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Melbourne Travel Guide
Melbourne Travel Guide

Melbourne travel guide: TOP-10 free things to do and see

Melbourne is the second largest city in Australia. Melbourne is the flag bearer of Australian culture. Although Sydney might debate this with its quota of museums and up and coming events. Melbourne, founded on the 19th century glimmer of gold and the rush to get a stake in the newly opened goldfields is a vibrant multicultural city with the Yarra River as its soul. Beguiling, seductive Melbourne wins the heart with narrow alleyways, sheer sandstone architectural splendor next to funky modern, intimate cafe bustle with coffee aroma tantalizing the senses,  languages folded into one another  in bustling markets and charm.  Intimacy with Victorian grandeur finds New Zealanders and overseas visitors falling in love with Melbourne.

Melbourne does not overwhelm the visitor, in fact it is actually a large city with a population near 5 million. Australians from the country towns, Western Australia, South Australia and the territories Melbourne is Australia, you can feel at home. The State Library has a great story about Ned Kelly, bushranger extraordire. What more could you ask for. For overseas visitors Melbourne has a familiar big city vibe yet still breathes an undeniable identity, Australia.

Melbourne and Yarra River

What is the best time to visit?

March to May or September November.  These months offer spring or autumn temperatures with mostly sunny days as well as being the shoulder season for tourists.

Weather

Melbourne is a city of four seasons in one day. You can experience warm sunny weather in the high 20c to drop late afternoon to below 20c. Layers, an umbrella for the sun or rain, and a light waterproof coat for showers.

Highlights:

  • Gardens and parks
  • Heritage Melbourne, laneways and alleys
  • Museums and galleries
  • Family friendly attractions with something for everyone
  • Shopping and markets
  • Walks and the Yarra River

Awesome journeys and day trips from Melbourne

Ten things to do for free in Melbourne
1
Visit the NVG for a walk through water experience and admission is free to the National Gallery of Victoria.
2
City tram ride is perhaps the best freebie in Melbourne, it is crowded though.
3
Federation Square visit St Paul's Cathedral and marvel at the interior.
4
The beaches are a tram ride away from the city centre, St Kilda with adjoining Brighton Beach and the quirky vibrant painted beach huts is a definite plus for dedicated beach fans.
5
Flinders St Station, Federation Square is an elaborate Victorian edifice worth a look around, an instagram moment of you are here, along with the bustle of office workers and shoppers.
6
Royal Botanic Gardens Gardens with their Native Garden and circular walk is a great people watching activity plus lots of instagram moments in the Park grounds, The garden tour people mover is free.
7
Coastal walkers rejoice there are numerous walking trails.
8
Yarra River walk is a great way to engage with Southbank and its large public sculptures.
9
Laneways and street art, check our guide for where to go and how to get there. Self-guided tours and maps make your walking tour a breeze and its free.
10
For children children our guide has a section on playgrounds, Docklands is a firm favourite for caregivers who want to shop.
Culture & Art

Melbourne is awash with slick, world-class museums covering interests such as fire services, individual artists, opal collections, medical history or sports history. The question is where to start?

Melbourne city skyline at twilight in Australia @Loving Australia

Perhaps an overview of the past, contemporary life and influences on Australia. Dip your toes into what makes Australia… a good place to start are the  museums. It is not fussy or dull. There are great selfie moments against a sheet of water, a moment where you mentally shudder at the thought of being locked up in cold, dark stone cells and a reflection of how people arrived in Australia.

Top four must see museums

Old Melbourne Gaol

377 Russell St, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia

National Gallery of Victoria

180 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne VIC 3006, Australia

Melbourne Museum

11 Nicholson St, Carlton VIC 3053, Australia

Immigration Museum

400 Flinders St, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia

And if you are not museum-ed out check out another two museums

State Library of Victoria

328 Swanston St, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia

Old Treasury Building and Museum

20 Spring St, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia

TIP : Museums are a great place for shopping for souvenirs, gifts and items that reflect Australian culture and art.  From tea towels to ceramics and jewellery check out the museum gift shop even if you do not plan to visit the exhibits.

Here is a selection of Melbourne museums.

