Only got a couple of days to get to know a new city? Our Big Five City Guides can help. We break each destination down into culture, history, dining, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos.
Chic, sophisticated and always on trend, Melbourne offers visitors a vast array of things to see and do.
The scope of the Victorian capital’s cultural and culinary offerings is unsurpassed anywhere else in Australia. Immerse yourself in a thriving live music scene and a packed calendar of festivals and elite sporting events. Shop ’til you drop, party at the city’s plethora of trendy rooftop bars, then revive with the best damn coffee you’re likely to find anywhere on the planet. That’s Melbourne.
This Melbourne travel guide is packed with ideas for things to see and do. Enjoy your visit.
Watch our video guide to Melbourne’s best laneways and arcades:
Related | Ten of the best Melbourne lanes and arcades: https://thebigbus.com.au/ten-of-the-best-melbourne-laneways-and-arcades/Welcome to The Big Bus tour an…
Consider purchasing a Melbourne Flexi Attractions Pass for your visit. You’ll save up to 40% on many of the top attractions and things to do listed in this Melbourne travel guide. Choose a five or seven-attraction pass. Passes are valid for three months from the date of issue.
Melbourne isn’t your typical concrete jungle.
The CBD is home to a maze of interconnected laneways and arcades that harbour many of the city’s best kept secrets — including themed bars, fashion incubators, artisanal chocolatiers and hole-in-the-wall cafes. Famous back alleys and byways like Hosier Lane are decorated with some of the most colourful and creative street art in the world. Don’t be afraid to wander. It’s one of the best ways to get to know Melbourne. Alternatively, book a guided laneway walking tour.
There’s plenty more for art lovers to enjoy beyond what you’ll find on alley walls. From the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) — where entry to the permanent collection is free of charge — to renowned private facilities like Flinders Lane Gallery and artist collectives such as The Blender Studios, the city’s arts scene is vibrant and diverse. You’d need weeks to really do it justice.
Melbourne hosts an extensive calendar of events and festivals. The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) is one of the highlights and takes place in July. Choose from a programme of ground-breaking films from around the world. Quite often a screening will be followed by a Q&A session with the director.
The suburb of Yarraville, located in Melbourne’s inner west (just five train stops from Southern Cross Station), is still abuzz over the visit of Quentin Tarantino to the preview of The Hateful Eight at the historic Sun Theatre. From the art deco surroundings to the house-made choc tops, a movie at the Sun is a memorable Melbourne experience. Pair it with dinner at any of the precinct’s innovative eateries, including the Yarra Lounge and Corner Shop, or an antipasto platter at Barkley Johnson Deli & Wine. The newly refurbished Railway Hotel does a great pre-movie parmie.
Melbourne has an incredible live music scene. While the big stars play the city’s large-scale stadium venues, independent acts rock the Forum Theatre, the Corner Hotel and 170 Russell. If you’re into something a bit more alternative, try The Tote, The Old Bar or Northcote Social Club.
For the best of the performing arts, find out what’s on at the Arts Centre, Southbank Theatre (home of the acclaimed Melbourne Theatre Company) and the Malthouse Theatre. Fringe venues like tiny La Mama break all the rules, while the city’s many amateur theatre companies mount lavish productions that play to packed houses.
Melburnians love their sport. The city is home to global competitive spectacles such as the Australian Open tennis tournament and the Formula 1 Grand Prix, along with a plethora of local sporting events and competitions, including the Spring Racing Carnival (featuring the Melbourne Cup), Australian Rules Football (AFL), A-League soccer and rugby league. Tours of the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) and other sporting venues are popular.
Melbourne’s past is on display for all to see through its museums, monuments and spectacular period architecture.
The city was founded in 1835 when colonial grazier John Batman purchased a tract of land by the Yarra River from the local Wurundjeri people. Construction and the population boomed during the Victorian Gold Rush of the 1850s, which also gave rise to many towns and cities throughout central and northern Victoria. To find out more about the city’s early history, visit the fabulous Melbourne Museum, Royal Exhibition Building, Old Melbourne Gaol and regal State Library Victoria. Each of these institutions is packed with informative displays.
There are a variety of ways visitors can tap into local Indigenous heritage. Visit the Koorie Heritage Trust in Federation Square or join an Aboriginal Heritage Walk in the Royal Botanic Gardens. It offers a guided introduction to the history of the gardens, interwoven with that of the traditional owners. The Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum celebrates the First People’s rich traditions of art, performance and storytelling.
High levels of immigration during the mid-20th century fuelled the city’s growing ethnic diversity (which is reflected today in Melbourne much-lauded culinary scene). Pay a visit to the excellent Immigration Museum in Old Customs House and hear the experiences of migrants from some of the 260 nationalities that now call Melbourne home.
The dining scene in Melbourne is comparable with the best in the world.
Every suburb offers something different. Enjoy traditional Italian cuisine on Lygon Street in Carlton, or all-you-can-eat Greek in Collingwood. Give your holiday budget a break with great value Vietnamese on Victoria Street in Abbotsford, or Turkish fare on Sydney Road in Brunswick. Double up with dinner and karaoke in Chinatown or head to Footscray for tastes of Africa. In trendy Fitzroy, Modern Oz is the go. The shabby chic Panama Dining Room is super popular with the hipster crowd. Book early.
The sky’s the limit for fine dining. You’ll find some of the city’s top eateries at the top of its tallest buildings, including Vue de monde on the 55th floor of the soaring Rialto building. Crown Melbourne offers a directory of premium dining options, including Nobu, Rockpool Bar & Grill and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.
