First Impressions Of Melbourne
Melbourne was on our radar for tennis—attending the Australian Open had long been a dream. We also wanted to experience Australia firsthand. It was Sue’s 7th continent and Reggie’s 6th. What we found in Melbourne was so much more—street art, laneways, museums, history, food, LGBTQ+ community, and more.
Melbourne attractions are endless. People asked us if 5 days was too long to stay in one city. We spent 7 days in Melbourne and still didn’t see all the Melbourne places on our list. To really experience Melbourne, you need much more time. Here’s our Melbourne Itinerary 5 Days plus a bonus for 2 more days.
Orienting To Melbourne & The CBD
Melbourne is one of the top tourist destinations in Australia. It’s a long flight from everywhere. There are tons of top attractions and many non touristy things to do in Melbourne. Long overshadowed by Sydney, Melbourne should definitely be on your list of places to go in Australia.
Most of the Melbourne best places to see are in the Central Business District or CBD. The CBD is walkable and there is a free tram system throughout the CBD.
What Languages Are Spoken?
Melbourne is a multicultural and linguistically diverse city. English is spoken everywhere, as are Vietnamese, Korean, Mandarin, Greek, Italian, and many other languages.
Do I Need A Visa?
Note: As of April 2020, these procedures have changed due to the coronavirus.
Australia has a universal visa requirement which means any non-Australians visiting the country have to apply for a visa prior to entering. It can easily be done online. Electronic Travel Authority or ETA allows Americans, Singaporeans, Malaysians, Bruneians, South Koreans, and Canadians multiple entries for 12 months, up to a stay of 3 months per entry. The process is quick (approval within 24 hours), the visa is free, though there is a service fee of AUD20 (USD13) for the application process.
What Is The Currency?
The currency in Australia is the Australian dollar. In January 2020, the exchange rate was approximately USD1 = AUD1.50. You’ll need to check the rates closer to your arrival dates.
Transfer From Tullamarine Airport to Melbourne
Most people fly into Tullamarine International Airport. The airport is a 30 minute (22KM) drive from Melbourne. One of the easiest and cheapest ways to get to the City from Tullamarine airport is via the Skybus. In January 2020, the ticket price was AUD19.75 (USD13) per adult per way (or AUD36.50 or USD18 return). The Skybus goes to many destinations, including Southbank Docklands, St Kilda, Avalon, Geelong, and western cities. There is an express bus that goes nonstop to Southern Cross Bus Station in the Central Business District (CBD). We stayed in the CBD, a stone’s throw from Southern Cross terminal. The ride from the airport to the city was only 30 minutes and buses depart every 10 minutes.
Getting Around Melbourne
The CBD has a free tram zone which makes getting around very easy. To travel outside of the CBD, you’ll have to purchase a Myki card which can be used on trams, buses and trains. You can pick up a Myki card from any 7-11 store or at a train station. Some tram stops have vending machines for topping up a Myki card.
Outside of the free tram zone, transportation costs can be rather costly. We bought a Myki card for AUD6 (the cost is not refundable) and added AUD9 to the daily fare of up to 2 zones. We were outside of the free tram zone for a few days and ended up spending over AUD30 on tram fares. This confirmed our decision to stay in the CBD and within the free tram zone.
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Central Business District (CBD)
For first-time visitors, we recommend staying within the CBD as many of the attractions are found within the CBD. As a bonus, the trams are free to ride within this zone. Some areas in the CBD can be rather quiet on the weekends and evenings. Cafes and some restaurants cater mainly to the working crowd so you may need to venture a little further for food during these times.
Walking the city
Melbourne is easily walkable and set up in a grid system. The city is not entirely flat and can get hilly especially in the streets parallel to the Yarra River.
You can pick up free maps for self-guided shopping walks, street art walks, arcades and lane walks at the Melbourne visitor centers. If you tire of walking, you can easily jump on the trams. Within the borders of the CBD, the trams are free. (free tram zones are marked at each station and announced on trams).
Pro tip: Take the trams along Collins and Flinders (east–west streets) as these streets are long and hilly.
Best Melbourne Attractions Australia
There are many places of interest in Melbourne, enough to fill more than a week. Here are some of the Melbourne attractions CBD and elsewhere.
