Named “the most liveable city in the world” by The Economist five years in a row, this can’t be such a bad place to live or visit! Australia’s most stylish and artistic city, Melbourne is a vibrant hub of culture, sport and dining with endless possibilities.
The city’s Victorian-era architecture makes for some great photography with its European charm. The museums, theatres and art galleries are world class and plentiful, and although a bustling urban hub, the city is also home to some great parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
Melbourne is home to cobblestone laneways, hidden bars and trendy cafés, thriving fresh-food markets, great cheap food, talented buskers, and some amazing vegan delights! The city is (and has been) home to many cultures and migrants over the two last centuries, which is represented in the various areas you can visit.
MUST SEE MELBOURNE
LANEWAYS & STREET ART. What Melbourne is most famous for is its laneways and street art. Head to almost any part of Melbourne and you will see street art in its many nooks and crannies –in particular in the city centre. If you grab a map from the Visitors Centre you can follow the laneways from beginning to end, it’s an incredible walk, and a real photography playground! The laneways are lined with colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, buckers, street art, cafés and artists. One of the most popular laneways in the city is Hosier Lane –a maze of cobblestone laneways entirely covered in graffiti art!
FEDERATION SQUARE. The free City Circle Tram is a great way to travel around the city centre, starting with Federation Square where there is always something happening. Fed Square (as locals call it) is also home to one of the best cinema museums in the world, ACMI – The Australian Museum of the Moving Image. The museum is free and full of interactive exhibits relating to television, film, the Internet and gaming. Australian film and television history is also very well presented here. The museum’s touring exhibitions are always mind blowing and original, such as the more recent film installation Manifesto, starring Cate Blanchett. In Fed Square you will also find the Visitor’s Centre, an expansive basement filled with thousands of Melbourne tour brochures and a friendly staff to guide you toward the best activities to suit your style of exploration while in Melbourne.
FLINDERS STREET. Across the road from Federation Square you will find the iconic heritage building that is Flinders Street Station. When a local says they’ll “meet you under the clocks” these are the clocks of Flinders Street Station. The station was built in the late 19th century, and was the first station built in an Australian city. Flinders Street is one of the busiest railway stations in the country and makes for some beautiful photography.
LIBRARY & FREE WIFI. If you are looking for some incredible fast and free Wi-Fi, then you must head to the State Library of Victoria on Swanston Street. On a sunny day you will see people hanging out on the front lawn, soaking up the sun and meeting up with friends. The library first opened in 1854, with only a small collection of 3,800 books, and today the dome reading room –one of the most impressive feats of Melbourne architecture— can hold up to one million books. This is a most beautiful setting to study or work in, and is often filled with students at all hours of the day.
LANDMARKS. Within walking distance from Swanston Street is Parliament House, The National Gallery of Victoria, the Immigration Museum, as well as the wildly popular Victoria Markets —the largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere. The Immigration Museum is a great experience, as you walk through each floor, you will learn about the different immigrants that have made Australia home, from its earliest times to the present. There are even model “ship interiors” that you can walk through to experience travel in the early days of settlement.
MULTICULTURAL MELBOURNE. Why not experience some of Melbourne’s multicultural essence while you are here! If you are in the city you can head to Crossroads or Om Restaurant for some truly Indian flavours. At both locations they offer all-you-can-eat meals for a small $6.50! The meals are fresh, made on the spot, and are vegetarian or vegan. Every Wednesday and Saturday night starting at 6pm you can also join in the fun at Crossroads as they do Kirtan, which involves some light meditation and the singing of some upbeat Indian mantras. It’s quite a festive and friendly atmosphere, with some dancing, many travellers, and lots of smiles to go round. The evening always ends with a beautiful vegan meal. This experience is only $5 for the entire evening. If you head to the Hare Krishna Temple in Albert Park –they also own Crossroads in the city– breakfast, lunch and dinner are served for free in the temple each day of the year, visitors and anyone who passes through its doors are welcome.
