Destination: Melbourne

Feb 7th, 2013 Australia, Cultural Experiences, Destinations, Popular Destinations

Melbourne glimmers as Australia’s cultural pearl and gastronomic capital. Join us as we explore this vibrant city and its surroundings, strolling through art markets, admiring unique architecture, dining on tramcars and immersing ourselves in the café culture.>

Central Business District (CBD) – Sophisticated Views

Rialto Tower

You don’t need to travel to the highest observation deck in the city for fabulous views. Save yourself the $18.50 AUD (approx. $19.50 U.S.) to access the well-advertised Skydeck and have a drink at the Lui Bar instead. Located on the 55th floor of the Rialto Tower, this contemporary downtown venue offers fantastic views of the city with sophisticated urban flair. Settle into a plush lounge chair for a pre-dinner drink or a post-theater nightcap and let waiters in waistcoats serve you stylish concoctions like the Lola Montez Spider Dance Fizz, which tips its hat to Melbourne’s golden era. The elegant snack menu includes oysters, Wagyu beef and caviar along with cheeky Australian morsels like Roadkill Terrine. Vue du Monde—the top-flight restaurant on the other side—is a fine-dining establishment with equally stellar views.

Fitzroy – Treasure-Hunting Enclave

Rose Street Artists' Market

Melbourne has plenty of great markets to explore, including the must-see 1870 Queen Victoria Market—the famous open-air food bazaar in the CBD. For something more offbeat, head to Brunswick Street in the bohemian and eclectic Fitzroy neighborhood. Quaint and quirky shops, bookshops, galleries, studios and workshops exist alongside a bevy of cafés, bars and restaurants. Tucked just a couple blocks away, the Rose Street Artists’ Market exudes the neighborhood’s grassroots’ vibe. This artistic bonanza sprung up as an outlet for Melbourne’s emerging artists and designers to display and sell their wares without high gallery or retail commissions. Open on Saturdays—and some Sundays—it houses up to 70 stalls of high-quality treasures created by local artists. Browse through intriguing and unusual jewelry, fashion, artwork, photography, stationery and home décor to find items like Scrabble-piece cufflinks and vinyl record journals. While you’re there, enjoy a cuppa (tea or coffee) at the onsite gourmet café.

CBD – Melbourne’s Hidden Bean & Bar Haunts

Rose Street Artists' Market

Discovering local cafés and bars in small alleys is one of the best ways to catch the Melbourne spirit. Hidden down a lane in the CBD (aka the Central Bean District), Manchester Press caters to bagel and coffee lovers. The former printing press makes a great stop for an inexpensive bite and a cup of joe during sightseeing excursions. Order one of the delicious bagel creations and find a seat at tables made of recycled materials and old printing equipment. The industrial warehouse space features sketch art on the walls, typography details and artistic designs in the coffee froth.

For a look at how downtown relaxes after 5 p.m., follow locals who disappear down a stairwell under the Yarra Pedestrian Footbridge to a hidden island outpost. On a pontoon wrapped around a bridge support beam, Ponyfish Island delivers fantastic downtown panoramas directly on the Yarra River. This funky life-raft bar employs wooden crates as chairs, adding to the whismy of the city’s most unique riverfront watering hole.

CBD, St Kilda, Southbank – Urban Architectural Walkabout

Rinnpon Lea house & Gardens

Melbourne’s gold-rush era once made it the richest city in the world and produced several fantastic architectural gems. To see some of the innovative designs, start at the Shrine of Remembrance in the CBD. The moving memorial to fallen soldiers of World War I was built in Greek Classical Revival style on a site similar to the Athenian Acropolis. Next, move on to the fantastic State Library of Victoria, an icon of Victorian architecture. Inside, you can wander freely or join a tour to learn about the magnificent displays of Victorian fancy that include grand marble staircases, heritage reading rooms, stained glass and hand-hewn bluestone walls. The octagonal La Trobe Reading Room is alone worth the visit. Afterwards, make your way to the Rippon Lea House & Gardens in nearby St Kilda for a look at residential splendor. This elaborate Victorian mansion defines Melbourne’s wealth during this era, showcasing extensive gardens (that boast a lake, grotto, conservatory and Victorian fernery) and interesting tours. To return to present day, visit the Melbourne Recital Centre in Southbank. This striking, futuristic building has won numerous design accolades (including the country’s highest award for public buildings) and is home to various musical programs, as well as fabulous acoustics.

