Every time I go to Melbourne I go looking for a comprehensive guide on what to do and where to do it. I also do not wish to pay for this info. I would think “surely another blogger has put together an ‘Ultimate Guide to Melbourne’ that can help me”. Sure enough, there are quite a few of these, but none of them were satisfactorily ‘Ultimate’ for my liking.
So this time I went to Melbourne, I planned to create my own. I actually built the skeleton of it before I went, enlisted the help of a number of trusted bloggers to get some different perspectives and started filling it in.
How to Use this Guide
In my experience, the best way to see Melbourne is by neighbourhood. There are plenty of awesome places everywhere, but as soon as you start going through generic travel guides or “X Day Itineraries” (which admittedly are quite good), it becomes overwhelming, hard to follow, and difficult to formulate a plan because there are SO many great options and differing opinions. You become a victim of analysis paralysis, which nobody wants on a holiday.
So the goal of this guide is to break down Melbourne into its popular suburbs, collate a maximum number of places within these places and you can create your own itinerary. Use the navigation links to click to a section of a neighbourhood you want to visit.
Contents: The Neighbourhoods of Melbourne
Click to view:
- Melbourne CBD
- CBD Laneways
- Prahran/South Yarra/Windsor
- St Kilda
- Port Melbourne
- Richmond Eastern Suburbs
- Southbank and surrounds
- Out of the City
The centre of the city, home to many major attractions, and where you should base yourself. My observation of the CBD is that unlike other major cities (like Sydney), almost the entirety of the city feels pedestrian, retail, and safe. Sure, there are businesses in highrise, the the ground floor is almost exclusively shops, restaurants and bars, which makes it great (if a little overwhelming) to explore on foot.
Sights and Activities
Fed Square/Flinders St Station
There’s always something happening in Fed Square, especially on weekend. Don’t go out of your way because you’ll end up there eventually. And Flinders St Station is opposite, you’ll probably alight/depart from there at some stage too.
Bourke Street Mall
One of the main shoppng districts in Melbourne. It has many of the big chains, small chains, and retailers of every type. Adding to your shopping experience are the sounds created by the many buskers along the street. The prominent position for the absolute best buskers is in front the GPO steps (now H&M) where you’ll often see people just sitting and watching.
I never intended to visit the State Library on my last visit to Melbourne but I’m so glad we serendipitously decided to drop in. The facade is a beautiful example of neoclassical architecture and the main feature of the inside, called “the dome”, is a 6 story high symmetrical hexagonal hall with white painted walls and study desks on the floor arranged as a star. On the top level is a viewing deck and on each level are books that seem impossible to get to. It doesn’t have to be a long stop, but I’d call it a required stop.
Queen Victoria Market
The Queen Victoria Market in the Melbourne CBD at the corners of Franklin and Swanston Streets is one of the largest markets in the Southern Hemisphere and a great place to see the variety of multicultural food on offer in Melbourne as well as purchase souvenirs, various leather goods, and knockoff sports jerseys. If you are in need of a great coffee, find the Market Lane Coffee stall in the deli hall! (By Elizabeth, read more on Compass and Fork).
While not exclusive to Melbourne (or even Australia), those who are up for an intellectual or problem solving challenge will love Escape Room. You’ll be locked in a room and will have to solve a number of problems in order to get out. It can be frustrating and satisfying all at the same time.
Comedy @ Spleen*
If you’re up for some good old fashioned laughs and you happen to be in Melbourne on a Monday night, check out Spleen who have a free comedy show every week. They often get some pretty big names too so you might even get lucky. The show is free but they appreciate a gold coin.
Spencer Outlet Centre
Also known as DFO, this is a great place to grab a bargain for last season’s shoes, clothes, bags, etc. We always set aside a couple of hours because it is full of bargains. Admittedly some shops are still better than others ($200 shoes should not be in an outlet centre) but there is still plenty of value to be found.
Huxtaburger is a Melbourne institution. With 2 locations in the City it shouldn’t be hard to find one relatively nearby. The burgers are simple, but done well and are true to the American style. They are some of the most highly rated in Melbourne, a fact which I can attest to, but is also validated by a #1 ranking of burger joints in Melbourne from Foursquare
Mrs Parmas have one of the most comprehensive selections of chicken schnitzel varieties you could ask for. If you like schnitzel, you’ll be right at home. They also have an enviable list of craft beers on tap and in bottles.
Hwaro Korean BBQ
While maybe not a true example of “Melbourne culture”, it is a great example of multicultural Melbourne, just one of the many authentic national cuisines you can find in the city. Your meal will be cooked on the barbecue at your table as the waiter/chef comes round periodically to check on it. A different kind of food experience and a delicious one at that too.