Chinese Museum

24 Cohen Pl, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia

Hellenic Museum

280 William St, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia

National Sports Museum

Melbourne Cricket Ground, Brunton Ave, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia

Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre

11 Nicholson St, Carlton VIC 3053, Australia

Scienceworks Victoria

2 Booker St, Spotswood VIC 3015, Australia

Australian Centre for Contemporary Art

111 Sturt St, Southbank VIC 3006, Australia

And Aboriginal stories are to be found at Appreciate Aboriginal history, Koorie Heritage Trust Cultural Centre. For an initiation into the practices of the traditional owners, the Wurundjeri people, and an introduction into contemporary Koorie history and culture, check out the Koorie Heritage Trust’s Cultural Centre  in Federation Square. City Circle tram stop one. Aboriginal artists are supported by a permanent social history interactive exhibition to provide context for visitors unfamiliar with Aboriginal culture. The Melbourne Museum also has excellent information on indigenous social and culture heritage but is only free for students and members.

Art galleries

Melbourne is an art and artisan destination.  Art spaces on sides of buildings, pubic sculptures and installations or underground galleries featuring art and craft are part of the Melbourne landscape.  And do not forget the buildings as an art form. There are over 100 galleries, both public and commercial to choose from. Together with listings in the museum guide I have simply picked my favourites.  As art is a personal choice, enjoy the process of selecting your favourite art space in Melbourne. Please let me know your thoughts.

Heide Museum

7 Templestowe Rd, Bulleen VIC 3105, Australia

Centre for Contemporary Photography

404 George St, Fitzroy VIC 3065, Australia

Flinders Lane commercial galleries are worth a visit. Remember to check out Mailbox Art Space. The small size of a mailbox provides an interesting twist on the medium artists work on. Flinders Lane is convenient for short stay visitors however there are substantive galleries in the suburbs to be evaluated and pondered over.

Family friendly: things to do

Melbourne, with its balmy climate spring and autumn combined with its summer high temperatures has a number of water based activities.  Check out visit Melbourne outdoor water activities for ideas. A favourite of mine is the Melbourne City Baths,  located in a historic 150 year old public building.  The complex has a modern 30m indoor heated lap pool. There is also a wellbeing center inside with a gym and fitness studio.  People have indulged in water activities for a long time in Melbourne.

Eureka skydeck

7 Riverside Quay, Southbank VIC 3006, Australia

Melbourne Zoo

Elliott Ave, Parkville VIC 3052, Australia

Ian Potter Foundation Childrens Garden

Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Melbourne Gardens, Birdwood Ave, Melbourne VIC 3004, Australia

Melbourne Aquarium

King St, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia

Scienceworks Victoria

2 Booker St, Spotswood VIC 3015, Australia

St Kilda Luna Park

18 Lower Esplanade, St Kilda VIC 3182, Australia

Playgrounds

Royal Park Nature Play

28 Gatehouse St, Parkville VIC 3052, Australia

St Kilda Adventure Playground

Neptune St, St Kilda VIC 3182, Australia

Docklands Park Playground

1-91 Harbour Esplanade, Docklands VIC 3008, Australia

Check out the link to Melbourne Gardens and Parks public playgrounds for moments when the adults need to get younger members of the family out and about. It is an excellent reference to playground.

Shopping, retail therapy

Remember to check out the post on open air markets. Open air markets, craft markets headlined by the Queen Victoria markets (or QV).

Docklands

440 Docklands Dr, Docklands VIC 3008, Australia

Queen Victoria open air markets

Queen St, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia

Prahan

Victoria 3181,Australia

South Melbourne Markets

322-326 Coventry St, South Melbourne VIC 3205, Australia

QV

Cnr Swanston St & Lonsdale St, Melbourne VIC, Australia

And check out more market shopping ideas, second hand vintage clothing or car boot sales, detailed description of where to go and how to get there, click here.

Active: Walks and the Yarra River

YARRA RIVER is a favourite spot for river walks and people watching. A short stroll to the Yarra can start from Federation Square, walk along Flinders Street and over Princess Bridge to the Arts Centre and then back along the Southbank Promenade. You are in the area of the Southbank Precinct. There are photo moments of Melbourne, action on the Yarra River and the people. For longer walks including traditional Aboriginal gathering areas and the precinct’s public art installations check out Yarra River Walk website for details.

Eating Southbank style: Southbank, Yarra River is a maze of food courts, restaurants and eating establishments. It is a great place for reasonably priced food to go for a picnic or to take back to your accommodation. The range of food is from Subway to Italian, Asian of every description to vegetarian and classic fish and chips. It is a favourite place for office workers to grab a bit before heading to the railway station and home.

