You have to take the time to get to know Melbourne. Melbourne is that guy you go on a date with where you drink beautiful cocktails and he enjoys a craft beer. You both like food and appreciate culture; you get on really well and have a lot in common. He’s kind and he’s well travelled, but you’re just not sure if you fancy him. But you go out with him again anyway. And he keeps surprising you. Suddenly you’re six dates in and in awe of just how great this guy is, falling for him seemingly out of the blue.
Melbourne isn’t in your face, it’s pretty laid back about all the things it has on offer: amazing food, cool bars, the best coffee in the world – probably, European laneways, chilled out beaches, cool hipster suburbs, art, music, comedy, festivals – Melbourne has everything going on, it just doesn’t shout about it much. Apart from the coffee. They are really keen for you to know about their elite coffee status. Take the time to get to know Melbourne properly and you will reap the awards and still have a huge list of things you want to do and places you want to eat as you board the plane home.
United Backpackers Tel: +61 (0)3 9654 2616; 250 Flinders Street, Melbourne City, 3000
United Backpackers is one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in – and I’ve stayed in a lot. The staff are friendly and helpful, the wifi is strong and FREE (this is very rare in Australia – most cafes don’t even offer wifi to their patrons), the kitchen is big and well equipped, the whole place is very clean and there’s a bar with cheap drinks. My favourite part is the lounge area though – four huge and ridiculously comfortable sofas, leather ledges and beanbags strewn with throws and cushions, often to be found with hungover backpackers napping on them. It’s somewhere you can really feel at home, and that can be hard to come by on the road.
A bed in a 10/12 bed dorm will set you back $34 per night*.
Base St Kilda Tel: +61 (0) 3 8598 6200; 17 Carlisle Street, St Kilda, Melbourne
This is the real party hostel of Melbourne. Legendary on a Thursday night – ladies night – this is a great hostel to meet people in and a brilliant one if you want to base (not sorry) yourself close to the beach. Base is a 5 minute walk from St Kilda beach and is just around the corner from St Kilda’s gorgeous Acland Street, full of great restaurants, bars, coffee shops and boutiques.
A bed in a 10 bed dorm costs $36 per night*.
TIP: Sign up to a cash back website such as Quidco and click through to Hostel World or Hostel Bookers to get cashback on your stay. I just booked a hostel with 5 cash back through Hostel World via Quidco. This quickly adds up to contribute to your goon fund whilst you’re travelling!
*Prices correct at the time of writing (March 2015).
The easiest and cheapest way to get from the airport to the city is via the Skybus that runs from the airport every 10 minutes into Southern Cross Station, from where you can get a train or the tram to your destination. A return ticket is $36 and the journey takes around half an hour.
Melbourne is kind to its inhabitants and visitors: as of the start of 2015, tram travel within the Central Business District is free. This is particularly ace if you’re staying within the CBD (i.e. at United Backpackers for example). Otherwise, the first thing you need to do when you reach Southern Cross Station is grab a Myki card from one of the ticket machines, which you can re-use and top up with money to get around on the trams, buses and trains. There is a 2 hour and a daily cap (up to around $7.50 ish) on usage in a day, which is excellent. A weekly Myki ticket costs $35. Melbourne’s public transport, from my experience, is very reliable and good value.
Melbourne also have their very own ‘Boris Bikes’, which cost $2.90 per day or $8.00 a week, and are then charged for the usage time from there, with under 30 minutes being free. More details can be found here.
Swimming – Just outside the free tram zone by one easily walkable stop, Melbourne City Baths (420 Swanston Street) is a great public pool that is clean and cheap, if you’re into water. $6.10 per use of the pool. City Baths also have gym classes including yoga, but these get pricier.
Gyms – As is the case anywhere, many major gyms will offer free intro passes, such as this Fitness First three day trial pass, that will probably cease to exist as soon as I post this blog post. Anyway, google it, yeah.
