Despite Melbourne being the second largest city in Australia, the centre (and therefore what you’d be concentrating on in a short visit) is tiny – but make no mistake, it’s full of great things to do.
I fell in love with Melbourne on our fleeting trip, as many do, and I hope to spend more time there to discover what else the city has to offer. But in our three days, we did everything we wanted to, and I think we came up with a pretty good itinerary.
Here’s what we got up to.
Because it was close to our hostel, we began our day with a visit to the Queen Victoria Markets, a huge indoor market offering everything you could possibly ever want, including a great little food court at decent prices. After a wander around and wanting to fill a suitcase of weird and wonderful wares, we stopped in the food court for breakfast (or brunch, or elevensies, or whatever you want to call it) and I had the most delicious wrap at a very reasonable price.
Then take the free City Circle tram (pictured above) around the whole circle. This takes you around the edge of the CBD; to the Parliament buildings, Flinders Street, the Docklands, and everywhere between. It also stops a short walk away from one of the world’s most famous sporting venues – Melbourne Cricket Ground, or the MCG.
This was our first port of call, rather than doing the full circle. I wasn’t particularly interested, but it was a must on Ash’s list. You can pay for a tour around the grounds, or visit the National Sports Museum. We actually opted to do neither as we plan to come back, but there’s definitely time to do this in a morning if it’s your sort of thing. You can also see the venues for the Australian Open tennis (this was more my thing!).
Take a walk back into the centre (it’s not as far as it looks on a map – it took us around 20 minutes from MCG) along the north side of the river. You will never have seen so many people running in your life, but it’s a pretty walk along the riverside that takes you right up to Federation Square.
Here, you can sit back and take it all in, watch TV shows on the big screen, and pop into the Visitor’s Centre opposite Flinders Street station.
You’ll see horse-drawn carriages taking tours past, the beautiful St. Paul’s Cathedral shadows over Fed Square, and did I mention that Flinders Street station is stunning?
We popped in to get a myki card for the trams – you need to pay a $5 deposit for the card and then top it up with whatever you like. We only used it for one return journey to St. Kilda and it cost under $5.
One of my main priorities for Melbourne sightseeing was the famous street art. Probably the most famous of all is Hosier Lane, a short walk from Flinders Street. And just along from there was one of my more anticipated streets – the renamed but now official AC/DC Lane.
We walked back to the hostel via Swanston Street (opposite Flinders Street) and took in some of the sights along there including the official “Macca’s” sign, the imposing town hall and the Victoria state library. I absolutely love the architecture in Melbourne. Even H&M is in a beautiful building!
We also nipped along a side street to find ourselves in Centre Lane, a super cute laneway lined with bistros and cafés. And because we were there mid-afternoon, loads of food was on clearance offers and we managed to have a wrap for $5.
At the end of Swanston Street is a hub for all backpackers: the ABC, otherwise known as the Asian Beer Café. You can enjoy happy hour prices on lots of alcohol here, as well as $5 pizzas. Come here for a budget night out!
We had found out that the Parliament House runs various free tours throughout the day, and after we started our morning with FREE PANCAKES at the hostel, we set off, taking a route through Chinatown and finding more street art on the way, and happened to arrive minutes before a tour was due to start.
Our guide was a little abrupt and kept calling people out on doing something wrong (“can you NOT put your camera on that surface, it is A HUNDRED AND FIFTY YEARS OLD” “would you like to sit down, other people want to see”) but despite this it was an enjoyable tour and for free, it’s definitely worth doing for an insight into Australian politics and history, not to mention the grandeur of the parliament rooms which were decorated in the midst of the gold rush.
A few metres down the road sits the almost equally striking Treasury building – it now housing a museum, and this is also worth a visit. Again it’s a free exhibition, but I threw a token couple of dollars in the donations box.
Then it was time for one of my more anticipated activities – we were off to St. Kilda to explore, and despite not finding much information on this online, to see the penguins at sunset. WILD PENGUINS!!!
On the way, we stopped off at the Shrine Of Remembrance in the Botanic Gardens. This stunning war memorial is a really nice tribute with a never-ending flame and a towering monument with a sobering reminder of why it’s there.
