Melbourne is one of the largest cities in Australia, so it has a lot to offer you. Not to mention, Melbourne was voted “the world’s most liveable city” 7 years in a row! It is often referred to as the cultural and artistic capital of Australia thanks to it’s very “European” vibes. The big debate as a traveller is often to choose between Sydney and Melbourne. While the city is smaller this has great benefits such as less time spent on public transport and a slightly lower cost of living, which is always good when you’re backpacking! Discover our complete travel guide for Melbourne, find all the highlights and hidden gems. Visit this amazing place and experience Melbourne yourself!
Getting to Melbourne
If you’re travelling from Europe (or any other continent), obviously your transport of choice will be by plane. Be prepared for a long journey – around 24 hours – often with one or two transfers.
Always shop around for flights, and use flight comparison sites such as Skyscanner or Kayak for the best ticket prices. As with all flights, book your ticket as soon as possible and avoid school holidays for the best deals.
From another city in Australia
If you are already based in Australia, to visit Melbourne you have two options: via plane or bus. Avoid the rail network in Australia – it is not very well developed for long distances, and it can be super expensive for cross country trips. Generally, buses are cheaper (allow around $60 for a night bus from Sydney) but this will take much longer. If you book well enough in advance, flights can be relatively cheap from Sydney to Melbourne (not to mention much faster.) For domestic flights in Australia, the best low-cost airlines are TigerAir and Jetstar.
If you’re keen for a road trip and have time on your hands, you can also take your time and visit Melbourne from Sydney by van or car. Check out our Melbourne to Sydney 7 day itinerary.
How long to spend in Melbourne?
If time is limited, it is possible to visit Melbourne in two days. The city centre has plenty to offer, and you can do a lot of the main attractions on foot or with the City Circle Tram that goes around the city for free.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to stay longer, Melbourne is the perfect place to hang out. Whether you prefer museums and galleries, exciting nightlife or hikes and nature, you will find plenty to do!
Things to see & do in Melbourne
In the same way, you could not go through Sydney without visiting the Opera House or Bondi beach, Melbourne has its famous highlights which you cannot miss during your visit:
The highlights of the city centre
Melbourne city centre is full of things to see. You will discover Hosier Lane, one of the most famous streets for street-art lovers. There are also many “laneways” and “arcades” as well as small hidden alleyways where you will find a string of quaint restaurants and shops. Do not forget to visit Chinatown for lunch during your time in the CBD.
This large esplanade located near Flinders Street Station and Saint Paul’s Cathedral is considered the cultural centre of the CBD. Made up of museums, attractions, restaurants and cafes, Federation Square hosts all major events in the city. You will find among others, the tourist office, the Ian Potter Center (which is the first gallery dedicated to Australian art), the Australian Center for the Moving Image and the National Design Center specialising in Australian design.
Historical buildings and museums
The city is home to several cultural and historic buildings that would be a shame to miss during your visit. Most do not require a lengthy visit nor entry ticket, simply go to photograph or admire the stunning architecture. Although there are many, a few popular recommendations include Flinders Street Station, the House of Parliament, the Cathedral of St. Patrick, the Victoria State Library, the Immigration Museum and Melbourne Town Hall.
The district of Fitzroy
If you’re a fan of quirky and alternative neighbourhoods, you will fall in love walking down Gertrude Street or Johnston Street. Here you will find small designer shops and artist’s studios. Grab a coffee and take a stroll through these colourful streets, which are essentially an open-air museum.
Royal Botanic Garden
Visit the world-renowned, Melbourne Botanical Gardens have more than 50,000 plants and 12,000 different species. Each year, 1.6 million visitors come to admire the Australian flora at the Botanical Gardens. Do not forget to visit the Shrine of Remembrance, a memorial to the Australian dead during the First World War. You can visit the top of the memorial for a spectacular view of the gardens.
Queen Victoria Market
It is Melbourne’s largest market with nearly 600 stalls selling food, clothing, accessories and souvenirs. Open from Thursday to Sunday; it also stays open late on a Wednesday night where food trucks replace the market stalls, often accompanied by live music or performances.
