Melbourne – a hip, trendy, and vibrant Australian city brimming with culture. Its neighbourhoods have personalities of their own, ranging from bohemian quarters with amazing restaurants and fashion boutiques, to edgy, artsy areas that are home to more tattoo shops than a city could possibly need. It’s impossible to truly understand the cultural centre that is Melbourne without actually living there. And it’s equally as difficult to explore it as a visitor.
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I’ve been to Melbourne 4 times. Each time, discover a whole new side of the incredibly complicated and fascinating city that has topped the charts of the World’s Most Liveable Cities. But despite my frequent visits, I couldn’t possibly try to share the best that this city has to offer without some local help. Luckily, a few of my friends and locals were eager to share their tips and recommendations for things to do in Melbourne.
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Getting Around Melbourne
Buy a Myki card at any 7-Eleven store, download the Journey Planner app, and use public transport to get around the city. The locals may bitch and complain about it, but in reality, the public transportation system in Melbourne is pretty good. The Melbourne Tram system is one of the biggest and most developed systems in the world, and it really isn’t as complicated as it may seem. Take advantage of the free City Circle Tram that operates within Melbourne’s Central Business District.
Make use of Melbourne’s Bike Share. Blue bikes are docked all over the city, available for rent with a simple swipe of a credit card. There are over 50 stations and 600 bikes located in and around Melbourne and can be found using the Melbourne Bike Share App. They are cheap (only $3.00 per day if you remember to dock the bike every 30 minutes), easy to use, and will give you a chance to see day-to-day life from a different perspective. Australian law now requires that you wear a helmet while cycling, and these are available at different price points all around the city.
Join a free walking tour to get acquainted with Melbourne City. Local guides offer options for free walking tours that will explore the popular Melbourne attractions or go off the beaten path and visit sites like Old Melbourne Gaol, The Princess Theatre, and the State Library of Victoria while covering Aboriginal and early settlement history.
You Can Experience All Four Seasons In One Day
Always be prepared for the unexpected Melbourne weather. Keep in mind that the seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere. Melbourne is known for its fickle weather that can change throughout the day and with little or no warning. Luckily, the climate is relatively mild, and temperatures rarely go to any extremes. An umbrella and an extra layer will go a long way in helping you carry on with your day in the city, and here’s what to expect throughout the year:
- Summer (December – February) warms up with temperatures between 14-25°C (57-77°F). The summer months are dry, with occasional hot spells with high temperatures over 30°C (86°F)
- Fall (March – May) cools down with average temperatures ranging from 11-20°C (51-68°F). It can be foggy in the morning but usually clears to sunny skies.
- Winter (June – August) months are pretty cold but not severe in Melbourne, with temperatures averaging between 7-14°C (44-58°F). Heavy rainfall is rare during the winter months, but the city does see frosts on some cold nights.
- Spring (September – November) is the most fickle time of year, and the wettest. Average temperatures range between 10-20°C (49-63°F), and the weather can change abruptly.
Don’t Skip The Festivals
You’ll never run out of things to do in Melbourne. There are festivals every weekend: an art festival, a food festival, a music festival, you name it. Check out sites like Concrete Playground or What’s On for what’s on and what’s cool in Melbourne, and go check it out. You won’t find too many tourists here, so be prepared to mingle with the locals. There are too many festivals to list, but here are some popular ones broken down by season:
- Summer: Melbourne International Jazz Festival (December), Share the Spirit Festival (January), Midsumma Festival and St. Kilda Festival (February)
- Fall: Melbourne Food and Wine Festival (March), International Comedy Festival (April)
- Winter: Firelight Festival (June-July), Melbourne International Film Festival and WinterWild (August)
- Spring: The Environmental Film Festival (October), Melbourne Cup Carnival (November).
The Markets Are Amazing
There is literally a market on every corner in Melbourne. You can shop, eat, and people-watch all in one place.
