With almost 5 million inhabitants, Melbourne is the second largest Australian city (after Sydney). Before Canberra was “constructed”, Melbourne served as the interim capital city of Australia. Melbourne is the “coffee” capital of Australia – the entire city is full of cafés and Melbournians claim that in Melbourne you will get one of the best coffees in the world. So, should you ever come to Melbourne, don’t make the mistake of going to Starbucks. Melbourne is very multicultural – the city has the biggest Greek community in the world living outside of Greece and the largest Italian community in Australia. Melbourne keeps ranking high among the cities with the highest life quality – it has a well-established health, education and economic system. What it doesn’t have though is the good weather – Melbourne is the city where you can have “all four seasons in one day” (except it doesn’t snow).
We spent 3 days in Melbourne – 2 exploring the city and 1 at the Australian Open (one of the 4 Tennis Grand Slams). We found out that it is possible to get an impression of the city in 2 days but if you want to really deep dive and enjoy the city in all its facets, you will definitely need more time. We visited Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne on our tour down the Australian East Coast (from Cairns to the Great Ocean Road) and Melbourne was our total favorite.
6 Reasons why Melbourne is our favorite city on Australia’s East Coast:
- It is the city of Coffee – Melbournians love good coffee – there are many good cafes in Melbourne, even entire streets packed with nice little cafes serving good coffee during the day
- It is the city of Food – Melbourne is a multi-cultural city and they embrace this multi-culturality. Also the food scene reflects it very well – every cuisine from around the globe can be found. From delicious Chinese Soup Dumplings over Italian Pasta to Vietnamese Banh Mi – you will get everything.
- It is the city of Street Art: Giving it a unique artsy spirit, Street Art is an important part of the culture in Melbourne and legal in many streets of the city.
- It is the city of the Australian Open: Once every year, the entire tennis world looks at Melbourne – this is in January when the hottest Grand Slam (and the only one on the Southern Hemisphere!) takes place in the city.
- It is the city of Ice Cream: In Melbourne you can find every ice-cream style – Australian and Italian. It is up to you to decide which one you like best.
- It is the city with the “hipster” flair: People in Melbourne are just cool – there are lots of students, live takes place in the outdoors (at least, when it is not raining) and St. Kilda is just the lifestyle hotspot.
Getting to know Melbourne: 3-Hour Free Walking Tour
As we loved the free walking tour in Sydney so much, we decided to also go for it in Melbourne. The same company that we did the tour with also offers it in Melbourne. The principle is the same, volunteers guide you through the city for about 3 hours and in the end you pay what you think the tour was worth. It is that easy!
Times: 10:30 AM & 2:30 PM
The tour started in front of the State Library of Victoria in the center of Melbourne.
The first part of the tour brought us through the older, historic part of the city. Our tour guide Lenny, a born and raised Melbournian and very proud inhabitant of “this great city”, gave us a very interesting and deep insight into the history of the city. Originally, the land on which Melbourne is now located was inhabited by Aborigines. At the beginning of the 19th century, the city was first settled by Europeans when John Batman arrived, bought land from the Aborigines and found the first community. The city was steadily growing until gold was found in the area around Melbourne – the Gold Rush attracted many people from overseas and the city grew exponentially. The city was developed quickly to respond to the growth – the Town Hall, State Library, General Post Office, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Parliament House were built.
Just as we had learnt a lot about the history, we passed a rather new and definitely one of the most disgusting buildings in Melbourne: the Green Brain of the RMIT University Melbourne. It is a building with a green construction on top – meant to be a creative brain. Well, yeah, nice idea but the building does not fit into the city and is just not nice.
We went to Carlton Gardens, a really nice park right in the center of Melbourne. The Royal Exhibition Building is located in the park. It is a very nice building that is was the first in Australia to become UNESCO Heritage listed. It hosts international exhibitions of all kinds – and, the University of Victoria holds the exams there – so students don’t appreciate the beauty of the building as much as other people.
We walked through the city center until we reached the Royal Arcade – a very exclusive shopping mall on Bourke Street – the major shopping street in Melbourne. All common brands are featured on Bourke Street – so, whatever you look for, this is the place to go. In Royal Arcade you can find Melbourne’s best chocolate – at least, according to our tour guide Lenny (a real born and raised Melbournian) – Chokolait.