Located 30 minutes by tram from the city centre, you must go for a walk in the Saint-Kilda district during your Melbourne visit. Although the water is generally quite cool, the beach offers an amazing view of the harbour and CBD buildings, especially at night when the lights dazzle in the dark. No visit to Saint Kilda would be complete without a visit to the iconic Luna Park – a theme park with rides and arcade games. If you visit Saint Kilda on a Sunday, a market takes place nearby Luna Park down passed the beach where local artists and craftspeople sell their handmade items.
At the end of your day in Saint Kilda, head to St. Kilda pier to witness the penguins return from their day at sea. The best time to see them is usually at sunset and ideally on a weekday as weekends can become incredibly crowded.
Brighton Beach and bath boxes
After St. Kilda, you can hop on a bus or train to another beach: Brighton beach! At Brighton beach, you will be treated to 82 colourful beach cabins called “bathing boxes” which are regular backdrops for holidaymakers’ photos in Melbourne. It is an attraction not to miss although again, very popular at weekends where you sometimes have to queue for a photo outside your favourite bathing box.
The Melbourne Zoo was founded 150 years ago, making it the oldest zoo in Australia! Alongside kangaroos and koalas, you can see tigers, orangutans and more than 300 different species from around the world. Located a few minutes North of the CBD, it is easy to visit via train or tram.
There are several “pink lakes” in Australia, but this one has the advantage of being close to the city and therefore very accessible during your Melbourne trip. Just minutes from the CBD, jump on a bus or train to get a closer look at this natural phenomenon. This pink colour is in fact due to the chemical reaction between the algae and salt contained in the lake. Although it isn’t pink all year round, generally the hotter the weather, the more chance you will have to admire its pink colour. Have a quick search online before your visit to make sure it’s pink during your time in Melbourne.
Activities and excursions around Melbourne
Activities in Melbourne
- Go Shopping at Chapel Street and Brunswick Street in the famous thrift stores and designer boutiques.
- Attend a cricket or Australian football (AFL) game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
- Meet the animals at the Sea Life Aquarium or the Royal Zoo in Melbourne
- Fly over the city by hot air balloon to watch the sunrise
- Admire the view by climbing up the 88 floors of the Eureka Skydeck Tower. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, for $12 extra, you can get a scare in “The Edge Room” which is a suspended glass cube!
- Go around the city for free with the city circle tram.
- Enjoy a Bike ride to South Bank along the Yarra River.
What to see around Melbourne
If you plan to spend several days in the area, here is a small overview of the best spots to visit in the Melbourne region (out with the city)
The Great Ocean Road
Only 90 minutes drive from the centre of Melbourne, this famous coastal road stretches for 243km. It offers breathtaking landscapes and photo opportunities. One of the most famous spots is the “12 Apostles,” a group of rocks along the shore of which have been spectacularly carved by the ocean. Due to erosion, there are only eight left, so visit while they are still standing!
Sample Tour: Full Day Excursion on the Great Ocean Road
The Yarra Valley
Less than an hour’s drive from Melbourne, the Yarra Valley is home to more than 160 world-renowned wineries specialising in Chardonnay, sparkling wine and Pinot Noir. A whole day still won’t feel like enough time to tour the valley’s majestic vineyards before enjoying a tasting or two.
Located a little less than a two-hour drive from Melbourne, Philip Island is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region. A real haven of nature and tranquillity, the island is home to many animals such as kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and penguins! As night falls, you can watch the Penguins Parade, which is incredibly popular so you may need to book tickets in advance.
Tour Example: Phillip Island Day Trip
After only a 1 hour drive from Melbourne, you will find the Mornington Peninsula. Enjoy it’s Mediterranean seafront vibes as you wander along the beautiful beaches and sample the quirky cafes and restaurants.
At a 3-hour drive from Melbourne, this wilderness park offers incredible hiking opportunities or even a swim in breathtaking waterfalls. The Grampians are so beautiful they were added to the Australian National Heritage List for their outstanding natural beauty in 2006. They are also one of the richest indigenous rock art sites in south-eastern Australia.
French Island National Park
For lovers of camping, French Island National Park is ideal as it’s not overly crowded with tourists, making it a peaceful, hidden gem. It is also straight forward to reach, simply take a 15-minute ferry ride from Stony Point.