They do one thing and they do it well. Meat. Well I suppose they probably do it medium rare most often, but you get the point. Open for a lighter lunch of burgers if you’re just passing through or the full spread for dinner. Also have good beers on tap and a quality, if short, list of cocktails.
Located in Chinatown, Dessert Story is great for some traditional Chinese Dessert. Don’t let that put you off though, the desserts will still hit the sweet spot and satisfy any post dinner craving. I recommend the Mango snow ice. It’s exactly as it sounds.
Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar*
Pellegrini’s was one that kept popping up in my search for good guides to Melbourne. It boasts authentic Italian cuisine by an authentic Italian in a shop that hasn’t changed in decades. Unfortunately time ran out for me to visit this trip, but I still wanted to include it because it sounded like a great spot for a coffee or a meal.
Coffee and Alcohols
Dimly lit with creepy feature walls and loosely segmented between official eating and official drinking areas, Cookie has one of the most extensive wine lists I’ve ever seen. I’m not wino so I don’t know how you’d even begin to choose a wine without feeling overwhelmed, but I’m sure the barman will have no trouble helping you find something. The beer taplist is also extensive as far as beer goes with around 15 taps of rotating craft beers. Can be pricey though so best to ask if you’re unsure.
If you grew up in the 80s or 90s this will be your heaven as your step back in time to enjoy pinball, video and arcade games from another era. Only now you’re a bit older you can enjoy them with a craft beer, cocktail, or craft whiskey.
English expats will love Sherlock Holmes and so will anyone who enjoys a solid underground pub. Small in size, filled with timber furnishings with a low ceiling, it comes across as an honest, unpretentious pub with good beer, excellent food and enough tvs to follow the footy (AFL, probably) score, but not so many that it becomes a rowdy sports bar. The nachos are excellent value for under $10. I challenge you and a friend to finish them.
I’ve only ever had drinks here, but if you’re around Fed Square and feeling a little thirsty Beer DeLuxe has a great selection of craft beers to satisfy any thirst.
Located on the 55th floor of the Rialto Building, Lui Bar is Melbourne’s highest bar. Entry is free as long as you are drinking. You can expect to pay a premium for drinks but the view of the city and surrounds and very much worth it and cheaper than paying a tourist tax for the SkyDeck.
Ponyfish Island bar is located in the middle of the Yarra River under Southbank Pedestrian Bridge. It provides a fantastic vantage point of Melbourne and, on a sunny day, it’s a perfect place to get your drink on! (By Sarah and Kris, of Jetsetting Fools)
The League of Honest Coffee*
The League of Honest Coffee is one of the premier places for a brew in the city. They offer a wide variety of single origin coffees, all of which are fair trade. I guess the hint was in the name.
Curtin House Rooftop Bar
I visited Curtin House on a bucks night so my memory of it might be a little foggy. What I do recall though is that the beers were flowing and we had a great view of the city from the rooftop. Don’t try and get in with a group of 13 men though, find some ladies to break it up so they are more inclined to let you all in.
Hopetoun Tea Room
A gorgeous cafe in the historic Block Arcade. The cafe has more types of teas and delicious desserts than you care to imagine. Even the novice tea drinker will be able to find something they like and if not, there is also coffee.
Brother Baba Budan
Characterised by a small cafe with hanging chairs form the ceiling, Brother Baba Budan is one of the best places for takeaway coffee. I mean, if you can get a seat then by all means stay. But there aren’t many.
Whiskey and Alement
One of the finer haunts for whiskey lovers in the city. Achingly small with, it couldn’t be more than 35 guests without elbow room, but if you can manage to squeeze in you’ll be most pleased with the selection on offer. Their specialty is Japanese whiskey, and if you know what you like the staff will easily recommend something that fits that bill. They even have a small but excellent selection of craft beers if you happen to get dragged along by your whiskey loving mates.
Down Melbourne’s CBD Laneways
Melbourne is all about the laneways. Some are common knowledge, and some you will just stumble upon. Some seem to exist just to provide a canvas for street art. Others will be packed with cafes. This is all part of the charm of Melbourne.
For a more in depth tour of Melbourne’s laneways, Kerri of Beer and Croissants has an excellent article on her blog.
Hardware Societe, Hardware Lane
Hardware Societe is one of the best places for breakfast in the city. I’ve been there on two separate trips to Melbourne and can’t recommend it enough. It is rated as 10th best breakfast place in Melbourne by Foursquare and 8th best restaurant by Tripadvisor so it’s not just me saying that. I had the baked eggs and they were phenomenal. I think this might actually be their signature dish. The prices are reasonable too, but they don’t take bookings so you know, the early bird gets the hot coffee.
