A British friend of mine is coming to Melbourne, Australia, soon, for a conference, and she asked me for suggestions for things that she should see and do while she is here. I put this list of things together for her, plus some general advice on getting around – it’s not definitive, or even the most popular recommendations for Melbourne, but they’re my personal favourites.
If you’re planning your first trip to Melbourne, you should find something of interest here!
Melbourne is a great city to visit. If you are going to be there for more than a few days, do a "free" walking tour to get a quick and efficient orientation. I can’t remember which free walking tour we did, but there are plenty of them. I’m Free Walking Tours is one of them, but if you Search for ‘free walking tours in Melbourne’ you’ll find plenty. These tours are only sort of free – you will be asked to make a donation of whatever you think the tour is worth at the end, but I’ve seen people not give anything. We usually give about $15 for each person.
To travel beyond the inner city you will need to get a Miki card (similar to London Transport’s Oyster card). You can buy a Miki card at many service stations, newsagents, and supermarkets. An empty Miki card will cost you $6, and you’ll need to add value beyond that.
The Miki card can be used in two ways: for regular commuters as a pass (Myki pass) and for casual users as a store of credit (Myki money). Myki money is the most appropriate way for visitors. Each journey cost AU$4.40 with a daily fare cap of currently AU$8.80.
The critical things to do in inner Melbourne
These are my personal stand-out things to see and do in Melbourne.
Queen Victoria Markets
Queen Victoria Markets are a huge covered market on the edge of the CBD, with everything you expect at such a market including: endless food stalls, a fish market, a meat market, fruit and vegetables of every type that you could imagine, bakeries, delicatessens, wineries, breweries, cafes – it’s just marvellous!
There’s a vast array of places to eat in Melbourne, and many of them are great; but my favourite for cheap interesting and delicious eating is Borek Bakehouse, just around the corner from the Queen Victoria Markets on Elizabeth Street, here.
There’s also a vast array of great places to get coffee in Melbourne; Market Lane Coffee is a great little shop right behind the Queen Victoria Markets – just don’t expect to get decaf; in fact, over most of Melbourne you’ll get sneered at if you ask for decaf!
Federation Square precinct
Go to Federation Square and see the nearby marvellous Flinders Street railway Station, Princes Bridge, and St Pauls Cathedral.
The two parts of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) are nearby, too. They are The Ian Potter Centre – NGV Australia, here, and NGV International, here. I usually spent hours in these galleries whenever I go to Melbourne, seeing what amazing new stuff they have. Here’s an interesting example seen on a previous visit: the Beetle Sphere:
If you do get into the NGV International check out the Dalle de Verre ceiling by Leonard French in the foyer.
The Victorian State Library
The State Library of Victoria, (here,) is a beautiful building with lots of interesting exhibits, including Ned Kelly’s armour. Not everyone outside of Australia has heard of Ned Kelly, but he’s a big part of European-Australia’s foundation myth.
St Patricks Cathedral
This is my favourite Melbourne church (not that I’ve looked into all of them), which you can find here:
Other things to see in inner Melbourne
Australia’s indigenous people have fascinating cultures with some deeply unique features, and it would be a pity to come to Australia and not make any contact with it; however opportunities are limited in the city. You will get some idea at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at the Melbourne Museum. I haven’t seen this display, but I’ve seen equivalents in other cities and have found them interesting and informative.
The suburban villages
Visit Melbourne’s suburban villages: Brunswick, Fitzroy, Lygon Street, and others. They are a short tram ride from the city centre. The villages embody Melbourne’s nationally renowned “grunge”: they are old, worn, busy and clogged with traffic; but they are full of original eateries and quirky shops and have maximum atmosphere.
St Kilda Beach
Penguins at St Kilda
There are seals and penguins in Port Philip Bay. There are seals in the UK, too, so I expect that you will have seen plenty, but you won’t have seen wild penguins. Penguins live in the breakwater at St Kilda Pier – they are mainly visible just after dusk, but if you go out on the rock wall behind the kiosk you may be able to find them hidden amongst the rocks at other times, like this:
There are information signs on the pier to tell you about the penguins.
If you have some spare time and would like to go a bit further afield, you can catch busses down the Mornington Peninsula towards the entrance of Port Philip Bay. Down that way you can walk along the cliffs at Mornington for beautiful views over the water, here:
It takes a few hours to get to the end of the Mornington Peninsula, but you can get the feel of the peninsular by going just to Brighton Beach.
Of course, there’s a lot more than this, but this should take up a fair bit of your spare time in Melbourne!
Intercity travel (flying)
If you are thinking of ranging further than Melbourne, flying will be the best way to get around if you’re on a limited time frame. Distances are great in Australia, and flying is quite cheap between major cities if you can be flexible and get in early.
Flights from Melbourne to Sydney or Tasmania are cheap. Use Skyscanner to find a flight, then check prices on the airlines own websites - going directly to the airlines is usually better than using a reseller if the price is similar: you’re less likely to get hit with fees and charge that are hidden until the end of the booking process, and you won't run the risk of the reseller going broke while they have your money, which happened recently with an Australian reseller. You may also sometimes get better package deals that include things like checked-in luggage and meals.
Airlines operating in Australia go from best to worst in this order: Qantas>Virgin Australia >Jetstar>Tiger Air. That's also the order from most expensive to cheapest.
Jetstar and Tiger Air charge separately for checked-in luggage, so be aware of this when comparing prices. They also charge separately for food and drink during the flight, which you won't need for these destinations out of Melbourne.
You probably won’t be going anywhere which requires you to change flights, but if you do, be aware that Jetstar and Tiger Air don't check luggage and flights through if there is an intermediate stop, so you will need to collect any checked-in bags and re-check them for subsequent flights. This also means that if a flight is delayed and you miss the subsequent flight, it's your problem – the airlines take no responsibility.
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