Melbourne is Australia’s second biggest city (after Sydney), the Victorian state capital and the city in Australia most renowned for good nightlife, shopping, sport and culture, which is why travel writers often label it Australia’s most European city. Indeed, perhaps it’s because Melbourne lacks the all-year sunny climate or iconic buildings of other Australian cities, but when it comes to culture, Melbourne is in a league of its own.
Like with any major city, there’s an extensive range of accommodation in Melbourne, with a great selection of luxury hotels, plus many cheap hotels and holiday apartments available.
Things to do in Melbourne
A vacation in the Victorian capital is less about ticking off major sights and more about doing as Melbournians do – hanging out in the excellent cafes, touring the vast number of great laneway bars and doing damage to your credit card in the shops. However, there are still some things worth doing.
Most holiday-makers will start with a trip to Federation Square, Melbourne’s central hub which is surrounded by museums and art galleries on the banks of the Yarra River. There’s normally plenty of free entertainment and events going on.
Just over the bridge from Federation Square is South Bank, a pleasant riverside walk past loads of bars, restaurants, street performers, hotels and the massive casino.
If you’re staying at a hotel in central Melbourne, definitely travel down to grungy beach suburb St Kilda for a day. Take the tram down there, go on some rides at retro funfare Luna Park, stroll along St Kilda pier to try to spot some little penguins before sampling one of the many cake shops along Acland St. There’s lots of cheap hostels, bars and restaurants in St Kilda, making it a popular budget accommodation choice for backpackers.
Melbourne’s laneways are renowned for having the best street art/graffiti in Australia, with big names like Banksy having all left their mark. Indeed, Banksy even told the Melbourne Age newspaper, in a rare interview, that, “Melbourne street art leads the world”. The best places to check out street art are Union Lane, in the CBD, Hosier Lane, right opposite Federation Square, plus the laneways surrounding Brunswick Street, Fitzroy Street and Smith Street, in Fitzroy, Carlton and Collingwood. Several operators run walking tours, some of which even end by joining a renowned street artist for a beer.
A captivating history fix can be found at Old Melbourne Gaol, the gruesome prison where many of Melbourne’s worst criminals were kept. It’s also where cult Australian anti-hero Ned Kelly was hanged in 1880. The gallows are still on view. You can also take spooky candlelit tours at night.
TV fans might be keen to check out the home of long-running soap opera Neighbours. There are popular daily tours to both the set and Ramsay Street, while you can also meet cast members at weekly Neighbours Nights at a pub in St Kilda.
Going out in Melbourne
Whether hidden down quiet laneways, at the back of record shops or on unmarked rooftops, Melbourne definitely has the coolest bars in Australia. New ones seem to open every week and many don’t even have any exterior markings or names, meaning you’re best bet for finding them is to either get a Melbourne local to give you a tour or to travel to the right areas and look out for bouncers and queues down random alleys!
The established bars along South Bank and in Federation Square are a good place to grab a post-sightseeing beer, but to get the genuine Melbourne experience you need to travel away from the tourists.
Three streets definitely worth a stop are Sydney Road in Brunswick, Smith Street in Collingwood and, confusingly, Brunswick Street in Fitzroy.
Travel to South Yarra and Prahan for more upmarket bars, on Chapel Street, or most of the gay bars, on Commercial Road.
A good option for restaurants is Little Italy, based around Lygon Street, north of the city centre.
Generally-speaking, Australia is a sport-mad country, but that obsession it taken to a whole new level in Melbourne.
Australia’s two biggest international sporting events – the Grand Slam tennis (January) and F1 Grand Prix (late March) – are both held in Melbourne. The MotoGP (the superbike equivalent of the F1 Grand Prix) is also held on nearby Phillip Island in October.
The Melbourne Cup, at Flemington Racecourse on a November Tuesday, is Australia’s biggest horse race and rightly nicknamed “the race that stops a nation”. Despite lasting just three minutes, the Melbourne Cup warrants a public holiday in Victoria, while elsewhere in Australia, offices will routinely shut down and pop to the pub to catch the action.
Melbourne is also the place to watch an Australian rules football (AFL) match. The fast-paced, Gaelic football-like, sport is the most popular game in Australia and is dominated by Melbourne teams. Nine of the 17 teams are based in the Victorian capital. The season runs from March to September, when the Grand Final (Australia’s single-biggest domestic sporting event) is played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
It’s well worth visiting the giant Melbourne Cricket Ground, in Yarra Park, either on a tour or by going to a match. Built in 1853, it’s the cathedral of Australian sport.
If you’re in Melbourne around Christmas, the MCG is also where the biggest cricket match on the Australian calendar is played – the Boxing Day Test. Australia play whoever is touring that season in front of over 100,000 people, while crowds also pack into Federation Square for each of the five days to watch the action on a big screen.
Melbourne is serviced by two airports – Tullarmarine and Avalon. Tullarmarine Airport is 22km north-west of Melbourne’s centre and is where most international and domestic flights land. It’s easy to jump on the 24-hour Skybus, which will drop you at central Southern Cross station, from where you can get a free shuttle bus to your hotel. The smaller Avalon Airport is mainly for budget domestic flights and is about an hour from central Melbourne. It’s easy to arrange car or campervan hire from either airport.