Come each weekend, Melbourne gets footy fever!
I’m not talking soccer or rugby, I’m talking AFL – that’s the Australian Football League – and Melbourne is the sports home. Melburnians love the game so much that the Friday before the AFL Grand Final (AKA: Grand Final Eve) is now a dedicated public holiday!
It doesn’t matter if you are a footy fanatic or a newbie to the game, there’s nothing like experiencing the roar of the crowd at the hallowed grounds of the MCG come Finals time in September.
Whether you are heading over for a home and away game or planning your trip to Melbourne for the finals, let me share with you the best places to eat, drink, sleep and – most importantly – get tickets to the AFL Finals and Grand Final!
Accommodation in Melbourne near the MCG
No matter what your budget or sleep style, I’ve got a great option for the best place to stay for the AFL grand final! Best of all, all of these options are just minutes away from the MCG.
Mercure Treasury Gardens
It’s all about location and style for the conscientious travellers at the Mercure Treasury Gardens. This four-star hotel offers rooms that are simply designed but aim for maximum guest comfort, even bringing the city into the room with reference to the most famous landmarks through the bed head artwork. Each room comes with complimentary Nespresso coffee machines and a pillow menu.
Set on Spring Street, get set to explore Melbourne because the hotel location is minutes from the MCG, Chinatown, and Federation Square.
Whether the boutiques of Collins Street are calling you, or you want to explore Melbourne’s premier shopping trio – that’s Emporium, QV Melbourne and the GPO – you’re just a short walk or free tram ride away.
If it’s footy that you’re here for, then you simply need to take a 10-minute walk from the hotel lobby through the Treasury Gardens to the MCG!
Feeling peckish after a big day? Pay a visit to the brand new Hop Sing restaurant in the hotel lobby which proves hotel food doesn’t have to be tasteless (read the ‘Where to eat in Melbourne‘ section of this post for more info!)
My top tip when staying at the Mercure Treasury Gardens is to upgrade your stay and book a Privilege Room. Rooms come with complimentary Internet, bottled water and daily newspapers, and a balcony overlooking the Treasury Gardens and MCG. Grab a coffee and the newspaper, put your feet up and simply enjoy the view and sounds of city life beyond as you start your day – bliss!
Pullman Melbourne on the Park
For the ones seeking a little luxe and to sleep just seconds away from the MCG, you can’t beat the Pullman Melbourne on the Park! Plush, sophisticated rooms with a hint of old world charm, the recently renovated rooms await guests seeking the comforts of a hotel in Melbourne that is close to the city but just far enough away to relax.
While the Pullman Melbourne on the Park is set slightly away from the city – it’s located on the MCG side of the Treasury Gardens, not city side – it does impart a more relaxed feeling than other city hotels. Best of all, you are not far from the city; take a short 5-minute walk through Treasury Gardens, or take a tram or train (Jolimont Station) which are both on your doorstep.
If you book a Deluxe Executive or Premium Deluxe Room, be sure to request MCG views. You can watch the people stream into the ground as you relax in your room, or perhaps enjoy a drink in the Park Lounge on the ground floor, before crossing the road to get to the MCG before the first bounce!
If attention to detail and personal service are important to you then Hotel Lindrum is the best place to stay in Melbourne! With only 59 rooms, the property focuses on making sure the onus is on guests. Mixing crisp white and dark hardwood with warming earth tones, the property has a modern sophistication about it. Best of all, Hotel Lindrum offers all guests complimentary WiFi!
Hotel Lindrum is one of my favourite hotels in Melbourne because of the way it mixes charm, service and history. Formally Lindrum’s Billiard Room, the hotel features one of the original billiard tables and memorabilia of champion Walter Lindrum.
If you have time, be sure to enjoy high tea at the properties felt restaurant; but I’ll let Sara tell you more about that!
Where to eat in Melbourne
Melbourne is Australia’s food capital so you are never far from something delicious to eat. Here are three great restaurants close to the MCG!
Hop Sing Bar & Food – authentic tastes just like you are in Asia
If you want delicious authentic-with-a-twist Asian flavours and craft beers then Hop Sing Bar & Food is the restaurant you need to know about!
