Are you a coffee-lover? Are you a big fan of street art and live music? Most importantly, is 90% of your wardrobe black? If your answer to any of the above is a resounding yes, then you’ll want to book a ticket to Melbourne right now. Chock full of culture and artistry, the Australian capital of the state of Victoria is also home to plenty of natural wonders. With so many amazing experiences available, you’ll need to get your priorities right – we’ve picked the top 10 things that visitors should absolutely do when in the city.
Explore the local markets
Colloquially known as ‘Vic Market’ or ‘Queen Vic’, the vibrant Queen Victoria Market has been Melbourne’s heart and soul for over a century. A popular attraction for tourists, the locals also patronise this place regularly for groceries, from fruits and vegetables to gourmet meats and deli foods. A must-try is the hot jam donuts, sold from an original 1950s van. For less touristy and more ‘authentic’ haunts, make your way further out to South Melbourne Market and Prahran Market, where you’ll find genuine friendliness, a sense of community from the stallholders, and of course, equally good produce.
See the architecture
At first glance, Melbourne seems very modern and even cosmopolitan. But it’s also true that the city is home to a great number of older architecture. For instance, the cultural icon of Flinder’s Street Station with its prominent dome, arched entrances, and clocks was the first railway station in any Australian city. Hence, the Melburnian saying, “I’ll meet you under the clocks”.
Right across the road is the equally impressive St. Paul’s Cathedral, constructed in typical Gothic style. The interior boasts stunning craftsmanship, from its wooden pews to the walls carvings and prismatic stained glass. Other notable places you want to see include the Old Melbourne Gaol on Russell Street, St Kilda Road’s Shrine of Remembrance, and the very Instagram-able State Library of Victoria.
Visit a weekend artisan market
To truly experience what it’s like to be part of a Melbourne community, you have to visit one of their regular weekend markets – and you’ll be spoilt for choice. The St Kilda Esplanade Market has been a St Kilda delight since 1970, supported by more than 100 artisans and craftspeople by the sea on weekends. For a more urban (read: hipster) vibe, check out the Rose St Artists’ Market in Fitzroy for art, photography, clothing, jewellery, homewares, and plenty of homemade tasty treats. Next door, the Saturday-only Fitzroy Mills Market takes on a more wellness approach, but is nevertheless really cool.
Catch a live performance
True to its title as Australia’s most cultural city, Melbourne has a particularly vibrant music and theatre scene. You can head out any day of the week and still find a live music gig, comedy show, or theatre production taking place across the city. Some of the more popular venues are the Melbourne Theatre Company, Regent, and Princess Theatre.
And if festivals are your thing, you’ll be glad to hear that there’s almost one every month, such as the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Melbourne Fringe Festival, Melbourne International Arts Festival and Melbourne International Jazz Festival, to name a few. As for live music? We love dropping by Cherry Bar and The Curtin for good ol’ indie music, as well as Paris Cat Jazz Club or The Jazzlab for quality jazz.
Take a stroll or swim by the beach
The two beaches closest to Melbourne’s city centre are the famous St Kilda and Brighton. Simply hop on the metro at Flinders Station and you’re good to go. Plus, it’s a fantastic opportunity to experience the train system if you’re not driving.
Known for its bustling pier, thriving food scene along the nearby Acland Street, as well as Luna Park, the suburban bayside of St Kilda is a hotspot for visitors all-year round. Some say it’s a bit like Bondi – without the suffocating crowd. The shore is lined with palm trees and a wide boardwalk that attracts plenty of cyclists and skateboarders. And then, there’s the Insta-famous Brighton Beach. Chances are you’ve already seen some of the 82 iconic bathing boxes lining the seaside on your feed? A favourite among surfers and swimmers, the beach boasts a 6km coastline of pristine white sand, and is a short walk from all the cool restaurants, retail stores, galleries, and cafes adorning Brighton.
Walk the laneways
Taking a day to stroll the charming laneways of the city on foot is an absolute must in Melbourne. As you walk through the beautiful alleyways, you’ll find plenty of hidden shops, indie art galleries, and charming theatres. With all of these lying around, it’s no wonder why the city is considered the culture capital of Australia – Melbourne’s artistic character is its pride, and Melbourne wouldn’t be Melbourne without it. If street art if your thing, be sure to check out Hosier Lane and ACDC Lane (yes, like the band) for some of the city’s best graffiti. The passionate locals host walking tours from time to time, so you might want to give that a shot.
Many visitors go to Melbourne just for the shopping, and why shouldn’t they? Start at the intersection of Bourke Street Mall between Swanston St and Elizabeth St – the centre of Melbourne’s shopping district. There, you’ll find Emporium Melbourne (one of the hottest places to shop in Australia), QV, and Melbourne Central. Don’t just stick to the malls – walk down Collins St and Bourke St, as well as down the arcades and laneways, where you’ll find quaint little shops hidden in corners. More often that not, these are the ones with the best (and cheaper) finds! If you have time to go outside the CBD, head to Chapel St and Fitzroy. The former is one of the best fashion strips with eclectic and non-mainstream selections, while Fitzroy is a great place for vintage, street, and cult clothing.
Eat & drink
The Michelin star system has yet to reach Australia, but there’s no doubt that there are plenty of worthy candidates in Melbourne. Restaurants like Attica and Brae have regularly placed in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants award, while many more are quickly on their way. Go-to places for the locals are the award-winning 8bit burger joint, Cantonese Flower Drum Restaurant and Shanghai Dumpling Restaurant. If you’re up for a tipple, locate Section 8, an out-of-nowhere outdoor bar furnished by shipping containers and wooden pallets, or Naked for Satan, which boasts an open terrace with an attached bar and lounge.
Drive the Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road is widely acclaimed as the most stunning drive in Australia. Stretching over 243km along the coast of Victoria, there are countless gorgeous views to be enjoyed from numerous vantage points, making the road one of the most photographed spots in Australia. Don’t miss the iconic Twelve Apostles limestone rock formation – of which there are only eight stacks left, so visit them while they’re still around. The best way to see the road is to rent a car, but if you don’t drive, a coach tour is great for first-timers and smaller private groups, with the benefit of having a local guide.
Drink coffee…lots of it
If you leave Melbourne without drinking a single cup of coffee, are you really living? Aside from being comparatively cheaper (around AUD$4.50 for a flat white), coffee-making there is an art, and anything less than awesome is frowned upon. Not sure where to start? The trendy Degraves Street, lined by hole-in-the-wall cafes, comes highly recommended by Melburnians. Market Lane Coffee, Code Black Coffee Roasters, and Industry Beans are also relatively renowned in the international coffee community.
Dine on the Colonial Tram Car Train
One yummy way to see Melbourne is with a magical multi-course meal on The Colonial Tramcar Restaurant. Available for lunch as and two dinner seatings every day from just AUD$90, the travelling restaurant (the first of its kind in the world) has since become an iconic tourist symbol around the CBD and St Kilda for its glossy burgundy exterior and eye-catching colonial decor. Each service starts with a welcome glass of champagne and a platter of crisp breads; then, a menu that changes according to the season. It might be an entree of kangaroo carpaccio or pumpkin velouté followed by a main course of roast chicken or beef tenderloin paired with wine. As your tram makes its way back to the city, indulge in a selection of local cheese and a digestive liqueur. The best part? There’s no limit to the amount of booze you can get.