The next destination in our Australia trip was Melbourne. It was fascinating to see Melbourne just after visiting Sydney because the two cities have a light-hearted, but long-running competition regarding which is the better city. Aussies will tell you a number of reasons why one is better than the other and allegedly, Canberra became the capital of Australia because it was halfway between these two metropolises. In my opinion, the cities were unique and incomparable. Sydney was a bit more touristy and had everything you would expect in a large city (similar to New York, Chicago, or LA). Melbourne, on the other hand, felt a bit younger and more artsy with more of a hipster vibe. We took the short flight from Sydney to Melbourne on Qantas business class after getting a great breakfast at the Qantas business lounge.
Below are some examples of the street art in the laneways of Melbourne:
What to do:
You may have read my rave review of the I’m Free Walking Tour in my post about Sydney. The same rave review can be applied to the Melbourne tour. We opted for the afternoon “Sights” tour (the company offers twice daily tours with no reservations required; all you have to do is show up!) which lasted about 2.5-3 hours and covered about 2.5 miles. It was such a great way to get a lay of the land (and some exercise!) while learning a lot about the history of the area. Our tour guide, Alex, was fantastic. He was a university student and local who provided history, current cultural and social information, and recommendations for activities, events, and restaurants. My favorite part of the tour was learning about the history behind the laneways and the way the city supports art, especially local grafitti artists. Alex recommended a couple of great restaurants and bars, which we visited and which I’ll mention later on in this post. I hope you take an I’m Free tour if you’re visiting Melbourne! The tours are free, but you are encouraged to tip your guide. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes!
The walking tour started at the State Library of Victoria and took us through the Carlton Gardens to the Royal Exhibition Centre, which was the site of the World’s Fair in 1880. We passed historic sites such as the Old Melbourne Gaol, State Parliament of Victoria, and the Princess Theatre before traversing through Melbourne’s various arcades and laneways and admiring the street art. We stopped in Federation Square, which is designed in stark contrast to the rest of the city with its modern style and is quite controversial in Melbourne. After walking by the famous Flinders Street Station, we finished the tour at the Yarra River.
After your walking tour, you may want to visit either the Eureka or Rialto towers to catch a glimpse of the city’s skyline. The former features a skydeck with 360 degree views of Melbourne and an “Edge Experience” where you can step onto a glass floor. The latter has a great bar and restaurant. We did not go to either tower because our time in Melbourne was limited, but I do not want to leave them out because they were personal recommendations from friends.
Once you are on your own, I recommend walking around the historic Block Arcade. It is a beautiful shopping arcade in the CBD of Melbourne that dates back to the 1890s and is built in the Victorian style. It contains several high-end shops, but the highlight for me was the Art of Dr. Seuss Gallery. The gallery is the biggest agent in the Southern Hemisphere for the “Art of Seuss” and features many limited edition works. The staff was very knowledgeable and graciously answered our questions and gave us some of the history behind Dr. Seuss’s unique works of art.
Finally, do not miss the Queen Victoria Market. It is an enormous indoor/outdoor market with everything you can think of from food to furs to souvenirs. It was right down the street from the Radisson Blu, so we walked over one morning to buy some souvenirs and stock up on dried fruit and snacks for our road trips. While shopping, we ate donuts from American Doughnut Kitchen (they have the best jelly filled, sugar-coated donuts!) before heading out to drive the Great Ocean Road.
Where to eat/drink:
Shanghai Dumpling Restaurant was a recommendation by our I’m Free tour guide Alex. It is BYO (which you know I love) and is an unassuming hole in the wall that opens up into a huge restaurant packed with college-age kids. The service is incredibly fast and the food is delicious. It is a laidback atmosphere and a great place to fill your stomach before a night of drinking. What to order: All the fried dumplings.
Next door to Shanghai Dumpling and the perfect place to begin your night out is Section 8. The bar is in a shipping container and is probably one of the most quintessentially Melbournian places that I can imagine. There was live music and dancing and we had a blast!