Whether it’s a pre-game meal or post-game drinks, Hop Sing serves up a tantalising menu that’s sure to please. Serving craft brews (Hop) and Singaporean-inspired food that’s perfect for sharing. Choose from dishes like spicy Malay rendang curry (pictured below), mouth-watering Wagyu sliders served with pickled veggies, tender satay dripping with sauce, Beef & Lemongrass wrapped in Betel Leaf (pictured above), and Matcha Tiramisu, Black Sesame Mascarpone and Bundy Rum (pictured below) – yum!
The restaurant is nestled on the corner of Flinders Street and Spring Street in the ground floor of the Mercure Treasury Gardens, a 7-10-minute walk to the MCG, and shows that hotel restaurants do have amazing food!
Credit: Guy Lavoirpierre
Gazi – Greek classics done with style
Greek has never tasted so good. Celebrity chef George Calombaris’ restaurant Gazi mixes tongue-in-cheek attitude with a set menu called ‘Doing It Greek Style’ or their ‘Bend Over Box’ lunch menu with great tasting Greek classics. Don’t think Taverna-style food, that has its place but it’s not here. Gazi mixes classics with a modern twist and it’s echoed throughout the menu from the food to their Classic vs. Twist cocktail menu.
If you are in the mood for meat then this is the place to eat! Chicken, beef, duck, baby snapper… it’s all there. My recommendation is the Duck Souvlakakia served with daikon, spring onion, mint and hoisin mayo. Everyone I’ve shared it with agree that it’s melt in your mouth delicious!
Another personal favourite is their wood fire grilled corn topped with tarama and crushed popcorn – a great juicy starter sure to please!
All plates are a little on the smaller size to encourage meze style sharing,
My one complaint is the price. The food is good and I would go back, but it won’t be the first restaurant I’d choose. That being said, be sure to make a booking because tables fill fast, even on some weeknights!
Cumulus Inc. – for the brunch lovers
I’ll be honest and admit that despite Cumulus Inc. offering meals from 7 am – 11 pm, or 8 am – 11 pm on weekends, I have not visited outside of brunch. Whether it’s a work meeting or casual catch up with friends, Cumulus Inc. always serves up something delicious and I keep coming back for more.
There’s only one item on the menu that I seek out: the Shakshouka (pictured above) of baked eggs with roasted peppers and shanklish, a little twist on your usual breakfast eggs. Gooey, a little oily and just a slight hint of the cheese cutting through the flavours.
Set in Flinders Lane, Cumulus Inc.’s high ceilings and natural lighting mix a certain amount of warmth despite its industrial feel and cool long marble bar bench where I like to sit, watching the open kitchen and muse if I’ve got food envy or if I’ve ordered correctly as the Chefs work.
Where to drink in Melbourne
If you want a cheeky drink or two pre-game, head to one of these Melbourne favourites:
Siglo or Melbourne Supper Club
Through a nondescript wooden door, you’ll discover two of Melbourne’s most loved evening spots. On the first floor is the cosy Melbourne Supper Club and above sophisticated Siglo.
For many Melburnian’s, The Melbourne Supper Club will hold a special place in their heart. For me, it’s always been the perfect way to cap off a good night. Walking up the flight of stairs and sinking into one of their well-worn leather Chesterfield couches for a sneaky nightcap from their encyclopedia-like drink menu, and maybe a gooey croque monsieur.
For those seeking something with a view, climb the stairs to Siglo (above). Well loved by Melbourne’s top chefs – I’ve spotted Matt Moran and George Calombaris drinking here before – it certainly has a more sophisticated and business-like appeal than the casual Supper Club below. Well known for their extensive cocktail and wine list leaning towards old-world delights and cigar bar, there are also tasty delights like Joselito Jamon Iberico on the menu. If the weather is nice, be sure to ask for a table overlooking the Parliament building to really set the mood.
Combining two of Melbourne’s most beloved aspects: laneways and quirky cocktails, Lily Blacks is a place where old-world meet modern-cocktail concoctions.
In an art deco designed bar and served by chaps wearing suspenders, you’ll find classic cocktails, an ever-changing wine menu and plenty of spirits, particularly generous with gin. Their speciality is Pre-Prohibition cocktails from the tasteful Old Fashioned to the blood orange liqueur and gin topped Suzy Q.