Queen Victoria Market
On Wednesday nights, head to the Queen Victoria Market for the best street food fair with hundreds of stalls that celebrate Melbourne’s cultural diversity. The market is a short walk from the city centre, or you can take tram routes 19, 57, 58, or 59 – all stop right outside the market. The Wednesday Night Market is seasonal (Winter and Summer), but you can still visit during the day. Hours are 6am-3pm Tuesday – Sunday.
If you aren’t in this part of Melbourne, don’t worry; the South Melbourne Market has been a favourite with locals for over 150 years and has plenty to offer. South Melbourne is a short ride from the city centre, and the tram has several routes that can get you there.
Artist and Local Farmers Markets in Fitzroy
On the weekend, check out Rose St Artists’ Market in the Fitzroy neighbourhood, located on Rose Street between Brunswick Street and Spring Street. Browse stalls with works from Melbourne’s best local artists, designers, and crafters every Saturday and Sunday from 10am-4pm.
Just a few steps away from the Rose St Artists’ Market is the Fitzroy Mills Market, which features the best organic and sustainable produce from local growers and makers. The Fitzroy Mills market operates every Saturday from 9am-2pm.
You can easily spend a day exploring the sites in and around this lovely neighbourhood. The Rose St Artists’ Market is a short walk from Carlton Gardens, which is home to the Royal Exhibition Building and Melbourne Museum. The Fitzroy neighbourhood is close to lots of things to do in Melbourne.
The Boutique Shopping is Phenomenal
If you prefer to do your shopping in a proper shop rather than a market stall, head to Chapel Street in South Yarra. It’s a favourite among the locals, filled with exclusive boutiques, cafes, and well-established chain stores. Bargain hunters will also love the DFO, the Direct Factory Outlets Mall, where you are bound to find tons of great brands at massive discounts.
Located in Melbourne CBD, the Block Arcade is a famous boutique shopping centre. Housed in a historic building with gorgeous architecture, this heritage-listed shopping arcade is worth a visit, even if just for window shopping. If you enjoy historic architecture like this, check out Flinders Street Station, one of Melbourne’s most recognizable landmarks and Australia’s oldest railway station. Flinders Street Station is just a 5-minute walk from the Block Arcade. Also worth checking out is the Immigration Museum, which is housed in the old Customs House and is another example of historic architecture.
Check Out The Art Scene
Art lovers will find so many things to do in Melbourne. From the street art on Hosier Lane to the National Gallery of Victoria, there is truly something for every taste. To squeeze in as much gallery hopping in one day as possible, take St. Kilda Road to Southbank, home to the Melbourne Arts Precinct. Here, the National Gallery of Victoria, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, and several other art galleries and creative spaces are within a short walking distance of each other.
To see some incredible street art, head to the north of the Yarra River and Federation Square. Here, you’ll find colourful murals on Hosier Lane, Croft Alley (off Little Bourke Street), and lots more. You can wander through the lanes at your own pace, or there are guided walking tours that bring you to little-known spots and add interesting history to the experience. There are plenty of tours to choose from, including some with scavenger hunts or other games tied in.
Melbourne Has A Vibrant Nightlife
Check Out the City’s Rooftop Bars
Mingle with the well-dressed and attractive at Melbourne’s rooftop bars. High above Melbourne’s CBD and even in the suburbs, you’ll find some incredible views that will surely beat the touristy Eureka Tower. Head to places like Naked for Satan in Fitzroy, Madame Brussels in the CBD, or the Rooftop Bar (That’s if you don’t mind climbing 7 flights of stairs to get to the top, of course)
Melbourne Makes Some of the Best Craft Beer
Visit some of the micro-breweries that are becoming increasingly popular in Melbourne. Check out the Moon Dog Brewery in Richmond or True South in Black Rock. The Local Taphouse in St Kilda East is also great, although it’s technically not a brewery, but one of Melbourne’s finest craft beer houses with over 20 Australian craft beers on tap and hundreds more in the fridge.
Hang Out with the Weekend Crowd
If you are visiting on a warm sunny Sunday, head down to the Republica in St. Kilda or College Lawn Hotel in Prahan for a Sunday session with the local rebellious crowd of 9-5’ers that are holding on to the last hours of the weekend.