Melbourne Greeter Service
Greeters are locals who give you an intimate experience of their city. The 4-hour walking tour included many of the Melbourne attractions CBD and was conducted in a small group. This activity provided a wonderful orientation to the city. You will need to register ahead of time for the service. The City of Melbourne Greeter will then assign you a Greeter. Greets tend to start in the morning. Bring a bottle of water, wear good walking shoes, and a hat on a sunny day.
Federation Square is the heart of Melbourne. It is located at the intersection between Flinders and Swanston Streets, on the north bank of Yarra River. Federation Square is a venue for arts, culture, and public events. When we were there, there were chairs and a giant screen showing Australian Open tennis matches and a booth for purchasing tickets. In Federation Square, you will also find National Gallery Victoria (NGV), Koorie Heritage Trust, Australian Center for the Moving Image, shopping and other attractions.
Location: SE intersection of Flinders and Swanston Streets
Melbourne Arcades & Lanes
Melbourne is known for lanes, little streets, alleyways, and arcades. An Australian arcade is an indoor shopping mall (though with a lot more character than those in the US). You can spend hours roaming arcades and laneways. Some of the lanes feature street art while others are full of cafes, restaurants, and shops. Some of the must-see arcades include the Royal Arcade and the Block Arcade. Pick up a copy of Melbourne Walks and follow the map for a guide to the laneways and arcades.
National Gallery Victoria (NGV)
The National Gallery Victoria (Ian Potter Center) is a wonderful museum with interesting exhibitions. It focuses on Australian art, including aboriginal art. NGV is free except for special exhibitions.
Location: Federation Square
National Gallery Victoria International
National Gallery Victoria International (NGV International) showcases international art from Europe, Asia, and the Americas. When we were there, we saw a very interesting Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring exhibition. Special exhibitions and Friday night events require paid tickets. Plan your visit to coincide with the free curator’s tour if you are attending one of the special exhibitions.
Location: 180 St Kilda Road
Koorie Heritage Trust
Koorie Heritage Trust is a Melbourne must visit if you want to experience Aboriginal culture. It is a non-profit that is owned and operated by members of the 5 Nations. The Trust also offers walking tours and educational events.
Location: Federation Square
St Kilda’s Penguins
Many people take an excursion to Penguin Island to see the fairy penguins. If you want to see Melbourne’s fairy penguins on your own (and more economically), take the tram to St. Kilda’s.
Every evening after sunset, the fairy penguins swim up to the breakwater rocks that make up the pier at the end of St Kilda’s beach. There are spotters that can help you to see them. Some periods of the year, hundreds of penguins appear while other times of the year, there are only a few.
It can get very crowded so arrive early, or better yet, come after 10 pm when most people have left.
Location: Take tram 96 from the CBD to Jacka Blvd stop
State Library Victoria
More than 160 years old, the State Library Victoria is Australia’s oldest library. With extensive collections of photographs, manuscripts and historical artifacts, the Library is well worth a visit. Take the lift up the top to see the view from the Tower. And, don’t forget to view the sculptures outside, including “The Architectural Fragment” by Petrus Spronk.
Location: 328 Swanston Street
Flinders Street Railway Station
Flinders Street Railway Station is famous for the row of clocks above the main entrances. The clocks used to mark the train times. The station was designed at the same time as the Victoria Station in Mumbai, India. It is rumored that the design of the two stations were switched.
Location: SW Intersection of Flinders and Swanston Streets
If you are in Melbourne at the end of January or early February, the Australian Open Tennis Tournament is a must. It is one of the four tennis grand slams and in our opinion (having been to all four), the easiest to experience and the most family-friendly of the Slams.
Grounds passes or stadium tickets for the Australia Open can be easily purchased directly from the website 3 months prior to the event. During the event, day tickets are available from the booths at Federation Square. There is a free tram along Flinders Street to Melbourne Park (you don’t need to show tickets). It is also walkable from Federation Square. If you have children, the family area is along the walk from Federation Square.
Location:Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne Park
Fitzroy & Collingwood
A 15-minute tram ride from the CBD takes you to the neighborhoods of Fitzroy & Collingwood. Both are lively and bohemian, with a village feel. There are cafes, eclectic restaurants, shopping, and galleries. It is also one of the best places to see street art. Check out Gertrude, Brunswick and Smith Streets.
Queen Victoria Market
Dating to the mid-1800s, Queen Victoria Market is a produce market by day. Go on a Wednesday evening, you’ll find food trucks and stalls featuring cuisines from around the world. Stalls selling clothing, crafts and other items abound. It is a very happening place with communal tables and occasional live music events.