Yoga – Much like gyms, yoga studios want to entice you in with a free trial, and there are a few going in the city. They aren’t free but they are extremely good value compared to the usual hefty price of yoga classes in Australia, so if you’re into that, worth checking out Breathe Yoga and Pilates (in the CBD) and One Hot Yoga and Pilates (in South Yarra), who both run a two week special intro offer, as well as Grassroots, who run an introductory month for around $35-$40 and have studios in St Kilda and Richmond.
Running – Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens and Albert Park are both great places to run, the latter being designed with a 5km track around the lake.
There’s always something going on in Melbourne – particularly over the summer months, where there seems to be a different festival of some sort every other week, be it St Kilda Festival, Midsumma, Moomba, Melbourne’s Food and Wine Festival or Whitenight. And that’s without the vast amount of sporting events that come through the city. To find out about what festivals are on whilst you’re in town, check here.
In terms of sport, the Australian Open is a must if you’re even vaguely interested in tennis – this is a grand slam massively accessible to the public, a very different experience than that of Wimbledon, with its ballots and all those self addressed envelopes. General admission tickets cost around $60 and will allow you access to the bars and events in the grounds, as well as into the Hisense arena to watch some live tennis from some of the best players in the sport. The value for money is insanely good.
The F1 Grand Prix takes place in March and the cricket plays throughout the summer months at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which also hosts the Australian Football League during the winter. The MCG is a beautiful stadium and well worth checking out – tickets to the cricket and the AFL are easy to come by and don’t cost an arm and a leg.
Then there’s the Melbourne Cup at Flemington Race Course – something that I have not yet had the pleasure to attend but it remains on my bucket list. The Melbourne Cup is a huge day across the whole of Australia, whether you’re into horse racing or not, and is a public holiday throughout the state of Victoria.
The National Gallery of Victoria is a great public art museum and has recently been host to the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition, which was outstanding. This has now moved onto Paris, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for any other exhibitions coming through town.
The Immigration Museum is a good shout, documenting the history of how Australia, and particularly, how Victoria was built up by immigrants from all over.
The Shrine of Remembrance in the Botanical Gardens is an excellent war museum detailing the wars and battles that Australians have fought in. It is extensively bigger that it looks, with the exhibitions reaching far underground. The view from the front of the Shrine’s entrance looks directly through the gardens to the city, an impressive view of Melbourne worthy of the visit alone. Free entry.
Wandering around Melbourne’s different neighbourhoods is a lovely way to spend a day. Chapel Street runs through Windsor and has a host of great shops, bars and restaurants. Acland Street in St Kilda is full of boutiques, amazing cake shops and has my favourite coffee shop in Melbourne – 95 Espresso. At the end of Acland Street, Luna Park looms with the oldest continually operating wooden rollercoaster in the world, right next to St Kilda Beach. At sunset (or sunrise, if you’re feeling brave), you can see the fairy penguins at the end of St Kilda pier on the rocks. Hipster Fitzroy is the home of Naked For Satan and Messina Gelato. If you fancy getting out of the centre of Melbourne, Brighton beach is a train ride away and has lovely brightly coloured painted beach huts lining the sand.
In the city, wandering around the laneways and Victorian arcades is a good way to while away an afternoon. Degraves Street, Centre Point and Hardware Lane are favourite laneways of mine and you will be spoilt for choice of amazing cafes and restaurants down all of them. Checking out Melbourne’s graffiti around the city is a must, with the best location being Hosier Lane, just off of Flinders Street near Federation Square. The art changes regularly and you are likely to stumble across some young street artists adding their mark to the colour on the walls.
Queen Victoria Markets: On the corner of Elizabeth and Victoria, within the Free Tram Zone of the CBD. A must in the summer months, every Wednesday night is filled with dozens of street food vendors selling food from all over the world. It’s so good that it’s hard not to go every week. Live music and bars will keep you there all night.
There are various day trips you can do (or 2-3 days if you’d prefer) to see The Great Ocean Road, Philip Island and out to the Yarra Valley for wine tasting. All are worth doing, particularly the Great Ocean Road, which is stunning and recognised as one of Australia’s top places to see.
