Northcote and Fitzroy make a strong case, but Brunswick is Melbourne’s biggest centre of alternative culture. Walk the streets and you’ll spot more tattoos, piercings, lurid hair colours and op-shop clothes (from Savers on Sydney Road, probably) than anywhere else. Every night of the week, local bands play at venues such as Howler, the Brunswick Hotel, the Retreat and the Spotted Mallard. Vegan food is plentiful and everyone seems to ride a bike.

That’s one part of it, anyway. Brunswick also has a strong multi-cultural character. Greeks and Italians have been here since the ’60s and more recently, immigrants from Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East have clustered around the north end of Sydney Road, making it one of the best places in town to eat falafel; smoke a shisha pipe; or shop for ingredients such as za’atar, rosewater and Aleppo peppers.

Neighbouring Brunswick East has much of the same character, but swaps Sydney Road for the less-hectic end of Lygon Street and its cafes, restaurants and boutiques.

Restaurants

Juanita Peaches

Restaurant

Some of the best fried chicken in town.

Small Time Pizza

Restaurant

New York-style pizzas served by the slice (or whole), cut from 55-centimetre pies. Small Time also doubles as a music hub, helping small artists make the big time. Find a homey front bar and rooftop, plus live music and a recording studio.

Good Days

Restaurant

Vegan-friendly Vietnamese. Yes, it exists.

Ollie’s Pizza Parlour

Restaurant

Pizzas that fall somewhere between Neapolitan and New York-style. Pull up for spicy, garlicky clam pies (with chowder-like cream); zhooshed-up Hawaiians; cheesy, anchovy-topped savoury doughnuts; boozy gelati; and natural wine.

Los Hermanos Mexican Taqueria

Restaurant

Half restaurant, half bar and always a party. Owner Bruno Carreto was born in Mexico and did a stint in a taqueria there before opening Los Hermanos. As you'd expect, the tacos and gorditas are the real deal. Don't forget to choose a tequila or mezcal from the blackboard.

Bar Texaco

Restaurant

A former McConnell chef is behind this intimate bar serving Texas-style brisket, pork belly, jalapeño kransky and four types of taco. There’s also a tidy selection of tequila, mezcal and bourbon.

Cafes

Green Refectory

Cafe

With only the word Green on the window – Green Refectory is a slim, spirited space where food is the hero.

Ray's Cafe

Cafe

A melting pot of the culturally diverse inhabitants of Brunswick.

Thanks Coffee and Sangas

Cafe

A cheery ’90s-inspired cafe selling – you guessed it – coffee and sangas.

Ona Coffee

Cafe

This Canberra-based coffee roaster has made a real name for itself on the east coast. Visit this outpost and you’ll understand why. At any time, there are at least 20 outstanding coffees listed on its “freezer menu”.

Wide Open Road

Cafe

Even though it opened back in 2009, this cafe and roastery is still one of the most popular cafes in Brunswick. The interiors are spacious, with comfortable chairs and cosy booths. And the food is adventurous, but it won't veer too far away from anyone's comfort zones. The coffee is, predictably, excellent.

Code Black Coffee Brunswick

Cafe

This cafe and roasting house is one of Melbourne's most established brunch spots. But even after all these years, it's still at the very front of the pack. Dishes are still delicious and creative, the coffee's still great and the space is still slick.

Bars

The Retreat Hotel

Bar

Indie, comedy and even mariarchi has graced the cosy stage at this live-music stalwart, where there’s something worth seeing almost every night of the week. But if guitars don’t amp you up, there’s a leafy astroturfed beer garden with plenty of dark nooks to do as the pub’s name suggests.

Joey Smalls

Bar

This comfortable spot from the founders of New Guernica isn’t quite a nightclub or a bar. It’s something in between, with a slow-building dance floor that runs late on weekends, powered by funk, soul, house, hip-hop and disco. Take a break from dancing with burgers, fried chicken and decent cocktails.

Co-Conspirators Brewpub

Bar

Hop-forward IPAs are the main game at this soaring warehouse brewery, but sours, saisons and dark beers are also on frequent rotation. Pair with a charcuterie box or pizza and you’re all set.

Waxflower

Bar

Blending elements of Melbourne cafe, European wine bar and Tokyo-style “listening bar”, this buzzing spot hosts vinyl-only DJs five nights a week, with no cover charges. It’s one of the best places in town to hear recorded music.

The Cornish Arms

Bar

This pub is renowned for two reasons. One: it's got one of the most vegan-friendly menus in Melbourne – meaning meat-eaters and herbivores alike can enjoy whatever pub classic they feel like. Two: its sunny and expansive rooftop bar is surely one of the best in Brunswick. With its great view of the skyline, it definitely has the best view.

Cult of the Vine

Bar

At this bottle-o you'll find a small, intensely focused selection of natural and minimal intervention wines.

Shops

Ovens Street

Shop

This bread and pastry outfit supplies some of the best cafes in Melbourne. Head here if you want to go straight to the source.

Luther’s Scoops

Shop

This farm-to-freezer ice-creamery has a pastry chef behind the counter who’s done time in a handful of Michelin-starred restaurants. Inventive seasonal flavours are added weekly, so there’s always something new to try.

Dejour Jeans

Shop

The best-fitting jeans you’ll ever own.

Nord Modern

Shop

The combined store and workshop is full of lovingly restored rare and collectible vintage pieces from Scandinavia and other European countries.

Billy Van Creamy Brunswick

Shop

Classic flavours made with the highest-quality ingredients possible are the draw at this ice-creamery. Pop in for scoops of house-made honeycomb, mint and milk chocolate, and more. Plus: milkshakes, sundaes, ice-cream sandwiches and good coffee.

Hope Street Space

Shop

Find gifts for loved ones, knick knacks for your home, or fun vintage collectables at this delightful Brunswick bazaar.