The most liveable city on the planet for seven years in a row, Melbourne, is not only the “Cultural capital” of Australia, but also the “UNESCO City of Literature”. This Victorian metropolis in the south-eastern part of mainland Australia, has a modernity and charm that will enchant you, just like its coffee, which is arguably one of the best in the world, will. And we enjoyed sipping many cupfuls, sitting in the beautiful cafes on quirky lanes famed for their street art and graffiti.
The “Coffee Capital of Australia” is home to exquisite art galleries, museums, libraries, centres for performing arts, music festivals, sporting events, food fairs and theatre shows, all of which can be explored endlessly on a network of trams, which, interestingly, is the largest network of urban trams in the world.
We were here for a span of five days, after a long layover at the Singapore Airport which we had enjoyed immensely (read about it here). Though five days is a not much to experience any city to the fullest, especially one such as this, we have laid down the perfect guide for you, to soak in the best of Melbourne.
CLIMATE/BEST TIME TO VISIT –
Melbourne lies in the temperate zone, and hence experiences hot summers and cold winters, except that these seasons are reversed to what we experience in the Northern Hemisphere. December to February and June to August are extremely hot and cold months respectively. Melbourne blooms in September – November and witnesses fall in the months of March – May.
September to November is a good time to visit, with December becoming extremely touristy with folks heading over to Melbourne for the Christmas and New Year vacations.
Melbourne is said to experience four seasons in a day and there is a good chance you will experience this when you are here. Inspite of it having a well defined pattern of seasons, the weather changes drastically here and you might not know when you might be in need of an umbrella. It is also recommended that you wear layers which can be removed easily.
Though, what struck us most about the place is the time the sun sets here, which is anytime between 8:00 and 9:00 PM. This meant more daylight hours, which consequently meant more travelling hours. 🙂
GETTING AROUND –
The best way to go around Melbourne is by tram or train. Grab a Myki card at any convenience store and top it up. The same card can be used for trains, buses and trams. Most of the area in the Central Business District comes under the Free Tram Zone, but you’ll need to tap on and tap off in other areas. Alternatively, strap on your helmet and hire a blue bike for around $3 a day, but remember you have to dock it back every 30 minutes.
There is also a free and convenient tourist tram, The City Circle Tram that runs around the perimeter of the city, that has a recitation of history of several places; it sure is a great choice not just for backpackers and anyone wanting to do Melbourne on a budget. You could check out more such backpacking tips here.
If you are renting a car, we recommend you pick one from the Airport, it’s cheaper (surprisingly) and convenient and is the best way to do the Great Ocean Road and other trips from Melbourne.
Melbourne Travel Guide
Day 1 –
CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT
What better way to start exploring a city than to warm yourself up with its bustling city centre, tram rides, art and culture and eat where the city eats. So, Melbourne City Centre, colloquially known as “The City” or “CBD” (Central Business District) is the perfect place to begin with. CBD is also home to some of the best restaurants in the city; here is a quick guide to multi-cuisine dining.
FLINDERS STREET STATION
We had boarded a train to the city from Burwood and had alighted at the historic Flinders Street Station (FSS), the oldest and the busiest in Australia. There is a myth around about the designs of FSS and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST, also called Victoria Terminus) in Mumbai being swapped as the designs for these two were dispatched from London at about the same time and the CST is built in Gothic Victorian style, while the former displays hints of East-Indian style of architecture. Source
Just across the Flinders Street Station is the Federation Square, which is the go-to and meet up place of Melbournians. The place has been designed to host cultural events and food festivals and when there are none, it is used to stream local and international games on a large screen. This happening spot abound with Christmas Trees and props when we visited here towards the end of November and we couldn’t help but get amazed by the liveliness of the place and energy of its people. We spent a few shutter-happy minutes here and headed for a quick inside tour of the St. Paul’s Cathedral which is built up of sandstone in a Gothic architectural style.
