Australia is massive country with a tiny population in comparison, which is why you’ll need a travel guide.
Melbourne is the second most populous city (after Sydney) and is the capital of Australia. And has some of the friendliest locals!
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT MELBOURNE
It’s hard to recommend the perfect time to visit Melbourne as it has a unique cultural vibe and lifestyle. Melbourne is all things trendy and tasty and is known for its lively bars, eateries, and boutiques, which means there’s always something new to discover AND there’s always something happening in Melbourne.
There’s sports events such as the Australian Open Tennis, the Melbourne Formula One Grand Prix and cricket’s Boxing Day Test match.
Then there’s food events such as the Night Noodle Markets and the Food & Wine festival. And other events such as Fashion Week and and concerts. You’ll never be bored in Melbourne, there’s always fun things to do. No wonder it’s the most livable city!
Know Before You Go
Language: Prominently English. Mandarin comes in at a not so close second. Other languages include Arabic, Cantonese and Vietnamese.
Currency: Australia’s national currency is the Australian dollar (AUD), which comes in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes. Coins come in 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent and one and two dollar denominations.
Tipping: Not mandatory. Much debate about whether you should tip at all. It has become more popular to tip waiters and bar staff 10% of the bill.
Currency Exchange: Currency exchange is available at banks, ATM’s, hotels and international airports. Most places take credit and debit cards.
Emergency number: The emergency number for police, fire and ambulance is 000.
Tax: Australia has a Goods and Services Tax (GST) of 10%. You may be able to claim a refund for the GST paid on goods if you spent AUD$300 or more with a single business, no more than 60 days before departing Australia.
HOW TO GET TO MELBOURNE
There are many airlines that fly directly into Melbourne from major cities such as Singapore, Los Angeles and New Zealand. Then Melbourne is a great place to visit other areas of Australia such as Cairns and Sydney.
If you plan to arrive by air, note that Melbourne has two airports. You want to fly into Melbourne Tullamarine Airport (MEL). As I said, Australia is a vast country, even if you are coming from another Down Under city, it may be best to fly into a Melbourne airport anyway. We took a direct flight from Los Angeles on Qantas and had amazing service.
Melbourne is a big city and that means traffic. It’ll take about an hour to get to the city by rental car, car service, taxi or Uber. A lower priced alternative is to take the SkyBus to Melbourne and its surrounding areas. Sorry, there’s no train or underground.
Book you your flight at the best possible rate at Airfare Watchdog.
These are some of my favorite travel outfits for international traveling to stay cute and comfortable!
HOW TO GET AROUND MELBOURNE
If you’re like me, I believe walking is one of the best ways to see a city and fortunately, Melbourne has great walking areas like Melbourne’s Central Business District (or CBD) and Fitzroy.
But because it’s a big city, you can’t walk everywhere. So fortunately again, Melbourne has great public transportation and is one of the easiest cities to navigate.
Trams are the best way to get around and there’s a free tram, the number 35 City Circle Tram, that runs in the CBD! The stops in order include: Flinders Street, Harbour Esplanade, Docklands Drive, La Trobe Street, Victoria Street, Nicholson Street, Spring Street, and then back to Flinders Street (the free tram runs the opposite direction too).
Melbourne also has the Free Tram Zone in the CBD that runs within Spring Street, Flinders Street and La Trobe Street. The Zone route goes around Swanston Street and Collins Street, the main streets in CBD. So you will be close to admire the architecture of the historic buildings of Town Hall and Parliament House.
You can find the map here.
Loads of Melbourne’s attractions can be reached just by these free trams! Otherwise, for trams, buses and trains, you’ll have to purchase a Myki card from any train/tram station or 7Eleven.
THINGS TO DO IN MELBOURNE
It’s best to visit the city in parts. Begin with the free tram! around Melbourne CBD, or north of the Yarra River.
Flinders Street Station
The oldest train station in Australia is easily recognized by its yellow façade and green dome. It is rumored that this station was supposed to be built in India, but the plans were accidentally sent here and Melbourne’s plans were sent to India. So now, Melbourne’s popular attraction is an Indian style station and the Gothic style Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus sits in Mumbai.
