They say you don’t need to ‘do’ or ‘see’ anything in particular to have a great weekend break in Melbourne. Half of the joy is in wandering the streets and sharing a coffee or cocktail with friends in the quirky multicultural cafes and rooftop bars throughout the city. Having said that, there are plenty of things to do in Melbourne and it doesn’t hurt to have an idea in your mind of some of the activities on offer. You may as well plan your wanderings around various impressive landmarks, markets and viewpoints to ensure you have the most fulfilling experience possible.
Here are 15 ideas of things to do in Melbourne and the surrounding area, all of which could be scheduled into one long weekend with a bit of advance planning.
1. FLINDERS STREET STATION
Flinders Street Station was completed in 1909 and is a cultural icon. It serves the entire metropolitan rail network and the complex takes up two full blocks. It’s easily recognisable and very photogenic. The row of clocks above the main entrance shows the scheduled time of departure for trains on each line and this is a popular meeting place for locals.
2. WALK THE STREETS AND LANEWAYS
Just wandering the streets in Melbourne is a fascinating experience due to the juxtaposition between modern skyscrapers and old, narrow laneways. If your natural instinct is to follow the main roads to get back to your accommodation, try losing yourself in the alleys and check out some of the hidden cafes and street art. Hosier Lane is particularly colourful.
3. SEE AN AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL GAME
During the winter months, Melbourne Cricket Ground serves as the home of Australian rules football. Being something of a cross between what we Brits know as football and rugby, and played on an oval-shaped field, it’s interesting to watch if you’re not an Aussie.
4. QUEEN VICTORIA MARKET
Queen Victoria Market quite possibly sells everything you could possibly need. Row upon row of stalls covering seven hectares provide produce from clothing, arts and crafts to household goods and a wide variety of food. There’s even one eccentric man who sings karaoke while trying to sell his services as a children’s party’ entertainer.
5. FEDERATION SQUARE
Created in 2002, Fed Square has become the social hub of Melbourne. Situated on the river and directly opposite Flinders Street Station, it’s home to wide open spaces for street performers, a stage for music acts and public talks, a large screen that frequently shows major sporting events, and a number of museums. The Australian Centre for the Moving Image has a great interactive (and free) exhibition, while the Ian Potter Centre houses the National Gallery of Victoria.
Melbourne’s Chinatown is on Little Bourke Street, running between Russel Street and Swanston Street in the CBD. There’s a Chinese Museum around the corner on Cohen Place. This street comes alive for Chinese New Year in January or early February. Otherwise, there’s a great selection of restaurants, takeaways, supermarkets and karaoke joints to check out.
7. KAYAK THE YARRA
Kent is the owner of Kayak Melbourne and he runs Melbourne kayak trips on the Yarra River. You can choose between a daytime City Sights tour or an evening Moonlight tour, which includes takeaway fish and chips eaten from the comfort of your kayak. This has to be one of the best things to do in Melbourne!
8. VISIT ST KILDA
About 30 minutes from the CBD by tram is the quaint seaside suburb of St Kilda. Although one or two streets have a seedy side to them, the area in general is very pretty. There’s a wide boulevard along the beach that attracts roller bladers in the summer months. You should also walk out to the end of the pier for views of the city, and don’t miss Luna Park – one of the suburb’s most famous landmarks.
9. ST PAUL’S CATHEDRAL
Also in the Flinders Street Station and Fed Square vicinity is St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s another building that contrasts starkly with the more modern developments surrounding it. While the Gothic-style architecture attracts tourists initially, the inside is no less impressive, including stunningly ornate tiled flooring, delicately carved wooden pews and beautiful stained glass windows.
10. TRY ALTERNATE MODES OF TRANSPORT
If you feel like a change of pace, or your feet are tired, why not try out an alternate mode of transport? Melbourne’s trams and trains are frequent and reliable. To board either, you’ll need a MiKi card, which can be purchased at most newsagents (for $6) and then topped up with credit. Swipe when you board and when you alight. Other options are the horse-drawn carriages, which leave from Swanston Street, across from Fed Square, and the city bike hire scheme.
11. EUREKA SKYDECK 88
Eureka Skydeck 88 is the highest viewing platform in the southern hemisphere and provides incredible views of Melbourne. It’s best to go up just before dusk, take some photos and then grab a coffee as you watch the sunset. The city looks more impressive at night as it starts to sparkle, but be careful not to catch people’s reflections when you take your night photos. General admission to the Skydeck costs £19.50, but for an additional $12 you can experience The Edge – a glass cube that extends from the viewing platform, suspended almost 300 m above the ground.
12. FIREBALL DISPLAY
Time your descent from the Eureka Skydeck so that you’re standing on Queens Bridge on the hour after dark. Subject to weather conditions, eight granite towers on the south side of the Yarra River beside Crown Casino shoot fireballs into the air, which reflect off the water.
13. NEIGHBOURS TOUR
You don’t have to be a fan of Australia’s longest-running TV drama to enjoy the Neighbours Tour. Run by Bunyip Tours and led by the charismatic Irish guide Gerry, this trip to Ramsay Street and the production studios is a laugh a second. Fool around having your photo taken acting out scenes and become acutely aware of just how crazy and unrealistic the plot has been. You might even meet some cast members – especially if you try your hand at the Neighbours Trivia Night in St Kilda on Monday nights.
14. ADVENTURE IN THE COUNTRYSIDE
For those with more of an adventurous spirit, Kaykaze offers rock climbing, caving, river kayaking, rafting and abseiling tours in Warrandyte in the Yarra Valley northeast of Melbourne. Tours generally run on weekends only and you can choose between a half-day taster or a full-day combination.
15. 12 APOSTLES
One of the most impressive sights in all Australia is the 12 Apostles limestone formation on the Victoria coast. Accessible on a day trip from Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road, this, along with nearby Loch Ard Gorge, should be number one on everyone’s Victoria bucket list.
SEE MELBOURNE WITH CONTIKI
Contiki’s 4-day Melbourne Discovery tour is the perfect choice for people who are travelling alone or in small groups and would like to meet other travellers to share the experience with. As well as some free time to explore some of the less obvious things to do in Melbourne listed in this post, you’ll visit St Kilda and the 12 Apostles with your new friends.
BOOK THE MELBOURNE DISCOVERY TOUR
AND HAVE NO REGRETS!
WHERE TO STAY IN MELBOURNE
For my three-night stay in Melbourne, I was a guest at the Exford Hotel. Located at the crossroads of Little Bourke Street and Russel Street in the heart of the CBD, the location couldn’t be handier.
The Exford Hotel was built in 1854 and has its own historic pub as well as a lounge bar, providing plenty of entertainment, from indie nights to comedy. They serve a free breakfast of toast and cereal and there’s a large kitchen, computer area and lounge with a wide selection of DVDs as well as Foxtel. All of this combines to create a cosy English bed and breakfast feel. Dorms start at $27 per night, but there are also twins and doubles available. The beds are very comfortable, and there are lockers in the rooms to keep your valuables safe. Staff were on hand 24/7 to answer my questions and were very knowledgeable.
Of course, if you’re looking for a little more luxury, there are also plenty of boutique hotels in Melbourne to choose from.