Take time out in Carlton to explore these hidden cafes, epic attractions and under the radar restaurants.
Invest in quality coffee gear
If you're serious about coffee and want to perfect your home brew take a trip to Coffee Machine Technologies on Lygon Street for the most luxe and high-quality gear. Pick up an Italian flag branded Bialetti, speak to the experts on the best machines on the market and have in-house barista make a freshly brewed latte while you shop.
Shop for one-of-a-kind toys and gifts
Established on Lygon Street more than 50 years ago, this iconic toy store is a treasure trove of unique, fun and traditional toys. Wonder at the playthings lining the Poppyshop walls and find gifts for the little ones in your life. Although we won't blame you if you want to keep a sweet Miffy collectable all to yourself! The incredible collection of vintage toys is bound to awaken your inner child.
Go for Brazilian brunch
Brazilian comfort food is what you'll fine at Bossa Nova. From the quirky and colourful decorations, to speciality coffee, it's a must visit in Carlton. Try the churrasco steak sandwich, with homemade cream cheese, served on a fresh baguette. Finish lunch off with a sweet treat and grab the dulce de leche mocha for the road.
Sip Italian wine by the park
Pause your stroll through Lincoln Square for a mini European vacation at Bar Holiday. Tucked behind the park, you’ll find this casual and unassuming Italian wine bar. Grab a table outside in the sunshine. Pile your table with share plates like spaghetti puttanesca, anchovy toast and potato tortilla. Then stay late for snacks and pasta on weekends.
Score $5 lunches
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a decent feed for $5 which is why Heart of Carlton really is the low-price gem of Melbourne’s inner north. The husband-wife duo behind this local spot is here to serve you big bowls of pasta, homemade soups and hearty curries for just a few gold coins. The atmosphere is priceless too with live music on the piano and a cosy fireplace to keep you warm.
Seek out Carlton's cutest cake shop
This cafe is hiding in plain site on Swanston Street, but chances are you've never tried its dreamy cakes. Her Cafe is a little hole-in-the-wall dishing up fluffy Asian-inspired cakes. As cute and colourful as they are delicious, try airy sponges and roll cakes in flavours like lychee rose and black sesame. And don't leave without ordering the matcha Basque cheesecake.
Catch indie performances in a legendary theatre
Established in 1967, La Mama is the bedrock of contemporary theatre in this town. Generations of performing artists, writers, producers and production crews honed their craft at La Mama. The intimate venue was recently rebuilt after a devastating fire in 2018. Celebrate the return of this Carlton icon by catching a show and discovering emerging artists. See what's coming up at La Mama.
Visit a hidden coffee roaster
In a hidden alley behind a petrol station, Vertue Coffee Roasters is a micro-roaster and cafe that takes its coffee very seriously. Relax with a cup and take time perusing the brunch menu. What will it be? The vegan lemon myrtle panna cotta? The fan-fave salmon rosti? Or indulgent apple pie waffles?
Try home-cooked Nigerian food down a no-through road
Adonai Foods has been one of Melbourne’s best-kept secrets since 2017. Located beneath a block of government flats at the end of a no-through road, it’s Melbourne’s only dedicated Nigerian restaurant. Try fried plantains, okra soup and puff puff fried doughnuts. Plus more traditional and lovingly homemade Nigerian dishes.
Discover a secret rooftop oasis
You’ve drunk cocktails under the stars at a rooftop bar in the city centre. But have you sipped a glass of wine in a rooftop oasis in Carlton? Quirky Wolf’s Lair is hidden inside Carlton institution Jimmy Watson’s. European curios decorate the walls of the cosy downstairs bar. Upstairs there are treetop views from picnic tables. No wonder it’s known as Carlton’s Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Snack in a hidden laneway bar
Venture behind Jimmy Watson's to find another hidden gem. Snack Monster is a tiny bar tucked down a laneway behind the carpark. Find it and be rewarded with nibbles from the everchanging specials menu. It might be pork sliders or duck liver and pancetta pate, with airy chocolate mousse for dessert. This cosy spot is pet friendly too!
Discover a hidden movie set in the busy university district
Founded in 1853, the University of Melbourne's leafy sandstone campus has a hidden movie history. A gothic underground carpark near the South Lawn – also an architectural icon – featured in Aussie cult flick Mad Max.
Find the best Japanese set meals
Never tried Teishoku? Make a beeline to Torissong and right that wrong ASAP. A curated selection of rice, pickles, soup and rotating mains is served here on the daily in neat wooden trays.
Attend arthouse film screenings
With sixteen theaters and a licensed terrace bar, Carlton’s iconic Cinema Nova is no secret to movie fans. But if you want real cinephile cred, snap up tickets to one of Nova’s filmmaker screenings. Get an early look at the latest independent and arthouse releases. Then meet the talent behind the flicks.
Visit a hidden-gem restaurant
Chic, modern and experimental, Laurus puts an Aussie spin on southern Chinese cuisine. Think elevated casual dining, with a menu that blends the two cultures. Try punchy kingfish, numbing raw beef and crowd-pleasing Hong Kong prawn toast. Then refresh your palate with Laurus's signature cocktails.
Find secret Japanese snacks and sake
While you're near Lincoln Square, look for another hidden gem. Next door to Bar Holiday is a double-whammy of Japanese dining. On the ground floor is pint-sized cafe Hareruya Pantry where you'll find snacky Japanese staples. Think bento boxes and inventive gelato flavours wrapped in mochi. Next, head up to the aptly named Leonie Upstairs. This cute date-night spot pairs fresh temaki sushi with premium sake.
Pick up a new old instrument
Local musos know Carlton icon Music Swop Shop is the first stop to buy and sell second hand gear. Browse the newest additions and swap your daily social media doom scroll for a fresh Fender-fuelled serotonin boost. Trade in that keyboard for a sweet '80s synth. Or pluck out a tune on a new-to-you banjo.
Last updated on Mon 18 Sep 2023
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