Melbourne: Markets Are The Art and Soul of the City

There’s no better way to experience the authentic essence of a destination than to take in a market. And in Melbourne, there’s a market for every taste. 

They say if you want to discover the heart and soul of a city you should explore its markets.

Not the tourist-packed commercial emporiums you’ll find in any big city, but the rustic, open-air flea markets where cluttered racks of pre-loved clothes or dog-eared books are going for a steal.

In Melbourne, you’ll be spoilt for choice with more markets found in Australia’s second-biggest city than the population probably warrants. In fact, it has more markets than Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide combined.

There are about a dozen significant markets in Melbourne including big-hitters like the Queen Victoria Market and Prahran Market and the South Melbourne Market, which opened in 1867.

But it’s on the city’s fringes in suburbs like FitzroyCamberwell, St Kilda, Coburg, Preston and Dandenong that you’ll get a real feel for the city’s soul.

At the Camberwell Sunday Market, 10km east of the Melbourne CBD, it’s a giant car boot sale as enthusiastic hunters and collectors pore over pre-loved designer items and prized nick nacks.

When you get tired of rummaging, you can always stop for a hot jam doughnut or a fresh-baked cupcake.

This is one market where it’s easy to get lost among endless racks of random shoes and garish shirts, colourful displays of costume jewellery and dishevelled plants, as the shopping centre car park transforms into a loud and chaotic open-air bazaar every Sunday.

Many markets are at their finest in the early morning when stalls are full and your stomach is empty. When you get tired of rummaging, you can always stop for a hot jam doughnut, a freshly baked cupcake or a glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade.

Whether you’re there to browse or bag a bargain, there’s an eclectic mix of markets worth exploring in Melbourne. Here’s a few favourites we’ve visited over the past few years.

South Melbourne Market 

South Melbourne Market is a food lovers market, and it’s the city’s second-oldest. First opened in 1867, the market is as much a tourist destination as it is a source of fresh food.

Its numerous fruit and vegetable traders, butchers, fishmongers and delis give it a buzzing atmosphere.

The only problem with being from out of town is that we couldn’t buy up a lot of the incredible produce here to take home. But there is a food court here, as well numerous cafes and restaurants, including Proper & Son and Claypots Evening Star, which serves amazing Mediterranean-influenced seafood dishes.

Do yourself a favour and check out Emerald Hill Deli (Stall 23) in the deli aisle with its wonderful  cheese room. There’s also a regular cooking school where you’ll often find some of Melbourne’s best chefs in action. The South Melbourne Night Market also returns over summer.

Where: Corner of Coventry and Cecil Streets, South Melbourne. 

Hours: Wed/Sat/Sun 8am-4pm and Fri 8am-5pm.

Getting There: Take the 96 tram from Bourke Street and alight at South Melbourne (stop 127). The 12 or 109 tram from Collins Street will also get you there, alighting at York St.


Queen Victoria Market

Known simply as the “Queen Vic,” the Queen Victoria Market is not only Melbourne’s largest open-air market, it’s also one of the oldest, with a more than 140-year history that earned it a place on the National Heritage List last year.

While the clothing and craft stalls can be a hit or miss affair, the market’s produce and gourmet food stalls never disappoint. You’ll find all kinds of mouth-watering treats here including fresh baked bread, pastries, chocolate, cheeses, deli meats, seafood and all manner of herbs and spices.

Join the queue outside for a jam-filled sweet treat at the American Doughnut Kitchen, operating out of a 1950s van.

Check out Melbourne’s newest laneway –  String Bean Alley outside the main market hall – where 26 new traders operate out of old shipping containers. The laneway dates to 1936 when string beans were sold there, but has been revamped following a $250 million renewal of the market precinct.

Every winter and summer the Queen Victoria Market plays host to the biggest night market in Australia, usually on a Wednesday night.

Where: Corner of Elizabeth and Victoria Streets at the top end of the CBD.

Hours: The market operates every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 6am, and Sunday from 9am.The winter night market is on Wednesday from 5pm to 10pm between June 5 and August 28.


Prahran Market 

Like the other two big hitters above, Prahran Market is the place to go for all things food. This landmark in trendy South Yarra has been in operation since 1891, and offers everything from sustainable seafood and game meats to world-class cheeses, Victorian fruit and vegies, sushi, coffee, plants and flowers and much more.

While the marketplace is open most weekdays, the best time to grab a bargain is on Saturday after 3pm when $1 bags of fruit and veg are often up for grabs.

Keep an eye out for cheese shop Maker & Monger which has expanded its presence at the market. Long considered the place to grab Melbourne’s best cheese toastie, the cheesemonger has moved to bigger digs in the Harvest Hall, taking over the site previously occupied by Cioccolato Lombardo.

The new shop now features a seven-metre fridge that is large enough to display more than 50 different cheeses, including whole wheels of hand-selected Marcel Petite comte. It will also have specially made cheeses from local micro-dairies including Stone & Crow and L’Artisan, as well as other farmhouse cheeses from Australia and around the world.

Where: 163 Commercial Road, near Chapel Street, South Yarra. 

Hours: The market is open from 7am-5pm on Tue/Thur/Fri and Sat, and 10am-3pm Sun.

Getting There: From Swanston Street, take the 72 tram towards Camberwell. Alight at stop 30, which is right outside of the market on Commercial Road.


Camberwell Sunday Market

The Camberwell Sunday Market, in the leafy green eastern suburbs, started in 1976 and is now one of Melbourne’s premier trash and treasure markets.