Head down the road from Crossways, and you will find yourself in Little Bourke Street, also known as Melbourne’s China Town. Here you will find an array of Chinese bakeries, restaurants and herbal stores, as well as a lot of historical buildings from the first Chinese migrants who settled in the 1800s. The Chinese Immigration Museum is also here and offers an educational and interactive experience. After you finish here, you will realize that Australia has a rich Chinese migrant history that began as early as the 1800s. For a little Italian flavour, head down to Carlton, where the Italian Immigration Museum is located, as well as lots of great Italian cafés, restaurants, and a popular little crystal store, The Crystal Heart. Be sure to check out Florentino, one of Melbourne’s oldest restaurants. Established in 1929, it was a meeting place for the Italian community and its new immigrants, a place to meet one another and feel a little familiarity.
AREAS TO CHECK OUT MELBOURNE
Like most big cities Melbourne is home to many trendy areas, each of which have a different vibe and different things to offer. Check out the main areas worth visiting below:
SOUTH YARRA. Known as one of the popular shopping hubs of Melbourne, Chapel Street is lined with boutiques and popular fashion labels. One of the oldest and most affluent inner suburbs of Melbourne, here you will find upscale restaurants and brands, and a bustling café culture with a backdrop of colonial architecture. The Jam Factory Entertainment Complex is a popular location for shopping and entertainment.
ST KILDA. This seaside suburb of Melbourne is uber trendy with lots of cool bars and eateries to explore. The beach is beautifully lined with palm trees and the historic amusement park, Luna Park that greet visitors to St Kilda with Mr Moon and his large 40-metre cartoon face entrance. There are lots of great boutiques to check out in St Kilda, and the infamous vegan restaurant Lentil As Anything, where the menu has no prices and patrons pay a donation for their meal.
CARLTON. Only 2km from the city centre, Carlton’s streets are lined with endless Italian Restaurants and cafés. Lygon Street is known as Australia’s “little Italy”. La Mama Theatre is located here for some great theatre, La Nova Cinemas for art-house and international films, and the Readings Bookstore for international music and literature. The Carlton Football Club and grounds are also here, one of Australia’s oldest and most popular AFL (Australian Football League) sports teams.
EAST BRUNSWICK. Only 6km north of the city centre, and neighbouring the suburb of Carlton, in East Brunswick you will find lots of street art and an alternative scene. Sydney Road and Lygon Road are the main strips, with cafés, boutiques and many vintage stores. East Brunswick is quite possibly the vintage store mecca of Australia. Also in this trendy and grungy suburb, you will find great small music venues and pubs, as well as a host of cafés with vegan food menus. One of the best and cheesiest vegan pizzas you might ever try is at the Cornish Arms on Sydney Road. A typical Aussie pub from the outside, The Cornish Arms is a whole lot more on the inside. The pub has a normal Aussie menu, plus a full vegan menu! Un heard of in almost any other Aussie pub! There is also a great backyard garden to chill in.
SOUTHBANK. Right in the city, and on the river, Southbank is full of upscale riverside restaurants, and some interesting art installations. The waterfront hub is home to many of the city’s most spectacular feats of modern architecture, including the Eureka Tower with its infamous and gigantic gold bumblebees perched up on the side of the building. Cross the pedestrian bridge, and presto, you are in the city centre! Southbank is also home to the Melbourne Arts Precinct where many galleries, performing arts venues, performance spaces and broadcast studios are located.
FITZROY. Referred to as the bohemian enclave of Melbourne, Fitzroy is only 2km from the city centre. Brunswick Street is a great place for bar hopping and brunch any day of the year. Pretty much on par with East Brunswick, this alternative suburb certainly has a grungy feel to it with lots of vintage stores, bookshops, record stores, murals and street art, local music, DJs, and affordable hostels. There is always a buzz going on in Fitzroy, and a great vintage vibe.
YARRAVILLE. Yarraville is a cool inner city suburb with a real colonial feel to it. Full of small narrow cobblestone streets and cafés, it is also home to a number of yoga studios and the historic Sun Theatre. The art deco building is a real gem! Dating back to 1938 when it first opened its doors, here you can see art-house and commercial films, and immerse yourself in some local café culture when you get out. At L’Uccellino’s you can experience an authentic wood fired pizza, as you would back in Italy.
COOLEST ACTIVITIES MELBOURNE
HIGH IN THE SKY. Nothing will prepare you for the breathtaking views you will experience from the Southern Hemisphere’s highest viewing platform – Eureka Skydeck 88. Offering a glass elevator with glass walls, ceiling and floor, you will feel as though you are floating through the sky –88 levels high, to be exact!
