Melbourne is often called the artistic heart of Australia. Packed with museums, concert halls, art galleries, and live performance venues, it is a culture lover’s dream. But, if the idea of spending a day wandering through exhibits isn’t your idea of fun, don’t worry- Melbourne is also one of Australia’s best cities for live music, bar-hopping and pub crawls, and is home to a happening cafe scene- a hub of Australia’s ‘Coffee Culture’. Sports more your thing? If so, Melbourne is THE place to be- the infamous Melbourne Cricket Ground hosts some of the country’s largest sporting events (fans routinely pack the 100,000+ seat MCG, CRAZY for cricket and Australian Rules Football matches), Melbourne Park is the home of the Australian Open tennis tournament, the nearby Flemington Racecourse hosts the annual Melbourne Cup- ‘the race that stops the nation’-, and the city plays host to a yearly F1 race- The Australian Grand Prix. No matter who you are or what you’re in the mood for, Melbourne has something for EVERYONE...
Melbourne is another common entry point into Australia. International and domestic flights into the city are easily found online. Access to/from the city is provided through the Skybus Shuttle system (http://www.skybus.com.au). Check the website for current pricing. You can also get to Melbourne via bus (http://www.greyhound.com.au), and ride-sharing is always an option. Check local hotel/hostel message boards for people heading to Melbourne. However you get there, you will find that Melbourne is well worth the trip!
- Get some culture- museums, art shows, concert halls, historical sights, monuments- Melbourne is FULL of things to see and do. A few of the notables are the Shrine of Remembrance, Flinders Street Station, Federation Square, and the National Gallery of Victoria (Australia’s largest public art gallery). Even if museums and a bit of history aren’t typically your thing, Melbourne is the place to suck it up and give it a chance- you won’t be disappointed.
- Chill out in some of Melbourne’s cafes- Melbourne is FAMOUS for it’s amazing cafe culture. Take a short break from the museums and exhibits, or grab a book, find a comfy seat, and set up for the afternoon. Whether you’re hanging by the beach, kicking back on one of the local neighborhood streets, or holed up in a spot off one of the numerous narrow alleys in the CBD, you’re sure to find a place that you’ll want to call your own.
- Explore the neighborhoods- the local ‘suburbs’ surrounding downtown Melbourne are as diverse as the museums and cafes sprinkled among them. Collingwood, Carlton, South Yarra, St. Kilda, Docklands, South Melbourne- each has its own feel and unique vibe. All are within walking distance or a short ride on Melbourne’s famous tram system from the CBD. If you have the time, take a day to just wander around, seeing what these gems have to offer.
- Head to the beach- During the summer months (Nov-Feb), Melbourne’s beaches come alive. St. Kilda is awesome- a lengthy beach, a great boardwalk, kitschy cafes and kiosks, and the infamous Esplanade Markets (Sundays only). Brighton Beach, with its famously-colorful beach huts, is a popular destination as well. Ask around- you’re sure to get some insider info on some secluded beaches that won’t be so crowded.
- Peruse the Queen Victoria Markets- a sprawling complex on the north side of Melbourne, the QVM opened in 1878, and has been the city’s center of bargaining, bartering, and bustling commerce ever since. Fresh produce, meat, and seafood, used books, beer and wine, t-shirts and souvenirs- innumerable street vendors and hawkers vie for the attention of every passing customer, and the negotiations tend to be as entertaining as the shopping. Bring your wits along with your wallet- these guys are pros.
- Visit Philip Island- an incredible wilderness an hour’s drive out of Melbourne, Philip Island is a great spot for a day trip to get out of the city for a change. Brave the typically rough waters for a cruise around Seal Rocks (The largest fur seal colony in Australia), or stay on solid ground while exploring the Philip Island Wildlife Park, getting the chance to feed kangaroos and wallabies by hand. If you head out for the day, make sure to stick around for the nightly Penguin Parade- every evening, just after dusk, an incredible procession of tiny fairy penguins takes place, the hilarious animals bumbling up the beach, returning to their burrows after feeding at sea during the day. It is a must-see.
- Go to a sporting event- Despite all of it’s culture, Melbourne is a sporting city at heart. Thus, if you’re visiting the city, there is sure to be at least ONE sporting event going on. GO. Even if you don’t know the rules or how the game is played, there are sure to be enough friendly locals around to clue you in, and this alone is a great way to make some new friends, and get a bit of local ‘culture’ as well. Top picks- Australian Open (Held mid Jan- Grounds Admission is the cheapest option, and you can see some great players on the outer courts early in the tournament); any Aussie Rules Footy match (the ANZAC Day game at the MCG is EPIC), the Australian Grand Prix, and any cricket match where Australia is playing England or India.
- Ride the city-circle tram- it’s FREE, so why not? A great way to orient yourself upon your arrival in town, the tram stops at many of Melbourne’s top sights, providing a running commentary of the history of the city and the sites it passes along its route. No ticket needed- just hop on, and hop off.
- Have a picnic in a park- Melbourne is often referred to as ‘The Garden City’, as it is literally covered in parks and reserves. Most notable of these are the Royal Botanic Gardens, located along the south bank of the Yarra River. Pack a lunch, grab a blanket, find a frisbee or a favorite book, and enjoy a warm afternoon lazing around in the sun. A budget-friendly way to enjoy Melbourne at its best.
- Hang out and watch the world go by. Melbourne moves at a slower pace than Sydney does- it’s somehow more laid-back, and the cafe culture lends itself to the idea of whiling away an afternoon while sipping lattes and munching on scones. Find an area of the city that ‘fits’ you, and let yourself slow down and enjoy the moment. Trust me- you will be glad you did.
- To save money, use the trams. They are easy to figure out (http://www.metlinkmelbourne.com.au), easy to use, and the conductors are typically very helpful and friendly. Try to bring correct change for you trip.
- Shop at the markets, where you can usually bargain prices. It’s almost always cheaper to cook for yourself than it is to eat in a restaurant, and you’ll inevitably find yourself making friends in the communal kitchens of the hostel you’re staying in.
- Check with your hotel/hostel about extended stay rates. If you are going to be in Melbourne for more than just a few days, some places will give you a cheaper rate during your stay.
- If you’re keen to go to a sporting event, try hanging around the venue leading up to the event’s start time. You will likely find some locals trying to get rid of extra tickets, and can usually get them cheaper than you would through the box office or online. If you’re really lucky, you might find a friendly soul that will give them to you for free...
- Check with your hotel/hostel booking desk about local discounts and deals. They will have a good idea of what is going on around the city, and will be able to help you figure out the cheapest way to do the things you want to do.
- Log onto http://www.onlymelbourne.com.au to find out what is happening in and around the city during your visit.
- Stop by the Visitor Information Center in Federation Square- they will have the inside scoop on anything and everything that is happening in Melbourne. Discounts, freebies, and a wealth of information- the Visitor Center has it all.
- Even if museums and monuments aren’t your thing, the Shrine of Remembrance is worth a visit, if only for the amazing views of the city skyline seen from its rooftop walkway. The Dawn Service on ANZAC Day (25 April) is extremely moving.
- Plan your trip to Melbourne accordingly- if you like big crowds and a lot happening, plan to visit during one of it’s large-scale annual events. If not, try to plan your visit around them, avoiding headaches and hassles with accommodations and attractions. Check out http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/AboutMelbourne/ArtsandEvents/Pages/EventsCalendar.aspx for an events calendar.