The next stop was one of the most famous – if not, the most famous – streets in Melbourne: Hosier Lane. Doesn’t sound very spectacular but it definitely is. Hosier Lane is one of the epitomes of Melbourne’s street art culture – it totally reflects the great respect and appreciation Melbourne has for the colorful paintings that come out of a spray can. All walls in Hosier Lane are completely covered with street art. There are even street art artists that paint entire paintings and portraits on the walls. Street artist Adnet, for example, drew a portrait of an indigenous boy whose eyes reflect the skyline of the city. This piece of art is aimed at reflecting the importance the place also has for indigenous people (who where the first ones to inhabit the land where Melbourne was later found). Another street where many of these famous portraits can be found is AC/DC Lane – definitely also worth a stroll.
The Artsy Side of Melbourne: Street Art vs. Graffiti
In Melbourne, graffiti is legal in many places – therefore, it is not called graffiti (which is the illegal version) but street art. Melbournians totally embrace the culture of street art and therefore, many houses are allowed to be decorated with the spray can. In Hosier Lane, even one side of a church is part of the street – it is completely sprayed.
Our last stop of the tour was on the other side of the Yarra River – where we had a very good view on the city’s skyline. We passed the Pixel building which is considered one of the most ugly buildings in Melbourne. When it was built Melbournians did not really like it because of its appearance, but now it is a real meeting place with lots of entertainment going on, so it became a highly appreciated and loved place in Melbourne. Right next to the Arts Center of Melbourne – which reminds a little bit on the Eiffel Tower in Paris – you have a really good view on the skyline (perfect picture spot). That is where the tour ends, with a perfect view on the Yarra River and the skyline.
The Best Market in Melbourne: Queen Victoria Market
Queen Victoria Market is a real must-visit in Melbourne. The market takes place every day from around 6:00 AM till 3:00 PM. On Wednesday it is closed during the day, however it opens in the evening for the famous night market. On the market, you can find everything from fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, cheese, sausages, bread, cakes and souvenirs. The prices do vary but are in general, pretty descent. We found bag of cherries for 1 AUD, but also for 8 AUD – so just listen carefully which prices people scream and you will definitely make a bargain. The goods offered are very fresh and some stand offer specialties (like Hungarian salami, Swiss cheese, Italian pasta, …). A very large area of the market is dedicated solely to souvenirs – if you look for souvenirs, this is also the place to go.
The Hippest Suburb: St. Kilda
St. Kilda is a really cool suburb of Melbourne and home to the Melbournian house beach. When visiting Melbourne, you should really also visit St. Kilda – half a day is enough to absorb the flair and dip into the hip area. We parked our car in St. Kilda on the first day as it is easy to find a free (available and complimentary) parking spot there. We took the tram to the center, which takes about 30 minutes. In the evening, we walked back – it is pretty far though, it took us about 1.5 hours (7 kilometers / 4.4 miles). The center of St. Kilda basically concentrates around the Luna Park and the Esplanade. St. Kilda is full of little restaurants, cafés and bars.
The Culinary Side: Food Food Food & Drinks
Melbourne is a culinary hotspot – it offers all kinds of different foods … Chinese, Thai, Italian … everything you could possibly want. Going out for lunch/dinner in Melbourne is pretty expensive but it is also pure enjoyment.
We are totally into Asian food, so we tried two Asian restaurants.
We love soup dumplings: little Chinese dumplings that are filled with meat, crab or vegetables and soup. We discovered this Chinese specialty in New York City a few years ago and since then we always visit Joe’s Shanghai (24 W 56th Street, Manhattan) for a portion. When we saw that Melbourne features a large Chinatown, we immediately thought of soup dumplings and found them:
Hu Tong Dumpling Bar, 14-16 Market Lane, Chinatown – Melbourne
The dumplings were really good (we ordered the classical version filled with pork and soup). One portion comprises 8 dumplings (which is sufficient to share if you are not that hungry – if you are really starving, one person can also eat 8 dumplings) and costs about 10 AUD.
Chin Chin, 125 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Chin Chin is not a real hidden gem – usually lines are long (people wait forever to get a table) as it is a very hip place. We talked to locals and found out that people like to be seen at Chin Chin – it is really that hip. The food is absolutely amazing – a total blast. Prices are not super expensive but definitely a little bit higher.
When it comes to the best ice cream, opinions about what is the best are controversial. We talked to locals and found out that there are two “best” ice creameries in Melbourne: Gelato Messina and Pidapipó. We drew the conclusion that Gelato Messina is the best Australian-style ice cream and Pidapipó the best Italian-style ice cream.