Location: Queen and Elizabeth Streets at Franklin
Shrine of Remembrance
The Shrine of Remembrance honors the Australians who died in war and peacekeeping missions, with a special focus on World War I. A 15 minute walk from Federation Square, the Shrine has an unobstructed view of Melbourne. Go there for the history and the view.
Location: Birdwood Avenue, off St Kilda Road
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Across the street from Federation Square, you will find St. Paul’s Cathedral, an Anglican church completed in late 1800s. It is one of Melbourne’s major architectural landmarks and generally a meeting place in the CBD. Don’t just walk by, the inside is stunning.
Location: NE intersection of Flinders and Swanston Streets
The Great Ocean Road and the 12 Apostles
The Great Ocean Road (GOR) and the 12 Apostles are iconic landscapes in Australia. Many people see them as part of a day trip from Melbourne. That’s what we did and it is a really long (and beautiful) day. You’ll have a more relaxing experience if you can take at least 2 days to do the trip.
The Great Ocean Road and 12 Apostles are 230km (145 miles) from the CBD. You can rent a car or take one of the many tours to best experience the spectacular and amazing views. We recommend a reverse itinerary tour as you’ll get to the 12 Apostles before the crowds.
Melbourne Street Art
Melbourne has some of the best street art in the world. Artists from Melbourne have painted in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Europe, Asia and many other countries. Most tourists flock to Hosier Lane and it is definitely a must-see. There are wonderful murals all over the city and in the suburbs, including Fitzroy and Collingwood.
Hosier Lane, AC/DC Lane
Hosier Lane is one of the most popular laneways in Melbourne and a major tourist attraction. It is a vibrant street art outdoor gallery. The murals get updated every 2 weeks and you are sure to see some amazing art.
AC/DC Lane is another famous laneway. It is known for the mural depicting the Australian rock band, AC/DC.
Location: Between Flinders Street and Flinders Lane
The Stockroom Gallery
The Stockroom Gallery in Clifton Hill is a hidden gem in Melbourne. This small gallery displays work by local street artists, women, progressive, and LGBTQ+ artists. The side of the building is painted and repainted with murals. Melika, the curator is very knowledgeable about the street art scene.
Location: 355A Wellington St, Clifton Hill
The Blender Studios
Ever want to see where all the magic of street art is conceived? The Blender Studios provides studio space for more than 20 street artists. Located in a huge warehouse in West Melbourne just off Flagstaff Gardens, the studios are not frequently opened for visitors. We saw it as part of a Melbourne Street Art Tour. We highly recommend this tour which was done by one of the street artists from Blender Studios.
Location: 33 Dudley Street (must see as part of a tour)
Melbourne Places of Interest For Next Time
We always like to save some things for the next trip (that’s a nice way of saying we ran out of time). On this list are: the Bathing Boxes in Brighton, the Melbourne Museum, the Royal Botanic Gardens, a cruise along the Yarra River, a drink at the Eureka Skydeck 88, and a trip to Phillip Island to see the Fairy Penguins.
LGBTQ+ Travelers in Melbourne
Melbourne has an active LGBTQ+ community. If you are in Melbourne at the end of January and early February, the Midsumma Festival is Melbourne’s Gay Pride Festival. Cultural, artistic, athletic, political and social events happen all over the city. We were there for the Midsumma Carnival in Alexander Gardens which opens the three-week series of events.
You’ll also want to visit Hares & the Hyenas in Collingwood, a bookstore and performance space. Collingwood and Fitzroy have LGBTQ+ and LGBTQ-friendly cafes and bars. There are bars in other areas of Melbourne as well. In late-2020, the Victorian Pride Center is scheduled to open in St. Kilda’s.
Melbourne Itinerary 5 Days
There is plenty to do in Melbourne for trips of any length. Below are suggested itineraries for each day of your stay. You can do the days in order or mix and match.
