I’m often asked to give recommendations to friends about things to do, see and eat in Melbourne. Here is a bit of a compilation of some of the crowd-pleasers and useful information with some recommendations at the bottom.
When booking accommodation in Melbourne, its worth considering what you are in Melbourne for, whether you’ll want a car or if you are content to use public transport.
If you want to be centrally located and save money, it is best to book accommodation within, or near, the free tram zone (see here).
The free tram zone is also known as the “Hoddle Grid”, the grid or the CBD. This Manhattan-Style grid is named after the surveyor Robert Hoddle, who marked it out in 1837 and it has since become the heart of modern-day Melbourne.
Outside of the free tram zone, popular places to stay with good public transport links include Fitzroy, South Yarra and St Kilda. Fitzroy is best for the alternative vibe. South Yarra is more upmarket and commercial. St Kilda has a strange mix of beach, money and backpackers.
If you’d like to do a bunch of different activities and see lots of places outside of Melbourne city in a short space of time (like the Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, Phillip Island etc) you will probably want to hire a car and then it would be best to book accommodation in the suburbs. You can visit lots of these places on day trips which generally depart from the CBD, but you will only be able to do one activity per day in that case.
Most arrivals to Melbourne will land at Tullamarine airport, but some cheap domestic flights (and soon some flights from Asia) can land at the smaller Avalon airport.
Public transport is good (compared the US) once you are in the city but the airport rail is yet to be built… so it’s the bus, the creatively-named bright red Skybus is just outside the airport doors. It purports to have Wi-Fi on board.
You can get the Skybus from either Tullamarine or Avalon which will drop you to Southern Cross station in the city. If you are travelling with more than one person it will likely cost the same to get an Uber or taxi, but only if you are travelling outside of peak hour. Once you arrive to Southern Cross Station, you can access the free tram zone as well as trains to all areas of Melbourne and Victoria.
I think there is plenty to do in Melbourne CBD, depending on your interests. If food, shopping, culture, museums with the park and river sound about right, you could set your own itinerary and walk around the general city area for a few days and keep entertained.
If you need to see animals and greenery, you could check out the Botanic Gardens, Melbourne Zoo, Healesville Sanctuary or Werribee Zoo and then head out to either the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula or Phillip Island.
Melbourne is not a great big touristy city with clear attractions, its a functioning urban metropolis and home to over 5 million people. It is better to approach it with an open mind and see what you discover.
If you want to be by the water, spend some time along the Yarra in the city, then head to St Kilda or Middle Brighton Beach to see the famous beach boxes. You can also head down to Bells Beach, the back beaches on the Mornington Peninsula or Phillip Island to see some decent waves.
Melbourne also has some nice heritage buildings maintained by the National Trust and open to visit (mostly for a small fee, or you can join and get unlimited visits). Buildings that are worth seeing include Como House, Rippon Lea and the Old Melbourne Gaol which is right in the CBD.
Sample Day in Melbourne CBD:
Wake up and head to Higher Ground for a classic Melbourne brunch at its most refined. Then catch the tram up Bourke St and get off at the by the former GPO which is now H&M. Here you can wander past the famous department stores like Myer and David Jones or head straight into Royal Arcade a self-guided laneway exploration.
Exiting Royal Arcade cross the road into Block Place (Mountford’s shoes is on the left) and head past the restaurants into Block Arcade. A big beautiful dome and Haigh’s chocolate store can be found in the centre and if you continue through the gorgeous Gewurzhaus spice store and pretty Hopetoun tea rooms (if there isn’t a queue, go in!).
Exiting Block Arcade, you can wander up Collins St to the Town Hall on Swanston St, then head towards Federation Square and Flinders St Station. If you aren’t too hungry, now is a good time to to check out the Shrine of Remembrance, which is free to go up and has a magnificent view of the skyline or head into the National Gallery of Victoria.
Heading back into the city, walk down Flinders St and into Degraves St, one of Melbourne’s most famous laneways then cross into neighbouring Centre Place. By the time you’ve walked through all of these you’ll be back on Collins St, where you can walk up to Swanston St and can walk or tram to the State Library. It’s a beautiful building and free to go in and see the magnificent dome.
After that you’re at the entrance to Melbourne Central so you can check out the famous gun tower and clock before working your way through the shops in there and in Emporium, which has the best food court in Melbourne with Jimmy Grant’s amongst other great food options (unless you go to Burger Project in St Collins Lane).
After this you might want to go chill out for a bit in a café or your accommodation and fresh up before heading to the Lui Bar around 5pm. You can access the Lui Bar via a separate lift well at the bottom of the Rialto. Let the receptionist know you’d like to go up for a drink and they will co-ordinate to send you up 55 floors in the lift, where you will be welcome by the wait staff and seated. The views and incredible and the drinks and snacks are quite pricey, but not significantly more than cocktails elsewhere for such a view. I’d recommend just getting one drink here, soaking up the views and sunset before heading out for dinner. I’ve got plenty of food recommendations below.
Melbourne’s food scene is always changing, and to be honest there are too many good places to list here. Broadsheet is a good space to see what’s new.
In the city grid:
- Higher Ground
- Cumulus Inc
- Hardware Société
- Manchester Press
Out of the grid:
- The Kettle Black
- Big Little Sugar Salt
- Stables of Como
- Tall Timber
- Pillar of salt
- Golden child
- Baba sus (get the Hong Kong waffles)
Restaurants and bars:
- Chinchin (go at midday or 5pm to avoid queues)
- Lui bar for cocktails and the best view of Melbourne
- Red Spice Rd (get the pork belly)
- Eau de vie (bar)
- Madame Brussels
- Berlin Bar
- Gin Palace
- State of Grace bar – find the hidden door to access Fall from Grace bar
- Garden state hotel
- Magic mountain saloon
- Arbory Bar
Out of grid
- Dexter (Karl strongly recommends)
- St Cloud
- Mr Miyagi
- Chez Olivier
- Naked for Satan (Naked in the Sky rooftop)
Reasonably cheap and easy food options:
- Fonda (Mexican)
- Equitable Place (laneway with many options, good for day time food on weekdays)
- Don dons (Japanese)
- Gami Chicken
- Burger Project
- Royal Stacks (Burgers)
Things to do: Culture
- Immigration museum
- Melbourne Museum
- Arts Centre (there is always something on)
- We have plenty of great cinemas and bookshops
- See some live music, comedy or other – there is almost always a “Festival” of some sorts on in Melbourne
Things to do: Sightseeing
- Shrine of Remembrance
- Walk the Tan
- Walk the cities laneways: Block Arcade, Royal Arcade, Degraves etc
- Fitzroy Gardens plus MCG, including sports museum if that’s your thing
- Main intersection: Federation square, Flinders St, St Pauls Cathedral
- Swanston St Bridge and Southbank for view back to city
- Check out Fitzroy – Brunswick St and Smith St