Manchester Press, Rankin Lane
Manchester Press is another fantastic breakfast choice in my mind. Especially if you like breakfast bagels. However if you have in mind the New York style with one or two toppings/spreads that you could eat while you walk, you’re way off the mark. I love that style, but this is a full meal, and not finger food (I would caution that it’s not actually possible, or even polite to eat it with your hands). The smashed avocado bagel was unbelievable, and unbelievably hard to eat.
The Little Mule
Just around the corner (in a parralel laneway) from Manchester Press is this small, unpretentious cafe. The menu is limited to the blackboard and prepared in the smallest kitchen I’ve ever seen in a cafe. So the food – primarily sandwiches, bagels, and fancy toast – are simple, but delicious.
Eau De Vie, Malthouse Lane
Who doesn’t love hidden laneway bars? Eau De Vie is located down one of Melbourne’s famous laneways in the CBD and with no signage and only a black door in a wall on the side of a disused looking building – it is easy to miss! Inside is a wonderful prohibition-era styled cocktail and whiskey bar, where the lights are kept low and the drinks are a work of art! (By Vicki of Make Time to See the World).
Editors note: I saw the guys from Eau De Vie do a cocktail demonstration at GABS Beers Festival and for one of them they used dry ice! These are not your ordinary cocktails, some serious thought and creativity has gone into the menu.
If you’re hungry near Fed Square I have no doubt you would just stumble upon this laneway. Chock full of cafes you are bound to find something you like here. The only trouble can often be finding a seat.
Laneways for Graffiti
Hosier Lane – One of the “go to” lanes for street art in Melbourne. It’s packed with wall-to-wall graffiti and is fairly close to Flinders Street Station.
Union Lane – joins Little Collins Street and the Bourke Street Mall so it passed as an excellent choice of thoroughfare as we had loaded up on coffee from Sensory Lab just before it on our way to do a spot of shopping. There aren’t as many ‘pictures’ as say Hosier has, but it is clearly art, beautifully done, and very colourful.
If you want to see a more bohemian side to Melbourne, then a trip to Brunswick Street in Northern Melbourne is a must! There are plenty of cafes, weird and wacky shops and interesting street art around every corner! (By Tom of The Tavelling Tom)
One of the best tap lists of craft beer I’ve ever seen resides at Forresters. If you’re not in the area it is worth the trek out to Collingwood, even if you go nowhere else. Settle in, spend the night and see how many badges you can get on Untappd.
My friends from Melbourne who love coffee chose this spot to take my wife and I when we visited. They had home made Nutella the day we were there so this just should give an indication on the type of establishment you’ve got.
The Grub Street Bookshop
If you’re like me, then you’ll love buying second hand books on holiday. I do it all the time. The Grub Street Bookshop is a great value shop along Brunswick Street with just about every type of book you can imagine.
Rose St Market*
I’ll be honest and say I didn’t make it to the market, but if your looking for a market near Brunswick Street and are into art and design, it sounds like you’ll enjoy stopping by.
More like, Gelato Amazing. On a hot day there will be nothing like a cold cup or cone of their creamy gelato. The flavours are as a creative and diverse as they are numerous.
Brother Burger and Marvellous Brew
I stumbled on this place while looking for burgers on Brunswick Street (thank you Foursquare!) It turned out to be a Godsend because not only were the burgers sensational, but the beer selection could not be faulted either.
Fitzroy Gardens/Cook’s Cottage*
This one I haven’t been to myself, but it kept popping up every time I found a small list of ‘to do’s’ for Melbourne so I figured why not add it in here too? The gardens are supposed to be beautiful and as is it named for Captain James Cook, captain of the First Fleet, it is somewhat historical.
Sir Charles is one of the largest coffee shops I’ve ever seen. We got a table out the front so didn’t really appreciate it until we went inside to look at the sweets (I’ll get to that). The tables seemed to just to go on and on. The coffee was excellent and as well as the usual breakfast and lunch fare they also have a wide variety of cakes and slices, though their signature is a mega cronut for $10: a croissant in the shape of a donut, the size of two, covered in icing and M&Ms. It looked like diabetes on a plate. We shared a small one and it was divine and it was surprisingly not sickening which made it even better.
I could probably dedicate a whole section to Lygon Street, simply because it is a street dedicated to restaurants. One of the best is Brunetti, especially if you like Italian and/or desserts (there’s actually many options for Italian on Lygon St), but I suggest you just walk down one side of the street when looking for dinner and pick somewhere that seems nice for the right price. It has everything. It is somewhat touristy but it’s a bit of an institution because of its variety.