CBD – Meandering Lanes & Arcades

Central Business District

The labyrinthine system of Victorian lanes and arcades make Melbourne unique. Navigate them with a knowledgeable local on a Hidden Secrets Lanes and Arcades Tour—preferably early on in your visit so you have a sense of direction. Setting out from Federation Square, owner Fiona Sweetman and her team of passionate guides expertly lead small groups to quirky nooks and crannies, explaining history, stories and offbeat facts as played out in the city’s architecture and businesses. Soak up the culture as you wind through lanes, pubs, shops, arcades and cafés. With an emphasis on local content and sustainability, the tour will take you to hidden specialty shops for eclectic finds and local indulgences like chocolate, macaroons and well-brewed cups of tea and flat whites (espresso with milk and no froth). The tour also provides local dinner recommendations and an endless array of ideas for further adventures.

Carlton & Richmond – Italian & Greek Enclaves

Exploring the city’s various districts unearths Melbourne’s fabulous cultural heritage and gastronomic delights. Early Italian immigrants settled in the Carlton neighborhood, now one of the city’s great food districts—and the first suburb in Melbourne to promote al fresco dining. Coined “Little Italy,” Lygon Street is a delicious symphony of cappuccino, gelato, pasta and outdoor dining terraces. Start with brekkie (breakfast) or lunch behind the red door at Monsieur Truffe. This chocolate atelier uses 75% dark chocolate to brew its rich, artisan hot chocolate—so dark, in fact, that it resembles coffee. Truffled eggs, lemon ricotta pancakes and stuffed eggplant are just a sampling of the fresh, mouthwatering fare on the menu. For an afternoon pick-me-up, drop into the Brunetti café on Faraday Street. In addition to an unbelievable display of cakes, pastries and Italian fare, they serve up a fabulous café latte. Top it off with gelato at Il Dolce Freddo, described by many as the best gelateria in town. With the biggest Greek population outside Greece, Melbourne also features wonderful Mediterranean fare in the Richmond district. After spending an afternoon rummaging through clothing outlets on Bridge Road, head over to Swan Street and try the family-owned Agapi Greek Restaurant for an authentic taste of Greece. If you want to explore other options, you’ll find many more Greek restaurants nearby.

St Kilda – Seaside Sights & Flavors

St Kilda

A former red-light district, Melbourne’s bohemian beachside suburb is now known for housing the city’s highest concentration of restaurants and Luna Park—the century-old amusement park. Historic mansions, Victorian terraces, art deco buildings, sea baths and synagogues flavor the district that has traditionally had a large Jewish population. Sundays bring a lively arts-and-crafts market to the Esplanade, which runs along the beach and features a historic Victorian pier. Stroll around the neighborhood to try some of the superb cake shops and delicatessens, or sip latte at one of the sidewalk cafés on Fitzroy Street. Many locals make Donovans their stop for seafood or a sunset drink. Its location on the beach comes with sand and water views, while the décor provides an old-fashioned English seaside feel. For a more modern Australian flourish, try Republica just up the road. With views over the water, outdoor seating and hanging deck chairs, it’s the perfect place to sip wine on a sunny afternoon.

CBD & Suburbs – A Ride Back in Time

Tramcar Restaurant

To experience the real ambience of Melbourne, explore two of its most noteworthy points—fabulous eateries and Victorian heritage. You can combine them aboard The Colonial Tramcar Restaurant. Outfitted in rich velvet with wood and brass accents, three restored 1948 trams roll through the streets of central Melbourne and surrounding suburbs while guests dine in first-class luxury. An excellent meal paired with fine Australian wine, brilliant hosts and iconic Melbourne sights make for a lovely evening. Despite its obvious appeal to visitors, this Melbourne staple manages to escape the touristy feel, and even locals think it’s grand. Theater and concertgoers can book the Early Dinner seating and arrive back at the starting point in time for the show. If you’d rather see the sights by day, book a lunch seating. Make reservations in advance to ensure a seat.

Mornington Peninsula – Melbourne’s Playground

Mornington Peninsula

When Melbournites want to make a quick getaway, many head to the Mornington Peninsula, just over an hour south of the city. Blessed with great beaches, rolling countryside and quality antique shops (plus some of the country’s best markets), the area has plenty of options to explore. Tiny Flinders on the south coast has wonderful sea views and scenic area walks near Cape Schanck. Those seeking more activity can play on a plethora of golf courses with magnificent views. For many, the peninsula’s crowning glory is the wine. Many of the 150 vineyards scattered along the coast and up in the hills welcome guests for tastings, known Down Under as “cellar door visits.” Larger winemakers—like Port Phillip Estate and Red Hill Estate—have sophisticated restaurants with lovely rural views, while smaller boutique wineries make equally enjoyable stops. Check into a B&B to enjoy the fresh air and relaxed ambience, and be sure to sample the local fare. For superb, locally sourced, rustic Australian fare, drop into Noel’s Gallery Restaurant—a hidden pleasure in the rural hinterlands of Red Hill township.

