Welcome to my Melbourne city guide, bringing you all you need to know to plan a fantastic trip to the capital of Australia’s southern state of Victoria. Melbourne is often referred to as the most “European” city in Australia and it certainly offers a multi-cultural, sophisticated mix of arts, culture and trendy nightlife to rival any metropolis in the world. It is regularly voted among the world’s most liveable cities.
Useful Melbourne Travel Information
Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport is the main international airport serving the city. It is Australia’s second busiest airport and is located 23 kilometres (14 miles) from the city centre. The airport has four terminals and provides public coach service to and from the city. Nearby is the award-winning Stamford Plaza Hotel and several parking locations like Alpha Airport Parking in Melbourne.
There is no rail link to the airport and the main way of getting into Melbourne is via the Skybus Super Shuttle, which takes around 20 minutes to Southern Cross Station in central. There are also local bus services to Melbourne Airport, including the route 901 SmartBus service. Other bus companies provide transport to the region surrounding Melbourne.
The Melbourne Visitor Centre is in Federation Square and offers free maps and advice for tourists as well as booking facilities.
Melbourne has an excellent urban rail system, supported by trams and buses. A ride on the heritage City Circle Tram is the perfect way to get your bearings in the central business district.
It is necessary to have a Myki smartcard to utilise Melbourne’s public transport. Visitors can by a Myki Visitor Value Pack, preloaded with enough value for daily travel, which can then be topped up at ticket offices, train stations, and small retailers throughout Melbourne. It is a touch on/touch off prepay system. The Myki card also offers discounts at 15 popular attractions in Melbourne and the surrounding region.
A great way to get around, and get your bearings in Melbourne is via the City Circle tram, a free tram service on historic tramcars that loops around the whole of the central city. It circumnavigates central Melbourne every 10 minutes from 10am to 6pm and runs along Flinders St Harbour Esplanade, LaTrobe and Spring Street.
When to visit Melbourne
Melbourne’s climate is temperate but summers can be very hot and dry, while winters in the state of Victoria are colder and wetter than most other parts of Australia. In other words, spring and autumn are the best times to visit.
Things to do in Melbourne
Melbourne’s European migrant influx began when the British stepped ashore in 1788 and development was massively accelerated during the gold rush of the 1850s and 60s. This fuelled the construction of a colonial city that has become a bustling metropolis and is now Australia’s fastest-growing city.
It is also frequently voted one of the most liveable cities in the world. Many of Australia’s most impressive heritage architecture, art collections and theatres are to be found here. Spend time wandering through Melbourne’s famously grungy laneways and enjoy the creative mix of modern and historic architecture along with the city’s famous street art.
Melbourne has a vibrant cultural scene and an annual highlight is the Melbourne Fringe Festival each September. An innovative programme of entertainment crosses all varieties of performance art, including comedy and music.
Of course Melbourne is the jumping off point for exploring the beautiful state of Victoria, where delightful wine regions, magnificent rainforests that climb into rugged mountains, and a stunning coastline have plenty to keep visitors gaping in wonder. Popular day trips from Melbourne include the Dandenong Ranges and the Yarra Valley, the Mornington Peninsula and Phillip Island. One of the world’s best road trips – the Great Ocean Road – starts from Melbourne.
City and museums
Any exploration of Melbourne must begin in Federation Square. This nifty piece of urban planning Linking the CBD and the Yarra River, it is constantly busy with tourists and locals enjoying the sunshine, the cafes, and of course Melbourne’s vibrant cultural scene.
The bold modern architecture around ‘Fed Square’ contrasts brilliantly with the heritage buildings surrounding it, such as the iconic Flinders Street Station and the cathedral. Get your bearings at the Melbourne Visitor Centre and make time to visit one or more of the five museums surrounding Federation Square.
If you only have time for one make it the National Gallery of Victoria, which is known as the Ian Potter centre or the NGV. The collection of Australian art here is outstanding, from gorgeous indigenous art to poignant colonial works and contemporary art.
From here you might want to catch a view of the entire city and the highest observation deck in the southern hemisphere is the perfect place to do this. The Eureka Skydeck is at 7 Riverside Quay on Melbourne’s Southbank.