In the morning, you’ll need a good brekkie to start your day. Centre Place is one of the most beloved laneways and is filled with small and casual cafes. I recommend breakfast sandwiches and coffee at Centro Espresso Cafe in Centre Place. You can eat at the cafe or take your sandies just down the street to Federation Square or the Yarra River. We did the latter and ate our breakfast while watching black swans swim and crew teams practice on the river.
Where to stay:
Radisson Blu on Flagstaff Gardens Melbourne is a wonderful 4.5 star hotel located in a convenient location in Melbourne across the street from Flagstaff Gardens and next to Queen Victoria Market. The hotel offers complimentary wi-fi, a fitness center, sauna, and steam room, and is conveniently located on the Free City Circle Tram route.
Melbourne is convenient to several day trips and is a great launching off point for the Great Ocean Road (which I will talk about in my next post).
If you like wine, I highly recommend visiting the Yarra Valley to experience Australia’s wine industry. Best known for its chardonnay, pinot noir, and sparkling wine, the Yarra Valley has everything you could ask for in a winery visit. The Yarra Valley is less than an hour from central Melbourne so it is easy to self-drive if you have access to a car. Alternatively, if you plan on stopping at multiple wineries, it may be worth looking into spending the night at a local B&B or take a wine tasting tour with a group. I could have easily spent a few days in this region. It was so relaxing and picturesque!
I prefer a more one-on-one experience when it comes to wine, so Alex and I drove ourselves to the Yering Farm Winery. We spent a beautiful afternoon sampling wines and chatting with the staff about the history of the winery and winemaking in the region. The winery was first opened in the 1800s, but opened in more recent history in the 1980s. All of the grapes are hand-picked to make the wines and the winery has a light lunch and cheese boards available for purchase.
After sampling our wines and purchasing a few bottles, we had lunch at Yarra Valley Dairy. We ordered a bottle of wine, block of ashed goat cheese, and crackers to enjoy while overlooking the incredible beauty of the Yarra valley. The cheese shop has a larger menu available as well as daily tastings. The shop also carries unique gifts which would make great souvenirs from your trip!
If you enjoy wildlife, I recommend making the 20 minute drive to St. Kilda for an evening to see a colony of the world’s smallest penguins, also known as Eudyptula minor, little penguins, or fairy penguins. The penguins come in to the pier every night just after sunset. There are volunteers, or “penguin guides,” who are available to help point out the penguins and answer your questions. We really enjoyed watching dozens of little penguins waddle around to feed their young. Just be sure to respect the wildlife and avoid taking flash photography or otherwise disrupting the penguins. While you are in St. Kilda, have dinner at Dog’s Bar. Dog’s Bar is a local favorite with a laidback but romantic vibe. The restaurant serves beer, wine, and fantastic comfort food. I had the torn pasta with confit duck and beans and parmesan, which was heavenly!
Shanghai Dumpling, 23 Tattersalls Ln, Melbourne VIC 3000
Centro Espresso Cafe, 252 Flinders Ln, Melbourne VIC 3000
American Doughnut Kitchen, Queen Victoria Market, Queen Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Section 8, 27-29 Tattersalls Ln, Melbourne VIC 3000
Yarra Valley Dairy, 70-80 McMeikans Rd, Yering VIC 3770
Yering Farm Winery, St Huberts Rd, Yering VIC 3770
Dog’s Bar, 54 Acland St, St Kilda VIC 3182
I’m Free Tours Melbourne, Meet at 328 Swanston St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Block Arcade, 282 Collins St, Block Arcade Studios, Melbourne VIC
Queen Victoria Market, Corner of Victoria St and Elizabeth St, Melbourne VIC 3000
St. Kilda penguins, St. Kilda Pier, Pier Rd, St Kilda VIC 3182
Radisson Blu Flagstaff Gardens, 380 William St, Melbourne VIC 3000