Postcards From Melbourne: Saudi creative Fahad Alghamdi invites us to discover his new home city

Postcards From Melbourne: Saudi creative Fahad Alghamdi invites us to discover his new home city

The Saudi photographer and filmmaker introduces us to Sydney’s edgier, artsier, more European sister, Melbourne, showing us his favourite hangouts in his home city down under
20 March 24
Fahad Alghamdi Shows Us Around Melbourne Image source: Ahmad Samir Al-Dabagh

"You don't take a photograph, you make it."

Twenty three-year-old Saudi expat Fahad Alghamdi has chosen these wise words from the legendary late American photographer Ansel Adams as his entire short and sweet Instagram bio, immediately illustrating both what drives him and what he loves most about Melbourne: in one word – creativity. "I love the accessibility to the creative community here, through art clubs and photo walks with photographers," he says. "They’ve directly helped improve my skills in content creation."

Known for its diversity, Melbourne is arguably Australia's cultural capital and is said to be a melting pot of more than 140 cultures. "Of all the cities I have been to in the past, I can confidently say that it’s the friendliest," Alghamdi says. "I made meaningful friendships within a really short period of time."

"I've always wanted to come back (to Australia), specifically to Melbourne to explore it more. A couple of years ago I came for a visit and then decided to apply for university and complete my studies... So now here I am."

How Melbourne Has Become Home (For Now)

Based in the city’s downtown or CBD (Central Business District) for the past four years, Alghamdi appreciates how convenient his neighbourhood is, and how living there has led to him enjoying his hobbies, such as skateboarding, more. "It is a perfect area for it, with lots of skate spots," he says.

Growing up, Alghamdi lived in the Queensland capital of Brisbane, a little more than two hours’ flight away, for a couple of years before returning to Saudi. After that, he couldn’t shake the Australia bug. "I’ve always wanted to come back, specifically to Melbourne to explore it more. A couple of years ago I came for a visit and then decided to apply for university and complete my studies here, so now here I am." And here he will forever stay – or at least part-time.

“I’ll return home to Saudi after I finish up my law degree [at Monash University], but I will definitely be visiting Melbourne frequently in the future as I consider it to be my second home.”

What does he do when he’s missing his first home now?

“I usually drive to the mountains, such as the Dandenong Ranges, given that I grew up in Al Baha city.” Here Alghamdi plays tour guide around some of the places that lead him to love Melbourne so much.

World Class Coffee

Melbourne is renowned for its world-class coffee scene, so trying as many different coffee shops as you can is a must, ideally sipping while sitting outside on a crate, as is the long-time local tradition (any of the hole-in-the-wall spots along the iconic, much graffitied laneway of Degraves Street are likely to offer this special Melbourne pastime).

Alghamdi’s choice spots for a flat white are Shortstop Coffee & Donuts on Sutherland Street (also renowned for its Greek doughnuts), Tori’s, a small artisan bakery tucked away down Niagara Lane, and the chicly designed Apotheke Specialty Coffee on Rosslyn Street in West Melbourne.

There’s also Dukes Coffee Roasters, for its relentless pursuit of the world’s finest coffee and Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar on Bourke Street. “Pellegrini is my favourite spot for Italian dishes such as gnocchi and pasta generally. But as well as the desserts and unique vibe, it’s famous – and amazing – for its coffee.”

Milk bars – or corner stores – are also an old Australian institution and have now commonly been reimagined in Melbourne as cool cafés. One contemporary version to check out is Le Bajo Milkbar, which roasts its own beans, bakes its own bread, and whips up a mean, green matcha latte.

Favourite Foodie Finds

Bowltiful on Swanston is the place for traditional north-west Chinese halal cuisine,” says Alghamdi. “It is renowned for its handmade noodles. What I specifically love is the taste of the dry noodles with braised beef brisket and the generous portion sizes.”

Next up is Stuffed Lamb in the suburb of Reservoir, which serves Middle Eastern cuisine. “Order the slow-cooked lamb mandi,” he recommends. “It’s tender lamb meat served on rice, cooked with a mixture of Arabic spices and garnished with green chilli, parsley, and potatoes, served with tzatziki and chilli mandi sauce on the side.”