Melbourne’s comprehensive tram network is an integral part of city life. All trams within the city grid are free, however, it’s well worth splurging on a lunch or dinner on The Colonial Tramcar Restaurant. Enjoy an excellent meal as you ride the tracks across the city, comfortably ensconced in a charming old world setting. Please note that the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant is currently not operating.
Latte lovers, you have certainly come to the right place. Melbourne is renowned for the best coffee in the world — and while the latest craze of ‘deconstructed coffee’ may leave some visitors slightly perplexed, the truth is it’s hard to get a bad brew in this town. Join a cafe walking tour of the inner city and discover some of the most innovative options.
Melbourne’s bar scene is also the toast of the town. The glittering vibe of QT Rooftop, medical-inspired mayhem of The Croft Institute, garden party whimsy of Madame Brussels, or Parisian-style par excellence of Siglo Bar are all worth experiencing.
Whether you’re seeking designer labels or hand-made arts and crafts, Melbourne offers a huge array of retail options.
You’ll find luxury labels lining the ‘Paris’ end of Collins Street (at the top of the CBD), and big name brands in and around the Bourke Street Mall and Lonsdale Street at Emporium, Melbourne’s GPO and Melbourne Central.
Chapel Street in Windsor, Prahran and South Yarra is also renowned for its retail credentials. Take the old style W-class tram for a spin along the full length of this popular strip, which morphs from shabby chic at the Windsor end, to just plain chic in South Yarra.
Fashionistas flock to ‘fashion capital’ Chadstone in the eastern suburbs for the convenience of having just about every label under the sun under one very large roof (this is the largest shopping centre in Australia).
Head for Bridge Road in Richmond or funky Smith Street in Collingwood for outlet shopping options. Serious bargain hunters should consider booking a spot on the city’s famous ‘Bargains and Bubbles’ Outlet Shopping Tour.
Melbourne would be in with a serious shot at taking out the title of market capital of Oz. Top options include the perennial Queen Victoria Market, South Melbourne Market and Prahran Market for fresh food, the St Kilda Esplanade Market for handmade arts and crafts, and the Camberwell Sunday Market for pre-loved fashions and bric-a-brac.
There’s no shortage of ways to relax and rejuvenate in and around the Victorian capital.
In terms of not doing too much at all, the popular bayside suburb of St Kilda is a good spot to do it. Stroll along the historic St Kilda Pier, pack a picnic and head for the foreshore or the St Kilda Botanical Gardens, and take time out to pose for a pic in front of the giant grinning mouth at Luna Park. Skip the touristy cafes here and make your way up Carlisle Street to Balaclava for more inventive options, including Wall Two 80.
If you have a day or two to venture out of the city, several of Victoria’s most spectacular natural landscapes are within easy reach. Do a day trip down the lush Mornington Peninsula (home to the fabulous Peninsula Hot Springs). Keep heading south-east to Phillip Island — where the famous little penguins perform their nightly parade up the beach after fishing in Bass Strait.
Driving the Great Ocean Road is without doubt the most popular day trip option from Melbourne. Visitors flock to see the 12 Apostles limestone sea stacks at the far end of the world-famous coastal route.
The Adina Apartment Hotel Melbourne offers superb apartment-style accommodation in the heart of the city. The hotel recently unveiled its new-look penthouse suites. There are 11 new penthouse apartments, but in actual fact all of the hotel’s 155 apartments have a chic new look. The 1, 2 and 3-bedroom penthouses all come heavy on the wow factor, with sophisticated New York loft-style interiors and stunning city views. If you can nab an apartment on the east-facing side of the building, you’ll get a fabulous view up Bourke Street all the way to the top end of town.
Take a tour of the Adina Apartment Hotel Melbourne:
We were thrilled recently to get a sneak peek at the Adina Apartment Hotel Melbourne’s new penthouse apartments, and to put together this video preview. If you happen to be holidaying in marvellous Melbs, it’s well worth exploring the city’s high-flying social scene.
Whichever room type you choose, you’ll enjoy complimentary Wi-Fi and have access to the indoor pool, gym and sauna. Airport transfers can be arranged, and parking is available onsite (additional fees apply).
Contemporary finishes and the refined elegance of yesteryear meld into one at the Rendezvous Hotel Melbourne — one of the city’s finest historic hotels. Located just a stone’s throw from Flinders Street Station, you can’t get any more central than this.
Take a tour of the Rendezvous Hotel Melbourne:
We were thrilled recently to get a guided tour of the historic Rendezvous Hotel Melbourne, and to put together this video preview. Contemporary finishes and the refined elegance of yesteryear meld into one at this amazing hotel. Located just a stone’s throw from Flinders Street Station, you can’t get any more central than this.
The hotel actually occupies two heritage buildings. One started life as The Commercial Travellers’ Club, which opened its doors in 1913 to accommodate the travelling great and good. Both buildings fell into disrepair but were completely refurbished in the late 1990s. Today, the hotel is one of the city’s most charming and atmospheric places to stay. The mix of period touches and modern décor is a delight, as are the views up and down Flinders Street from the balconies off some of the rooms.
Do you have any tips to add to our Melbourne travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock/Photodune
Chris Bright is a freelance writer based in Melbourne with a passion for travel, food, music and film. He’s travelled to South-East Asia, India, Japan, parts of Europe and much of North America. Chris is willing to try anything once, whether it’s leaping from great heights or eating things that don’t look the least bit appetising. When it comes to travel, he loves nothing more than meeting new people and sharing a laugh over their local drink of choice.
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.