Over the past two decades, Melbourne’s Docklands has risen like a phoenix from what was once an industrial and maritime no-go zone.
Located at the western end of the CBD proper, the precinct is something of an urban renewal masterpiece; a city within a city it is now home to many of Australia’s biggest banks and corporations, and thousands of apartment dwellers. The project has not been without its critics over the years, but as you walk through the Docklands today past the gleaming towers and marinas housing millions of dollars of boating bling, you can’t help but be impressed. And the best part is that staying in the Docklands could significantly reduce the cost of your Melbourne accommodation.
Here are ten top things to do in the Docklands.
While it lives somewhat in the shadow of the mighty Melbourne Cricket Ground (not to mention the residential and commercial office towers that now almost completely encircle it), the Dockland’s Marvel Stadium is a key venue for sporting clashes, concerts and large-scale events in the Victorian capital. AFL matches are played here throughout the season, and footy fans will love going behind the scenes on one of the three venue tours offered daily. See the players’ change rooms, the coaches’ briefing room and box, the umpires’ tunnel and much more. Bookings are essential.
You mightn’t realise it as a visitor, but the Docklands is actually made up of several smaller precincts and they’ll all been designed to capitalise on their waterfront locales. Just strolling by the water is a lovely way to pass the time. While they’ve struggled to get going, the 170 Norfolk Island pines that line Harbour Esplanade are finally getting up a head of steam and will be truly stunning in years to come. Boat lovers will adore Newquay Promenade, which is lined with marina berths, while the Victoria Harbour Promenade has plenty of bustling cafes, bars and restaurants in which to stop and take the weight off.
One of the things you’ll notice as you explore the Docklands is the vast array of public art and sculpture on display. Introduced to soften the swathes of concrete and glass that surround workers and residents, the art has become quite a draw card in its own right. Visitors can download the Docklands Walking Tours app and follow an art trail that takes in 25 pieces by predominantly Melburnian artists. One of the best loved pieces has to be Cow Up a Tree by John Kelly, which was erected in 2000. There are three sections to the walk, and each takes around an hour to complete.
The soaring Melbourne Star Observation Wheel is a much-admired part of the Victorian capital’s skyline. Board a 30-minute flight for amazing views of the western end of the CBD, the Bolte Bridge, the city’s northern suburbs and beyond. Each pod can accommodate up to 20 passengers, and you’ll enjoy recorded commentary that covers various aspects of Melbourne’s history and culture.
The Melbourne Star is located in The District Docklands — a largely open-air shopping, dining and entertainment complex, complete with cinemas and an ice-skating rink. Browse fashion retailers like H&M and UNIQLO, choose from close to 30 different cafes and eateries, get your skates on and enjoy a complimentary 15-minute beginner’s lesson at the Icehouse, or catch a flick. Speaking of which, keep your eyes peeled for the odd Hollywood actor moseying about. The District is located right next to the Docklands Studios, so you’re in prime star spotting territory!
Urban Alley Brewery began life in a garage in St Kilda and is now a very impressive-sounding 25-hectolitre brewhouse located in The District. It’s become a firm fixture on the made-in-Melbourne ale trail and is renowned for its fresh easy-drinking style and sustainable production practices. Watch the brewery in action through the floor to ceiling windows as you enjoy your choice of brew. Staff will be happy to talk you through the product range.
There are intriguing pockets of yesteryear to be found in the Docklands. Drop by the Mission to Seafarers Victoria at 717 Flinders Street. The mission is part of a global network that still caters to the needs of seafarers while in port. The distinctive building, constructed in the Arts and Crafts movement style of the late 19th century, houses an array of maritime memorabilia. Tours are offered once a month. Check the mission’s website for what’s on or just stick your head in and say hi. Staff will often be free to show you around.
Just across Wurundjeri Way, take in the impressive end façade of Victorian-era No 2 Goods Shed — an old railway freight shed that was at one time the longest single building in Australia.
You have to actively seek this one out, but just a short walk from the Mission to Seafarers is the excellent Victoria Police Museum — the existence of which would probably come as a complete surprise to many Melburnians. It’s located on the Mezzanine Level of the World Trade Centre, and includes permanent displays on the history of policing and crime in Victoria (including a display of armour worn by members of the Kelly Gang, and the car used in the Russell Street bombing in 1986), along with temporary exhibitions on specialist themes.
The Docklands makes a very convenient boarding point for Melbourne’s popular No 35 City Circle tram, which runs along Harbour Esplanade in front of Marvel Stadium. The restored heritage W-Class trams trundle their way around a loop of the entire CBD and play informative recorded commentary along the way. Settle in and enjoy the whole ride or hop on and off at key attractions as often as you like. It’s completely free of charge.
Sunset in the Docklands is generally pretty stunning as the sun sinks behind the twinkling lights of the Bolte Bridge. A lovely way to enjoy it is on an evening kayak tour with Kayak Melbourne. The tour departs at sunset from the Docklands’ Victoria Harbour (right next to The Dock Library) and makes its way along the Yarra River through the heart of the CBD, before wrapping up at the rowing sheds opposite Federation Square. A dinner of fresh fish and chips is included.
It’s fair to say that the Travelodge hotel brand has gone through something of a renaissance in recent years, and the Travelodge Melbourne Docklands is a fabulous example. It offers a functional but stylish stay in a prime location at a great price point (from $96.75 a night), which ticks most of the boxes for this particular traveller!
Let’s start with the all-important location. Travelodge Melbourne Docklands is situated just over the Bourke Street pedestrian footbridge from Southern Cross railway station, which makes it a super-easy option if you are coming in from Melbourne Airport on Skybus. The walk to or from the CBD takes no more than six minutes. I timed it. The hotel is also perfectly located if you are attending the footy or a concert at Marvel Stadium and want to make a night of it. Leave fighting the traffic to the 50,000 other fans and be relaxing at your hotel in minutes.
The funky lobby, clean lines, crisp white sheets, supremely comfortable bed, reliable shower and 11am check-out time are all bang on the money. There’s no cocktail bar downstairs, but drinks are available for purchase. A good value breakfast is offered, and room service is available from 5 to 11pm if you decide to order in. You can even charge back to your room from selected eateries in the precinct.
There are no unnecessary bells and whistles at Travelodge Melbourne Docklands, but I bet you’ll walk away thinking ‘wow, that was uncomplicated, but great!’.
Adam travelled as a guest of TFE Hotels and Travelodge Melbourne Docklands.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of ten top things to do in the Docklands? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
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.