Daylesford – Rest & Rejuvenation Retreat

Covenant Gallery

Victoria’s spa capital lies just 71 miles northwest of Melbourne, in the cooler foothills of the Great Dividing Range. The former gold-mining town of Daylesford and its surrounds are a hotbed of mineral springs—65 in all—and are home to charming B&Bs, a Victorian-era vintage railway, tea rooms, wellness centers and spas. When you aren’t having a bathhouse or mineral pool treatment, stroll through art galleries, shop for curios and handicrafts at antique and gift shops, visit area wineries or roam the private gardens behind the walls of the Mount Macedon mansions. Check Australia’s Open Gardens to find private Victorian and cottage gardens available for viewing, usually in spring and fall. You can also time your visit to catch the Daylesford Sunday Market at the rail station for fresh food, clothing, antiques and collectibles.

Be sure to visit The Convent, a 19th-century mansion perched on a hill above the town. What was initially the private estate of the town’s gold commissioner later became a convent and boarding school before a local artist and ceramicist purchased the property. In addition to splendid views, it features fine art and sculptures throughout the mansion and gardens, not to mention a café and bar, chapel, museum, unique gift shop and a few ghosts.

CBD – Captain Cook Lives On

An 18th-century British explorer and navigator was the first European to visit the eastern coast of Australia, claiming it for Britain. The celebrated Captain James Cook still holds fast in the hearts of Australians—so much so that when his family cottage in England was put up for sale in 1933, prominent Melbourne resident Russell Grimwade put his bid in the ring. Having turned away many offers from wealthy Americans, the owner insisted that it remain in Britain. Eventually, however, she acquiesced to Mr. Grimwade’s wish to offer it as a centennial gift to the people of Victoria, since it technically resided in the British Empire. Cook’s 18th-century Yorkshire cottage was then dismantled brick-by-brick and shipped to Melbourne in 253 packing crates—ivy cuttings and all. Reconstructed in Fitzroy Park among the large stands of European trees, Cooks’ Cottage now welcomes fans of the famous captain. The humble abode features nooks and alcoves, a lovely garden and a glimpse of life in the 1700s. The conservatory and grounds of surrounding Fitzroy Park make a grand backdrop. While you’re there, stop in at The Pavilion café for tea or lunch.


Travel Tips: Melbourne

There’s so much to see and do in Melbourne, it’s best to plan in advance so you won’t miss a beat. Read the tips we’ve compiled here to find out what to wear, and where to get the best penguin seats and coffee treats.

Free Transport

It’s easy to get to Melbourne’s main attractions without a car. Every 12 minutes throughout the day, the burgundy City Circle trams embark on a 45-minute loop of central Melbourne—at no cost. You can get off at any stop to explore further on foot, or stay onboard for the entire loop. Also free, the Melbourne Visitor Shuttle runs every 30 minutes between 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 13 main areas of Melbourne, starting at the Arts Precinct. The 90-minute trip includes informative onboard commentary and the option to hop on/off at any stop.

See Melbourne Card

The See Melbourne & Beyond Attraction Pass is an all-inclusive entry ticket to 35 attractions in the city and surrounding state of Victoria. In addition to entry and discounts for attractions and restaurants, you’ll also receive a guidebook that highlights area activities. The pass comes in the following increments:

  • 2-day – $145 AUD (approx. $152 U.S.)
  • 3-day – $175 AUD (approx. $184 U.S.)
  • 7-day – $235 AUD (approx. $246 U.S.)

Each of the above passes includes access to the following attractions:

  • Ashcombe Maze & Lavender Gardens
  • Eureka Skydeck 88
  • Melbourne Cricket Ground
  • Melbourne Zoo
  • Old Melbourne Gaol
  • Puffing Billy Railway
  • Rippon Lea House & Gardens
  • River Cruses

Animal Lovers’ Passes

Melbourne offers outstanding ways to see its wildlife. Below, we’ve listed a few ways to visit Australia’s native critters—and save money.

  • The See Melbourne & Beyond Attraction Pass (see above for prices) provides access to:
    • Healesville Sanctuary
    • Melbourne Aquarium
    • Melbourne Zoo
    • Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park
    • Phillip Island Nature Park
    • Werribee Open Range Zoo
  • The 3 Parks Pass for $37.25 AUD (approx. $39 U.S.) includes entry to Phillip Island’s main events:
    • Churchill Island Heritage Farm
    • Koala Conservation Centre
    • Phillip Island Penguin Parade
  • To help fight extinction in Australia, you can become a zoo member. For $91 AUD (approx. $95 U.S.) or $82.50 AUD for seniors (approx. $86 U.S.), you’ll receive discounts, special VIP previews, entry to interstate zoos and unlimited entry to:
    • Healesville Sanctuary
    • Melbourne Zoo
    • Werribee Open Range Zoo

Melbourne Walks

The City of Melbourne has created numerous self-guided walks to help you explore. Download informative maps and information on great city strolls that include parks, waterfront paths, secret gardens, arcades and lanes, Victorian elegance and more. Visit the website to check out the distances, walking times and points of interest on each route.

