Welcome to Melbourne, Victoria!
We’ve lived in Melbourne for just over a month, and this city floors me. I am not a big city girl, nor do I like urban lifestyles. But this city is different; Melbourne has me questioning my distaste for city life.
Melbourne is Australia’s second-largest city and voted many times as the world’s most livable city (currently standing second behind Vienna, Austria). Melbourne, lovingly referred to as “Melb” by locals, is vibrant, multicultural, clean, and elegant. It is filled with hidden laneways and lined with decadent cafes and eateries. Much of its architecture was funded by the 1850s gold rush and still has a European feel.
Melbourne has the largest tram system outside of Europe, and the fourth largest in the world overall.
If you’re a sports fan, you’ve also come to the right city. The National Basketball Association is headquartered here and other well-known attractions such as the Australian Open for tennis, the famous Melbourne Cricket ground, and Australian Football stadium. These stadiums roar many nights of the week!
And if art is your jam, you’ll be in for a treat. There are art galleries galore, including one of my faves, the National Gallery of Victoria with interesting modern and indigenous art. You’ll also find architectural design on nearly every corner and massive sculptures.
Melbourne has the highest number of restaurants and cafes per number of people than any other city in the world!
The chic cafes, beaches, famous shopping, botanic gardens, and Yarra River give the city a unique personality. Not to mention, travel within the city limits is free with a hop-on hop-off tram! There are also fun day trips in driving distance. In this blog, I’ll list my top-rated tourist spots! Please note: they are in no particular order.
1. Royal Botanic Gardens
This is the Central Park of Melbourne, established in 1846. These gardens cover 38 hectares and are home to more than 8,500 species of plants. This is one of the best free things to do in Melbourne.
If you’re in need of a walk, put on your runners and walk the tan track that borders the entire park. In the summer the park is popular for concerts and picnics by the Yarra River.
2. Explore the Laneways and Street Art
Melbourne is famous for its street art that used to be illegal until the government learned it was a means for attracting tourists! You’ll find art all over the CBD through Flinders, Collins, Bourke street, and beyond.
The art defines the city, and because it’s street art you’ll likely never find the same piece twice. The art turns over pretty quickly. It’s worth getting a guided tour of the lanes and alleyways to get the full history.
Melbourne was originally named Batmania
3. Flinders Street Station
Flinders Street Station is one of the central Melbourne icons, and you’ll find it on most of the postcards in the souvenir shops. The station was built in 1910 and is recorded on the Victorian heritage register. Inside you’ll find a small shopping center, tasty quick food options, and easy access to Southbank.
4. Brighton Beach
Don’t forget about the beach! Melbourne is surrounded by beautiful beaches. A half-hour from the city center is Brighton, a popular spot. There are great beachside pop-up restaurants and shopping around.
The beach is famous for its “Brighton beach boxes,” which are an iconic & much-photographed group of 82 brightly colored wooden beach huts from the early 1900s. Today you can buy one of these huts for the low price of $300,000! Many people have kept them in their families for decades.
The maximum temperature every recorded in Melbourne was 115.5 degrees F in 2009, while the minimum was 28.9 degrees F all the way back in 1869.
5. Shrine of Remembrance
This Shrine is a war memorial built after WWI to commemorate Australians lost at home and abroad. Today it honors all soldiers and war veterans. You can choose a self-guided tour for free and it’s open daily.
Its architecture is iconic and the lighting on the inside is extra special. Light shines through a small opening in the shrine at a particular time each day to light the memorial.
6. Federation Square
Federation Square, also known as “Fed Square,” was constructed in 2002, and has become a central Melbourne icon. You won't miss the bold modern architectural structure. Fed Square is across the street from the main train station and is a great place to start a tour of the city.
There are lots of outdoor performances here, and large screens for viewing events such as the Australian Open. You’ll also find free WiFi in this square.
7. Queen Victoria Market
This market was established in 1878 and has been a favorite place for local produce ever since. Today you’ll find stalls in the massive buildings with clothes, toys, art, souvenirs, and food, five days a week.
8. Ride the City Circle Tram for Free
Free transport? Yes, please! Trams are a central part of Melbourne’s public transportation. Trams that run within the CBD (central business district) are free and a great way to see much of the inner city.
It takes 50 minutes to do the entire loop, and the trams arrive every 12 minutes. We’ve enjoyed using the trams to peruse the city.
9. National Gallery of Victoria
This is a fun place to visit, especially if you get a rainy afternoon. The art changes consistently. On the first level of the museum, visitors are encouraged to lie down on the floor and gaze up at the stained glasses ceiling. You’ll find Australian art and Aboriginal works as well as art from around the world.
The world's largest stained-glass ceiling is located in Melbourne's National Gallery of Victoria.
10. Eureka Tower
Eureka! You must see this building. Getting a birdseye view of a city is always special and helps orient you.
This building offers the highest public view of any building in the southern hemisphere on the 88th floor. Fun fact, the building actually moves in the wind, scary!
11. Block Arcade
This is a beautiful little piece of history in the city. This arcade opened in 1892 and is famous for coining the phrase “doing the block,” in reference to meeting up with potential suitors in a speed dating type soirée. It’s also worth booking a tea date at Hopetoun Tea Rooms, the only original shop left in the arcade today. But also make a quick stop at Haigh’s chocolate!
12. Melbourne Museum
This is a quick tram ride from the CBD, and this museum is surrounded by lush gardens and good eateries. Museum highlights include Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre; the Phar Lap exhibit, about Australia's greatest racehorse; and the Children's Gallery, where you’ll find lots of hands-on stuff for kiddos.
Next to the museum, you’ll also see the Royal Exhibition Building that was built in 1880, where you can find regular tours. If your feet are tired you can also book a movie at the IMAX, connected to the Melbourne Museum.
