Having lived in Melbourne for a year and going back for a trip recently, I figure it’s time I finally write a destination guide for this amazing city. While I have always loved Sydney, Melbourne has a whole lot of character and has some incredible things to do, see and taste. This ultimate guide to Melbourne will talk about the best sights, experiences and food in the city.
On the map below, you can see dots for everything I’ll talk about in this post. The blue dots are sights, red dots are experiences and green dots are food or drink establishments. First I’ll talk about the sights of Melbourne, followed by experiences, best places to eat and drink and finally getting around the city using public transport.
Sights in Melbourne
Melbourne has so many things to see it can be hard to start narrowing it down, but these are my personal favorites and things that you certainly shouldn’t miss. While it depends how much time you have in Melbourne, you could hit most of these places in just a couple of days if you rushed it, so this guide is great for the short stop or the long backpacking trip.
St. Kilda Beach and St. Kilda Pier
St. Kilda is where I used to live so it has a special place in my heart. Although St. Kilda Beach isn’t the most gorgeous beach in Australia (far from it in fact) it is still an amazing place to just relax in the sun and be around other people having fun.
There are some restaurants and ice cream stands along the boardwalk and miles of beach to lounge on. Jutting out from the beach you’ll find St. Kilda Pier, which is one of my favorite areas of Melbourne for a couple of reasons.
To start with, you get incredible views of the city from the pier which are unbeatable from anywhere else in the city. While the pier is mainly there for moored boats, there’s also a lovely little restaurant that sells great Australian beer, burgers, sandwiches and pastries as well. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon if it’s nice out, although be wary because there isn’t much shade and you don’t want to turn into a lobster like I accidentally did!
The next best thing about St. Kilda Pier are the penguins. Yes, you heard that right! Penguins. The Little Penguin (also known as the Blue Penguin or the Fairy Penguin) have a colony out on the breakwater of the pier. Unlike other areas like Phillip Island or Penguin Island, this is just a natural colony and you don’t have to pay to see them. You just walk along and you may see a few heads poking out through the rocks.
The penguins are out fishing in the sea until dusk, so if you get there just before the sun starts setting you’ll see them all come back and you’ll see more than you ever would during the day. The downside of this is that they tend to come back in hoards once the sun has gone down so it can be kind of hard to see them. However, if you go during the day you may luck out and see some babies hanging out in the sun who are too young to go fishing during the day.
Another great part of the city in St. Kilda/Albert Park is the park. This has a gorgeous, massive lake with lots of black swans and other wildlife. You get fantastic views of the city and it’s a great area for a picnic or to get a bit of exercise during your trip. It’s just a short walk from the beach.
Shrine Of Remembrance
The Shrine of Remembrance is one of my favorite places in Melbourne because you get great views, it’s next to the Botanic Gardens, it’s quiet, the museum is fascinating and it’s all free. You can easily access the Shrine of Remembrance from Albert Park by taking the tram line 16 on Fitzroy Street.
As you can tell by the name, the Shrine of Remembrance is a memorial to all those who lost their lives fighting for Australia. It was initially intended for those who died fighting in World War I, but now it’s a memorial to all men and women who died serving the country.
Once you go inside, you’ll see the memorial in the center of the floor, with the flags of all the branches of the Australian military surrounding it. It’s a very moving experience and one that can’t really be put into words. You can go up the stairs to get a great view of the city or head downstairs into the Crypt to visit the museum.
The museum works as a timeline starting in WWI and going all the way to the Australian military modern day. It has old uniforms, photographs, videos, excerpts, letters, badges, awards and even more. You could easily spend hours down there because it really is interesting. And as I mentioned, it’s totally free of charge.
Royal Botanic Gardens
From the Shrine of Remembrance it’s just a short walk over the hill to the Botanic Gardens, another one of my favorite areas of Melbourne. The gardens are absolutely massive so you could easily spend all day wandering around, but it’s well signed so there’s a good chance you won’t get lost.