Miss Brow Bar: Based at Shop 46, 335 Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne, VIC, 3000 and also at South Melbourne Market – Stall 233, 322 to 326 Coventry Street, South Melbourne, 3205 – on market days; Tel: +61 1300 647 722
Eyebrow threading is $22, the results are excellent and you can just walk in.
Zip Zip Waxing: Level 2, suite 17, 329 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, VIC, 3000; +61 (0) 3 9077 4234
Based in the kind of building where you think you have the wrong address, this waxing salon isn’t the most glamorous but the wax is good and cheap and the service friendly.
Melbourne has a host of cool bars on the riverside, on the beaches, down the little laneways and high in the sky on rooftops that overlook the CBD. Here are a list of favourites:
Naked for Satan: 285 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, VIC, 3065; Tel: +61 (0) 3 9416 2238
Friday & Saturday 12pm – 1am / Sunday – Thursday 12pm – 12am
What a view. Nestled on Brunswick Street in the eternally cool Naked for Satan towers over three floors, all dark and industrial with big vats of infused vodka and pinxtos on the lower floor, working up to the rooftop bar of Naked in the Sky on the top. If you like a good red, I can’t shout about the Paulette’s Cabernet Merlot enough.
Ponyfish Island: Pedestrian Bridge, Melbourne, VIC, 3006
Mon – Fri: 11am – late; Sat – Sun; 10am – late
I first stumbled on Ponyfish Island during my first trip to Melbourne in 2011, and it fast became one of my favourite Melbourne bars. It’s my favourite place to take people new to the city, being plonked in the middle of the Yarra river surrounded by the skyscrapers of the CBD and the restaurants of the Southbank, just beneath the Pedestrian bridge covered in locks a la Pont des Arts in Paris. This is a great place for a summer drink – and their cocktails are beautifully presented with stripey straws, and I am a huge fan of a stripey straw.
Republica: 18/10 Jacka Boulevard, St Kilda, VIC, 3182; Tel: +61 (0) 3 8598 9055
Mon – Fri 11:30am till late, Sat & Sun: 9:00am till late
Republica is a proper Sunday Session place. Set on the beachfront in St Kilda with hanging egg chairs and a large astroturfed courtyard area shielded from the sea wind, Republica is heaving come the weekend, with live music getting the punters in the spirit. Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday they put on beach volleyball from 6pm, with happy hour running between 5-6pm every weekday, bar Friday when, quite rightly, it lasts until 7pm. With food offers such as $10 pizzas and $12 fish and chips on Mondays and Tuesday respectively, Republica is accessible to the budget tight backpacker craving a treat as well as those who are ready to sink $100 on a rowdy Sunday sesh in the sunshine and amongst the maxi dresses.
Section 8: 27-29 Tattersalls Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia; Tel: +61 430 291 588
This outdoor industrial bar space tucked down a laneway in the middle of Melbourne’s CBD is about as Melbourne as bars get. Very cool – full of hipsters of course.
Oh food. The food of Melbourne. This is a foodie city, and you should embrace that as much as possible. I lived in Melbourne for three months and I barely scratched the surface – I have a list of a few restaurants I didn’t make it to that I’ve heard wonderful things about. Those, I will list here – the others I will nudge you over to First We Eat for.
Movida: 1 Hosier Street, Melbourne, VIC, 3000; Tel: +61 3 9663 3038
Consistently named as one of the best restaurants in Melbourne, this Spanish restaurant with, I’m told, excellent tapas is just on the famous Hosier Lane in the city.
Chin Chin: 125 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, VIC, 3000; Tel: +61 3 8663 2000
Modelled on the Hawker stalls of Asia, also a GoGo bar. No reservations.
St Ali: 12-18 Yarra Place, South Melbourne, VIC, 3205; Tel: +61 3 9686 2990
Melburnians love their coffee – and I mean to an obsessive level, the way I love Suits and Prosecco and men with incredible hair. And I’m told this is one of the best places to get coffee in Melbourne. Apparently the breakfasts in this industrial space are pretty damn good too – to be honest I can only deal with glancing at the menu because it all sounds incredible and well, I am no longer in Melbourne to try it.