Lanes, arcades and alleys

Laneway street art reflects Melbourne narrative.  Multicultural with urban slick, busy crowded places.  There are a number of guided tours, both by professional tour guides and/or artists as well as self guided tours.  

I recommend an early morning self guided stroll before the office workers and tourist crowds appear.  My Sunday morning at 8.00am was perfect, just a few people. Melbourne walks – City of Melbourne  

(check out blog on street art, laneway style for a detailed description of how and why we are enjoying Melbourne street art today)

Buildings and architectural form

Melbourne architecture tours could concentrate on traditional buildings, public buildings of significance, homes or contemporary buildings or a chronological mixture of styles. 

You could visit suburbs such as St Kilda or Prahan.  

While a number of generalised tour companies offer architectural tours as part of their portfolio there are two specialised tour groups that are dedicated to Melbourne buildings. Naturally these groups are managed by passionate architects with a deep understanding of their town’s building heritage.

Check out either E-architect Melbourne  or Melbourne Architours. Forward bookings are essential.

(check out photo architectural tour blog)

Gardens and parks

Melbourne, with its temperate climate has a love affair with all things garden. Since the 19th century European settlement gardens have flourished. Visitors focused on garden tours, from New Zealand as well as the drier parts of Australia or further afield have choices from English style formal gardens to gardens embracing all things Australian. Parks are where public artworks are often situated, or buildings of significance such as Cook’s Cottage, Fitzroy Gardens, Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Kings Domain and the Federation Bells in Birrarung Marr.

(check out blog Melbourne gardens)

Getting around

Hop on and hop off bus provides an excellent opportunity for visitors short on time to hop, skip and jump between attractions.

A great orientation start is the free City Circle tram. Yes, it is free and quaint.

City Circle Tram 35 City Circle (Free Tourist Tram) departs every 12 minutes from Flinders Street Station and other designated stops. The tram has stops along its route. Information leaflets are available when boarding the tram. The tram is a heritage W class tram decorated in special maroon and green with yellow and gold trimmings. It is also very popular and can be overcrowded with tourists. If you can manage an early start grab a seat and simply relax. Enjoy people watching while the tram circles the city.  (approximately 1 hour or several hours while you relax, observe and recover from jet lag).

Melbourne does not have the convenience of a train running directly to the city centre.  There are the usual shuttle services, and two public bus service to Southern Cross Railway Station, Here is a link to a handy site informing us of up to date pricing. Welcome Melbourne.  There are two methods to reach the city centre from Melbourne airport. The most convenient is by taxi, however it is not a cheap option. A Melbourne Airport taxi to the central city will cost around 37€ (AUD$60.00) and the journey will last around 30 minutes to reach the centre. Alternatively, public transport via bus services is available. You can take two forms of bus services, public or SkyBus. SkyBus is the most convenient for travellers new to the city, costs around 12€ (AUD$19) and takes around 45 minutes to reach the city.

Melbourne transport within the city limits is Yarra Tram. Remember to purchase a tram tag on and tag off, electronic travel card, here is the link to fares and ticketing. An electronic Myki card can be topped up at train stops or local retailers. Trips are free within the CBD free tram zone or charged for transport outside the free tram zone. The Myki card can be used on all trains, trams and buses. Trams are a major form of public transportation and major attractions are usually within 1 km walking distance from the nearest tram stop. There is a very convenient app getting around, Public Transport Victoria provides a free app that has countdowns for trains, trams and buses. It shows locations for Myki retail outlets and includes a journey planner.

Melbourne day trips: where to go

TIP: The Great Ocean Road is an iconic road trip. Scenery, sights and sounds, the Ocean Road ticks all the boxes. There are numerous day trips to explore the Road. This is tiring. Most of the time you are in a vehicle driving to one or two destinations. Mass visitors could marr the experience due to overcrowding at peak visiting times. The Great Ocean Road deserves a paced exploration. Do not let an overcrowded tourist coach bus put you off one of the great road trips Australia has to offer.

  • The Great Ocean Road (upcoming June post)
  • Mornington Peninsula (check out post)
  • Gippsland (check out post)
  • Healesville native park sanctuary (check out post)
  • Goldfields, Bendigo and Ballart (check out weekend in Bendigo)
  • Dandenong Ranges exploration (garden focused tour)
  • The Murray River 

Travel pack information

The journey is worth it.

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