If you’re lucky enough to find yourself down in Melbourne for a few days, you may have some trouble deciding what to do. With so many attractions, Australia’s cultural, sporting, fashion and coffee capital can be overwhelming to a first-time visitor.
Although I’ve never lived in Melbourne, my brother is based there as are many of my university friends, so with their help, I’ve put together this list of 10 Things You Must Do in Melbourne. Let’s get started!
1. Watch a game at the MCG
The Melbourne Cricket Ground, or the “MCG” or even just “the G”, is Australia’s largest sporting stadium. It is also the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, a phrase that you might hear a bit when you’re in Australia.
But it’s not just about the size of it, the G also has a lot of history – it was the main stadium for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, and the first international cricket Test match was also played there back in 1877.
Both cricket and Australian Football (Aussie rules) games are played regularly at the G, with cricket played during summer and the Australian Football League (AFL) season running from March to August. Watching a game at the G is one of the most iconic Australian activities you could do, so check out the schedules for AFL and cricket to see if you can line up a game. Having a meat pie during the game is obligatory.
If you’re not familiar with Aussie rules or cricket, I recommend doing some reading or watching of videos in advance, as the games can be hard to follow – or just boring in the case of cricket, at least for many people. For a very funny take on cricket, I absolutely love reading this excerpt from Bill Bryson’s “A Sunburnt Country”.
For Aussie rules, the AFL has put together this helpful 5-minute video introduction for non-Australians. For pure entertainment value, watch this video of some of the best “speccies” (spectacular marks or catches) of all time, and this video for the best hits (tackles) in Aussie rules.
If you can’t watch a game, or you want to learn even more about the MCG, there are daily guided tours you can join. Tours take approximately 75 minutes and take you behind the scenes, with expert guides telling lots of stories about the stadium and the history of cricket and AFL.
2. Explore the CBD for street art and stories
Melbourne is famous for its street art and laneways, with Hosier Lane being the most popular spot to check out the ever-changing work of local artists.
For something a bit more interactive, I highly recommend joining a tour with “Hands On Street Art”, run by locals Nick and Lucas, both artists themselves. I bought this tour as a gift for my brother and he loved the experience – book it via Airbnb Experiences or directly here.
There are also 2 different walking tours offered by “I’m Free” which is a great way to get your bearings and check out some inner-city laneways and art. Check out their tours here.
3. Visit bookshops and drink coffee
Seriously, when you’re travelling is there anything better than a coffee, a good book and some great people-watching opportunities?
This is where Melbourne really comes into its own – the inner-city area is perfect for taking it slow, enjoying the city’s cosmopolitan vibes and watching the world go by.
But first, you’ll need a book. In Melbourne, you are spoilt for choice, with the city being home to over 170 bookshops. No wonder Melbourne is Australia’s only UNESCO-declared “City of Literature”. The Paperback Bookshop and Hill of Content Bookshop are two of the oldest bookshops and are located on either side of Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar.
Next, you’ll need a cafe. As Melbourne is famous for its coffee culture, it is simply too hard for me to try and recommend “the best of the best”, so here are just a few cafes that I always enjoy visiting:
- Jungle Juice Bar. My favourite cafe in Melbourne’s CBD, they do bagels and great coffee. Try their “Eggmite” bagel for a uniquely Australian experience.
- Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar. Long-standing Italian espresso bar. A classic.
- Prophecy Espresso. My brother’s recommendation for St Kilda.
4. Rooftop bars and live music
For some reason, Melbourne has a heap more rooftop bars than Sydney, despite the colder and less consistent weather. And, as a result of Sydney’s lockout laws (since repealed), Melbourne definitely wins in the live music stakes. Here are a few of the best rooftop bars to check out:
- Siglo – a classy rooftop terrace bar with Parliament House views, serving cocktails, wine and gourmet snacks.
- Rooftop Bar – what this bar lacks in naming creativity is more than made up for with great cocktails and stellar outdoor seating.