Melbourne 1 Day Itinerary
Orient to Melbourne with Melbourne Greeter Service
NGV Ian Potter Center
Flinders Street Railway Station
St Paul’s Cathedral
2 Days in Melbourne Itinerary
After Completing the Melbourne 1 Day Itinerary:
Arcades & Laneways
Queen Victoria Market
Melbourne Itinerary 3 Days
Shrine of Remembrance
Cruise or Walk along the Yarra River
St Kilda’s for penguins at night
4 Days in Melbourne
Explore Fitzroy & Collingwood
Walk along Gertrude and Smith Streets, don’t forget the lanes between Gertrude and Webb Streets
5 Days in Melbourne:
Great Ocean Road and 12 Apostles
If you have more days in Melbourne, we recommend the following for a Melbourne Itinerary 7 Days:
Melbourne Itinerary 6 Days
State Library Victoria
Melbourne Itinerary 7 Days (Select 1 or 2 from Below)
Street Art Tour
Bathing Boxes in Brighton
Melbourne Places to Eat
Trang Bakery & Café in Collingwood
This little café in Collingwood is opened only for breakfast and lunch. It has 2 small tables on the sidewalk. Their crispy pork banh mi is the best we’ve ever tasted. Make sure to try the donuts. This was our favorite meal in Melbourne.
Location: 382 Smith Street, Collingwood.
Bon Ap’Petit Bistro
Bon Ap is a neighborhood gem. We stumbled upon it as we were strolling around Fitzroy. Cute, with a back enclosed garden and private alcoves. The food is very good. The daily plate specials are reasonably priced.
Location: 193 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.
Hwaro Korean Barbeque
Melbourne is known for having good Korean Barbeque. If you are splurging on a meal, Hwaro Korean Barbeque is a good place to try. At Hwaro, you cook your own meals on a mini grill. A funnel drops from the ceiling and delivers the heating element for cooking. The quality of the meat is good but the servings tend to be small. The staff will assist you in cooking if necessary.
Location: 562 Little Bourke Street, CBD.
Spicy Korea serves reasonably priced and fast Korean food. We recommend the ramen and the crispy chicken.
Location: 601 Little Collins Street, CBD.
Grill’d Australia is a budget burger chain. We ate at the branch in the Southern Cross station on our first night after checking into our Airbnb apartment. You place your order at an airstream vehicle and then take a seat. The menu includes beef, lamb, chicken and veggie burgers.
Location: Locations throughout the many States in Australia.
Dot Spot is a Vietnamese take-out spot next to The Mail Exchange Hotel. The pork and tofu summer rolls were very good.
Location: 670 Bourke Street, CBD.
Located in Chinatown, Grandma Noodles serves handmade noodles in various spicy broths. The dishes are tasty and noodles are chewy. There’s a discount for paying cash.
Location: 150 Little Bourke Street, Chinatown.
Sakura Kaiten Sushi II
If you are looking for sushi, Sakura Kaiten Sushi II delivers it on a conveyor belt. If you are not interested in the conveyor belt offerings, you can order on the iPad at your seat and the dishes will be brought to you.
The place can get very crowded as there are daily specials on some fish dishes. Servings are small and it is easy to run up a big bill. The fish is fresh.
Location: 282 Lonsdale Street, near Melbourne Central.
Claypots Seafood Bar
Claypots specializes in, well, claypots. There are 3-4 choices daily. They also serve fresh seafood dishes cooked to order. It’s not a place to go if you’re in a rush. The restaurant is small and tables are packed very tightly together, including some around the kitchen. It’s one of the many restaurants to try in St. Kilda’s though it’s quite a walk from where the penguins come ashore.
Location: 213 Barkly Street, St Kilda.
Hopetoun Tea Rooms
Inside the Block Arcade, this very charming Victorian-style café serves high tea, cakes and sandwiches. It can be rather busy especially in the late afternoon.
Location: 282 Collins Street, CBD.
Where to Stay
We decided to stay in the CBD area as most of the attractions are within the CBD and the ease of getting to the Southern Cross Station from the airport was a no brainer. Also, trams are free to ride within the CBD zone. We have considered other neighborhoods like Fitzroy for its edgier vibe and great number of cafes, restaurants and shops and may choose to stay in this area the next time we visit Melbourne. Shopping—some of the shops the greeter took us to were found in the arcades. Chocamama for handmade chocolates with local themes, Beechworth Honey (free tasting), Koko Black for coffee and gelato in the Royal arcade.
Tips for Melbourne
1. Buy your Skybus tickets on their app in advance – there’s usually a discount for getting roundtrip tickets. 2. Stay in CBD so you can ride the trams for free. It can get expensive to ride the trams outside the CBD. 3. If visiting Melbourne during Australia Open, there are childcare options and facilities outside of the grounds. 4. Use the free tram along Flinders Street to get to Rod Laver Arena during the Australia Open. 5. You can also catch a few games on the large screens erected in Federation Square if you cannot get a ticket to the Australia Open.
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