Holidays in Australia: Plan your winter holidays in Melbourne

People-watching and manchego croquetas add to the European vibe at Melbourne’s MoVida Next Door. Photo / Visit Victoria

Compile a list of Melbourne descriptors and “European” will always rank highly. Yes, this city of 5.1 million people is, in truth, a gloriously multicultural beast, built on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung peoples. Nonetheless, there’s something continental about this place, its architectural grandeur, fickle weather and bohemian bent more Berliner than Bondi. For Kiwi travelers who aren’t ready for the words “long haul” just yet, Australia’s second-largest city might just be the next best thing.

While rival Sydney relies on sun and surf for much of its appeal, Melbourne’s bluestone lanes, neo-Gothic spiers and monochrome cabinetry hold up particularly well in the winter. This is a city that knows roar and bunkering well, in world-class galleries, theaters, restaurants and bars, in graceful Victorian arcades, in curious buildings buzzing with artists, designers and artisans. Winter in Melbourne means the multidisciplinary arts festival Rising (June 1-12, and the Melbourne International Film Festival ( in August.

At the National Gallery of Victoria, shorter days and icy southerly winds are synonymous with Winter Masterpieces, the gallery’s mid-year flagship exhibition. In 2022, it’s Le Siècle Picasso, an unprecedented exhibition developed exclusively by the Center Pompidou and the Musée National Picasso-Paris. Examining Picasso’s career in dialogue with the artists, bohemians and intellectuals of his sphere, the inventory of the exhibition is impressive: more than 70 works by the Malaga master and more than 100 works by his contemporaries, including Henri Matisse, Gertrude Stein , Georges Braque , Marie Laurencin and Salvador Dali. According to the NGV’s senior curator, Miranda Wallace, “this is the first time that these two great French institutions have brought their collections together in this way, to examine Picasso in this context”.

The National Gallery Victoria is one of the cultural highlights of a visit to Melbourne.  Photo / Visit Victoria
The National Gallery Victoria is one of the cultural highlights of a visit to Melbourne. Photo / Visit Victoria

Artists rarely exhibited in Australia – including Suzanne Valadon, Julio Gonzalez and Natalia Goncharova – are also featured. Wallace is also enthusiastic about the inclusion of Picasso’s so-called magic paintings. “Created in the 1920s and early 1930s, the works are quite linear, with beautiful colors. They are quite extraordinary”.

Pieces by Picasso from the NGV’s own hoard include mid-century ceramics produced in southern France and his 1937 portrait Weeping Woman. The latter became Melbourne’s most infamous painting after thieves calling themselves Australia’s Cultural Terrorists stole the work from the gallery one night in 1986. It was an incredibly easy heist, buying 1.6 million Australian dollars simply unscrewed from the wall and performed unnoticed. A ransom note to Victorian Arts Minister Race Mathews demanded a 10% increase in arts funding and the creation of an annual A$25,000 art prize called The Picasso Ransom. Otherwise, the crying woman would get it. Mathews refused to budge. Despite the disturbing threats and missed deadline, an anonymous tip eventually led authorities to the location of the unharmed lady: locker 227 at Spencer St. station. The culprits were never apprehended. Weeping Woman is famous for all the wrong reasons in Melbourne, Wallace muses. “It will be great to see it in the exhibit and understand it more in context. It’s a very exciting aspect of the exhibit.”

Portrait of a Man by Pablo Picasso.  Photo / RMN-Grand Palais (Picasso-Paris National Museum) / Mathieu Rabeau
Portrait of a Man by Pablo Picasso. Photo / RMN-Grand Palais (Picasso-Paris National Museum) / Mathieu Rabeau

Stepping out of the NGV’s St Kilda Rd campus – a brutalist bluestone fortress designed by famed architect Sir Roy Grounds – it’s not complete madness to imagine yourself in one of Camille Pissarro’s wintry depictions of Paris. Orderly rows of elms line the wide, streetcar-lined boulevard, speckled copper with scattered autumn leaves. Take a 58 tram southbound to France-Soir ( and the Parisian vibe is even deeper. A veritable institution, the bistro’s French-accented servers have been serving rillettes, beef bourguignon and wine for decades to an eclectic cast of powerhouses, socialites and weird rock legends (including Mick Jagger). All that’s missing is Picasso and his sketchbook.

