhibitions that focus on anything from clothing design to architecture.
Grab lunch at loosely Asian-inspired Supernormal canteen – try some potstickers and bao buns, paired with a New England lobster roll. Then head over to the Art Deco edifice of the Nicholas Building on Swanston Street and lose yourself in 10 floors of creativity. Among designer studios hard at work, there are bespoke tailors and cobblers, jewellery artisans and even a small vintage department store. The quaint elevators are themselves a piece of history; this was the last building in Melbourne to give up its lift operators. Cocktails and dinner is a great way to top off the day, and the rooftop at The Emerson, back in South Yarra, fits the bill nicely, with seafood topping the menu and plenty of Asian flavours. For some after-dinner fun, groove on into Leonard's House of Love down the road. Its 1980s-era ski-lodge vibe and American dude food menu is the perfect kitsch antidote, in case you are just about designed out.
Day 13: Melbourne
Shopping is one of Melbourne's favourite pastimes. Emporium Melbourne in the city centre houses more than 200 stores, a lofty eating area packed with delicious food, and incredible architecture throughout. It is also linked to train stations and other shopping centres via underground passages. Back in South Yarra, the shopping scene is exploding with emerging designers, accessories and homewares along Chapel Street and into neighbouring Prahran, as high-end fashion morphs into a bustling café and bar culture. Find a treasure trove of vintage clothing, accessories and furniture at Chapel Street Bazaar. Browse the softest of leather goods at Bisonte, and find on-trend Australian designer clothing in the collaborative Design A Space. When you get peckish, The Woods of Windsor is high on dark-timbered ambience, a seasonal contemporary menu and even whisky flights. Or try the Eastern European fare at Borsch, Vodka & Tears – worth it for the vodka menu alone.
Alternatively, escape the city with one of Melbourne's nearby destinations. The Yarra Valley, just a one-hour drive from Melbourne, boasts beautiful vineyards and quaint accommodation. For some serious relaxing, head to the Mornington Peninsula, where you'll find cellar doors, fine dining and the stunningly peaceful Peninsula Hot Springs.
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