We were addicted to Gelato Messina right away and went there every day to grab a scoop of one of the 30 great flavors. When you enter Gelato Messina, you feel like a child again that just wants to try all the flavors instead of decide for one or two. Flavors reach from the classics like passionfruit, mango and chocolate over great compositions like coconut with roast almonds, coconut lychee and passionfruit meringue to the very sophisticated combinations like maple with fig jam and roast almonds or cheesecake with caramel and Oreo pieces.
When we visited Melbourne in January 2018, Gelato Messina had 2 locations: Fitzroy and Richmond. When in Melbourne, check it out – you won’t regret it!
The Australian Open
Every year in January, the hottest of the four Grand Slams is held in Melbourne. All tennis arenas and courts around the famous Rod Laver Arena become a huge playground for the world’s No1 players. As we totally love live sports (football, tennis, alpine skiing, …) and we were in Melbourne exactly when the tournament took place, we had to visit.
Purchasing the Tickets
We bought the tickets in advance – online. We had pre-registered for tickets already in summer and received an e-Mail just before the sale started. You can also buy tickets on-site, however, you should remember that the best seats will be gone quickly. You can either get a ticket for the day session, the night session or a combination. There are also different arenas that you can buy tickets for (Rod Laver, Margaret Court, …).
Visiting the Australian Open
Given that our ongoing flight to our next destination departed around midnight we went for the day session in the Rod Laver arena. This turned out to be an excellent choice as we saw, amongst other matches, an intense heat battle between Novak Djokovic and Gaël Monfils. Gaël is one of the best athletes on the tour and his suffering after the first set due to the heat on the court was painful to watch. Even we were sweating like crazy on our seats in the first set as we were sitting in the open sun. Later the shadow from the roof started to creep in so we had really pleasant temperatures (word of advice, if you book day session tickets make sure you set at least 2/3 in the upper ranks on the east side of the arena!). Despite the burning heat both fought very hard and in the end Novak won in 4 sets. After the match we walked around the outside courts to see the last few matches that were going on.
If you are visiting as well, make sure to bring enough bottles of water and snacks as drinks and food is very expensive inside. They have put up water refill stations all over the area so you can stay hydrated during the day. Regarding your camera, they have put up signs everywhere that you are not allowed to bring any photo or film equipment inside. However, we walked in with Tom’s DSLR and a GoPro and had no problem at all and took some photos and videos inside. So, don’t worry!
Public Transport in Melbourne
The biggest problem in Melbourne for tourists – apart from the unstable weather – is definitely the public transportation system. There are trams and busses connecting all parts of the city as well as the suburbs. In order to use public transport, however, you have to have a myki Card. The negative thing about the myki card is that you have to purchase it. It costs 6 AUD – just for the card itself. You have to pay the fare on top – which is a really tourist-unfriendly system considering an average stay of 3-5 days max. We did not want to pay for the myki Card for one day (on our 2nd and 3rd day in Melbourne we had a hostel and everything was in walking distance) because it would have cost 12 AUD for both of us. So, we explained our bad situation to the tram driver (from St. Kilda to the city center), who was, luckily, very understanding and took us for free. He told us at which station we had to leave in order not to run the danger of getting caught by one of the ticket inspectors.
Our Overnight Stay
The hotel is basically not a hotel but more a hostel. We booked a double room with shared bathroom. What was not mentioned on booking.com, however, was that if you book a double room, there is a slight chance you will get a bunk bed. When we arrived, we learnt we were gonna get a bunk bed. When we said we wanted a double room, the lady at the reception immediately changed our room to a room with a double bed for free. The rooms are clean and spacious, the bathroom and toilet (shared) was also very clean and well maintained. The room also included breakfast, which was basic but good. There was coffee, tea, cocoa, toast, butter, jam and different kinds of cereals. The location of the hotel is good – it is close to the Royal Botanical Garden, however, it is definitely not in the city center but about 3 kilometers away on the other side of the Yarra River. When we checked-out, we could leave our luggage in the storage room. We went to the Australian Open during the day and had our flight at 00:50 AM the next morning. When we returned from the Australian Open – seating like hell – to pick up our luggage, the receptionist even let us take a shower (he even provided towels). We would stay there again as we perceived the price-performance ratio as very good and the service excellent.