The last stop on my tour through Australia was Melbourne. With areas so painfully hip that I almost felt like I’d be asked to leave, brunches so extra, and coffee so smooth that it will ruin your morning cup forever, Melbourne is on the list for the coolest city in the world. I know so many people that say it is their favourite city in Australia, and I couldn’t wait to explore it. Plus, one of my former housemates had recently moved back and so I got to catch up with him while getting all the local knowledge.
If Sydney is a sleek cocktail, Melbourne is a cool craft beer. I feel like there’s no wrong or right way to split up your days in Melbourne. It’s less about hopping from attraction to attraction and more about getting a feel for the areas, trying lots of coffee shops and brunch places and finding your personal favourite. Getting lost down graffiti-covered streets and shopping in independent stores. I recommend spending a good chunk of time here. There are a lot of areas to explore and some pretty cool day trips to take.
Here’s what I would add to a list for a first-time visitor to Melbourne.
Walk through Melbourne’s Laneways
Melbourne’s best places are not located on the main streets but hidden away down its many graffiti-covered alleyways known as the laneways. Scattered around the CBD, the Laneways are where it’s at.
Head down Centre Place for great little restaurants and cafes. Or go for luxury down Block Arcade. You’ll find a lot of great places if you take the side streets in Melbourne, trust me. I spent of much time just getting lost, turning down random roads because they looked interesting.
One of the most popular doesn’t have any shops at all (and a lot of bins actually) but visitors frequent it for the wall-to-wall graffiti. Hosier Lane has so much street art you won’t know where to look! If you are an AC/DC fan, you can’t miss a stroll down AC/DC Lane.
Shopping in Melbourne
Melbourne has plenty of shopping. Huge shopping centres, luxury brands, independent labels, quirky shops – you’ll find them all among Melbourne’s streets. Make sure to set aside an afternoon to wander the streets and window shop. Meander through all the laneways and arcades and see what you find. Sydney Road in Brunswick is also a good place to browse.
My last day in Melbourne, and therefore Australia, was almost unbearably hot and windy for a London dweller. I now knew how much luggage space I had left and the power in the area I was staying had cut off, so I sought the refuge of a large shopping centre and its air conditioning.
Find more of the best places to shop here.
Brunches and cafes
Frequenting Melbourne’s top-notch cafe and brunch spots is definitely one of the highlights of spending a few days here. I won’t even pretend I know the best spots, even the recommendation list from my friend was really long. Patricia Coffee Brewers on Little Bourke St tops many lists. This was recommended by a friend that recently visited and it was worth the hype.
Brunch wise Mock Turtle, a tiny spot on the Degraves laneway stood out to me, they’ve kicked up the standard avocado on toast with the addition of whipped feta and a sprinkle of dukkah. Find some ultimate Melbourne breakfast inspiration here.
There are a lot of hip bars and laid-back spots to grab a drink after a busy day exploring Melbourne. You’ll find plenty of craft beer bars around Melbourne, and I found myself at Penny Blue on my first evening in the city.
Fitzroy was a favourite area for going out for drinks. I met up with my former housemate, a local, and we hit some of the bars. I love the 80s/90s arcade bar Pixel Alley where we ended the eve with cocktails and rounds of car racing games.
You could head up to the top of Rialto Building for some city views at Lui Bar for some cocktails. Unfortunately, I was supposed to go meet up with my cousin at the bar after I spent the day in St Kilda’s but forgot to bring a change of clothes. I figured my flip-flops and salty appearance weren’t going to cut it there!
Museums and culture
I love spending an afternoon exploring a museum, so I popped into Melbourne Museum on my trip. The exhibits had a little bit of everything – natural history, Aboriginal culture, science, and more. I loved the Milarri Garden and Forest Gallery where you’ll come across some of Australia’s native fauna and reptiles, including quite a few lizards roaming free (watch your step).
Find more museums here. In addition, Melbourne has a thriving theatre and comedy scene and you’ll find a lot of world-famous theatre productions in the city for a night out.
I spent a full day of my Melbourne trip in St Kilda, spurred on by the desire to see its resident little penguins (you can read about how to see them here). But the neighbourhood boosts much more than those adorable residents. After taking the tram from central Melbourne, you are hit with cool, laid-back beach vibes. Head over to Arcade Street for brunch or lunch and browse its eclectic shops. Then make sure to check out the beach. End the day with some cocktails by the sea at Republic or The Vineyard.
Day trips from Melbourne
There are so many incredible day trips to take from Melbourne, so you should definitely add a few extra days to your stay to fit some in.
For a start, Yarra Valley is known for its wine, so it would be rude not to take a trip to one of its vineyards and try a drop or two. It’s about half an hour from Melbourne and good wine and pretty scenery make for a great day trip.
Great Ocean Road
You can also plot a road trip along the Great Ocean Road (or take a tour). The scenic drive takes about 4 hours to complete straight through but allow considerably more time for lots of stop offs. This is where you’ll spot the famous landmark Twelve Apostles, pass gorgeous waterfalls, stunning coastline and more.
Phillip Island is home to some incredible wildlife, including adorable little penguins.
The best way to see hundreds, if not thousands of penguins is to head over to Phillip Island. A colony of 32,000 little penguins call this island home and thousands make the walk back home from the sea every night.
To see this phenomenon, known as the penguin parade, you’ll need to book a ticket for a viewing spot. And there’s a lot of options. You can find the different types of options from general viewing to VIP here. These options require you to get to the island yourself. You can also book a tour if you don’t have your own transportation. Find some options here.
You also might see seals, koalas, whales, dolphins and birds.
Tips for Visiting Melbourne
Everyone says Melbourne has four seasons in a day. And it’s completely true. On that very windy day I sought out a shopping centre with a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius was like what I imagine being stuck inside a hairdryer feels like. Even my eyelids were burning. That evening I was shivering in the warmest jumper I brought as the temperature dropped to around 10 degrees. The previous day’s temperature hovered at about 25 both day and evening. Only the week before this, my friend was saying he hoped I had brought a winter coat. Pack layers for Melbourne because honestly, you do not know what you will get. It will pour rain one moment and be blisteringly sunny the next!
Getting around Melbourne
Melbourne’s main modes of public transport are buses and trams. There is a free tram network and I would recommend taking a ride around the loop on the 35 free tram when arriving in Melbourne. It’s like a free little tour and you’ll be able to get your bearings.
For journeys not on the free tram line, you’ll need to get a Myki Card which works for trains, buses, and trams. I picked one up from one of the machines at Southern Cross Station.
Getting to Melbourne
Airports in Melbourne
A Skybus runs from Melbourne’s airports. But be aware it isn’t prompt or reliable. On the way back, the bus arrived at my stop 45 minutes late and nearly didn’t take me as the driver said the luggage compartment for the terminal I was getting off was too full to take my 40L backpack. The bus from Melbourne’s main airport, also known as Tullamarine Airport, also serves areas outside the CBD.
I also made the most rookie travel mistake ever when arriving in Melbourne. According to booking websites, Melbourne has two airports. I stood at Sydney International staring at the board wondering where my flight was and why there one to a place called Avalon at the same time. It turns out that was my flight. And just as anyone flying into “London” Stansted has experienced, Melbourne Avalon is actually an hour away from the city.
As a result, my friend that was supposed to pick me up at Melbourne Airport then had to give me step by step at 11pm into Melbourne and on to the hotel I was staying at in Doncaster. This involved taking the Skybus to Melbourne’s CBD, a train, and an uber.