Have Helmet, Will Travel

Melbourne has a Bike Share program that allows residents and visitors to borrow bicycles at central city docking stations and pay via daily or weekly subscriptions. For short-term visitors, The Humble Vintage Bike Hire Co. makes it even easier. Pay cash, choose from a unique selection of vintage bicycles and start exploring routes of hidden heritage, architecture and suburbs. Rentals include a helmet, lock and a copy of Melbourne for Visitors and Casual Cyclists. Pick up a bike in Melbourne’s Central Business District (CBD), St Kilda or Fitzroy—and start riding.

4 Seasons in 1 Day

Melbourne enjoys a temperate climate that includes mild springs and autumns, warm to hot summers and cool winters. Unpredictable best describes spring (September to November) and fall (March to May), when the forecast can change quickly, from foggy to sunny to cool to rainy in a matter of hours. Pack an umbrella or light raincoat for sudden showers (October is wettest), a sweater or jacket for chilly days and nights, and scarves for spontaneous warmth. Although Australians are casual as a whole, Melbourne is sophisticated and cosmopolitan, so fashionable clothing is always appropriate. Check out our great selection of travel apparel.

Fairy Penguin Seats

Phillip Island’s nightly parade of the world’s smallest penguins returning to their burrows after a day at sea is a top draw in Melbourne. Rather than jostling in general admission, pay a bit more for the Penguin Plus experience so you can sit on an exclusive viewing platform with seats directly on the path of the incoming penguins. Limited to only 170 guests, the platform lets you see much more, and the added cost means you are contributing more to the nonprofit group for penguin preservation. Book in advance, and bring warm clothes.

The Coffee

The café culture in Melbourne is huge. You’ll find superb coffee shops throughout the city, along with reams of articles, books and websites that review the beans, the atmosphere, the service and more. Visit Espresso Melbourne and The Melbourne Coffee Review (MCR) for recommendations. The latter also publishes A Guide to Melbourne’s Top 100 Coffee Spots as voted by the public—from hidden holes in the wall to funky cafes in old coin launderettes. Order the guide online or download it to your smartphone or iPad®.

Foodie Neighborhoods

Melbourne has cafés, restaurants and bars at practically every turn. Although you can find superb cuisine throughout the city, certain neighborhoods and streets are known for regional specialties:

  • Brunswick (Sydney Road) – Middle Eastern, Lebanese, Greek & Turkish
  • Carlton (Lygon Street) – Italian
  • CBD (Little Bourke Street) – Chinatown
  • CBD (Lonsdale Street) – Greek restaurants, bars, cafés & cake shops
  • Footscray (Nicholson Street) – African cafés
  • Richmond (Victoria Street) – low-cost Vietnamese & Southeast Asian
  • Richmond (Swan Street) – Greek
  • Richmond/Collingwood/Prahran – Argentinian, Spanish, Burmese & Polish
  • St Kilda East/Caulfield – Jewish, kosher bakeries & cafés

Shopping Districts & Markets

Melbourne’s 13 districts offer great shopping opportunities. Here’s a list to get you started:

  • CBD (Bourke Street Mall) – the city’s largest department stores
  • CBD (Block Arcade) – richly decorated Victorian shopping arcade
  • CBD (Collins Street) –designer fashion stores in heritage buildings
  • CBD (Flinders Lane) – Melbourne designers & small designer shops including furniture, books & crafts
  • Fitzroy (Brunswick Street) – bohemian, retro & eclectic shops
  • Prahran/Windsor (South Chapel Street) – eclectic boutiques & specialty collector stores
  • South Yarra (Chapel Street) – exclusive boutiques & chain stores
  • South Yarra (Greville Street) – local aspiring designers
  • Richmond (Bridge Road) – bargain hunting & fashion factory outlets


Melbourne is also a city of markets. Spend a day treasure-hunting at some of the best:

  • Camberwell (Camberwell Sunday Market) – secondhand & vintage flea market run by the Rotary Club
  • CBD (Queen Victoria Market) – 130-year-old open-air market; food & specialty goods
  • Southgate (Arts Centre Sunday Market) – high-quality arts, crafts & souvenirs
  • St Kilda (Twilight Market) – arts, crafts, vintage wear, jewelry, emerging designers & food
  • St Kilda (Esplanade Art & Craft Market) – Sunday arts & crafts market

Ready to Go?

Don’t forget to consult our free packing guides and destination guides before you pack your bags.