Just a few minutes’ walk from Flinders Street Station is the Immigration Museum, reflecting the fact that Melbourne is home to people from over 230 different nationalities, who speak over 180 languages or dialects. The stories of these immigrants are told at the museum, from the hard early years to the crazy gold rush days and beyond into the 20th century. (400 Flinders St open 10am to 5pm daily).
The Old Melbourne Gaol on Russell Street offers time travel to 19th and early 20th centuries, when the gold rush was transforming society and bushrangers stalked the landscape. Australia’s most famous bushranger was a man called Ned Kelly and you can see where he was hanged here. In other words this museum is not for the faint-hearted but it does offer a fascinating glimpse into an important period of Victoria’s history. Particularly brave visitors can opt for a night tour of the jail, or even stay the night. Open 9.30 to 5pm daily.
Melbourne’s famous street art
The heart and soul of Melbourne is in its grungy laneways, where quality cafes, independent fashion and a variety of street art mix to form an exciting atmosphere both day and night. To make the most of the laneways, take a walk to see the city’s famous street art through lanes that cut through the broad avenues of the central city.
Melbourne is well known for its street art and, similarly to other cities around the world, has decided to celebrate this kind-of illegal and mainly temporary art form because the tourists love it. The city’s famous grungy laneways are full of street art and you may even see artists at work while you walk around Melbourne. You can take a street art tour to learn about the different forms of graffiti and street art, and some of the famous artists. Or if you are walking about unguided the places not to miss include Hoosier Lane, Stevenson Lane, Corrs Lane and Croft Alley (off Paynes Place).
Make the most of the Yarra River
Melbourne is set on the banks of the Yarra River and city planners have done a wonderful job in connecting the river with the urban environment as it flows right through the central city. There is a waterfront arts trail, starting at Birrarung Marr, an inner-city park and many quirky art installations to be seen all along both banks of the Yarra. At Birrarung Marr wait to hear the beautiful compositions played by the sound sculpture ‘Federations Bells’. Another highlight is the Three-legged Angel by Deborah Halpern, which is over 10 metres high.
Another way to make the most of the river environment is by kayaking along the Yarra, from the historic Victoria Docks, past the huge Melbourne Star Ferris Wheel, under the Bolte Bridge and through the central business district. A kayak trip along the Yarra offes a unique perspective of this beautiful city. For example, from the kayak you can see the historic landing places from the 18th century, where early settlers first arrived in Melbourne. A kayak tour takes around 1.5hrs and is suitable for all ages with no experience necessary.
St Kilda city beach and Luna Park
A short drive or a tram ride from central Melbourne is the city beach suburb of St Kilda. Here a wide boardwalk is lined with palm trees and frequented by roller-bladers .
There are plenty of great bars and cafes in St Kilda and it is most well known for the cake shops of Acland Street, where sweet treats are piled high in the windows and on your plate. Another attraction in St Kilda is Luna Park, a fun park which is now over 100 years old. The heritage-listed Scenic Railway Roller Coaster is fun for all ages and runs around the park boundary with great views.
A green space in Melbourne
The Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens are a haven of green tranquillity and the perfect place to spend a hot afternoon. For over 150 years this beautiful landscape has been offering a landscaped escape in the central city and preserving an important plant collection. There are several cafes and seasonal theatre and moonlight cinema events. There is even a dedicated place for kids, the wonderfully-designed Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden.
Melbourne for sports fans
Melbourne is a sports mad city and if you sympathise then there are a number of attractions for sports fans. The mighty ‘G’ – the Melbourne Cricket Ground – will be the first stop on your list and it is only a short walk from the centre. One of Australia’s most historic sporting venues, this is where iconic sports events such as the Boxing Day cricket test match and the AFL (Australian Football League) Grand Final are held. You can join a tour of this famous ground or visit the Sport Australia Hall of Fame, the Olympic Museum, the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame, or the Melbourne Cricket Club Museum. The MCG is a short walk from Jolimont Station or tram route 46 or 75.
A Day Trip from Melbourne
Healesville Sanctuary is a zoo on the edge of Victoria’s Yarra Valley that specialises in Australia’s beautiful native wildlife. It has a high reputation for its preservation and breeding programmes and offers many opportunities to get up close to unique Australian animals in a green and shady setting. While you’re visiting the Yarra Valley make time to visit a few of the region’s famous wineries, many of which have cellar doors open to the public, as well as restaurants.