Smith Street, Collingwood
Melbourne’s alternative cultural heart – is a hot spot for street art; one of those places that seem to have a beautiful secret hidden around every corner. Amongst the classic scribbled tags and scrawled penises of bored teenagers are some incredible murals, which just go to show that not all of Australia’s best artists can be found in a gallery. (By Katie of Feathery Travels)
Another of Melbourne’s hipster streets filled with restaurants, cafes, bars, and plenty of shops. I’d probably go here again over Brunswick Street (only if you are really pressed for time) but they are fairly similar in what they offer and the vibe they emit.
I happened to stumble on this place while walking along Chapel Street – the best way to see Melbourne – and was quite a gem. Uniquely fitted out with vintage, high-backed, velvet couches in booth formation offering ultimate comfort and somewhat privacy from other guests while you recharge with your cocktail, wine or beer.
One thing I noticed about Chapel Street is the oabundance of op shops (or thrift stores). However what was more apparent was the prices. Generally you expect op shops to have a really old clothes, and the odd gem at absolute bargain prices because they are serving the poor and homeless. But the prices at the Salvos were ludicrous. Shirts for $18, old records for $6, a coat for $98, I could go on.
Anyway, I’m sure not all the op shops are like this but if you’re looking for bottom-of-the-barrel bargains, the Salvos isn’t the place. /rant
There is actually not that much in the Docklands area unless you are going to a football match. You could come check it out if you really want, but if your time is short I suggest you stick to one of the other areas in this guide.
A mainstay in any “Melbourne list”. If you’re in St Kilda at least go have a walk around the park, even if you don’t go on any rides. As Australia’s oldest amusement park (built in 1912) it is very historic and certainly gives off the turn-of-the-century, Coney Island style vibes. Unfortunately the prices don’t reflect this sentiment as a sixpence won’t get you very far. Good view from the roller coaster though.
St Kilda Beach
On a hot day the St Kilda beach can be an easy and welcome retreat from the blistering city. And if you are there around dusk, keep an eye out for an army of fairy penguins making their way home after a hard day of fishing. It’s also one of the best places close to the city to take in the sunset so it’s a pretty great place to spend an afternoon.
Technically ‘The Taphouse’ is on Chapel Street, albeit at the very south, it is closer to St Kilda than the rest of the street. The Taphouse is another of the great craft beer halls of Melbourne. I’ve been to the Sydney Taphouse, the Melbourne Taphouse and the beer festival (GABS) they put on and seriously, these people know beer and know how to put together a tap list. It’s one of the most diverse tap lists you can imagine and is always rotating.
St Kilda Community Garden
I love St Kilda for the vibe and it’s foodie culture but I also love it for the Veg Out Community Garden. Located right in the heart of St Kilda, locals come here to tend to their vegetable gardens, their fruit trees and even their chickens. It’s located close to Luna Park, on the corner of Shakespeare Grove and Chaucer St, St Kilda. (By Kerri of Beer and Croissants)
Pink Lake is out of way and perfect for anyone who loves sights that are off the beaten track and decidedly weird. The Westgate Park area surrounding Pink Lake isn’t necessarily mind-blowing, after all, it’s located at a park next to a freeway. But if you like seeing the odd ball things a city has to offer, this is one of them. The Pink Lake is pretty cool and truly bizarre. A natural algae is to blame for its hot pinkness and you’ll surely get some cool shots here. (By Nina of Where in the World is Nina).
On your way back to Port Melbourne from the lake, take a look at Princes Pier. It might not look like much, but there are boards to read which entail the history of this pier. It was the sign of a new beginning for many immigrants during WW2. It’s humbling to think about, and yes, quite beautiful. The wooden stumps they left jetting out of the water is just another odd thing to add to your list.
Take the tram to the last stop in Port Melbourne, walk along the boardwalk and past Princes Pier for about 20-30 minutes until you get to Westgate Park for the Pink Lake. (By Nina of Where in the World is Nina).
Moon Dog Brewhouse
For those that like to right to the source, Moon Dog do some of Australia’s best craft brews. Filled with eclectic couches, wooden barrels, and a random assortment of large umbrellas (inside the shed), Moon Dog has regular and seasonal beers on tap plus a pizza caravan out the front. Get tram 12 or 109.