- Loop Roof & Loop Top – a double-level rooftop bar that serves eclectic, modern food and inventive cocktails.
- Union Electric Bar & Rooftop Gin Garden – small rooftop bar that (as the name suggests) has a great range of gin.
If you’d like to join some other travellers as you drink, then there are 2 great tours I’d recommend. Join Taylor on “Discover Melbourne’s Secret Bar Scene” for a fun Saturday afternoon of drinking or tag along with Ryan on a Tuesday or Saturday night for his “Rooftops & Hidden Bars of Melbourne” Airbnb Experience.
For live music, there are just so many options, it is hard to even start listing them here. Your best bet is to hit up some neighbourhoods such as Fitzroy, Collingwood or St Kilda in the evening and on weekends and just follow the sound of music (or, you know, read one of these articles). Some consistently good pubs and bars for live music include:
- The Drunken Poet – an Irish pub with live music 6 nights a week.
- Howler – a converted woolshed with 2 active spaces for live music.
- Prince Bandroom – a long-running venue that is an absolute classic.
5. Explore Fitzroy and Collingwood
Fitzroy and Collingwood are two of my favourite neighbourhoods to explore when I’m in Melbourne, and not just because my friends live in that area.
Focus your attention on the shops, cafes and bars along Brunswick Street, Smith Street and Gertrude Street – you could spend a long time just wandering these three streets.
I’m not going to tell you specifically what restaurants and stores to visit, other than to say that while you’re in Fitzroy, do stop by Lune Croissanterie. Get set to enjoy the most delicious croissants you’ll find in Australia. They also have a CBD location now.
Fitzroy and Collingwood are also pretty famous for their street art, and there are several guides (one, two, three) that you can follow to find some of the more interesting pieces. Finish your self-guided street art tour with a burger at Easey’s, inside a train carriage, on top of a rooftop, for a peak Melbourne experience (get it?).
If you’re in Melbourne on a Saturday or Sunday, don’t miss The Rose Street Artists’ Market, which showcases the best handmade art and design from a wide range of local creatives.
6. Drive the Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road is Australia’s most famous coastal drive and an easy day trip from Melbourne (albeit a long one).
That’s why I always recommend my guests take 2 days if they can, staying a night in one of the coastal towns along the way, such as Lorne or Apollo Bay, or camping at Kennett River (this place is “koala central”). There are lots of guides on how to plan your Great Ocean Road road trip, but I like this one by my mates at Faramagan the best.
There are also some organised 2-day tours you can join if you want to skip the driving, learn heaps from knowledgeable guides and meet other travellers. Great Ocean Road & Grampians 2 Day Adventure: I did this tour by Wildlife Tours Australia a couple of years ago and had a great time! You see all of the Great Ocean Road on day one and then stay overnight in Halls Gap, right near the Grampians National Park. Day two is spent hiking and exploring the Grampians and checking out some indigenous art. You can finish in either Melbourne or Adelaide.
If you only have one day available, I recommend doing a tour with Wildlife Tours Australia. They have a few options available: the Classic tour, the Reverse tour and the Sunset tour. The Reverse tour is a really good way to avoid the crowds at the Twelve Apostles and the other main attractions, while the Sunset tour gives you a bit of a sleep-in.
7. Visit food markets
Melbourne is a foodie’s paradise, with so many restaurants, cafes and bars serving up delicious fresh dishes and mash-ups on classics. But to really get your fill of local produce, hit up some of the food markets around town.
The most famous market is without a doubt the Queen Victoria Market, which has been operating since 1878. With over 600 traders, it is the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere – there’s that phrase again! The Queen Vic Market is open every day except Monday and Wednesday, normally from 6:00 am to 3:00 or 4:00 pm (they give themselves a sleep-in until 9:00 am on Sundays though).
