My perfect Melbourne weekend, by National Gallery of Victoria director Tony Ellwood

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This article is part of FT Globetrotter’s guide to Melbourne

Like all Melburnians, my weekend starts with coffee. The coffee culture here is world-renowned — it was first introduced by Italian immigrants in the postwar period, and we have honed the perfect cup ever since. 

With toy poodles Daisy and Onslow in tow, on weekends I like to visit Studley Park Boathouse on the banks of the snaking Yarra/Birrarung river. Nestled within the sprawling Yarra Bend Park, the recently restored Edwardian boathouse is the river’s oldest continually operating public structure of its kind and has both formal and casual dining options. There is no better place to start the weekend than on its riverfront deck with a flat white and its chilli scrambled eggs.

Studley Park Boathouse, an Edwardian structure on the banks of the Yarra river
Ellwood’s weekend often starts at Studley Park Boathouse . . . 
A plate of chilli scrambled eggs on a muffin at Studley Park Boathouse
 . . . with a breakfast of chilli scrambled eggs and a flat white © Ryan McCurdy

Fully caffeinated, it’s time to explore Smith, Gertrude and Brunswick Streets, which are peppered with independent boutiques, fashion retailers and art galleries. A favourite of mine is local menswear designer Christian Kimber, who produces chic and casual classics with impeccable craftsmanship and materials. And my friends are often decked head to toe in the quintessential Melbourne labels Alpha60 and ESS Laboratory, whose designs offer a creative fusion of traditional Japanese and contemporary aesthetics.

Art lovers should also visit the nearby Collingwood Yards, a cluster of galleries and artist studios housed within a former technical college. The building is a striking example of Art Deco architecture and features a mural by Keith Haring, who visited Melbourne in 1984.

The National Gallery of Victoria’s ‘Pharoah’ exhibition includes the painted-wood Coffin of Horaawesheb, c900BC . . .
The National Gallery of Victoria’s ‘Pharoah’ exhibition includes the painted-wood Coffin of Horaawesheb, c900BC . . .  ©
. . . and a siltstone bust of Thutmose III, c1479–1457BC. Both pieces are part of 500-strong loan from the British Museum
. . . and a siltstone bust of Thutmose III, c1479–1457BC. Both pieces are part of a loan of 500 ancient Egyptian pieces from the British Museum  © The Trustees of the British Museum (2)

On weekends, I sometimes drop into the NGV to receive artworks, present floor talks or give tours of our 75,000-strong permanent collection. This month, I’m excited about the opening of the blockbuster exhibition Pharaoh, a celebration of 3,000 years of ancient Egyptian art and culture through more than 500 pieces on loan from the British Museum. It’s the largest international exhibition the museum has presented in its 270-year history.

Murals and graffiti on the walls of Melbourne’s Hosier Lane, with the blurred images of people walking by
‘A kaleidoscopic celebration of Melbourne’s street-art culture’: Hosier Lane © Alamy Stock Photo

With its famed criss-cross of streets, known as the Hoddle Grid, Melbourne’s city centre is wonderfully walkable — a flâneur’s dream come true. With so much of its gold rush-era Victorian architecture surviving today, nearly every street corner features a confection of grand arches, domes and columns. I also love getting lost in the network of laneways and alleys, which house hidden-away cafés, wine bars and shops. Hosier Lane is a kaleidoscopic celebration of Melbourne’s street-art culture, with new murals, stencils and paste-ups appearing almost daily. On the corner of Flinders Lane and Russell St, Gimlet, by local restaurateur Andrew McConnell, is one of my favourite spots for a long lunch. I recommend starting with the restaurant’s namesake — a classic gimlet cocktail — and ordering the pan-roasted John Dory if it’s on the menu.

A male chef’s hands holding salt-baked John Dory in a copper pan over a set table, next to two glasses of white wine
Salt-baked John Dory at Gimlet . . . 
Detail of the dining space at Gimlet restaurant in Melbourne, with rows of dark-wood chairs and brown marble-topped tables
. . . which is one of Ellwood’s favourite spots for a long lunch © Sharyn Cairns

While in the city centre (or the CBD, as the locals call it), you’d be remiss not to visit the ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image), our national museum of global film and screen culture, as well as the Koorie Heritage Trust, a meeting place and cultural centre that celebrates the rich culture of First Nations people from the south-east corner of Australia. On display at the Trust until mid-July is JXSH MVIR: Forever I Live, an exhibition of works by the late Gunditjmara, Yorta Yorta and Barkindji artist Josh Muir, who employed a colourful street-art vocabulary to interrogate themes of culture, identity and colonialisation.

‘Girl’ by the late artist Josh Muir: a multicoloured Pop-Art-style portrait of a woman’s face
Works included in the Koorie Heritage Centre’s retrospective dedicated to the late Gunditjmara, Yorta Yorta and Barkindji artist Josh Muir include ‘Girl’, 2017 . . .  © Peter Nash Collection. Photograph by Christian Capurro
‘We Will Survive’, 2015, by Josh Muir: a kaleidoscopic image including depictions of men leading dogs, city skylines and a large blue eye watching in the sky
. . . and ‘We Will Survive’, 2015 © Koorie Heritage Trust Collection. Photograph by Christian Capurro

For dinner, it’s time to head south of the river to France-Soir, a Melbourne institution for nearly 40 years that serves brasserie-style classics in a cosy, unpretentious space — and the best place in town for people-watching. This place is teeming with late-night energy and attracts people from all walks of life, from champion footballers to leading artists. They also serve the best steak frites this side of Paris.

On Sunday, it’s time for a day trip. One of the best things about Melbourne is its proximity to nature. There’s wine country to the east, the goldfields to the west, breathtaking coastlines to the south — and all within a 90-minute drive from the city centre.

A giant red and black Pumpkin sculpture by Yayoi Kusama standing against a blue sky in Point Fort Estate’s sculpture park
One of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s giant Pumpkin works can be found in Point Fort Estate’s sculpture park © C McConville

In summer, a visit to Point Leo Estate on the Mornington Peninsula is a must. The clifftop estate is home to 50 acres of vines overlooking the ocean, two restaurants (and a wine terrace), and a sculpture park featuring large-scale works by Inge King, KAWS, Yayoi Kusama and more. I also recently visited garden-to-table Tedesca Osteria, a moody, wood-panelled 30-seat venue where chef Brigitte Hafner plans ever-changing menus around locally grown produce and a “whole animal” philosophy that minimises wastage.

In the cooler months, a visit to TarraWarra Museum of Art — and the surrounding cool-climate wineries of the picturesque Yarra Valley — is the perfect way to spend a cosy afternoon. For music lovers, a visit to nearby Coombe Cottage, the country home of iconic Melbourne-born soprano Dame Nellie Melba, is essential. You can take a tour of the heritage cottage and manicured gardens, or simply enjoy a glass of their estate-grown single-vineyard wines. Quel délice.

Tony Ellwood AM is the director of the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, which is a member of Cultural Attractions of Australia, a collective of 17 leading cultural, historic and sporting attractions that offers curated, pre-bookable travel experiences 

What are your highlights in Melbourne and beyond? Tell us in the comments below. Follow FT Globetrotter on Instagram at @FTGlobetrotter

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