Mountain Goat Brewery*
Mountain Goat is one of my favourite Australian craft breweries so it was an easy inclusion in this guide. Though they only open their doors publicly on Wednesday and Friday nights from 5pm for beers and pizza so you do have to time it well – which I never seem to be able to. But the Wednesday night brewery tour is free, which is more that can be said of most breweries.
Southbank and surrounds
If visiting Melbourne in January, you will not be able to avoid the Australia Open so you might as well get a ticket. For a cheap outside court ticket, you can wander around in the summer sun and soak in as much tennis action as you can handle. It’s a great way to hang out with friends, enjoy a few drinks and watch some of the world’s best go head to head. (By Jackson of Journey Era).
The Queen Victoria Gardens
On a beautiful day, the Queen Victoria Gardens are truly stunning! Whether you want to read a book, eat lunch or just enjoy the view, you can’t beat a relaxing afternoon here! (By Toni of Enchanted Serendipity).
Royal Botanic Gardens
A lovely place for a picnic and enjoying nature without venturing too far from the city. The fitness types will want to bring their running gear to join the locals jogging the ‘tan track’.
Shrine of Remembrance
The shrine of Remembrance is a large memorial to the men and women of Victoria who have served our country in war. The views from the top are immense, just please be respectful as it a memorial.
Crown Entertainment Complex
Crown Casino is a great to finish any boozy night out. The odds may not be in your favour but why should that stop you? Put $10 on red for me.
See a game at the MCG
AFL might as well be the official religion of Victoria. They live and breathe it. An AFL game at the MCG is like no other, at least not in Australia. The noise the fans make for their teams is electrifying and any sports fan will relish the experience regardless of your allegiance. Tickets and schedule at www.afl.com.au
It’s a bit touristy, and being behind Southbank, it’s a little out of the way. But being out of the CBD just means you have the perspective of looking in on the city, seeing it all as one.
Out of the City
The Yarra Valley is located 40 minutes outside the city and is home to 100 beautiful wineries, a craft brewery, a gin distillery, a chocolatarie and one of the best dairy’s you’ll ever visit! With (free) wine, cheese and chocolate on offer – what is there not to love! (By Vicki of Make Time to See the World)
A little past St Kilda on the tram, Brighton Beach is perfect for an afternoon at the beach. The real attraction though are the hundreds of colourful beach cottages that line the entire beach. Enough to keep any photographer occupied for a while.
It may not be as well known as Chinatown, but Box Hill offers some of best and most authentic Asian food available in Melbourne due its large population of Chinese people. Wandering the streets will bring about flashbacks of mainland China with tasty budget Asian restaurants, cafes and tea shops on every corner. Box Hill is located just 14Km east of Melbourne’s CBD, Box hill is easy accessible by the Belgrave/Lilydale train line and the 109 tram. (By Barry of Tools of Travel)
Get a Myki
Trams rule Melbourne so bow to their power by getting a Myki card. Tram rides are free within the CBD blocks but run for about $3-4 if you go to one of the nearby suburbs. If you estimate how many times you’ll leave the CBD you can budget accordingly because the cards are prepaid.
Get the official transport apps
Public Transport Victoria (PTV) and Trams Melbourne both have official apps to help you plan your trip. Though to be honest I found Google maps to be just as accurate for finding the right route and station, and each station can tell you how long until the next one.
City circle tram
Melbourne also has a historic city circle tram which loops the CBD. It stops regularlay at anything of interest around the CBD and is also free. It’s a great way to fill and hour or two.
Staying in the CDB block is a must and in my opinion within maybe 3-4 blocks of Fed Square ideally places you pretty central to everything, including transport. It’s not that Fed Square will be the centre of your trip, but it just so happens that there are a lot of cool things in the area so basing yourself near there will be helpful.
Ibis Styles Melbourne, The Victoria Hotel
I stayed at the Victoria Hotel on my last trip to Melbourne and it was a great value hotel and perfectly located in the centre of the city. It has everything you need and it very reasonably priced. Read my review for more details.
Something for those with less to spend. Located in the northern part of the CBD, right near the Queen Victoria Market. Doesn’t quite fit the location criteria I described above but as a party hostel it checks all the boxes.
I’ve also stayed in 2 separate Airbnb apartments and can tell you that this was also a great way to go. If you have a small group like we did it was work out as least as cheap as a hotel and you’ll have much more space plus the use of a kitchen – not that you’ll need it, but it’s nice to have the option.
Get your own Airbnb coupon code here.
* Full disclosure, I haven’t been to every place on this list, most, but not all. But those that I haven’t are the ones that seem to pop up in many other guides or itineraries, AND are highly rated on places like tripadvisor and four square. so in the interest of giving you the most complete guide, I’ve included it as well.
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