There are many lakes dotted around and lots of benches if sitting on the grass isn’t really you’re thing. Like all botanic gardens, it tries to teach you about the plants that grow there, so you may even learn something while you’re there.
It’s a good idea to keep in mind that you’ll easily spend longer in the gardens than you intend, so don’t go there if you have somewhere you need to be. If you’ve got a nice day and some down time, it’s a great place to go to get some peace and quiet right in the heart of the city.
Federation Square and Flinders Street Station
From the Botanic Gardens and the Shrine of Remembrance you can either walk into the city or continue taking the tram down the main road (all trams go in that direction). You’ll find the National Gallery of Victoria on your left just before you cross the Yarra River into the CBD (central business district). The National Gallery of Victoria is free for the permanent exhibitions, however, you’ll need to pay to access the temporary, special ones.
Once you cross the river, you’ll have Federation Square on the right and Flinders Street Station on the left. Federation Square also has the second part to the National Gallery of Victoria, a special building that is more geared towards modern and contemporary art rather than the classics in the main, original building.
Across the road from Federation Square is St. Paul’s Cathedral. It’s a beautiful church that was built in 1931. The gothic architecture makes it really stand out amongst the the more modern architecture surrounding it.
Flinders Street Station, on the opposite side of the street, is one of the main train stations in Melbourne. Construction for the station started in 1905 and it opened five years later. It’s unique because if its distinct yellow color and the clocks on the front of the station tell their own story. The clocks tell times from all around the world and it has become a meeting spot for many generations by saying, “meet me under the clocks.”
Believe it or not, in the 1920s, Flinders Street Station was the world’s busiest passenger station, even though nowadays it only receives a fraction of the traffic over other stations like Southern Cross on the opposite side of the city.
Melbourne Town Hall
Walking up the road to the next intersection you’ll find Melbourne Town Hall, which is a pretty and impressive building built in 1870. You can take a free tour of the town hall, you just need to give them 24 hours notice. As you may have guessed, this building houses the local government and the City of Melbourne.
Its main responsibilities include theatrical plays, school events or concerts, exhibitions throughout the city, etc.
State Library of Victoria
Further up that same main road (Melbourne is a grid in case you haven’t noticed yet), you’ll find the State Library of Victoria, an impressive and beautiful building that’s great for visiting but also great if you need to get some work done.
Built in 1856, this library has over 2 million books and more than 16,000 serials, including the diaries of the founders of Melbourne. If you’re a history buff than this is a must-do.
South Wharf and South Melbourne Market
If you cut across the city (and maybe do some shopping along the way) you’ll come across South Wharf, which is a great part of the city along the river. Here you’ll find lots of restaurants and bars, as well as a giant shopping center called South Wharf DFO. DFO’s are common in Australia, and they stand for Direct Factory Outlet. Basically, it’s regular shops but everything is much cheaper than you’d find in any normal shopping center because they come directly from the factory.
If you hop on tram 96 on Clarendon Street, that will take you to South Melbourne Market. This market is awesome for buying groceries and fresh produce, but you’ll also find tons of books, clothing and knick knacks. Most of it is a bit overpriced, but it’s still an excellent place to explore. And who knows, you may just find something you love. I, for instance, found a door draft stopper that’s an elephant and the trunk goes under the door. I named her Ellie and although she was overpriced she was worth every penny.
If you jump back on tram 96 from here it will take you back to Albert Park and St. Kilda Beach, bringing you full circle. While there are tons of other places to see in Melbourne, this quick circuit takes you past all of the amazing sights. To learn about real experiences and delicious food, then keep on reading.
Experiences in Melbourne
Melbourne has lots of sights, but even more things to experience. While you can count museums and such on there, there’s more to it than that. When you travel somewhere you don’t just want to see stuff, you want to really immerse yourself in the culture and actively do stuff. Don’t miss out on these awesome Melbourne experiences.