13. Walk Along the Yarra River
The Yarra River is a river that runs through east-central Victoria, and today it runs through Melbourne. Along the river, you’ll find good shopping, outdoor music venues, parks, and famous restaurants! I’d recommend starting near Fed Square and taking an evening stroll towards Docklands around sunset. Find yourself some outdoor seating and watch the sun go down with a cocktail.
14. St. Paul's Cathedral
This cathedral stands majestically adjacent to Flinders Street Station. Unfortunately, it isn’t opening for viewing at the moment due to COVID. But I can only imagine its grandness. It is the cathedral church of the Diocese of Melbourne and the seat of the Archbishop of Melbourne.
15. Old Melbourne Gaol
Gaol is spelled “jail” in American English. This jail was constructed in 1839 and operated between 1842 and 1929. It has hosted some of Australia's most notorious criminals, including Ned Kelly and serial killer Frederick Bailey Deeming.
Over 135 people were executed there by hanging. Today parts of the jail have been incorporated into RMIT University. You can book ghost tours or walking tours of the jail.
16. Shop ‘Til You Drop
Melbourne is a famous shopping destination in Australia. Chapel street is frequented by celebrities for a range of posh brands. You can also visit the beautiful former Melbourne Post office which is now inhabited by H&M on Bourke street, the corner there has been turned into a shopping mall. Close to Docklands, you’ll find the DFO South Warf and other outlet centers.
17. Melbourne Cricket Ground
Melbourne is the sporting capital of Australia. People from all over the world come to Melbourne to watch sports of all kinds. The Melbourne Cricket Ground is famous here, it holds 100,000 people and dates back to 1853. You can also visit the National Sports Museum, including the Australian Gallery of Sport and the Olympic Museum.
Melbourne holds the world record for highest attendance at a cricket match, with a total of 90,800 spectactors back in 1961
Fun fact: Rasmus’s parents both played European Handball in the 2000 Sydney Olympics! Opposite the MCG is Melbourne Park where the Australian Open tennis tournament is held. And you’ll also find John Cain Arena there, where you can catch a good basketball game!
18. Eat and Drink!
This city is fantastically prepared to meet all of your foodie heart’s desires. Melbourne is actually known for having the world’s best cup of coffee! The cafe culture has me wanting to move here permanently. We visited Patricia’s, which was voted to have the best coffee in Melbourne, and it did not disappoint.
Overall, Melbourne has every variety of food to offer: Asian, Indian, American, African, you name it. And what makes it more enjoyable is that the food is all neatly packed into these cute, artsy laneways. Whatever you do, come with an empty stomach! I will likely make another blog with a list of top restaurants, but until then, here’s a great list.
At the eastern end of Little Bourke Street, you’ll find Chinatown. It sits nestled between Swanston and Spring street. Inside you’ll find lots of little night markets, shops, restaurants, and trinket stores.
You have to visit a dumpling place in Chinatown while in Melbourne! Our friends recommend Shanghai Dumplings.
Docklands is the newest part of Melbourne, and the architecture reflects that. You’ll see the giant observation wheel on entry, the Melbourne Star. You’ll also find good shopping, cute cafes, restaurants, tourist attractions, and waterfront venues.
We are staying in Docklands for our extended stay, and it’s a great location. It’s outside the main city, but also close enough to tram into the free zone.
21. St. Kilda & Luna Park
While visiting Brighton you might as well stop at St. Kilda. This neighborhood offers breathtaking skyline views, beaches, and nice shopping and restaurants. While there be sure to stop by Luna Park! Ras’s company rented out the park for us one afternoon and it was super fun.
Be sure to ride the Scenic Railway, is the world's second-oldest operating roller coaster. And say hi to their COO for us, Tony!
Melbourne was the capital city of Australia for 26 years between 1901 and 1927 before the capital shifted to Canberra
22. Port Melbourne
Rent a bike and go explore Port Melbourne. We’ve enjoyed a few lazy afternoons in this upscale coastal suburb. There are fancy apartments and homes along the palm tree-lined paths.
Finish your day off here with a picnic looking out towards Tasmania. Or visit Bay Street for trendy cafes and fine dining.
23. Yarra Valley Wine Region
If you’re feeling adventurous head out for an afternoon in the Yarra Valley Wine Region, which is about an hour and a half drive. There are only a few well-known wine regions in Australia, lucky us, we got to visit this one and the Barossa Valley region.
The Yarra Valley is known for producing Chardonnay, sparkling wine, and pinot noir. You could easily spend a cruisy weekend here exploring. We had lunch at the Innocent Bystander which had tasty wines and a to-die-for charcuterie plate that easily fed two ladies, and two pro basketballers! On your way out don’t miss the Varra Valley Chocolatier.
24. Healesville Sanctuary
Before you wine and dine in the Yarra Valley you might consider a trip to the Healesville Sanctuary! Healesville Sanctuary is a zoo specializing in native Australian animals. It has a history of breeding native animals.
Seeing Australia’s special animals such as the kangaroo, koala, Tasmanian devil, and platypus are a MUST while in Australia. Scavenger hunt idea for the kids: ask around and see if you can find the “bin chicken.”
While in Melbourne you should scour these two sites: What’s On and Concrete Playground. These websites work as live guides to the city. They’ll help you find restaurant reviews, live music, and other festivals, markets, or current events!
I hope you’re ready to take on Melbourne now and have some inkling of where to start. Honestly, you can’t go wrong in this city. There’s so much to do, and so little time. I’ve been here six weeks, and my list isn’t getting any shorter!
I definitely have a little crush on this city. It’s hard not to. Stay tuned, I’ll be posting a street art guide, as well as a list of hilarious Australian slang words. Be well!