WILDLIFE. The Melbourne Zoo situated 4km north of the city, provides a relaxing atmosphere with a variety of landscapes to explore from its Victorian-era gardens to the lush jungles of Asia, dense African rainforests, and over 320 native and international species to discover. A little further out of town is the Werribee Open Range Zoo, an African-themed zoo where animals roam free in large open sanctuaries. The zoo also offers many wildlife encounters where you can get up close with gorillas, lions, zebras and giraffes. Werribee is a 40-minute drive from the city centre.
WINERIES. All around the world, Victoria is famous for it’s award-winning wine. If you explore the Yarra Valley you will get to experience the roadside stalls, wineries, and gourmet outlets scattered around the region. With a tour, you might save yourself some time however, as tour companies such as Epicurean Tours, Yarra Valley Wine Tasting Tours and Wild Wombat Tours know all the best spots to take you at discounted prices. If you have a little extra cash to spend and feel like floating up through the blue skies, you can arrive at one of the region’s wineries in true style in a hot air balloon. Global Ballooning and Hot Ait Balloon Rides are two local companies that will hook you up with this extra special experience.
PENGUINS. About 90-minutes from Melbourne is Phillip Island, where at sunset each day hundreds gather to watch the native small penguins emerge from the sea and waddle onto the sand. This is a very touristic and artificial experience, and quite costly. For the same exact experience, with fewer people around and at no charge at all, you can head to the St Kilda Breakwater at sunset in the trendy suburb of St Kilda.
NATURE. There are many great places to head for some greenery, two of those being the Royal Botanic Gardens in the city and Princes Park in the suburb of Carlton. The Botanic Gardens contain extensively landscaped gardens featuring thousands of plants species, and in the summer a moonlight cinema under the stars with the beautiful city skyline in the backdrop. Princes Park (not far from the zoo) has massive majestic trees lining its lengthy footpaths, reminiscent of Prospect Park in Brooklyn. There are many dogs and dog walkers that come here, as well as joggers and picnickers.
WHERE TO CAMP MELBOURNE
Finding a campground in the heart of urban Melbourne is impossible, however for cheap hostels you can head to the tropical suburb of St Kilda or the bohemian suburb of Fitzroy.
There are a few campgrounds in the outskirts of the city, such as Melbourne BIG4 Holiday Park in Coburg, about 25-minutes from the city centre, the park has a resort-style swimming pool, an outdoor spa, a games room and a fully equipped kitchen and laundry area. There are plenty of trees for shade, as well as powered and unpowered sites. Dandenong Tourist Park is 35km from Melbourne’s CBD (downtown) and 4km from Dandenong town centre. A stone’s throw away are the Dandenong Ranges, beaches and the Philip Island penguins. Ashley Gardens is 9km from the city, with an indoor spa and sauna, reliable Internet, and is within close proximity to local shops and supermarkets. Frankston Holiday Village is 5km from Frankston’s town centre and 45km from Melbourne’s city centre. Here you will be close to public transport, beaches, wineries and golf courses, and have access to both powered and unpowered sites.
WHEN TO COME MELBOURNE
Melbourne is a happening and bustling place all year round. There are events, galleries, festivals and performances happening all around the city at any given moment.
The main festivals and events in Melbourne are: White Night Melbourne, where the whole city stays awake all night; The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival in March; the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show both in late March; the Next Wave Festival, Mind Body Spirit Festival and Buddha Day Multicultural Festival all in May; the Melbourne International Jazz Festival takes place in June, while the Melbourne International Film Festival is in full swing in July. Then you have the Melbourne Writers Festival in August, the Royal Melbourne Show in September, and the most famous of them all, The Melbourne Cup in November. December makes way for TropFest, the largest outdoor short film festival in the world.
Other major events include Australia Day, Chinese New Year, The Australian Tennis Open and The Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix. The possibilities are endless! For more info on annual events you can check out the official Melbourne calendar of events at: www.thatsmelbourne.com.au/Whatson/Festivals/Pages/festival_calendar.aspx
As for the weather, the summers are hot and humid, as they are all over Australia, however the winters are frosty and cold down here. So be sure to bring a good coat and a jacket if you will be exploring the city throughout the winter months.