There are around 370 stallholders selling vintage clothes, shoes, books, plants, toys, collectibles and a never ending stream of bric-a-brac from the boots of their cars and open vans.

Run by the Rotary Club of Balwyn, visitors are encouraged to make a gold coin donation to help support various charitable causes. Rotary raises around $9 million annually for the local community through the market.

When you’ve finished browsing, stop by Laurent Bakery on Burke Rd for coffee and a croissant.

Where: The market is held in the Station Street carpark behind the Burke Road shopping strip.

Hours: It runs from 6.30am to 12.30pm every Sunday (despite what the sign says above).

Getting There: Take the 72 tram from Swanston Street to Camberwell - it takes about 25 minutes and stops right at the market door.

For a speedier trip take the train from Flinders Street Station to Camberwell, and walk down the hill to the market. 


Coburg Trash & Treasure 

The usual crowds of teenagers clear out of the Coburg Village Drive-in to make way for the stallholders and bargain hunters at the weekly Coburg Trash and Treasure Market, 8km from Melbourne’s CBD. On any given Sunday you’ll find more than 200 stalls selling jewellery, clocks, games, bikes, furniture, bric a brac, collectables and even some live fish. It costs $1 to enter this giant garage sale. The Coburg Night Market also returns on Thursday November 28 and runs over four nights.

Where: Coburg Village Drive-in Theatre, 155 Newlands Road, Coburg.

Hours: 8am-2pm every Sunday weather permitting.

Getting There: Take the 19 tram from Bourke St mall to North Coburg. Alight at Bell Street and then walk for 15 minutes to the market.


Dandenong Market 

With 150 nationalities spread across 200 traders, the Dandenong Market is truly a multicultural melting pot. Just 30 minutes from the CBD, it’s Melbourne’s second-largest market and one of the city’s fastest-growing.

Patronage at the market has soared following a $26 million refurbishment by Greater Dandenong Council, with more than 100,000 visitors pouring through the doors each week.

There are 40-plus fresh produce and food stalls, which include seafood and poultry, delis, fruit and veg, baked goods and hard-to-find spices. But there’s much more than food: you’ll also find fabrics, jewellery, clothing and sporting goods as well.

The market offers free food discovery tours to help visitors navigate its endless aisles. The one-hour tours are held every Tuesday and Friday at 10am and aim to give visitors behind-the-scenes insight into market life.

One of the newest stalls here is The Soup Junction, serving up a delicious selection of home-style soups served in a fresh, crackly-crusty bread bowl or insulated eco-friendly bowls. The market has also welcomed Little Asia, with its sushi, Banh Mi sliders and peking duck, and Little Peddler @ Dandy, specialising in Malaysian-style hawker food.

Where: Clow and Cleeland Street, Dandenong.

Hours: Tue 7am-4pm (the bazaar is open 8am-4pm),Fri 7am-5pm, Sat 7am-4pm (the bazaar is open 8am-4pm), Sun 10am-3pm. 
Closed Mon/Wed/Thurs.

Getting There: Take a train from Flinders Street Station. The Cranbourne Line and the Pakenham Line stop at Dandenong train station. It's a 15 minute walk to the market.


Fitzroy Market 

Just a short walk from Brunswick and Smith streets, the Fitzroy Market is in its ninth year of operation. It has raised thousands of dollars for its community partners the Fitzroy Primary School and Fitzroy Learning Network.

This is actually two markets in one. The Fitzroy Market and the Fitzroy Mills Market have combined forces, making it a one-stop shopping hub.

There are around 80 stalls selling a rich variety of second-hand, vintage and handmade goods, as well as gourmet food and even craft beer.

Where: 75 Rose Street, between Brunswick and Nicholson Streets, Fitzroy.

Hours: 9am-2pm every Saturday.

Getting There: Catch tram 96 from Bourke Street and alight at stop 16 or tram 112 from Collins Street and alight at stop 17.


Rose Street Artists’ Market 

Hidden among the craggy, wooden-slatted buildings that line the streets of Fitzroy – a suburb that is home to home to top notch coffee shops, pan-Asian restaurants and an abundance of second-hand bookshops – is Rose Street Artists’ Market.

With a focus on hand-made products, this is the place to scour for one-of-a-kind artworks, sculptural jewellery, graphic t-shirts, collectables, hand-bound books, screen prints and more from emerging Melbourne artists.

The market offers pop up spaces, meaning a constantly changing roster of young creatives and their wares can be found here.

There’s also a diner on site and a rooftop bar when you’re done browsing.

Where: 60 Rose Street, between Brunswick and Nicholson Streets, Fitzroy.

Hours: Sat/Sun 10am-4pm.

Getting There: Catch tram 96 from Bourke Street and alight at stop 16 or tram 112 north from Collins Street and alight at stop 17.


St Kilda Esplanade Market 

Every Sunday, St Kilda’s Esplanade Market provides hours of unusual shopping entertainment with Luna Park as a backdrop. You’ll find stall after stall laden with paintings, handmade pottery, jewellery, furniture and a host of other imaginative creations.

Classified as the oldest arts and crafts market in Melbourne, it features around 200 artisans, including painters, potters, jewellers, glass blowers, sculptors and every other art and craft.

Where: Upper Esplanade, St Kilda.

Hours: Every Sunday 10am-5pm.

Getting There: Take the 16 tram from Swanston Street to St Kilda.


© 2019 Bernard O’Riordan (Travel Instinct). All Rights Reserved. 

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