I was recently back in Australia in my hometown of Melbourne, Australia and had a lot of time on my hands. I realised that I’d written heaps on so many cities in Europe but I’d never actually written about my own city. When I found myself with 3 weeks back in “Burn City”, I knew I had to write all about what she has to offer.
Melbourne is like the cool younger brother to Sydney. Unlike Sydney, where everything is right there in your face (Harbour Bridge, Opera House, etc) and it’s all flashing lights, you need to get to know Melbourne a bit more to appreciate it.
Melbourne is well known globally for the arts, sporting prowess and its laneway culture. It’s an experience in itself to wander around the CBD and absorb the sounds and scents each lane produces. Developed around Port Phillip Bay and the Yarra River, waterside dining and beering is never far away either.
There’s a saying a friend of mine used:
“Sydney is the girl you want to sleep with on the first night, but Melbourne is the girl you want to settle down with and take home to your Mum”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Things to See and Do
Although Melbourne is best served ferreting around the laneways and alleys, there’s definitely a few big ticket items you don’t want to miss while you’re in town. Most of what I’ll talk about is in the Central Business District (CBD).
One of the newest skyscrapers in the city, Eureka Tower is located on Southbank and is over 80 stories tall. It’s mostly residential apartments, but from the top you can get a 365 degree view from the highest observation deck in the Southern Hemisphere.
City Circle Tram
The free City Circle Tram goes right around the CBD and Docklands area, passing a lot of the significant sights of Melbourne. It’s also a talking tram, meaning it’s fitted with loudspeakers inside and plays a recording explaining all the sights as you pass them by.
You’ll go past Flinders St Station, Banana Alley Vaults, State Parliament and Federation Square, which brings me to my next bit.
Centrally located opposite Flinders Street Station, Federation Square was opened to much fanfare in the early 2000s as a new meeting place for Melbourne. Straight off, Melburnians hated it. They thought it looked like an absolute mess. But it was definitely better than the old garish and brutally architected State Gas and Power office block it was built on, and everyone soon learned to love it.
It houses a part of the National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and various little interesting cafes and bars. One notable bar is Transport, the often scorned drinking outlet that everyone rips on but we all end up at after too many beers.
Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG)
The seminal home of Australian cricket if not Australian sport as a whole. The MCG (of just “The G” to most) has its roots in the late 19th century where some of the first competitive games of cricket were played. When Aussie Rules Football came about (some say it was invented to keep the crickets fit in winter), the MCG became a prime venue for blokes to run around kicking the footy on.
Since then, it’s grown into the holy grail of Aussie footy, and is home to the AFL Grand Final in the last weekend of September each year where almost 100,000 fans pack the stands to watch the best two teams in the league . You can take guided tours of the G every day, and it’s also home of the Australian Museum of Sport.
Located in Carlton Gardens, just north of the CBD is the Melbourne Museum. It was once in the State Library building on Swanston St, but was moved a few years ago into this newer building that also houses an IMAX theatre.
The Melbourne Museum has everything from scale models of Tyrannosaurus Rex and wooly mammoths to galleries filled with Aboriginal dreamtime art. It carves out an excellent cross-section of life in Australia and is easily an entire afternoon filled with intriguing historical value.
Melbourne Central is an expansive shopping centre built in 1991 around an old Shot Tower in the centre of the city. A large glass cone was built over the top of it and forms the central atrium of the complex. The entire shopping centre is 2 city blocks long and one block wide and houses all the major Australian brands as well as lots of individual one-off boutiques and food outlets.
The Immigration Museum pieces together the long and chequered migrant history of Victoria and tells the story through a wide range of multimedia exhibitions. Opened in 1998, the museum is housed in the former customs house which was opened in 1876 and was the first stone building in Melbourne.
Inside you’ll find five permanent exhibitions highlighting the different stages of immigration into Australia. History is traced all the way from the First Fleet in the late 18th century and the transportation of convicts through to the asylum seekers Australia receives today. The exhibitions also highlight the sometimes questionable policies put in place to control and also promote immigration.
It’s in this museum that you get a feel for why so many people from all over the world wanted to travel the long and arduous journey to Australia. Be it to flee bad conditions in their own country, a promise of wealth through the discovery of gold or to take advantage of the wide open spaces and favourable climate, Australia has been sought after by many nationalities for years.
When you think that 1 in 4 Victorians (those from the state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital) weren’t born here, you start to understand how significant the story is that this museum tells.
Entry is $10 and you can find the Immigration Museum at 400 Flinders Street.
Food and Drink
Now we get onto the good part, what makes Melbourne special. The city is bursting with cafes and bars in old warehouses, auction rooms, toilets, and underneath bridges. Here are just a few of my favourites for you to check out.
Coffee in Melbourne is ingrained into all and sundry. It’s the lifeblood that keeps the city going and you won’t find a finer example of it anywhere else in Australia. It really got a boost when the espresso style was brought in by Italian immigrants after World War 2 and has recently in the last 5 years flourished into a burgeoning industry in the city, constantly being reinvented by new coffee connoisseurs and entrepreneurs.
Brother Baba Budan
This place barely even has a sign on the front of the shop. It’s a nondescript cafe in Little Bourke Street and they serve up one of the silkiest lattes you’ll ever get to try. It’s a strange little joint, with wooden chairs hanging from the ceiling.
It’s small inside, with just one big table and a bench on the side to sit, so this place is mostly frequented by office workers in the area to get their fix and go back to their desks. Friendly staff and a nice vibe.