Third on Alghamdi’s restaurant list is Grill’d Healthy Burgers. “This is my favourite Australian healthy burger joint,” he says. “The burgers have a unique flavour, and it has an upbeat atmosphere, which is what I love most about it. That, and the chips!”

Boutiques and Bargains

With the largest skateboarding scene in Australia, it follows that Melbourne is also home to some fantastic skate shops. “Fast Times Skateboarding is a popular spot that has pretty much everything skate-related, including some awesome skate fashion,” says Alghamdi. “It’s also where I go for shoes and skateboards, as it has a big, competitively priced range.”

He also suggests checking out DFO South Wharf, Chadstone, and High Point Shopping Centre for well-priced finds. When it comes to gifts, Queen Victoria Market is Alghamdi’s go-to. “I found tote bags here with local Melbourne art painted on them; my friends absolutely loved them.”

Looking for something vintage or some jewellery? Head to Royal Arcade. Built in 1869, it’s the city’s oldest shopping precinct with knock out Italian architecture and statues that are worth the trip alone, as are the delightful and dainty 1892 Hopetoun Tea Rooms.

Making 'Me-Time' in Melbourne

Alghamdi is not a man who shies away from self-care. “My top spa is Pen Pen Wellness Massage & Spa, where I love to have a Thai massage.” And if he’s in need of a little staycation, he heads for either the Melbourne Marriott Hotel in Docklands as “it has a unique view to the Yarra River,” or The Langham, Melbourne in Southbank for “its vintage style.”

A Love for Libraries

As a law student, Alghamdi is a reliable judge of the city’s libraries. He recommends spending quiet time in the State Library Victoria, the city’s biggest public library with its smart green reading lamps and sensational, light-splaying architecture. There’s also Library at The Dock, for another great view of the Yarra River, and the 2023-opened, three-level narrm ngarrgu, or “Melbourne knowledge” in the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung language. Created to honour and celebrate Melbourne’s First Nations community, it is described as an “urban oasis,” and is located conveniently close to the CBD.

Must Do in Melbourne

It’s always clever to focus on the most unique experiences in any destination you travel to, especially somewhere as internationally remote as Melbourne. Alghamdi’s top pick of one-off things to do includes the Melbourne Skydeck “for a 360° sunset view,” hot air balloons at sunrise, and the Great Ocean Road Drive.

“Hire a car and allow yourself at least two days,” he advises. Book online before going to the Puffing Billy Railway and “take in the beautiful forests the train goes through.” And for the famed Brighton Bathing Boxes, you “can cycle or take the bus to Brighton; pick a sunny day to enjoy the beach too.”

The Ultimate Itinerary

Heading to Melbourne for a limited time only? Here Alghamdi has shared the to-do list he’s created especially for visiting family and friends.

Starting at the CBD for a walk around, some food, and shop browsing, he then leads them to the 1910 Flinders Street Station, so they can take photos of its still-impressive-now design. In decent weather, he then takes them to The Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Melbourne Gardens for a picnic or just a walk. “The World Heritage site of Carlton Gardens is worth visiting too,” he adds.

Then, he goes onto the Shrine of Remembrance, a Victorian national monument in honour of those who served to keep international peace, for its phenomenal view of the city. Point Ormond Lookout also boasts a wonderful vantage point, can be reached via tram, and is “best visited for sunset,” while the sleek, contemporary Docklands harbour “can be visited anytime, to look out on the brilliant Bolte Bridge.” Presgrave Place is an organic, open-air gallery of “excellent local, hidden art.” Hosier Lane is “Melbourne’s most famous ‘graffiti lane’,” and the 1929 Parliament House building is a “structural wonder.”

Finally, the 26-hectare Fitzroy Gardens and its Conservatory are close to the CBD, “ideal for chilling” and more than worthy of being the last stop on your tour.

All images provided with thanks to Ahmad Samir Al-Dabagh