Review: Melbourne horse drawn carriage tour is a right royal experience
Melbourne's regal horse drawn carriages provide guests with a unique way to experience some of the city's magnificent parks and gardens. Get the royal treatment on this Garden Highlights Tour. Review: Julietta Henderson
Melbourne horse drawn carriage tour with A Classic Carriage Hire
Discover some of the Victorian capital’s most beautiful parks and key landmarks on this 30-minute Melbourne Horse and Carriage Ride. Enjoy a relaxed ride in a traditional horse-drawn carriage. You’ll pass by several major city sights, including the Arts Centre, the Shrine of Remembrance and Government House as you tour the Queen Victoria and Kings Domain Gardens. Duration: 30 minutes (approx.)
Best price guarantee: If you find this tour elsewhere at a cheaper price, we will beat it by 10%. Some conditions apply. There are no booking or credit card fees when you book this tour with The Big Bus tour and travel guide.
There are plenty of ways to explore the highlights of Melbourne, but for romantics, lovers of the great outdoors, or simply those who like to do things a little differently, sitting back in the luxurious embrace of a handcrafted landau carriage (and feeling just a little bit like royalty, truth be told) drawn by two noble Percheron horses could be just the experience you’re looking for.
I’ve come to Melbourne’s CBD on a rather overcast summer’s evening to enjoy just that experience for myself. Federation Square is the meeting point for my Melbourne horse drawn carriage tour with A Classic Carriage Hire — the city’s longest established horse and carriage company. As photo opportunities go, if you can find a more iconic Melbourne shot than a waiting horse and carriage, with Fed Square in the background and a tram passing through the foreground, good luck to you!
That’s exactly the vision I encounter as I cross the road from Flinders St Station to greet Alex MacDonald — my host and carriage driver for the next 30 minutes. Alex is owner and head horseman at A Classic Carriage Hire. He’s dressed in full red driving regalia, and is certainly a very dapper and charming guy, but it’s his four-legged friends that become the instant objects of my affection. Within seconds of meeting the two gentle giants that will be pulling our carriage, I’ve definitely lost my heart. Bred especially for the purpose, these magnificent draught horses are renowned for their strength, intelligence and easy temperament — definitely all qualities needed for navigating the traffic challenges of a city like Melbourne.
After a quick chat with Alex about the route of this Garden Highlights Tour (just one of a range of tour options available), my companion and I step into the carriage under the envious glances of more than a few passers-by. We’re riding in Camellia — a carriage with an opulent deep red leather interior and a wonderful old world feel. As it’s raining quite steadily Alex has to put the hood up, which means that we aren’t able to chat with him up in the driver’s seat. However, it actually adds a certain kind of cosy ambience that we quite enjoy — and even with the hood up you still get a great view out the side windows. Note: Our tour went ahead despite the rain, but tours can be affected by inclement weather.
Any slight preconception I ‘may’ have had about a horse and carriage ride being a bit touristy or clichéd are very quickly dispelled as we head off through the traffic towards the Queen Victoria Gardens. There really is something quite magical about the smoothness of the carriage and the distinctive sound of the horses’ hooves clip-clopping on the road as we nudge along amongst the cars and trams of busy St Kilda Road. The aforementioned delusions of royalty are given a boost by a couple of kids waving from the back seat of a car and several tourists taking pictures of us (ok, it may have been more of Alex and the horses, but we smile anyhow). I resist the impulse to give a queenly wave and settle for a thumbs up as we turn left and head into the gardens.
As we glide along the road that winds through Queen Victoria Gardens we’re able to pick up a little speed and, even with the hood up, it’s a truly wonderful way to enjoy sights like the Giant Floral Clock, the Walker Fountain, Kings Domain Gardens and the Shrine of Remembrance.
After a leisurely 15 to 20 minutes in the gardens it’s time for the return journey, and suddenly the rain clears and we’re in crisp sunlight (well, it is Melbourne after all). Alex stops the carriage to fold back the hood and as we pass the Victorian Arts Centre we’re treated to a magnificent rain-rinsed view up St Kilda Road, across the ornate Princess Bridge and into the city heart. So far we haven’t had too much of a chance to talk or take any photos because of the rain, so Alex stops the carriage and jumps down for a chat and to play photographer. After stepping out very close to the passing traffic to make sure he gets a good shot of us in the carriage, he good-naturedly poses with the horses so we can get the pictures I really want!
Even though our 30 minutes are pretty close to up, Alex takes the time to give us a bit more of an insight into the business and his life as a carriage driver. While his skills as a horseman are fairly obvious, it’s clear that it’s his genuine affection for the horses and his enthusiasm for the city itself that are behind the passion for what’s been a 30-year career.
We head off for the last leg of the journey back over the Princess Bridge and past Flinders Street station. Alex’s skilful execution of a U-turn at Fed Square (my personal highlight of the tour!) brings the carriage deftly back to our starting point. Ever the attentive host, Alex helps us down from the carriage and asks if we’ve enjoyed the experience. The funny thing is that unlike the robotic ‘have a nice day’ you receive from some tour operators, here you get the feeling that he really does care that we do — and yes, we did.
After thanking the horses with one last pat, we head off for cocktails at Southbank. Alex is already assisting his next guests into the carriage — a family of four (the carriages hold up to six passengers). Our reign as temporary and highly deluded royalty is over but theirs is just beginning. I take a quick glance at their faces and I can see they feel it too.
Julietta Henderson is a travel and feature writer. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying 10 years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy and France. She has travelled extensively through Europe, North America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and Russia, and believes the keys to a great travel experience are an open heart, an open mind and an open-ended ticket.