A quick heads up: this post may contain a few affiliate links. This just means that (at no additional cost to you) when you click them, I will be able to continue to create more content to help you travel naturally! For more info about it, see my Affiliate Disclaimer. Thanks for your support!
Melbourne is a diverse and multicultural city! It is known as the city of contrasts and for good reason! Historical buildings melded with modern skyscrapers. Dimly lit grunge bars on the rooftops of big business corporations. Sunny mornings followed rainy afternoons, then clear evenings. Melbourne really is a unique city with coffee at every turn and art in every form & should definitely be on every Australia bucket list! This need to know guide teaches, well, everything you need to know before traveling to Melbourne!
What I wish I had known:
I’ve gathered a list of few things I wish I had known before I arrived as well as some tips that I learned through exploration during my month-long stay, so you can hit the city with confidence and certainty that you will get the most out of your time there!
1. If you are flying into Melbourne, getting into the city is simple. There is a double decker bus (called Skybus) from the airport to Southern cross station in the city center. It’s about a 20 to 25 minute ride, costs $13-$20aud ($9-$13usd) depending on the day and time, and has plenty of room for luggage and free wifi on board. You can purchase tickets outside terminal 1 at a kiosk near the pickup spot (also where taxis pick up). Look for red signage that says Skybus. You can’t miss it when you go outside the doors.
2. CBD means city center or downtown.
3. Check your phone often for free wifi. Free CBD, Victoria st, Arts district and Telstra (a local cell phone company) offer free internet throughout the city in many areas, and every library and shopping center in the city center have free wifi as well. Note: a lot of Melbournians like to tell you that “every café has wifi,” but they don’t. – – Check out this post to find cafes in Melbourne that actually DO offer wifi.
4. The tram is a really simple way to move about the city. Signs and stops are user friendly and cater to foreigners and students. There is even a free zone and a trolly style tram running on weekends that takes you to all of the tourist hotspots. A map is supplied at every hostel desk and on the trolly, so you can treat it like a hop on, hop off self-guided tour! If you go outside of the free tram zone, you will need a Myki card, which you can purchase at any station.
5. Walking tours. If you’re interested in learning in-depth knowledge about the city from a local Melbournian (which you should be!), “I’m Free” offers two different walking tours. One covers historical aspects, the other discusses more modern culture, and both are absolutely worth taking! They are “free” walking tours, meaning you don’t have to pay anything but a tip to the guide based on how much you think the tour was worth. (Free is great, but be sure to tip your guide!)
6. Laneway means Alleyway.
7. Laneway culture. Laneways are a staple of Melbourne. It’s even written into law that for every “x” number of buildings in a single block, they have to leave space for “x” number of laneways! These alleyways are not like most cities’ sketchy back alleys-they are a shining place of art, culture and expression. They are hang-out spots and historical centres. Meeting places and even music venues.
8. Melbourne has more live music venues than any other city in the world. Find one of them and see a show!
9. Coffee culture. This is a huge part of Melbourne and even has a history behind it. From 1919 to 1966 the government of Australia banned the sale of alcohol past 6pm (in a silly attempt to limit drunkenness), so locals turned to sipping coffee in the evenings and a coffee shop boom began. Hundreds of coffee shops began popping up around the city and they have only gained popularity since. (find the cafes with free wifi here!)
10. Hidden bars. Melbournians have gotten very creative with their themes and placements of bars throughout the city. Lots of rooftop bars, speakeasy themes, gin bars and even one that you can sit in a bathtub full of pillows! Note that not every bar is required to sell food, so grab dinner before you go out You can find literally any type of food you can think of somewhere in the city!
Pro tip: Be prepared to spend some money if you plan on going out here. Cocktails typically start around $23+aud ($15usd) and go up from there.
Honestly, the best piece of advice I can give (for life in general, but specifically) for exploring Melbourne is:
» Never underestimate the “laneways” (or back-alley as we might say in other parts of the world). There are hidden gems down most of them. Everything from interesting and unique graffiti to local coffee shops, rooftop bars and hidden tattoo parlors (end everything in between, like peep shows, travel agents, concerts, and cat cafes).
» Keep your eyes peeled and your curiosity flowing as you walk around the city. Take a look or a stroll down some side streets you might pass by in other cities!
» Get outside the city center and explore the suburbs. This is where the real Melbourne is. Fitzroy, South Yarra, St. Kilda, Carlton, Docklands, etc. There are 14 of them and they each have their own character and uniqueness, so explore around a bit to find which one you like the most.
» Don’t pass up small but tall buildings. Even if the restaurant or business on the bottom floor doesn’t look interesting, doesn’t mean there isn’t a different restaurant on each floor above it or a rooftop bar!
» Between 2pm & 5pm, most cafes close, and as bars are not yet open, it can be difficult to find food during this time. Plan your day accordingly. Check out my post: Coffee shops with free wifi in Melbourne if you need to get some work done in the city..
They say Melbourne is a city like a doughnut because all of the good stuff is around the outside.
My favorite suburb of the city:
Each area of the city has its own charm, but St. Kilda is such a great suburb and was the most “my vibe” area of Melbourne. It was a major hippie, beach town back in the 70s and a lot of that feeling has carried over. Eco boutiques, lots of beach area, cafes with reggae music, small homes with loads of character and art expressed throughout the city! This is a fantastic place to get away from the bustle of the city, chill out a bit and just enjoy being where you are! It’s a family friendly area with a small theme park and lots of outdoor activities.
Some of the reasons St. Kilda stands out to me are:
There is a farmer’s market on the 1st Sat of every month with fresh, local produce and a Market on the Esplanade every Sunday with merchants selling handcrafted goods.
The sunset is amazing on beach! If you walk down the pier, you might be able to see penguins climbing along the rocks (best viewing time is just before sunrise or at dusk). There is a boardwalk to stroll as you watch them and docks to moore a boat or jump off of if you’re feeling as brave as the local aboriginal kids. But they say you have to take one sip every time you are in the water. 😉
There are a few theaters here & one is the famous Palais theatre right on the beach.
Acland street is a fun area with lots of cafes and shops during the day, and restaurants and bars at night to keep the vibe alive. It is closed to cars, so it’s a partial walking street and partial tram stop.
Albert Park & Lake. There are quite a few smaller parks scattered around St. Kilda and all are a great place to relax, but Albert Park is the biggest and has a great view of the city across the lake. The park has a long history of sports, so you can catch a cricket match, watch local teams compete in plethora of games, or put on your running shoes & bring your yoga mat to do some workouts of your own.
Pssst. Check out the free & beautiful Botanical Gardens there too!
Overall, Melbourne is a fun & unique city that shouldn’t be passed up on your trip around Australia. Remember to explore more areas than just the downtown CBD, embrace the culture & get into the funky scene.