1000 £ Bend
As I write this part of the guide, I am sitting in 1000 £ Bend, a converted warehouse on Little Lonsdale St waiting for my latte to arrive, sunken into a big yellow armchair that is almost swallowing me whole. I see two blokes sit down with a jug of beer, one with big frizzy, curly hair and a hoodie with a Zelda motif on the front and the other with a short crew-cut and sporting an Opeth t-shirt.
The lighting varies from vintage chandeliers to 70’s style stained glass lampshades. On the walls there are 60’s movie posters, retro advertisments for Camel cigarettes and the password for the always welcome, free wifi.
My latte arrives and it’s a smooth, strong velvety affair that I can’t fault. If anywhere really sums up the random, art-infused, friendly, diverse and creative side of Melbourne, it’s this place. To find out more, visit their website.
Beer, Wine and Everything in Between
If there’s one thing Aussies like to do, it’s drink. We like our beer and we’re pretty well known for our wines too. Here’s a few select Melbourne watering holes I suggest you check out.
Tucked away in Tattersall’s Lane, Section 8 is a hidden away bar that was created from a disused car park down a side street. This place doesn’t get much more makeshift.
Literally all they’ve done is plonked down two big red shipping containers (one for the bar and one for the toilets), and laid out some packing pallets for seating. To shelter from the elements, the place has been covered over with sheets of corrugated plastic and that’s it. Regular DJs fill the place with tech house and dubstep. Perfect for a few beers on a warm afternoon.
Located in a professionally developed part of the city in City Square, Three Below is real rabbit warren of a bar.
The metallic uprights frame a selection of bench seating and tucked away booths inside, whilst out on the forecourt are stools for 2 or 3 people. Behind the bar you’ll find a wide selection of wines and beer, and this is one of the only places in Melbourne you can find the German beer, Schofferhofer.
This place recreates an Aussie pub, but with a twist. They’ve taken the traditional concept and mashed it with a laid-back bar feel in a central inner-city location. You need to go up a staircase off Swanston St to find it, but you’ll be greeted by the huge balcony overlooking the street. They do $10 chicken parmagianas on Mondays, but I’ll get more to that shortly..
Nestled in the middle of Federation Square, Beer DeLuxe has a massive selection of both local and international beers. Extensive seating greets you outside as you walk in, and the stressed exposed hardwood feel inside is the kind of feel that makes you think “yeah, I’m here to do some serious beer drinking”.
The Chicken Parmagiana
Now, as far as I’m concerned, no visit to Melbourne let alone Australia is complete without eating a Chicken Parmagiana. Let me set the scene for you here.
It’s a crumbed chicken breast fillet, drenched in Napoli sauce and topped with a big old slice of virginia ham, finally smothered in cheese and served with chips and salad. This my friends, is our equivalent to Canada’s poutine.
The Chicken “Parma” is an absolute pub classic. I’ve very rarely visited a pub without it on the menu, and if I have, it was probably a pretty shitty pub. There are many variables at play that define the quality of a chicken parma, such as the thickness of the fillet, the parma-to-chips ratio, was ham included or excluded, etc and all of these have a bearing on the satisfaction of the punter. Either way, get into one when you’re in Melbourne.
How to get there
Obviously, Melbourne is far away from everywhere if you’re not in Australia, so the most common way you’re going to get here is by plane. Airlines that fly into Melbourne from the Middle East and Asia are Etihad, Emirates, Qatar, Cathay Pacific, Thai, Singapore Airlines and Qantas.
An airport bus called Skybus goes direct from the airport into Southern Cross Station, so this is your best bet for getting into the city.
Getting around in Melbourne
Although the CBD is easily walkable, it’s worth mentioning the public transport system in Melbourne. Most Melburnians can’t stand it, and it’s the kind of subject you can always have a whinge to a local about.
By far the easiest mode of transport is the tram. An icon of Melbourne, trams run all over the city and the inner suburbs. It costs $3.80 for a 2 hour ticket and $7.00 for a daily in Zone 1.
There’s also the free city shuttle bus service (a big long red bus) which follows a set route around Melbourne. You can hop on and off it as you please, so it’s great for getting from one side of the CBD to the other and seeing some cool stuff in between.
A bit of orientation
Here’s a handy map laying out all the sights mentioned above to give you an idea of where things are in Melbourne.
Click on the markers to see the sight listed and zoom and pan around to see more of the map.
View 48 hours in Melbourne in a larger map
Where to stay
Melbourne has a fairly good selections of hostels on offer, and loads and loads of hotels. A lot of the hostels are in the St Kilda area, a bit out of the CBD but they’re only a short tram ride away.
Hotel wise, the CBD is packed with them at varying rates. Check out your favourite hotel booking site for ideas on price and features.
On my recent trip back I discovered first hand how expensive Melbourne has become. Expect to pay $3.80 AUD for a bottle of Coke, around $3.50 AUD for a pot (285 mL) of beer and almost $10 AUD for a pint. Meals are usually between $15 and $20 each.
As my home town, I’m a bit biased when it comes to providing an opinion of Melbourne. A lot of people say Melbourne is the most European of Australian cities and I tend to agree. With it’s combination of endless cafes and bars to explore, the Yarra River, Port Phillip Bay close by and a smattering of intriguing museums, Melbourne is a city you shouldn’t skip on your big journey to Oz.