My recommendation is to grab yourself a picnic of breads, cheeses and dips then head to a nearby park or garden, such as Flagstaff Gardens, Melbourne University Square or the Carlton Gardens. The markets do get busy on a weekend so try to go on a weekday if you can. Have a read of this guide by Broadsheet before you go.
The other big markets to visit are the South Melbourne Markets. These markets are open on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm (5:00 pm on Fridays). Once again, there are summer night markets here on a Wednesday, but only for a month, from early January.
Another market (or rather a series of markets) not to miss are the Melbourne Farmers Markets. They are on every Saturday and Sunday, with varying locations depending on the week. Our intel says that the Collingwood markets (on the second Saturday of every month) is the best, as there are animals there, and the beautiful Abbotsford Convent is nearby.
8. Escape to Mornington Peninsula
Just one hour’s drive south-east from Melbourne, Mornington Peninsula is an excellent “escape the city” destination for an overnight trip.
There are lots of things to do at the Peninsula, far too many for me to list here, so I’d recommend reading this blog post by my friends at Faramagan.
The one recommendation I will make comes from my sister-in-law, who says that Mornington Peninsula “has my all-time favourite hike, Cape Schanck”. She also says that on the hike, “you can swim in the most amazing rock pools, but you need to be very careful of the tides, it can be really dangerous”. Good warning!
If you don’t have a car or would just prefer a guided tour, there are a few great options, depending on your style: If you’re in the mood for wine, cider, chocolate and cheese, then this day trip with Autopia Tours is for you. You’ll also see the iconic colourful bathing boxes and enjoy clifftop coastal views. At $135 for a full day-trip, this is really good value.
Want to check out the famous Peninsula Hot Springs? I’d recommend this tour with TripFit Adventures. You’ll start your day with a couple of hours soaking at the natural hot springs. Afterwards, you’ll have lunch and some drinks at the famous St Andrews Brewery and then visit two fantastic wineries.
Feeling a bit more active? Hike & Seek are a boutique hiking tour company and have day trips to most destinations around Melbourne. Their Mornington Peninsula trip visits Arthur’s Seat, Bushrangers Bay for an 8km easy return hike, Cape Schanck and finishes with 2 hours at the Peninsula Hot Springs. Maximum group size is only 8 people so this is a more premium trip and costs $179.
9. Check out some art galleries
Melbourne is home to a huge amount of art galleries, so if that is your thing, make sure you give yourself at least one if not two days dedicated to art gallery browsing.
The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is a sensible place to start your gallery exploring, so head over the Prince Bridge from Flinders Street Station to NGV International, one of two venues that make up the NGV. This gallery is dedicated to international artwork and features some big names in their temporary exhibition line-up. Check out what is coming up here. Afterwards, grab a drink at Arbory Bar or Arbory Afloat which is right on the Yarra and offers beautiful views down the river.
The second part of the NGV is the Ian Potter Centre, which is hidden away in the basement of Federation Square. The three levels of the gallery are focused on Australian art, and there are multiple free tours every day. Don’t miss the Aboriginal exhibition on the ground floor, which showcases the diversity of the art of Australia’s First Peoples and may question some of your preconceived notions.
The Heide Museum of Modern Art, about 50 minutes north-east of Melbourne by public transport, is a large public art gallery with an ever-changing range of exhibitions. Entry costs $20 for adults ($15 for children) and includes a guided tour daily at 2:00 pm. The museum is set on some beautiful grounds so bring some lunch and sit by the Yarra to enjoy the atmosphere. Try to come on a weekday to avoid the crowds.
10. See the penguins at Phillip Island
Phillip Island, about 140 kilometres south of Melbourne, was traditionally a farming outpost but is now most famous its nightly penguin parade. Every day just after sunset, thousands of Little Penguins waddle up from the sea to their burrows. The Little Penguin is the world’s smallest penguin, which grows just over 30 centimetres high (13 inches).
And once you’re done with Melbourne, make sure to visit us in Sydney! We’ve got lots of great tours and we look forward to having you join!