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.

GoodDays

Restaurant

Vegan-friendly Vietnamese. Yes, it exists.

Beatbox Kitchen Brunswick

Restaurant

Melbourne’s original burger truck, in bricks-and-mortar form.

Rascal

Restaurant

There’s finally a place to drink good wine again on this stretch of Sydney Road. And there’s house-made charcuterie, roasted cauliflower and lightly Asian-accented fare on the menu.

Book a Table

Very Good Falafel

Restaurant

Family-grown chickpeas. Fluffy Israeli pita. Warm hummus. House-made pickles. Home run.

Cafes

A1 Bakery

Cafe

An affordable Middle-Eastern bakery, cafe and grocer.

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”.

Brunswick Foodstore

Cafe

Don’t let the name fool you – this is much more than a little corner store.

Small Axe Deli

Cafe

From the team behind Small Axe Kitchen, this spot has a seven-metre terrazzo bar and floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with Italian cold cuts, cheeses, pickles and take-home meals such as gluten-free lasagne.

Wide Open Road

Cafe

If only every cafe had this much personality.

Thanks Coffee and Sangas

Cafe

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

Bars

Cult of the Vine

Bar

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

The Cornish Arms

Bar

A pub where vegans are VIPs.

Welcome to Brunswick

Bar

Here you’ll find 4 Pines beer brewed specially for the space, an ever-rotating selection of burgers, tacos, Philly cheesesteaks, and woodfired pizza. And it’s dog friendly, too.

Joey Smalls

Bar

It’s not quite a nightclub and it’s not quite a bar. But it’s definitely good for a dance.

Spitfire

Bar

The front bar to Stay Gold is more than just a waiting room. Thanks to its serious food and drinks offering, Spitfire's a destination in its own right.

Amelia Shaw

Bar

Shoot pool on a round table, sipping cocktails and admiring the Art-Deco decor between shots.

Shops

Dejour Jeans

Shop

The best-fitting jeans you’ll ever own.

Bico

Shop

A father-and-son team is serving up tartufo, plus scoops of house-made salty Snickers, fior de banana and "Franjaffico" gelato. And there’s gelato-filled cannoli, too.

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.

Mr Kitly

Shop

Petite and hidden away, Brunswick space Mr Kitly eschews the standard retail experience.

Harper & Blohm Brunswick

Shop

Enter for oozy gourmet toasties, take-home cheesy meals and towering “cheese cakes”.

Mediterranean Wholesalers

Shop

If you want pasta shaped like bells, hats or flowers, this huge Italian supermarket is where you'll find it.