Up for an adventure? Try one of their Picklebacks. That’s a shot of spirit followed by a chaser of house-made pickle juice!
Quirky, kitsch, and all-together totally delish: that’s my review of laneway bar Double Happiness. Set back on Liverpool Street you’ll find a bar that definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously and while it’s not hidden it’s a bar that you need to be in the know to find.
Named after the traditional Chinese character for joy and happiness, Double Happiness mixes a quality cocktail menu with Tiger beer, Tsing Tao beer and plenty of Communist propaganda kitsch, with tributes to Chairman Mao and a multitude of communist propaganda posters artfully presented around the bar.
Tongue-in-cheek names accompany their cocktails like The Great Leap Forward, Justified Rebellion and Anti-Rightist Movement, to name a few. My personal favourite is their Hundred Day Reform filled with elderflower liqueur, rose, lemon, peach bitters and sparkling wine – perfection!
If you can come on a quieter night, with its fireplace, it’d be a great place to bring a date. That being said, the bar atmosphere is usually filled with the louder hip and stylish types.
What to do on the Grand Final Long Weekend
Melbourne is buzzing all Grand Final Weekend long. Here are some ideas to get you started on the celebrations:
- Head to the game! – there is nothing like hearing the roar of 120,000 people coming together to cheer on their teams on the final day of September and is a must at least once in your life.
There are a number of ways to get your hands on tickets to the AFL Grand Final. First of all, if you want to ensure you get a ticket you need to buy a package. These can be quite expensive but do offer great seats, often a meal with special guests (ex-AFL greats or local celebrities) and, often, entertainment.
If you, or a friend, are members of one of the teams in the final (eg. a current Adelaide Crows Member) then you’ll be able to ring up on the Monday before Grand Final (from memory!) to obtain tickets. Some categories of membership guarantee getting tickets, others put you into a ‘pool’ to win them).
If you – or a friend – are an MCC (Melbourne Cricket Club) member, there are a limited number of tickets available. You won’t be able to join the MCC the week of the Grand Final though. The waiting list is around 10 years long!
One of the most popular, but most time consuming, is lining up at a Ticketek the Monday morning of the Grand Final week. I’d say you’d need to be there a few hours early, if not overnight, to ensure you get a ticket.
- Grand Final Parade – on Grand Final Eve (the Friday before the big game) the players of the two teams will take to the streets of Melbourne in a parade of Toyota HiLux’s, marching bands and plenty of other entertainment! Get in on the action which starts at the Treasury Building and winds its way through the streets to Yarra Park at the MCG.
- Virgin Australia Premiership Party (AKA: the post-Grand Final party) – the game may be done and dusted but the night is just beginning. From 6 pm the gates of the MCG will re-open and Vance Joy and The Living End will headline the post-game party! Best of all, it’s FREE!
Tip: The event runs from 6-8pm. You can access the grounds from Gates 5, 6 and 7 only.
- Explore the city – most people will avoid the city on Grand Final Day because of traffic and crowds but if you choose to go by foot or public transport, you’ll have the city virtually to yourself. Take this chance to shop at the Emporium for a mix of cult favourites and high-end labels, explore what’s on at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), or – if you want to see what all the fuss is about – head to Federation Square where I’m sure the game will be streaming live!
- Head to the beach – no matter whether your team wins or loses, you can always enjoy some time at one of the cities beaches and enjoy the warming weather. I recommend St Kilda beach due to its ease to reach and numerous cafes and restaurants, but if you’re up for a road trip then the Great Ocean Road is always a crowd pleaser!
- Just escape! – okay, so you’re a little fed up with all this ‘footy’ talk in the news and across social media, so much so you need to escape. Don’t lock yourself away in the house, get out and go on a road trip! If you seek wine, why not head to the hidden secret that is the Bellarine, close to Geelong. For those who want to be able to hike to waterfalls and enjoy country hospitality, I recommend Marysville. If food is more your forte, hope a flight or the Spirit of Tasmania and spend a day or two driving the island states North-East Touring Route or Tuckerbox Trail.