Melbourne has long considered itself somewhat European. By the 1880s, the enormous wealth of the Gold Rush had transformed a fledgling colonial village into one of the world’s greatest metropolises, awash with architectural magnificence channeling “Old World” vanity. In Carlton Gardens, architect Joseph Reed turned to Brunelleschi when designing his dome for the World Heritage-listed Royal Exhibition Building. On Collins St, Venetian opulence inspired the gold leaf lavishness of ANZ Gothic Bank. Nearby, mosaic Block Arcade has found its muse in Milan‘s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

The eastern end of Collins St has long been dubbed the “Paris End” (albeit cynically by some locals). Despite the encroachment of modern glass towers, the tree-lined strip remains unmistakably chic, flanked by polished Victorian buildings, chandelier-lit private clubs and high fashion. In the 1950s, beloved French-Australian artist Mirka Mora and her art dealer-restorer husband Georges entertained famous artists, writers and intellectuals in their studio-residence at Number 9. Both survivors of the Holocaust, the couple were part of the post-war migration mass that would radically alter Melbourne, transforming a city that seemed somewhat European into one that smelled, tasted and sounded it.

Our writer describes Melbourne as
Our writer describes Melbourne as “more Berlin than Bondi”. Photo/Getty Images

These fledgling Melburnians and their descendants shaped many of the city’s highlights: sipping spritzes to Italian pop on Lygon St, touring the deli at the art-deco Dairy Hall in Queen Victoria Market ( ), devour anchoa on Hosier Lane. The latter – a long crispy crouton topped with Cantabrian anchovies and smoked tomato sorbet – is the cult tapa at MoVida (, chef Frank Camorra’s celebrated modern Spanish restaurant. Picasso would have approved. Although he lived in France for many years, his true love remained the food of his homeland. However, it may have opted for the best people-watching at its more laid-back sibling MoVida Next Door, washing down the manchego croquetas with a Catalan xarel-lo or three. Across the street at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia (, a tremendous collection of Australian art includes many famous friends of Mirka and Georges, including Charles Blackman, Arthur Boyd , Joy Hester and John Perceval.

That MoVida is tucked away in an alley steeped in street art is hardly surprising. In this city, creativity and fun hide in unexpected corners: up, down, in the maze of alleys and arcades of the city that would not seem out of place in London, Naples or Prague: Degraves St and Center Place , Block Place, Royal Arcade, Hardware Lane, Guildford Lane. On Flinders Lane, stairs lead to the experimental gallery and performance space Fortyfivedownstairs ( and up to the avant-garde fashion brand Alpha 60 (, its Chapter House store located in a neo-Gothic style of Hogwarts type. Hall. A block away, artist, muse and gypsy Vali Myers once worked from the 1920s Nicholas Building (, its time-warped hallways covered in subway tiles still leading to galleries, unique workshops and shops selling tomes of Japanese photography. , bespoke fascinators, French and Spanish vintage heels. Melbourne’s hidden corners are made for bohemian souls and rainy day adventures.

MoVida is tucked away in an alleyway steeped in street art in Melbourne.  Photo / Visit Victoria
MoVida is tucked away in an alleyway steeped in street art in Melbourne. Photo / Visit Victoria

Control List
Air New Zealand, Qantas and Jetstar offer daily non-stop flights to Melbourne.
The Picasso Century takes place at the National Gallery of Victoria from June 10 to October 9.

Check the latest border restrictions in each state and territory before you travel. For more information visit

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