Crown Casino and Gas Brigades
Located right across the road from where you’d get on tram 96 from South Wharf you’ll find Crown Casino, opened in 1994. When it first opened many people in Melbourne hated it, but as it turns out it brought a ton of business to the city and helped it flourish. Now, Crown Casino owns a lot of land along the river (also known as Southbank) and has a huge selection of shopping and food in addition to the casino. A good portion of it is family-friendly, which is a nice alternative to most casinos.
The Casino also does something called the Gas Brigades every evening, weather permitting, and it is not something you should miss. Depending on the time of year they start at different times, but happen every hour on the hour. You can find the specific times here. Essentially, the gas brigades are these columns that shoot out fire in a row along Southbank for about 5-10 minutes.
This fire is insanely impressive and this photo just does not do it justice. The bursts are huge and you can feel the fire from this far away. It’s really cool and it’s a great opportunity to combine a meal and drinks out with an awesome experience as well. The walk along Southbank is lovely and has some of my favorite bars and restaurants along it.
Eureka Tower and Skydeck
I’ll be honest, I’ve never actually been up the Eureka Tower or onto the Skydeck simply because it’s quite expensive and there are so many other lovely views of the city for free. However, it can be a great experience nonetheless, so it may be something to keep in mind. An adult ticket is $20 and is valid for 12 months from purchasing. Alternatively, you can purchase upon arrival for the same price.
The Eureka Tower is the second tallest building in Australia and is the 15th tallest residential building in the world. Although this isn’t massively impressive, it still is massive compared to the other buildings around Melbourne.
Melbourne Sea Life Aquarium
If you have small children this could be a great way to spend the day, but it’s also a lot of fun for people who just enjoy aquariums. The Melbourne Sea Life Aquarium isn’t as good as Sydney’s, but it’s still pretty fun, if not a little expensive. An adult ticket purchased online is $33.20, saving you a little over $8 than if you were to purchase it directly at the aquarium.
These aquariums can be especially fun because the species they have in Australia are so different to what you’d find at home so everything is new and different to what you’re used to.
Lanes and Arcades
This is probably the best thing on this list that is unique to Melbourne only. Melbourne is known for its lanes and arcades that weave through the city. By arcade I don’t mean a shop where you play video games, but rather long stretches of narrow shopping walkways. These lanes and arcades are all around Melbourne and once you find them you’ll wonder how you never found them before. Because they’re rather elusive, I’m warning you that there’s a good chance you might never find your way back to that specific one again.
With everything from shopping to restaurants, these little areas will feel like an entirely different city. It can be fun to look up a few and then just see where they take you. You could wander probably half of the city if not more through just these lanes and arcades without ever going onto a major or main road.
You can read more about the various lanes and arcades throughout Melbourne here, but sometimes it’s more fun to discover them for yourself just by wandering around. It really depends on personal preference and how much time you’ve got to spare.
Food and Drinks in Melbourne
Melbourne is known for its coffee and delicious food and that’s because it’s truly amazing. I’ll share with you my personal favorite places for breakfast, lunch, dinner as well as drinks throughout the city.
Restaurants are dime a dozen in Melbourne, but one of our favorites when we lived there was China Bar, a Chinese restaurant located on Swanston Street in the CBD. It was open 24 hours and all the food was made fresh to order, so nothing was ever soggy or old. Australia is an expensive place to eat out, but China Bar was actually affordable, making it one of our favorite and most frequented restaurants while we lived there.
Mahjong Restaurant in St. Kilda was another favorite Chinese restaurant of ours. Although pricier than China Bar, Mahjong has high-quality Chinese food and that comes at a price. The spring rolls are honestly to die for.
Taco Bill is a chain Mexican restaurant and although it’s not the best Mexican you’ll ever have, Mexican food is hard to come by in Australia. At least Taco Bill is yummy, affordable and has pitchers of margaritas. Because it’s a chain you can find Taco Bill in several locations throughout the city.
