The bustling metropolis of Melbourne sits on Australia’s south east coast in Victoria. Although in Ozzy terms it’s close to Sydney – only a few hours away by train or flight – Melbourne is very different to the capital. It’s a vibrant hub with a lot more architectural character than Australia’s other cities. A place where culture thrives, coffee shops abound, artists and musicians throng and is full of green spaces. Melbourne’s also the stepping stone to the South Coast, home of the famous Great Ocean Road, Phillip island and Tazmania. In this article we’re going at my favourite Melbourne attractions, the best things you definitely should check out if you have a few days in the city.
1 – Melbourne Street Art Trails
Melbourne is famous for its great street art. Rather than a kid’s spray can scrawlings on the odd sign, these are true works of art covering entire building walls and covering every inch of alleyways. The street art is such a big attraction that you can even find free tourist leaflets with walking trails so you don’t miss anything. It comes in all shapes and styles and best of all is always changing and new pieces are added all the time. It transforms grotty alleys and dull buildings into interesting focal points, and few cities in the world have it on this scale and quality.
The art is mainly concentrated around the CBD (city center) and the district of Fitzroy, and is found in well populated areas just meters away from banks and shops. It’s a great way to spend half a day and it’ll also lead you around much of the city. I actually split it over two days as we getting distracted by other things we found during our wanderings! Or, treat it like a treasure hunt and just explore all the side streets and alleyways that you find as you explore Melbourne (keeping safety in mind, although the city centre is pretty safe).
2 – Eureka Skydeck 88
This sky tower right in the city centre offers amazing 360 panoramas of the city and the landscape for many miles around – right out to the coast. Because Melbourne has such interesting architecture it makes for an interesting view below as you watch the tiny ants (people) below you and the streams of traffic as you sit in peace almost 300 meters about the city. Check the weather and try to time your visit when it’s clear.
The best time to come to the Melbourne Skydeck is shortly before sunset, which is when I did it – see the daytime view, enjoy a gorgeous Australian sunset and then see the city from above in a whole different light at nighttime, it’s fantastic. Look out for discount vouchers in the free tourist brochures available from Tourist Information offices.
3 – National Gallery of Victoria
Australia’s largest national gallery is a real treasure. Not just full of old paintings (although it has those), there’s art of every size and description you can think of here, from photography to modern art and wild sculptures. You can easily spend half a day or longer exploring here. There’s plenty of limited exhibitions, interactive art and fun kids areas which adults will secretly enjoy too! I’m not usually a big gallery fan but I found plenty to interest me here.
The National Gallery of Victoria also sits on the edge of a huge parkland, made up of Queen Victoria gardens, King’s Domain and the Royal Botanic gardens, all of which are very nice and a great place to wander around or sit and relax when you need a break from taking in art!
4 – Fitzroy
Fitzroy, the hipster epicentre of Melbourne is just a short tram or bus ride from the CBD. Be sure to pick up a pre-paid myki transport card beforehand to make hopping on and off public transport super simple. Fitzroy was a quite a dilapidated, poor area of the city, and still retains a lot of gritty and griminess, with a mixture of dubious characters interspersed amongst an astonishingly diverse mixture of people including students, hipsters, artists and white collar workers who live or hang out in this redeveloping area. Why do people come to Fitzroy? It’s full of great coffee shops, unique stores, boutiques and galleries, little pubs, bars and restaurants with loads of character.
Art is big here, street art and sculpture can be found everywhere. Many of the shops have elaborate or sculptured fronts. Upmarket independent fashion stores sit alongside trendy organic restaurants. At night the streets are full of a mixed crowd coming for Fitzroys great nightlife, with lots of live music at many venues and homely craft beer bars or trendy pubs. It’s a joy to just wander around Fitzroy, browsing its many outlets and galleries, stopping for a top notch coffee, grabbing some tasty lunch, discovering some street art, and redefining how skinny a hipster’s jeans can get! Also don’t forget to check out the excellent Melbourne Museum on the outskirts of the area, which you can easily spend a day in as well.
5 – St Kilda
Hop on the tram and head out to the beach! St. Kilda’s a thriving Melbourne suburb on the coast. Although there’s a tackier vibe here than Fitzroy, you’ll still find a lot of good bars, restaurants and a big arts scene including a number of theatres to choose from. The main part of St Kilda has gone a bit upmarket but the rest is still home to copious amounts of British and Irish ex-pats, and backpackers who frequent the suburb’s many bars and hostels, and there’s still a bit of a seedy atmosphere about the place. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time here – St Kilda’s well known for it’s boisterous night-life and many people choose go out here for a big party.
Out at the long beach, the main attraction, sit back and relax. Don’t expect the water to be too warm but if you’re feeling a bit more energetic it’s a nice walk along the beachfront with good views of the city, and some long piers to wander. It can be pretty windy so bring your jacket! The most iconic place in St Kilda is Luna Park (which has a sister in Sydney). This fun fair has a huge evil gaping mouth luring visitors within. Inside, there’s not much to get excited about, some small rides and stalls, but it’s all stylised in a cool way. There’s also a number of distinctive old buildings of various styles in the area, such as the Esplanade hotel. St Kilda is a great place to come for sunset, followed by a meal and a beer in one of the copious number of establishments on the waterfront. Keep an eye out on upcoming events, as St Kilda hosts a lot of big festivals throughout the year.
Ah, Melbourne, how I love thee
Of course there’s plenty more to do in Melbourne. There’s some great parks and gardens, more museums and galleries to explore. There’s a huge amount of shopping to be done with arcades everywhere in the CBD. The city is full of great bars, coffee shops and restaurants and there’s other trendy and historic districts to check out. The nightlife here is renowned, catering for every taste (a lot of people have told me it’s better than Sydney’s). And if you’re short on time during your Australian holiday, you can also arrange day or multi-day tours from Melbourne to places like the Great Ocean Road, The 12 Apostles and Phillip Island. This is a true city of culture, so be sure to give yourself at least a few days to see Melbourne’s highlights. It was definitely a highlight of my Australian trip!
Check out more of my Melbourne photos in the gallery below. There are shots from all around the city including Fitzroy, the CBD, St Kilda, the Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium and various museums and parks. Click to enlarge, enjoy!