Crown Towers is also on the South Bank and offers serious luxury, excellent views, and one of the city’s best day spas. You may even see a celebrity or two. (8 Whiteman St, Southbank)
The Adelphi hotel is stylishly furnished (187 Flinders Lane) and calls itself a ‘dessert-themed hotel’. You’ll love the free candy and dessert-only restaurant.
The Middle Park Hotel is well placed between the city and the beachside suburb of St Kilda. It offers comfortable rooms that are excellent value and there’s a quality restaurant downstairs. (102 Canterbury Rd).
The Larwill Studio is a midrange hotel with Scandinavian-inspired contemporary design that offers comfortable rooms and a backdrop for a range of art by Australian artist David Larwill. (48 Flemington Rd, Parkville).
The Tune hotel (609 Swanston Street, Carlton) is part of a budget chain owned by the airline AirAsia. Base room rates are cheap and you can pay for extras so you control your budget.
In central Melbourne the King Street Backpackers offers a relaxed atmosphere and a free breakfast, as well as being an easy walk from the Southern Cross rail station. (197-199 King St).
There are also several hostels in the popular beachside suburb of St Kilda, which has easy transport connections to the city, including Base Backpackers St Kilda with both dorm and private rooms available. Base Backpackers has a bar and a communal kitchen. (17 Carlisle St, St Kilda).
Where to Eat and Drink in Melbourne
Melbourne has so many wonderful bars and restaurants that visitors will be spoiled for choice.
The trendy Carlton neighbourhood (just north of the central city) is a good place to start. This strip is famous for its wonderful Italian food – thanks to the large immigrant population in Melbourne. Tiamo a pizzeria that is justifiably popular and you can follow this with something sweet at Gelatissimo Carlton at 197 Lygon Street.
Another top Melbourne restaurant recommendation is Chin Chin, an Asian Fusion restaurant on Flinders Lane with a buzzing atmosphere. You will want to order everything on the menu.
Movida is probably the best tapas restaurant in Australia and possibly the entire Southern Hemisphere. Right across from Federation Square on Hoosier Lane, the menu here is mouth-wateringly good and there’s a sister tapas bar adjacent – ‘Movida Next Door’ – if you can’t get a table.
During the daytime, Ponyfish Island affords lovely views up and downriver because it is built around a large pile under a bridge across the Yarra River. An interesting range of micro-brewed beers and simple but tasty brunch and snack dishes make this the perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon.
Down some of Melbourne’s famous laneways you’ll find bars like Manchuria on Waratah Place (off Little Bourke Street, 10 metres from the corner of Russell Street) where three neon letters above an undecorated door is the only sign that you’ll discover an opium den-styled bar where the cocktails are high class and the atmosphere is convivial.
The smallest bar in Melbourne and the whole of Australia, Bar Americano is hidden away on Presgrave Place, and it’s the perfect place for an aperitif or a nightcap. It is standing room only for approximately 10 patrons in this bar, and the skilled mixologists wear traditional garb. Look for the tiny Trink Tank window gallery outside, as the 20cm by 30cm space hosts regularly changing creative exhibitions.
Another bar going for a traditional vibe is the award-winning Everleigh in Fitzroy, a fashionable district to the north of the main city. Bartenders wear 1920s speakeasy-style clothing, and the drinks menu is outstanding.
The Colonial Tramcar Restaurant combines a tour of Melbourne with haute cuisine on board one of Melbourne’s heritage trams. Plush red velvet is the decorative theme and a meal in one of the booths is a real experience. The staff make it fun and the food and Australian wine pairings are carefully selected. The tram travels through the city, St Kilda and South Melbourne, as well as Albert Park.
Later in the evening head for Melbourne’s hottest jazz club Bennetts Lane (25 Bennetts Lane) where quality musical talent ensures a great night.
A great place for a bar crawl with live music thrown in is Chapel Street in the hip South Yarra district. There are plenty of innovative restaurants and bars here and recommended watering holes include Boston Sub’s Jungle Boy and Two Wrongs.
Enjoy your trip and I hope my Melbourne city guide was useful!
By Natasha von Geldern
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