Taking in the Victorian architecture of the surroundings and gorging on the tastiest of refreshments along the streets, we headed over to the State Library of Victoria, which is a treasure trove of knowledge and literature.
STATE LIBRARY OF VICTORIA
Founded in 1854, the original Library’s vision was to contain the ‘best of everything’ and become ‘a great emporium of learning and philosophy, of literature, science, and art’, and this stands true even today as it records a footfall of eight million per annum. The forefront of this neoclassical architectural public library, is a grassy lawn, where public speaking sessions and marches are held. Have fun watching children skateboard or indulge in a game of giant chess.
We started our tour of the Library from the sixth floor that offered us the perfect view of the octagonal epicentral La Trobe reading room, which has one of the largest of its kind, reinforced-concrete dome. As if to preserve the tradition, the books are still kept in the original dark furniture. Next, we explored the Dome Balconies on the subsequent floors. These have been transformed into exhibition galleries displaying historical gems such as John Batman’s journal, invaluable collectibles like that of Ned Kelly’s armour, and art pieces of William Strutt’s Black Thursday, February 6th, 1851.
You can also opt for free hour-long tours that commence at 11:30, 1:00 and 2:00 during the day through the Chess Reading Room, Redmond Barry Reading Room, Heritage Collections Reading Room, Arts Collection Reading Room, Genealogy Reading Room and Newspaper Reading Room.
After dousing ourselves with the aura of books in Victoria’s history and culture, we headed straight to the Melbourne Museum. Located in the Carlton Gardens, adjacent to the Royal Exhibition Building, stands the largest museum in the Southern Hemisphere. The museum depicts Australia’s social history, cultural heritage, science and environment through the usual fossils, bugs and pre-historic creatures. You can entertain and educate yourself by exploring the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre to learn the ways of Australia’s original inhabitants. Other items of interest here are the living Forest Gallery and IMAX Melbourne.
Please note that this is not a free attraction and attracts admission charges, the prices of which can be checked here.
NATIONAL GALLERY OF VICTORIA
Now, most of the attractions in Melbourne close by 5:00 PM and we did not want to miss out on any, so we decided to delay our lunch by an hour or two and chose instead, to be mesmerised by the art gallery. From being the oldest art museum in Australia to being the most popular of the lot, the NGV features the likes of timeless artists such as Van Gogh, Picasso, Cézanne and many others, taking the count to a staggering 73,000 paintings.
We were in total awe of the Stained Glass Ceiling in the Great Hall, we learnt later that it is the largest suspended piece of glass in the world and has 224 tiles in a brilliant kaleidoscope of colours. Also not to be missed is the high tea at Tea Room on level one, which is one-of-a-kind experience. The Tea Room, with is ever-changing menu that goes with the exhibition theme, offers a variety of savouries and treats and a range of delectable English Breakfast items.
Entry: FREE, but do remember to go here before 4 PM as there is so much to explore.
ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS
Having quenched our thirsty souls with the colours of art and history, we proceeded to do it with some actual food, at the perfect picnic spot in Melbourne – the Royal Botanic Gardens. Established in 1846, on the southern bank of the Yarra river was an unimpressive swampy marshland that has now been transformed into a sprawling 38-hectare Victorian-styled fine-garden, made just for picnickers such as us to enjoy our meals. The garden today, houses 51,000 individual plants representing 12,000 different species in its various exhibits: Oak Lawn, Perennial Border, Camellia Collection, Water Conservation Garden, Long Island, Fern Gully, Grey Garden, Australian Rainforest Border, Ian Potter Foundation Children Garden among others.
We sat by the Ornamental Lake and gazing at the clam waters, we finished our lunch. We noticed a few punts on the lake escorting couples on romantic rides in the company of some very chirpy birds. Romantic reservations can be made here.
The gardens are a hotspot for Melbournians to jog, walk their dogs, picnic, organise outdoor cinema, hold performances, display exhibitions or simply unwind and relax and not to forget, to lunch.