Located 2 and a half hours drive from Melbourne, visit the Wilsons Promontory National Park which is one of Australia’s favourite parks. Also known as “The Prom”, this 50,000-hectare park offers more than 80 km of hiking trails, nature and incredible camping spots. Be warned, it is incredibly popular with families in the school holidays, so camping sites book up fast!
Tour Example: Wilsons Promontory One Day Tour
Accommodation in Melbourne
Now you know all the things to visit in Melbourne, you need to know where you’re going to sleep! In terms of accommodation on a budget, Melbourne is slightly cheaper than Sydney. However, accommodation will still prove to be the most expensive part of your Melbourne trip. Depending on the length of your stay (and the level of comfort expected) there are several options available:
Airbnb : Renting an entire apartment is expensive, but you can also consider just renting a room. This will allow you to get to know locals upon your arrival as well as trial different neighbourhoods before deciding where to settle for a while.
The hotels: Understandably hotels are rather expensive in the centre (CBD). For a backpacking budget, it will be necessary to find a hotel in the suburbs and use public transport to travel into the city.
Hostels: This is usually the most popular option for backpackers, as it’s the most affordable. For a bed in a dorm room expect to pay around $25/$30 per night or for a private double room around $70/$90 per night. The best option is to book via a comparison site to find a hostel at the lowest price.
Temporary subleases or roommates: Facebook groups are ideal for finding flat or room shares. Many people sublet their homes for a short time, which is ideal for backpackers. For long term rentals, Gumtree is also very useful.
Couchsurfing or HelpX: We tend to forget it as we focus on meeting other travellers, but going to live with local people is the best way to immerse yourself in a new country. In exchange for a few hours of work a day or simply an exchange of culture, you will be accommodated with a sofa or a room for free! Some even include meals, and often hosts will show you their favourite spots around the city.
For the rest of the city, you will need to buy a Myki card at the airport or in a “7 eleven” sign. It will cost you $6 for a normal fare or $3 for a reduced fare. To use it, it will be necessary to reload than the “tap up” / “tap off” the scanner while entering the vehicle.
– Myki Money allows you to pay on the card. For $3.90, you can travel by tram, bus or train for two hours. The daily rate is blocked at $7.80 and weekends, holidays and evenings after 6 pm at $6.
– Myki Pass is for people who use public transport very often. It is therefore a subscription to the week or the month.
– Melbourne Central, a 5-storey mall consisting of 300 stores, mostly ready-to-wear brands.
– Emporium Melbourne, a gigantic 7-storey shopping center with 225 shops including Topshop, Victoria Secret and luxury brands like Chanel or Michael Kors.
– DFO South Wharf, more than 200 outlets with signs like Nike, Adidas, Uggs, Rip Curl, Fossil …
For open-air shopping, head to Bourke Street Mall.. It is a pedestrian street where you will find the galleries MYER and a huge H & M whose architecture alone is worth a visit. Further north of Melbourne, the streets of Smith Street and Brunswick Street in Fitzroy abound with various factory outlets (Adidas, Converses, Champion, Rip Curl …)
We advise you to test the concept of Lentil As Anything restaurant which originated in Melbourne itself. These are solidary vegetarian restaurants based on the concept of “you pay what you want”. There are three in Melbourne: Abbotsford, St Kilda and Footscray
For those who prefer to cook, the best option is to go to the Queen Victoria Market to stock up on fresh produce.
In the CBD, Federation square is a good spot for late night strolling through the busy lanes. Head to the Loof Roof, Madame Brussels, Asian Beer Cafe, Curtin House or the famous Section 8.
Further north, the Brunswick district is also full of good addresses, but if you only have one, it’s the Howler. Melbourne is also known for its hidden bars. For the record, at the time of the Gold Rush, the women decided to close the bars at 6am to avoid overflow due to the drink. Indeed, the men working in the mines, finished their work at 5am and usually went to drink the rest of the night. Here are our favorites: Chinatown’s Berlin bar, Loch and Key (hidden in Captain Melville’s pub), Beneath Driver lane and Goldilocks on Swanton Street.