This beautiful Art Nouveau designed building dates back to the early 1900’s. It’s one of the busiest places in the city and reminds me of Grand Central Station, not just in size, but also people watch others mucking about, meeting old and new friends and picture taking.
The historic building is also easily recognizable for the row of clocks above the main entrance. Just say, “I’ll meet you under the clocks” and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know what you’re talking about.
Across the street from Flinders Street Station, you’ll find Federation Square. A huge plaza that’s become known as the city centre’s public square. Lonely Planet calls it an urban focal point.
Federation Square includes a huge park, the perfect place to relax and chill out or play outdoor activities. Not surprising, it’s a top destination for live entertainment. Not only can you find some of the best restaurants and bars here, but it also hosts different food and musical events, festivals and even street performers.
Melbourne is known as the sports capital of the world. I mean they were the first city outside of Europe and the US to host the Olympic Games.
Right in the Square is a big screen broadcasting major events, especially sports events. The Square is full of sports fans on cricket, tennis and rugby match days!
Ian Potter Centre is the world’s first major gallery dedicated exclusively to Australian art. It’s a popular spot to view indigenous culture and art in displays of photography, prints and drawings, fashion and textiles, and decorative art.
Around the corner is another great exhibit in the city center, the Immigration Museum. This museum documents the history of immigrants in Australia. It includes individual stories of why people migrated and what it means to be Australian.
Wandering down laneways are some of the top things to do in Melbourne. Because here in these laneways (“little streets”), you will find the top places to find famous Melbourne graffiti.
Hosier Lane and AC/DC Lane are two lanes that have Melbourne’s most well known and instagrammable street art collection. Close by is the colorful Degraves Street and Union Lane.
These “art galleries” are a great way to see art outside of a gallery. The galleries are ever changing and you can take a Melbourne street art tour, a guided information and photography tour of all the open air art.
Bourke Street is a shoppers’ paradise in Melbourne and you should find all your needs. But it is so much more than that. There are some amazing street performers and musicians that will entertain you as you shop ’til you drop.
As you can tell by now, Melbourne supports all types of artists and performers, from amateurs to professionals. The performers at Bourke Street have to audition to get a permit to perform here so they are the real deal. And who knows, maybe you’ll be listening to the next Kylie Minogue!
Royal Botanic Gardens
Need a break? And a quieter one than at Fed Square?
Melbourne has its own Botanic Gardens (similar to Sydney) with over 8,500 different flowers, trees, and shrubs to help you find your Zen. When you’re here, make time to head over to the Shrine of Remembrance to remember to look back at the sacrifices made by those lost in the First World War.
There are a few free tours you can take here and the entrance to the Royal Botanic Gardens itself is free!
The Gardens are close to the Yarra river so after soaking up the sun in all the greenscape, walk along the river or better yet, take a river cruise and catch some rays on the water. The Yarra River runs right through the heart of Melbourne so by taking a cruise, you’ll catch a different view of the city.
Ready to check out more Melbourne gardens? If you’re looking for some more serenity, then head over to Fitzroy Gardens just right outside of CBD. These vast Victorian-era gardens cover over 65 acres and boast numerous walking paths, greenhouses, cottages, and flower gardens. Entrance to the Gardens are free and open to the public 24/7.
The Gardens house several historic sites, unique fountains, memorials, and even a conservatory. The most notable is that it’s home to Captain Cook’s family cottage transferred from Yorkshire, England. Captain Cook was credited for mapping the Pacific, New Zealand and Australia which changed Western perceptions of world geography.
Queen Victoria Market
You can’t come to Melbourne without checking out this huge market measuring nearly 7 hectares and over 1,000 traders, making it the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere. You can easily spend the entire day here.
If you love food, this is one of the best places you should visit. Not just for fresh produce and street food, but even fine dining. From delis, bakeries, wine to seafood, sausages and great cuts of meat. Ever want to try rabbit, kangaroo or boar? You can get it all at the Meat Hall. I’ll stick to wine and oysters please 😉
The market is closed on Mondays and Wednesdays, but the Queen Victoria Market turns into a Night Market on Wednesdays, complete with live music and entertainment, bars, and street food. This is an experience you won’t want to miss. But remember to bring cash.