Having rested and relaxed at the Botanic Gardens, we scurried off to see what we were most enticed by when browsing online for Melbourne itineraries. Located between Flinders St and Collons St, Hosier Lane is a narrow bluestone laneway that is declared a “graffiti tolerance zone” and is flocked by camera-wielding tourists. As we stood here, mesmerised by these modern-day murals on the walls, we wondered about the artists who had painted such amazing scenes on the alley walls. Right from political to social to counter-cultural and to absolutely abstract, art lovers of all genres are served here. One section has been dedicated primarily to dark humour and attracts a lot of attention. It is this art that has brought Melbourne’s urban art scene on to the global platform.
Every inch of this street has been painted, in a way that we could not find a single spot unpainted and it is said that every second day that you visit, you’ll find most of the paintings have changed. Perhaps, it is not surprising to spot aerosol-wielding artists from all around the world in action here and why not, the credit of this celebratory lane goes to these artists themselves. Melbourne certainly is home to some of the best street artists and these alleyways are a telling-tale of their greatness. So, every time you come to Melbourne, Hosier Lane is a must-visit place, because who knows what you might find here.
MELBOURNE STAR OBSERVATION WHEEL
The largest solid steel construction in the world, the Melbourne Star offers a panoramic views of the Melbourne skyline with the Dandenong Range in the background. 120 metres above the ground on the ferris wheel, you can watch boats dock at Port Phillip and with a good set of binocs, some joggers at the Mornington Peninsula too. And of course, for gentlemen wanting to pop the big question to their ladies, there is a special package with wine, music, roses and whatnot. Reservations can be made here.
The best time to ride this would be just before the onset of dusk, when the faint lights of the city kick in, aiding the natural light of a setting sun. Be sure to click your photos before the darkness sets in.
THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD
Melbourne is the gateway to one of the most iconic roads of the world, The Great Ocean Road. From gorgeous beaches to stunning surfing spots, to picturesque lookouts, to walking piers, to active wildlife and to startling rock formations, the GOR has something for every kind of tourist. And believe us, we didn’t want to leave anything unexplored so off we set all packed and ready, early to leave on the second day for one of the best road trips of our life.
We have already been through how the trip mustn’t be just for one day and how early you must leave and ensure you have food and munchies packed and everything about driving, license, rentals and accommodation.
We set out from Burwood to Torquay via Geelong, exploring Bells Beach and Point Addis. You can also chose to visit the Surfers’ Museum here. On the first day, we covered Anglesea, Airey’s Inlet, Lorne, Teddy’s Lookout. We also stopped to appreciate the flora and fauna near the St. George, Wye and Kennett rivers. Our first day ended, watching the sun set over Apollo Bay.
Our second day was about visiting the limestone cliffs and huge rock stacks, of which The ‘12 Apostles‘ is the showstopper. This part of the road features Gibson Steps, Loch Ard Gorge, Port Campbell, The Arch, London Bridge, The Grotto and the Bay of Martyrs and Bay of Islands. We also drove to Warrnambool, the drive to which, was really enjoyable as we sat munching Tim Tams, sipping coffee and observing the vast farmlands on the way. The drive back to Melbourne was equally boring and tiring, as we raced against time to reach our place before midnight, since we had to hit the road for Philip Island the next day.
We are hoping that you would have already seen a few marsupials on your trip to the Great Ocean Road, but if you want to see them up close and even pet them, Philip Island gives you a chance to do just this. Famed for its Penguin Parade, the name given to the walk of the penguins when they return from the ocean to their nests at dusk, the island is a great place to observe many forms of wildlife. The little penguins could be seen walking in the style typical of penguins, emerging from the beach as it becomes dark and searching for their nests, all the while being observed by thousands of people who tend to keep their voices to a minimum. Once in a lifetime experience, this is certainly not to be missed. You may observe these delightful creatures elsewhere on the island as well; be on the lookout for wooden boxes along the coastline at Nobbies.