Explore the Culinary Scene
Great food spots are plentiful in Melbourne, but the local’s favourite is brunch. You’ll hear locals say that Melbourne does the best breakfast/brunch in the world. And I definitely agree! You absolutely have to try Melbourne’s spin on avocado toast. It’s smashed, mashed, and diced avocado mixed with goat cheese, feta cheese, lemon, and herbs, served on a delicious piece of rye, sourdough, or multigrain bread with a side of bacon, tomatoes, and other breakfast usuals. You won’t find anything like it! Try it at Kanteen in South Yarra, Brick Lane in Melbourne’s CBD, or the popular Operator 25.
There are several fantastic plant-based restaurants in Melbourne, too. Located just steps away from Luna Park and St. Kilda Beach, Good Love offers made-from-scratch tapas and full dishes like vegan paella and katsu curry. For vegan pizza, check out Red Sparrow, located in the Collingwood neighbourhood just east of Fitzroy.
If you’re after fresh seafood, you can’t go wrong with Claypots in lower St Kilda. If you find yourself in the Southbank or Port Melbourne area, Rubira’s is renowned for its seafood dishes and extensive menu.
No visit to Melbourne is complete without trying Melbourne’s amazing coffee! Dubbed the coffee capital of Australia, Melbourne will not disappoint.…ok, it might, but not if you have your coffee at Market Lane Coffee, St.Ali or Duke’s Coffee Roasters.
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Melbourne Is Full Of Stunning Green Spaces
Royal Botanic Gardens
Encompassing over 38 hectares, the Royal Botanic Gardens are home to more than 8,500 plant species from around the world that create 31 different collections like a fern gully, herb and medicinal garden, rose garden, and much more. Free self-guided audio tours are offered to visitors.
Located in East Melbourne, Fitzroy Gardens follows an elegant Victorian-era design and features some of the most picturesque walking paths in Melbourne. These gardens are also historically significant, being home to several historic structures and The Scarred Tree, which has a pre-colonial history and importance to the Aboriginal peoples of the Melbourne area.
Birrarung Marr Park
Situated on the north bank of the Yarra River, Birrarung Marr Park features native flora, sculpted terraces, and walking paths. At the east end of the park, the William Barak pedestrian bridge leads to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, home of Australian Rules Football and the Australian Sports Museum. To the west of Birrarung Marr is the Ian Potter Centre, which houses the Australian collection of Aboriginal art.
Established as a public garden in 1862, the hill that is home to Flagstaff Gardens has a rich history and has been important to both Aboriginal and colonial peoples. Once a burial ground, signalling point, and home to a meteorological and magnetic observatory, this landform now features beautifully tended gardens of eucalyptus, Moreton Bay figs, large elm trees, and floral shrub beds.
Take a Road Trip
There are countless things to do in Melbourne, but if you get a chance to get out of the city and explore its surroundings, do it. The Great Ocean Road is, of course, a visitor favourite, but why not head up to Yarra Valley for wine tasting or to Phillip Island to see the penguins.
The Great Ocean Road is a great way to see a lot of the natural beauty of the Great Otway National Park, the Twelve Apostles, and more stunning scenery along the Victoria coastline. If you only have a day or so, it’s best to drive this 240km route instead of attempting one of the hiking segments.
Yarra Ranges National Park is another destination worthy of a day trip from Melbourne. This park features temperate forest, lush tree ferns and is home to the world’s tallest flowering tree, the Mountain Ash. There are some amazing viewpoints over Westernport Bay and Port Phillip Bay, and Lady Talbot Drive offers a rainforest car journey past waterfalls and other scenic points.
Essential Travel Information
Getting there: The easiest way to get into the city from the airport is by taking the Skybus, a city express that will get you into the city in just 20 minutes for just $22 one way or $36 return
Where to stay: If you want to easily get around the city, stay in or around the CBD (Central Business District). Suburbs like Fitzroy, Collingwood, St.Kilda, Prahran, and South Yarra are particularly popular with backpackers and young travelers. Find accommodation in Melbourne on Booking.com.
* Many thanks to my wonderful Melbourne friends for helping me put together these tips.
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