I'm a Melbourne girl, born and bred, and new resident of Geelong. Fantabulous adventures await as I explore my gorgeous new city and the stunning Surf Coast. But don’t worry—I’ll be crossing the bridge regularly to get my Melbourne fix.
Published November 13th 2015
Take a stroll south-side, for a different view of the city
Most Melburnians have heard of Southgate, with its swanky restaurants and shops, just under the fabulous Arts Centre and it's famous yellow spire piercing the Melbourne skyline. And no doubt you've all had dinner or a drink in some of the cafes and bars along the adjoining Southbank. But have you taken a wander along the South Wharf Promenade? I hadn't either, until earlier this year, and now it's one of my favourite places to take a riverside stroll when I'm in the city.
The South Wharf Promenade commences from the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, just as Spencer Street turns into Clarendon Street—basically just where Southbank ends. The promenade walk continues west along the Yarra River and truly gives you some stunning views of Melbourne, as well as some of the coolest riverside bars and restaurants going around—and you may not have even known they existed.
Start your stroll from just out the front of the exhibition centre, and head towards the river. The concrete path quickly turns into a wooden boardwalk with big triangle of flat green grass on one side, and the Yarra River on the other side. On a sunny day (alas, the day that I decided to wander along and take photos was, sadly, not one of Melbourne's better days), the grass is a good place to ditch the office shoes or work boots for bare feet and have a stretch, or even a snooze.
As you continue along the boardwalk, the water literally right under you, the grass gives way to the restaurants and bars that overlook the river. The Boatbuilders Yard, with it's beach chairs deck-side and restored boat shed at its core, is a piece of Melbourne wharfing history revamped for modern times. Chill out on the boardwalk with a beer while you look towards the stunning Melbourne city skyline, or take a seat in the covered outdoor area and soak up the best of Melbourne. As night falls, the action heats up inside with food, music and cocktails and a fabulous atmosphere.
As the boardwalk curls around, the wooden masts of the century-old Polly Woodside tower over you, a captivating contrast to the glass modernness of the adjacent convention centre. Melbourne's favourite tall ship has been welcoming visitors to its storied decks for decades (haven't we all been there on school excursions?), and was permanently moored in its current location in 2008. The Polly Woodside represents a key period in Melbourne's maritime history, and no doubt she'll be saying "Ship's Ahoy" for many years to come.
The promenade then splits into two, with the boardwalk continuing along the water's edge, and a separate walkway in between the waterside restaurants and bars, and the convention centre. The General Assembly is the cool-as-cool pub on the corner, with its craft beers and cider and trendy pub grub. The slightly off the wall BangPop is next, with traditional Thai food twisted into modern bursts of flavour, with some pretty funky décor to match.
Keep ambling along, and if you're hungry or thirsty, you'll be completely spoilt for choice. There's the Munich Brauhaus, a traditional Bavarian bierhaus, where Oktoberfest lasts all year long; Charlie Lovett, with its brewed-in-house single origin coffee, quirky baristas and home-made baked goods (now you're talking my language); and Meat Market which has, well, meat. Grilled or smoked and served to perfection, with perfect Melbourne views thrown in for good measure.
There's also a bunch of places to get your fill that are not directly on the waterfront, but sit just behind, adjoining the convention centre. Whatever you're in the mood for, you'll get it here, be it Spanish tapas or an American-style burger, cocktails or coffee, champagne or cake. And if you're up for a bit of retail therapy in between satisfying your taste buds, DFO South Wharf sits snuggly behind all this gastronomy, almost hidden away, yet very easily accessible.
Check out some of the other cool restaurants and bars in the strip set just behind the water's edge.
But of course, you don't have to come to South Wharf Promenade to eat and drink (although with the range of options to choose from, it's very hard not to). There's plenty to see if you keep walking along the boardwalk, even after the restaurants fizzle out. Keep heading west, and it'll take you under the busy Wurundjeri Way. Trust me on this, and keep walking—there's more to see around the corner. You'll pass the funkiest looking footbridge (which is also open to cyclists) in Melbourne, which curls up and around, and heads over to New Quay and Docklands (another fabulous walk, entirely on walking trails and paths, but that's a story for another day).
Isn't this the coolest pedestrian bridge you've ever seen?
The promenade makes a sharp left (I think this where the 'official' South Wharf Promenade ends, but we'll continue strolling along), and instantly it's like you're in another little city. It's generally always pretty quiet along this section, and with the rows of multi-storey modern apartment buildings with balconies overlooking the water, it kind of feels like you're almost intruding on a private residential community. The flowing river gives way to a calm marina, with mini jetties of fancy-schmancy sailboats and yachts lined up, gently bobbing in the water. Take a moment to check them out, marveling at how the other half live, as you wander along the promenade.
There are a couple more restaurants along this section, set neatly within the ground floors of the apartment buildings. Some of them have outdoor seating, but the walkways along here are ever so wide and spacious, so there's plenty of room to take in the sights as you meander along. You can even ride along here with ease, with a couple of Melbourne Bike Share stations if you're feeling like a cruisy pedal along the water's edge.
You can even hire a bike along here if you feel like it.
Hopefully your feet aren't too worn out by this stage, as there is another little secret spot waiting to be uncovered. Almost at the end of the promenade is Point Park, a lovely little wedge of green in between Lorimer Street and the river. Along with picnic tables and barbecue facilities, it has a darling little playground with slides and swings and climbing things and spinning things, all with lots of interesting views of Melbourne at work—it looks out towards the Bolte Bridge, with a whole bunch of construction happening on the other side of river. You'll hear the dull roar of the cranes and trucks, but that's our city, continuing to grow and develop. Don't you just love it?
After a breather here (and perhaps a swing in the playground), turn yourself around and head back the way you came. You'll get some even better views heading this way as the city comes back into view, and the hustle and bustle returns. The South Wharf Promenade showcases everything that's great about Melbourne—the Yarra River, restaurants, bars, cafes, parks, stunning views, people happily eating, drinking and being merry, fresh air and water lapping beside you. You can't get much better than that.