While you will have to wait for the penguins till the end of the day, you could entertain yourself at any of the other attractions that the island offers. Just head over to the Maru Koala and Animal Park if you want to watch the animals indigenous to the island-continent in close-up. You could feed kangaroos and wallabies here and have a talk with the Koala trainers; we gained everything that we needed to know about a Koala Bear from these experts.
Of special mention is the Koala Conservation Centre, which has taken special care towards the conservation of koalas and providing them with a natural habitat whilst protecting them. If you want the experience of a petting zoo, head over to Maru, else the Conservation Centre is the way to go. We ourselves headed over to the Phillip Island Wildlife Park, a huge enclosure for marsupials and birds with plenty of opportunities to pose with giant kangaroos when feeding them.
After spending our time with the koalas, kangaroos and cassowaries, we headed straight to the Nobbies Boardwalk, set amidst natural sea-bird gardens. The boardwalk offers excellent views of southern coast of Philip Bay. And while we are at it, we found a couple of penguins beneath the board, waddling to their burrows. It was here that we were able to observe these tiny beauties up close in their natural habitat. We spent our time clicking pictures and filling up our stomach, until it was time to leave for the Penguin Parade.
Stay tuned for our detailed travel guide to Philip Island, which we shall be posting soon !
Day 5 –
It is said to ‘Save the Dessert for Last’ and we did exactly that except that it wasn’t a dessert but a beach (pun intended), lined with vibrant and fanciful Beach Boxes. We found the Brighton Beach Boxes as one of the major draws to explore in Melbourne and so chose to visit this affluent coastal suburb on our last day. The beach is located a 30 minute-drive from Melbourne’s CBD towards south in Melbourne’s favourite seaside destination in Brighton, which is in the City of Bayside. Brighton is home to some of the wealthiest Melbournians and it does not come as a surprise that these classic bathing boxes are owned by the rich and famous of Brighton.
Built over a century ago, these beach boxes retain the same Victorian architectural style with timber framing, weatherboards and corrugated iron roofs, each uniformly sized and shaped and distinct in colour and art, bearing witness to the taste of individual licensee. The bathing boxes stand on high moral ground as in those times separate bathing rooms were used. Interestingly, the idea is so much Victorian that not just its style of architecture but the name of the beach itself matches that of the one in England, the Brighton Beach! These beach boxes were built in France, Italy and other parts of Europe too and stand to the day.
A total of eighty two in number, these bathing boxes present a beautiful and unique array of colours, and are irresistibly snapped by travellers and locals alike and needless to mention, were our favourite too. But their beauty is only skin deep as they come at a staggering price and yet fail to provide the most basic of amenities such as electricity and water. Looky but no Renty !
And did we mention that it was stormy on our last day in Melbourne and there were news-alerts of torrential downpour throughout the city. But some rough weather could not stop us from driving here.
We had an evening flight to Cairns the same day, which was unfortunately delayed and left four hours late, already starting our Cairns adventure. More on Cairns in another post.
With the limited amount of time we had in Melbourne, we tried to cover as many places as we could. Not visiting the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) will always be a regret in our hearts.
Do hop on to the train ride of Puffing Billy that takes you through the Dandenong Ranges in a breath-taking setting and is a surreal experience. We skipped this as we had our plans to ride on the Kuranda Sky Cable and Railways (Cairns) which gives a similar experience, except that on the Billy, you can sit facing the cliffs, with your legs dangling in the air.
Depending on the time that you have here, you could also chose to explore the Victoria Market, Eureka Deck Observatory, Fitzroy Gardens, Captain Cook’s Cottage, Como House and Gardens, Luna Park and Colonial Tramcar. We gave Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and South Bank Promenade a miss, since we had chosen Philip Island over these.
With so many places left unexplored, we would certainly come back here and go on road trips to the Yarra Valley and South Bank Promenade, and even fly to Tasmania. Probably just an excuse for us to come back to this wonderful city.