Queen Victoria Market
There’s a lot of colour at ‘Vic Market’ — not least the colourful characters. It’s never boring, and though it has its fair share of tat, much of the atmosphere of the grand old market remains.
For wheelchair shoppers, the crowd is about the only obstacle you may have to contend with — that and a slight incline in the market sheds and deli halls. (You’ll travel between the main sheds and the delis/meats/specialty stores along Elizabeth Street. Be careful, as it’s a reclaimed street, so look for curb cuts marked in yellow.)
Open daily, except Monday and Wednesday, the market is almost always busy. A slow but serious renewal project is underway, improving an institution that has run continuously for the past 140-odd years.
Visitors are a mix of selfie stick wielding tourists and Melburnians manoeuvring trolleys with speed and purpose. For out-of-towners, the markets are best experienced as an afternoon of shopping, eating and a bite of history — if you look close enough[NC1] (part of the site is an early Melbourne cemetery).
Avoid the section selling souvenirs and luggage fillers — but do take in the general goods section, where hordes of people from all backgrounds scour racks of jeans, band t-shirts and toys. It’s inexpensive and the rules of supermarkets and malls don’t necessarily apply: bartering is usually fine, and if you’re looking for the returns desk, you’re out of luck.
The colours and fragrances in the fruit and vegetable stalls are arresting, while the specialty food stores are an exotic treat. Labels are adorned with intricate patterns and the names of distant places and foreign words.
There’s a smorgasbord of smells. That odd smell of refrigeration under fluorescent lights. The mouth-watering aroma of fried Kransky sausages, and of nuts being roasted. And the fresh donuts – how is it you can’t see the sugar hanging in the air?
Old-fashioned showmanship is alive and well: ‘Lucky tomato, ripe tomato, lovely tomato. Lovely, lovely, lovelyyyyy.’ There’s also a collegial vibe: someone sneezes loudly near the fruit stalls, and the crowd, in unison, erupts in a startled ‘Whhhhaaaheeeeyyyy’.
Sadly, a few stall holders we speak to say trade has slowed recently. One, a young guy from Greece, reckons Melbourne feels a bit like Greece did 10 years ago, as it stood on the precipice of the GFC. (Gulp.)
Many families have run independent businesses from the market for years. We watch as three kids sit peering at an iPad while mum arranges the stall. Other stallholders sit alone, waiting for customers while reading the newspaper. One man says he spends as many as two hours unpacking small glass figurines and jade jewellery. ‘They’re very fragile,’ he explains.
Courage is key to spruiking, selling and sitting in wait all day. The Vic Market stalwarts politely endure the selfie sticks and tyre-kickers and are calm and mostly friendly. They must learn how people work, too — when to push for a sale, when to step back and when to engage. If there’s any competition between them, it’s friendly. We saw neighbours chatting and gossiping.
There are signs that will make you laugh out-loud: ‘Best pet tags ever’ (okay, they were pretty good) ‘Not only phone covers’ (factually accurate) and ‘Genuine Ugg boots’ (How do the stalls selling knock-offs not get shut down? Will the revamped market will allow them?)
The market can get busy late in the day as the stalls wind up and the prices wind down. If you’re shopping for discounted food, this is the best time to come — but take it easy with the haggling, stallholders are trying to make a living.
If you’re serious about shopping, bring a bag of bags, and maybe a backpack to balance the weight. There are three toilet blocks including accessible toilets on the site, but the one closest to the corner of Peel and Victoria streets is the cleanest. (Just look for the crowd lining up at the ATM).
Crowd-wise, most visitors and stall holders are good people. And know that if you sneeze, you should get a decent reception!
Step-free / Accessible Toilets (3) (BC, GR)
Good: A Victorian icon & undercover
No so: Steer clear of the tacky plastic landfill
The Victoria Markets are open daily, except Monday and Wednesday. A short roll from the city centre, they’re bounded by Peel, Franklin, Victoria and Elizabeth streets. See the website for opening hours, which vary for different parts of the market.
Queen Victoria Market
Queen St, Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9320 5822