There is something for everyone in Melbourne.
My daughter and I went on a MasterChef Australia pilgrimage, visiting many of the locations where scenes were shot on our traditional mother-daughter escape.
Later, my jealous husband insisted on seeing it for himself so we hopped back on the plane and spent a few days (re )discovering it together.
Now we’ve spent two months in the area, we’ve decided it’s probably the best city in Australia (and I’m from Sydney!)
Here’s how to make the most of your time in Melbourne:
Breakfast at Seven Seeds
Start out the day in Carlton (north Melbourne) having a memorable breakfast at Seven Seeds. The restaurant looks nondescript. There’s no real signage other than the name painted on the brick exterior. From the outside, I couldn’t tell if the place was even open. As you enter, it becomes a different story. The place is jumping. The tables are full to the brim of an eclectic mix of professionals, hipsters, and students. The large room is bright and airy, with different types of bicycles hanging on the walls. It has a homey, café feel to it.
The food and coffee is delicious. I had bacon and eggs, but they weren’t your ordinary bacon and eggs. With added tomato kasundi and sourdough, it took it to a whole other level. This was truly one the best breakfasts I have ever had in my life. If you want Green Eggs and Ham (which is actually offered on the menu when we were there), this is your kind of place!
After your hearty breakfast, stroll over to the Carlton Gardens. Make your way to the heritage listed, Royal Exhibition Building, one of the oldest remaining exhibition pavilions that is still in use today. When first built, the Great Hall was largest building in Australia, and the highest building in Melbourne.
From there, explore life in Victoria, from the natural environment to culture and history, at the Melbourne Museum. If neither of those float your boat, simply enjoy the beautiful gardens as you walk off a little of the delicious breakfast.
Catch the free City Circle tram down to Federation Square, on the corner of Flinders Street and Swanson Street. Federation Square is one of the liveliest plazas in the world. People watching doesn’t get better than this. Street performers, eats and drinks, and cultural events all happen here.
Marvel at the architecture of the Australian Centre of the Moving Image (ACMI). Go inside and celebrate all things about the moving image in all its forms. Some great exhibitions and films are on offer, but these are usually fee-based. The ACMI is free and open every day (except Christmas Day) from 10-5 for general admission.
While you’re at Federation Square, stop in the Tourist Information Centre (downstairs) and pick up a Myki card. You’re going to need it for your trip to St. Kilda later to see the Little Penguins.
Take a walk over the bridge, catching the stunning Yarra River, and take a stroll along Southbank. There are some great places to eat or grab a coffee, with buskers along the way here too.
Lunch: Greek on Lonsdale Street
For lunch, head up to Lonsdale Street and find some authentic Greek food. Melbourne has the second highest Greek population outside of Greece. We recommend a local family owned and run restaurant called Tsindos. Their souvlaki is mouthwateringly good. If you can’t get in there, try Stalactites.
An Afternoon at the Footy
Treat yourself to an Australian Rules Football (AFL) game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) if you can. This truly is a Melbourne tradition. In fact, the AFL was born in Melbourne in 1859. Don’t worry if you aren’t a supporter of the teams playing, you’ll get caught in the action anyway!
If you don’t eat at the game, take your pick from any of the restaurants heading back to your hotel/Airbnb. Melbourne claims to be the foodie capital of Australia and given everything we’ve eaten while visiting, I have to say it’s an honest claim. You really can’t go wrong!
If you need some tips on where to eat, check out TripAdvisor.
Queen Victoria Markets
Head to the Queen Victoria Markets. Grab a large coffee and a fresh pastry from one of the many bakers. You’re going to need it today!
In the Queen Victoria Markets you can find just about anything you could want. From fresh fruits and vegetables, delicatessen items, fresh meats and even seafood are sold by local farmers and butchers. Pick up some fresh apples and carrots, some beautiful Tarago River Gippsland Brie (possibly the best brie I have ever had!), some fresh mild salami, water crackers and lastly some pesto/sundried tomato/mascapone dip, touted to be ‘The Best Dip In Australia” (not sure I agree but it was good). This little feast will be eaten later on your picnic.
This is also a one stop shop for all types of clothing, with local crafts and souvenirs also on offer.
Take the city circle tram to the Fitzroy Gardens.
Discover Cooks’ Cottage in the gardens, home to the parents of the famous Captain James Cook. It is believed that young Captain Cook may have lived in the cottage for a time. Another popular site is the Conservatory. Spectacular seasonal floral displays are exhibited five different times a year. If you are up for it, head south to the Botanic Gardens continuing your exploration of the green ends of Melbourne. Now is the time to savour the goodies your picked up at Queen Victoria’s Market with a picnic in the park.
Arcades and Laneways
Returning to the CBD, check out the arcades and laneways. The graffiti you find here is done legally and created by true artisans. You can spend hours admiring the artwork as you angle through the alleyways, finding all kinds of treasures. If you’re up for some window shopping, enter the timeless Royal Arcade, with exquisite detail from floor to ceiling. Grab a coffee and enjoy the atmosphere.
St Kilda for Little Penguins
Before the sun starts setting, grab your Myki card and take the tram to St. Kilda, ready to fall in love with Melbourne’s own colony of little penguins.
Walk to the end of the pier, soaking in the beauty and peace of the harbor. The breakwater calms the sea to a gentle lapping against the rocks below. After smartly waiting until the sun was below the horizon, the penguins made their way home, The predatory gulls long gone by then. With night in full, the little penguins swim up the channel and clamber onto shore. Volunteers have red lights to illuminate the rocks as the penguins return to their nests. Depending on the time of year, you might witness an amorous coupling on the rocks as we did. Nature seen in action in the most basic way!