If you’re looking for some Vietnamese, Wat Da Pho located on Clarendon Street in South Melbourne is cheap and delicious. It’s just a small hole in the wall, so it’s possible there may not be room to sit when you arrive. If there is though, the food is delicious and who doesn’t want to eat in a cleverly named restaurant?
If none of these are up your ally and you love Indian, than The Roti Man is where you need to head. Located in Middle Park (adjacent to St. Kilda), this Indian restaurant is one of the best I’ve ever been to. Don’t be fooled if it’s not super busy, the food is incredible and I think most people get take away rather than eat in.
Melbourne loves Burgers and diners and I’ve never had a bigger and more amazing burger anywhere than Burger Love, formerly known as Cafe 51. Based in South Melbourne and St. Kilda, this little burger place sells burgers that are bigger than your arm, I swear. To get a sample of what they offer, visit their Instagram account and prepare to be amazed.
For breakfast food, there are lots of great places, but if you want some American-style diner food than the Pancake Parlour is for you. There are three locations throughout the city, and all are just as good as the next one.
For delicious churros, coffee and hot chocolate, try San Churro. Affordable and tasty, there are two locations in the city for you to choose from.
If you just want some artisan snacks like macaroons or Italian-inspired sandwiches, coffee and more than Brunetti City Square is for you. Located near Flinders Street Station and Federation Square, it’s a perfect stop for a quick snack and a pick-me-up coffee.
There are lots of places to enjoy drinks in Melbourne, but I have three personal favorites all right next to one another on Southbank. Affordable and amazing drink selections, delicious food and incredible views situated on the river, you won’t want anywhere else.
My favorite is Bear Brass, where the above photo was taken. They have ample outdoor seating and heated lamps for when it’s cold outside, and they also sell really nice pizzas and other dishes. Sometimes seating can be hard to find, but the views you get sitting outside beats anything.
Ludlow Bar and Dining Room is geared more towards eating, but around 9 p.m. it’ll become more drink oriented. This also gets great views, being just a couple of restaurants over from Bear Brass.
Next to Ludlow you’ll find Soho Restaurant and Bar, which is a little pricier than the others and a bit more upscale, but equally awesome.
Getting Around Melbourne
The transport in Melbourne is pretty self explanatory, but we’ll briefly go over it. With the largest tram network in the world, the best way to get around Melbourne is by tram. With 25 different routes you can go absolutely anywhere on the tram. You’ll need to buy a reusable card called a Myki, which you use to touch on and off every time you board or get off a tram.
You can buy a Myki from 7/11 or post offices (also branded as Tatts). You can top up your Myki at any of the machines at the stops or you can take it to the post office or a 7/11. The benefit of topping up at 7/11 is you can use American Express if that’s your preferred card. You should note that you cannot buy tickets on the tram. I’ve seen many people try to do this only to be turned away.
You can top your Myki up with money when and as you use it, or you can load a pass onto it, such as a 7-day pass, monthly pass, etc. The good thing about transport in Melbourne is that each day is capped, so once you reach a certain number of rides than the rest of your day is essentially free. On weekends this is only $6/day and on weekdays it’s close to $8.
The CBD is part of the free tram zone, so if you’re traveling throughout the CBD only you won’t need to touch your Myki on or off. The stations within the free tram zone will be branded that way so you’ll never be confused.
There are two zones in Melbourne, but you’re unlikely to need a ticket for zone two because it starts relatively far outside of the city. Be sure to download the TramTracker app on your phone for free, it’s the one with the little dog on the icon. This app is excellent and incredibly accurate. You can select what stop you’re at and it will tell you all the trams coming and in how many minutes, show you exactly where in the route they are in real time, their tram number and type of tram. It will be a lifesaver.
Melbourne is a truly amazing city with so much to offer. You could live there a whole year like I did and still not see and experience everything. However, I do hope this guide helps you get the most out of your trip to this beautiful and incredible city in Australia.