Teeming with green spaces, wide tree-lined boulevards, and a vibrant cultural scene, it is little wonder that Melbourne is regularly voted one of the most liveable cities in the world. Combined with a low population density, its array of public parks, gardens and open spaces ensures the city avoids the feeling of claustrophobia that envelopes so many other urban centres.
Yet it is not just space that sets Melbourne apart, but its eclectic mix of tangible qualities: dotted around the city are prestigious boutiques, high-end retailers, grand hotels, historic theatres, heritage architecture and some of Australia’s tallest buildings. It is also a cultural hotspot, with some of the best live music and comedy in the world, as well as superb gastronomy in its restaurants, pubs and wine bars.
Most people who visit Melbourne – and indeed its counterparts across Australia – travel far to do so, and tend to spend at least a week or two here. Even a trip of that length would only enable you to enjoy a fraction of what the city has to offer. It makes the imperative to plan your stay carefully even greater, and below you will find our tips for how to do so.
1. Neighbours Tour
For all of its natural beauty and bustling nightlife, the first port of call for many visitors to Melbourne is the set of iconic soap opera Neighbours. The television drama, which was first broadcast in 1985, remains an enduring favourite with people of all ages and the chance to see the actual place where it is filmed can be hard to resist for those who spent much of their childhood watching the show. Local tour company Bunyip offer a choice of two excursions: a weekday tour which takes you to the fictional cul-de-sac Ramsay Street (where all the characters live) and to meet and have photos taken with a past or present Neighbours star, and a weekend-only tour which offers an access-all-areas experience, taking you into the inner sanctum of the show.
2. Rooftop Honey
All around the world there are high-profile campaigns working tirelessly to preserve the world’s precious eco-systems, but one of the lesser known of them takes place in Melbourne and is dedicated to returning bees to our cities. The Rooftop Honey project is at the vanguard of these efforts, erecting over 70 hives on the rooftops of cafes and restaurants across Melbourne. For anyone who holds an affection for our buzzy friends, a visit to one of their regular honey tasting events offers the chance to contribute to a worthy cause – while enjoying some delicious honey – during your time in Melbourne. Information about up-coming events can be found on the Rooftop Honey website.
3. Thread Den
There’s never a bad time to learn a new skill, so why not on vacation? Granted, the sedate art of sewing may not be the obvious choice in a pulsating city like Melbourne, but if you’re looking for a fun and educational experience during your stay, you might consider enrolling in a course at Thread Den. Situated in the north of the city, the sewing lounge is home to two studio spaces where craft classes, dressmaking projects and vintage glamour workshops are held for all-comers. The main pieces of equipment – the machines – are provided so all you have to bring along is fabric, matching thread and some buttons or zips upon which to weave your magic.
4. Melbourne Street Tours
If you spend any length of time in Melbourne, you’ll soon notice the abundance of colourful street art across the city. Sometimes such gritty urban depictions can be a sign of disaffection, but in Melbourne it simply reflects a vibrant and creative subculture that contributes hugely to the city’s vivid topography. Melbourne Street Tours offer guided tours that provide an introduction to the city’s street art scene. During the tours, which are run by street artists themselves, you’ll get to learn about the technical aspect behind their work, including spray painting, stencil art and paste-ups, as well as delving into the meaning behind the art. As a bonus, every tour ends at the renowned Blender Studios, where you’ll be shown around and get to meet practicing artists.
5. Immigration Museum
Melbourne prides itself on its diversity and throughout the 20th century it has seen waves of immigration that have enriched its culture. The often heart-breaking stories of people who fled war, persecution and treacherous sea conditions to reach Australia’s most southern mainland city are all contained within the Immigration Museum, which introduces visitors to the country’s changing identity and social makeup through a series of regular exhibits.
6. Old Melbourne Gaol
The once feared landmark has held everyone from petty criminals and the mentally ill to Australia’s most infamous citizen, Ned Kelly. Built in 1842, the gaol holds the key to the city’s criminal history from colonisation through to WWII. Converted into a museum in 1972, the (supposedly haunted) bluestone building allows for visitors to examine the grizzly details of its inmates as well as the stories of the 133 people who were hanged at its gallows. However, more than a testament to Melbourne’s criminal past, the Old Melbourne Gaol provides an alternative take on the broader history of the city.
7. Queen Victoria Market
Much more than a fresh-food shopping venue, Queen Victoria Market is a historic landmark, a tourist attraction and a veritable Melbourne institution. It is spread over several blocks, with more than 600 retailers selling their wares, and allows visitors to immerse themselves in the city’s way of life and witness its cosmopolitan make-up. You’ll find everything here from fruit and vegetables to local and imported gourmet food, fashion and general merchandise. The market is open five days a week, with Sundays taking on a carnival atmosphere as street performers entertain the crowd.
8. Escape Room
People who get a kick out of solving riddles are likely to love the Escape Room – Melbourne’s live puzzle experience. Created by two psychology PHD students, visitors are placed in the middle of puzzles unfolding in real time. Working in groups of 2-6, participants are given 70 minutes to solve the mystery of the hidden room. With situations ranging from disappearances at a Burlesque performance to a deserted mine, each puzzle is designed to test visitors’ mental flexibility through a series of lingual, visual, mathematical, spatial, physical and lateral brainteasers.
9. Eureka Skydeck
From a 300 metre-high viewing point, Eureka Skydeck allows you to capture the city in one glance. Located near Melbourne’s arts precinct, a look down focuses your eyes on either the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground or leafy St Kilda Road, but if visitors look out they can see as far as the Dandenong Ranges, which sit at the city’s edge. For those seeking an adrenaline rush, there is Edge – a glass box that moves out from the building to give the experience of being suspended in the air, 88 floors above the ground.
10. St Kilda Sports Club
One of Melbourne’s most popular hubs for leisure activities is St Kilda Spors Club, with facilities available for bowls, cricket, darts and pétanque (a little like French bowls). In warmer months, locals use the club for events, private functions and friendly rounds of barefoot bowls, but throughout the year is is also welcome to all-comers. On Fridays it hosts live music in the Club Bar while several times a year it also stages a rock’n’roll Day.
11. Brunswick Bowling Club
It may sound like an unlikely activity for hipsters, but lawn bowling has become the sport of choice for Melbourne’s trend-setters in recent years. It is no longer considered the staid and formal pursuit it once was, with many of the city’s lawn bowls clubs effectively being glorified beer gardens. One of the best places to get involved is Brunswick Bowling Club, where there are two large bowling greens, a bar stocking a range of local and imported brews, plus a huge section of wooden tables and vintage bench seats to hang out on. White tin sheds line the lawns and huge brass lights float above. Inside you can entertain yourself with pool or table tennis, while there is usually live music or DJ sets on Sunday afternoons. But be warned: drinking on the green is still a big no-no!
12. Collingwood Children’s Farm
One thing visitors to Melbourne are likely to notice is the focus on fresh, local and organic produce. Exemplifying this is Collingwood Children’s Farm, located in one of the city’s most fashionable suburbs, which was created to give city kids an immersive farm experience. By creating a link between food production and consumption, the farm demonstrates the importance of the ethical care of animals and the benefits of organic food. Visitors can be as hands-on as they wish, with options ranging from milking a cow, to cuddling a piglet, to merely wandering through the on-site market.