GETTING TO/FROM MELBOURNE:
You can get to Melbourne a few ways.
- Fly into to Tullamarine airport, which can be a bit crazy, but from here you can take a SkyBus shuttle to the Southern Cross Station in the CBD for around $AU 18 one way. The journey takes about a 30-minutes. Southern Cross Station is pretty central to everything CBD. You can take trams, trains and buses onwards from here if you need it.
- Fly into Avalon airport, the smaller, quieter Melbourne area airport, which is south of the city (and the recommended airport if you are starting your journey in the area exploring the Great Ocean Road). From Avalon, you can also take an airport shuttle to the Southern Cross Station. It’s about a 50-minute ride. It’s about $AU 22 for a one way ticket.
- By Train. Trains from other cities arrive into Southern Cross Station. If you are coming from Sydney, we highly recommend taking the train – the journey is delightful.
- By Car. Parking in the Melbourne CBD is metered or paid parking, but parking is plentiful. Check with your hotel to see if parking is available when doing your research.
TIP: If you are traveling to Melbourne you don’t need a car during your stay in the CBD. The city is walkable with a free trams available (see Travel Tips further down for more). So, save some coin and plan on picking up your rental car before you head off elsewhere.
PLACES TO STAY:
On a budget:
Accommodation can be expensive in Melbourne, as with most major cities, but you really don’t have to spend big bucks if you don’t want to. We booked in at the YHA Metro in North Melbourne, a mere 10 blocks from the river and Flinders Street but still convenient to everything we needed.
While the YHA usually conjures images of singles and grungy backpackers, this wasn’t the case at all at this hostel.
The YHA Metro was filled with families just like us, both young and older travellers alike. The place was clean, well run, and everyone was polite and considerate. If you have a child under 17, you are required (by law) to book a private room. While the room was basic, it suited our every need. Two single beds, a private bathroom with sink, shower and toilet, linens for everything we needed. We had tea and coffee making supplies as well as a table and chair. The bonus, for my daughter at least, was a television in our room. It was a bare bones motel room. The communal facilities were clean and functional with wonderful city views from the rooftop as an unexpected surprise.
City Tempo Melbourne Short Stay Apartments. These are studio apartments are rented out through a central reservation area downstairs. The rooms are comfortable and convenient with the usual amenities of a hotel. It’s in a great location to everything CBD.
The hotel we recommend in Melbourne is he Vibe Savoy on Spencer Street.
The Vibe Savoy is convenient, with trams available outside the hotel and around the corner. The Southern Cross station is literally across the road.
Restaurants are plentiful in the area, but easily accessible via tram in the city center too, if preferred.
There are views of the Star Observation Wheel and the majority of the hotel overlooks the top of the Southern Cross Station.
The hotel is a great history (used to be known as the Jazz Hotel), is very clean and looks to be decorated in the art deco style. Simply elegant is what I’d use to describe this hotel.
Most importantly, it has very comfortable beds with down comforters, free WiFI, a private bathroom and upon check-in, you’re given two free drinks at the bar.
The cost for the hotel for a king twin room was $AU 111 for one night.
Ibis Styles Victoria Hotel on Little Collins Street.
The Victoria Hotel is in a great location, within walking distance to most of the main tourist sites. Alternatively, trams are half a block away, if you wanted to venture further.
The rooms are quiet. perfect for a solo traveller or a couple travelling on a budget. The rooms themselves are large with private bathroom providing plenty of amenities. The beds are comfortable although positioned on wheels, which I don’t quite understand.
There hotel itself is older, vintage even, so the floors can be sloped and there are no views from the room. But this hotel is priced to be a place to rest so you can spend your time exploring and it provides the basics to do that comfortably.
WiFi was not included but is offered.
The cost for the hotel for a queen room was $AU 104 for one night.
Upon research, AirBnb options are widely available in the CBD area.
With Airbnb, you can have a private residence completely to yourself, where it’s convenient to the tourist areas, have free Wifi, a kitchen, washer/dryer etc, all for around $AU 118.
And, of course, the more you share your experience with Airbnb, you gain a credit when others sign up and use the service for the first time, so it can be essential be free if you have enough credits (We stayed in one place on Australia’s Great Ocean Road for $18 because of these Airbnb credits!)
BEST PLACE WE FOUND TO VISIT:
One of our favorite stops in Melbourne was the magnificent State Library of Victoria. If you are looking for free WIFI and a quiet place to be for a while, head here. It’s probably the quietest library we’ve ever visited – and it’s huge. It feels more like a museum in some respects than a library. Yet, It’s reported to be the home of 2 million books. Yes, we’re book worms, but we are still talking about this place. It is central to Melbourne and only a few blocks from Federation Square.
AND HERE’S THE BEST TIP OF ALL:
The City Circle tram is the best free service the city of Melbourne provides its visitors. Get a free map of the City Circle tram route from your hotel or from the Information Centre at the Flinders Street side of Federation Square.
The tram allows an easy hop on/off option close to the major sights. The stops are well signed and interesting factoids about the city are broadcast while in transit. Did you know that a Melbourne tram weighs the same as 30 rhinoceros? That’s a scary thought if you have one barreling down on you while crossing the tracks!
The City Circle tram is a great way to learn how to get around when first arriving as well as a great way to rest your weary feet at the end of the day.
Once you’re acclimated, you can take any of the trams for free in the “Free Tram Zone” (St. Kilda is not in the Free Tram Zone). You just have to know which direction you’re headed. Pick up a tram route map from the Information Centre at Federation Square, or your hotel.