By the time we got to St. Kilda, we only had a couple of hours left until sunset. The winter breeze was chilling so we didn’t want to spend much time by the sea, and we headed towards the terrifying clown face of Luna Park before turning down one of the main streets: Acland Street.
We were greeted by bakery after bakery and restaurant after restaurant. I actually really liked the feel of it, and the bakery cafés are really cute. We decided to eat before the sunset, so we had an early dinner at Schnitz (a restaurant chain all over Melbourne that I haven’t seen anywhere else in Australia). I had the most delicious schnitzel there, I highly recommend eating at one of their restaurants!
And then it was time to brace the cold again. Take a walk up the pier for some great views of the city, then keep going onto the breaker and go down to the right hand side.
This is where penguins live. REAL, LIVE, WILD PENGUINS!! And they come home every night at sunset. We didn’t see this advertised anywhere in Melbourne. We only knew about it because a friend had mentioned it.
I had been expecting a whole gaggle of penguins (or whatever you call a group) to arrive together on the little beach, but instead they suddenly began appearing in between the rocks that make up the breaker. They must have been jumping in the other side and making their way through, but when I looked the water was rough and I couldn’t have made them out even if they were there.
Sorry for the blurry picture. Regardless, it was amazing!! They are “little penguins”, also known as fairy penguins. They’re the smallest species and in case you hadn’t gathered, they are TINY! And cute! And even though we only saw about five or six, it was a unique experience that you might not expect from your time in Melbourne.
Then we had another unique wildlife experience. We were walking to a bar to meet some friends and our route took us past Flagstaff Park… where we were approached by these little guys.
They’re POSSUMS! And probably riddled with diseases, but you know… they’re so CUTE!
We began our final day with a trip to the library as we’d heard it was really nice. Actually, it wasn’t quite as grand inside as I was expecting, but we took the lift up to the balcony anyway. We didn’t spend as much time there as we thought we would, which gave us more time for the rest of the day.
I then fell over in front of crowds of people, ripped my leggings and cut my knee.
Outside, a protest marched past – an anti-protest march. Brilliant! We saw some strange things in Melbs and this was one of them. Another was watching a fairly elderly man pedal down the street at high speed on something not dissimilar to the red and yellow plastic cars that kids ride. (Another was the possum above!)
The only thing really left on our list to do was South Bank and the Eureka tower. Make sure you get a voucher for Eureka as they’re easy to get (mini-cards, guide books etc). We got 10% off because my 15% voucher in Safari Pete’s guide book was out of date. Whoops.
South Bank was “nice”. Unlike Brisbane, I didn’t find it very exciting, and you don’t need any time to see it. The main attraction is the Eureka tower, which costs $19.50 (full price) to go up 88 floors, and an extra $12 to stand on the 3 metre glass-floored box protruding from the side of the building (we didn’t).
Here is a view of everything: the CBD, Flinders Street, Federation Square, the river and the MCG. You can see how huge and sprawling the city really is, even though it doesn’t feel like it in the centre!
We were tempted to splash out on tickets to the Sea Life centre (tickets $38 but the travel shop next to Nomads All Nations was doing them for $22 – check there before you go) but decided that we’d rather relax before our flight that evening.
Instead, we took the City Circle Tram around the rest of the route that we hadn’t seen, wandered down Elizabeth Street (check out the giant H&M store housed in a beautiful building), and discovered more lanes. I also counted seven different Nando’s in the CBD! SEVEN!
The thing is, we’d done a lot in the three days – but we never felt rushed. We got to see everything we wanted to see; in fact I think I walked down every single street in the CBD! It’s such a walkable city centre, but I definitely recommend heading out to the suburbs, too.
On our second visit, we made it out to Fitzroy which is an awesome neighbourhood to spend an afternoon exploring and visiting hipster jaunts. We could have easily found time to do that on the third day, but we wanted to concentrate most of our time on the city centre – although St Kilda was well worth the detour.
And I never thought I’d see wild penguins in Australia. Still can’t get over that.