Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
Published August 27th 2011
Queen Victoria Market - or just 'Vic Market' - is an iconic Melbourne feature. It's the largest open-air market in the entire southern hemisphere, with around seven hectares of shops and stalls. Most visitors to Melbourne want to give it a visit, but it's so large that it's hard to know where to start. Just wandering around aimlessly is one way to appreciate Queen Victoria Market, but for those who like a little more direction, here's a quick guide to what's on offer.
The official website divides the market up into nine precincts. You can check them out for yourself if you're interested, however it's easier to think about Queen Victoria Market in two main areas: the food area, offering everything from fresh fruit to aged cheese, and the merchandise area, offering clothes, toys and souvenirs. The easiest way to get to the market is from the tram stop on Elizabeth St, which is right next to the edge of the food area.
Head up Therry St and turn right into the delicatessen section. Here you'll find good coffee beans, breads and cheeses, along with a variety of food shops offering the cheapest lunch in the market (short of buying a loaf of bread and some fruit from the organics section). Take your time looking around, but if you decide to buy something for lunch it's best to have someone else watching a table on Therry St. Free tables are few and far between, especially around lunchtime, and you might find yourself eating standing up. The delicatessen section is one of the best places in the market – it's always full of delicious-looking food and the people who run the shops are more than happy to talk with you about what's on offer. Even if you're not visiting the market, it's worth coming here for lunch if you're nearby.
Keep walking, staying inside the buildings, and you'll come to the meat and fish section. Finish your lunch and coffee before you come through here, since the butcher smell tends to put people off their food. Still, this is a great place to buy meat: many shops here specialise in particular cuts and styles, ensuring that you'll always get the highest quality. There are a grand total of ten fishmongers in this section as well, making this the best place to buy seafood in Melbourne.
When you've had enough of raw meat, head outside to the fruit and vegetable section. This is a more traditional market setup, with stall vendors competing to see who can attract the most customers. It gets loud, but it's worth it to browse the delicious food on offer. Here's a tip: if you're low on money, visit at the end of market trading hours (2 or 3pm) and pick up a big bag of veggies for almost nothing. If you're hungry for fancier food, high up on Therry St next to the fruit stalls is Invita, an all-vegetarian café that is expensive but tasty. You can also get a latte in a glass the size of your head, which is never a bad thing.
Separating the food area from the merchandise area is Queen St, where live bands often play. It's worth checking out what's going on here, as some of the live music is genuinely good (and there's the occasional festival.) However, this is where the best area of Queen Victoria Market ends. The merchandise sheds are full of toys and souvenirs: worth visiting if you're an international visitor or looking for a present for a young child, not so much otherwise. On the other hand, there's the occasional good clothes stall – leather jackets are a common theme, as are band t-shirts – and it's worth wandering around once, since you might get lucky and see something you like.
Can't play it? It'll look great on the mantlepiece.
One final caution: the market is closed Monday and Wednesday. Check the website for trading hours, which change from day to day. Once you've done so, you can take the opportunity to sample an enormous variety of Melbourne food, from traditional to immigrant, and find fresh produce in the heart of the city. Parts of it are overrated, but all in all, Queen Victoria Market is definitely worth visiting.