In fact, why not do a tour of Melbourne markets? If you have time, stop by the south Melbourne market that’s committed to sustainability. Shop for some of the best organic, seasonal, fresh produce, local artisan bread and $1 oyster shots.
Heading south of the river, cross a bridge over the Yarra river and make your way to Southbank to the Eureka Skydeck. You can’t miss it at 91 stories high and plated in gold. This skyscraper will give you exceptional views of the city. If you are not afraid of heights, brave standing on “the Edge,” a glass cube extending off the side of the building with a clear view beneath your feet.
Get your discounted ticket to the Eureka Skydeck!
National Gallery of Victoria
The NGV is down the street from the Skydeck connected by St Kilda road. This gallery/museum houses international collections of European, Asian, Oceanic and American art. Indulge in floor to ceiling exhibits. There’s also beautiful gardens where you can relax and drink coffee.
Melbourne’s more modern district is found at the Docklands on the waterfront bursting with things to eat, do and plenty of places to play. And another fun way to get a bird’s eye view of the city is to take a ride on the Melbourne Star, an observation wheel that takes you about 40 stories high.
DAY TRIPS FROM MELBOURNE
If you only have time for one day trip, take the four hour scenic drive along Great Ocean Road to see the tall and proud Twelve Apostles. These rock cliffs jut out from the ocean majestically. Arrive at sunrise or sunset as they change color right before your eyes.
Unfortunately between time and erosion, there are only 8 of the 12 left. So check them out before they’re gone!
Make your way out to St Kilda, a popular destination for good reason. There are several things to do here from riding the oldest operating (rickety) rollercoaster at Luna Park theme park, consuming delicious famous European cakes on Acland Street, and grabbing some local food and sourvenirs.
Take a beautiful stroll by colorful Victorian beach houses to St Kilda pier at sunset to watch a colony of adorable penguins make their way to shore. Penguin guides are also around to answer questions and make sure the penguins aren’t disturbed.
Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges National Park
About an hour outside of Melbourne, take in nature at the mountainous valley of Dandenong Ranges on the outskirts of Melbourne. Hike, bike, bird watch or ride the famous Puffing Billy steam train!
Then indulge in wine tasting at the oldest wine region in Yarra Valley. You can even take your tasting to the sky while riding in hot air balloons over the Valley.
WHERE TO STAY IN MELBOURNE
Langham is an exquisite 5-star hotel is situated in Southbank close to the Eureka Skytower. The majestic lobby looks like you’ve been transported to an Audrey Hepburn movie – a room full of blossoming flowers, sparkling chandeliers and a grand marble staircase. To top it off, the rooms have sweeping views of the Yarra river and Melbourne skyline!
Book your stay at the Langham right now at the best possible price!
Park Hyatt Melbourne
I stayed at the Park Hyatt Melbourne while attending the Australian Open and it was the perfect choice. About a 20 minute scenic walk touching on Fitzroy Gardens and the Treasury Gardens, then by the Yarra River to the Rod Laver arena.
This Victorian styled 5-star luxury hotel is located in Melbourne’s CBD and overlooks St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Fitzroy Gardens. The stay here was incredible!
A lobby fit for royalty. Upgraded to a grand suite complete with a walk in closet, two bathrooms, a mini kitchen with a Nespresso machine, and the view of St. Patrick’s Cathedral from the suite.
Book your royal Park Hyatt stay right here when in Melbourne.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON MELBOURNE TRAVEL
Although I didn’t mention it much, Melbournians are coffee snobs! So definitely get your fill of the world’s best coffee. There’s never a bad time of day to drink coffee and there is a coffee shop literally everywhere!
But I did mention Melbournians love all things sports. Venture to Rod Laver Arena for a tennis match (like I did!) or the Melbourne Cricket Ground, even for a behind the scene tour. If that’s not enough, visit the National Sports Museum.
As you can see, Melbourne central has some best free things to do and it’s a good reason to spend most of your trip in and around CBD. Then maybe check out some day trip hot spots.
I booked most of my activity right on Viator and you can too!
Now you see why I can’t wait to go back to Melbourne, and maybe watch another Grand Slam. Have you been? Let me know what are your list of the best things in the comments below.
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