Conquer Melbourne’s funky cafe scene, be inspired by grungy laneway street art, check out the city’s educational but fun museums, connect with the best of Australian culture and get up-close-and-personal with Australia’s unique wildlife. All in three days in vibrant Melbourne, Australia’s most vibrant and international city.
Explore grungy, arty Melbourne present and past
Melbourne is regularly voted among the world’s most liveable cities and having spent two years living there I can confirm it has a lot to offer. The grungy laneways; the people watching and galleries of Federation Square; the independent fashion; the ever-changing street art. Melbourne has heart and soul! Any exploration of Melbourne must begin in Federation Square. This nifty piece of urban planning has been a raving success since it was developed just over 10 years ago. Linking the CBD and the Yarra River, it is constantly busy with tourists and locals enjoying the sunshine, the cafes, and of course Melbourne’s vibrant cultural scene.
The bold modern architecture around ‘Fed Square’ contrasts brilliantly with the heritage buildings surrounding it, such as the iconic Flinders Street Station and the cathedral. Get your bearings at the Melbourne Visitor Centre and dip into one of the five art galleries. Dip into one of the Federation Square is home to the National Gallery of Victoria (also known as the Ian Potter centre or the NGV).
It sounds like you will be here for AFL Grand Final week and there is no bigger sporting occasion in this sports-mad city. Some might compare Australian Football to a bunch of seagulls chasing a chip but the passion of the fans, the impressive athleticism of the players and the carnival atmosphere at matches is well worth experiencing, especially when finals fever takes over the city.
Depending on when you arrive you might want to catch the Footy on Parade event on 26th September – the cup is on display in Fed Square and a parade of players and coaches winds through the city from the Victorian Arts Centre on St Kilda Road, along Swanston and Collins Streets to the Old Treasury Building. Or join in the excitement by watching the Grand Final live on the big screen at Federation Square on 27th September. There is also live music in Fed Square on 24th September from noon.
Also in September the Melbourne Fringe Festival spices up the cultural calendar with an entertaining programme of groundbreaking and daring performances. There are a number of family friendly performances, including comedy, music and a Mad Tea Party.
Melbourne’s influx of migrants when the first Europeans stepped ashore in 1788 and went a little crazy with the gold rush of the 1850s and 60s. This fuelled the construction of a colonial city that has become a bustling metropolis. The city is home to residents from 233 countries speaking over 180 languages and dialects! You can check out some of the amazing stories behind their journeys at the Immigration Museum. It’s a 10 minute walk from Flinders St Station at 400 Flinders St (open 10am to 5pm daily).
You can also be whisked back in time to the social depravity of the 19th and early 20th centuries at the Old Melbourne Gaol on Russell Street. Visit the scene of bushranger Ned Kelly’s last moments – he was hanged here – and you can do night tours or even sleep over (open 9.30 to 5pm daily).
Melbourne is one of those cities that has become famous for its street art, maybe because its grungy laneways lend themselves perfectly to ‘hidden’ art. Yes it’s kind of illegal and often temporary but the city authorities turn a blind eye because it keeps the tourists who flock to Melbourne’s artsy scene very happy.
The first thing to remember about street art is that it is not graffiti. Graffiti is about words, about decoding. Street art is the highly skilled work of artists promoting their talents. Street art as a medium took off in New York City in the 60s and 70s and in Melbourne you might just see artists at work while wandering around the city. Right across the road from Fed Square is Hoosier Lane – completely devoted to street art expression.
Stencil art is my favourite form – it’s partly spontaneous spray painting but also involves some serious drawing skills and a many layered approach that aims to trigger emotion. Stencil artists like Haha (Regan Tamanui) have even been collected in the Australian National Gallery. An example of his famous Ned Kelly can be found on Stevenson Lane. There is also a large mural on Corrs Lane off Russell Street in Melbourne would also have taken a lot of time to create and contains varied abstract ideas and some less abstract… The whole of Croft Alley (off Paynes Place) contains one of Melbourne’s best known and extensive street art creations. It’s tucked away but visually stimulating.
In the evening tram it up to Lygon Street for Italian food – a wonderful by product of immigration. My favourite is Tiamo a pizzeria with more (food and atmosphere). Finish off with a sweet treat at Gelatissimo Carlton, also on Lygon Street at number 197.
Connect with indigenous Australia
Allocate one of your days to a trip out into the hinterland. It is probably best to arrange a hire car for the day to give you flexibility and comfort. My favourite day trip out of Melbourne that doesn’t involve wine is to combine the Dandenongs with Healesville Sanctuary.
The Dandenong Ranges are a lush antidote to the drier plains and the giant stands of Mountain Ash and ferny gullies are home to a couple of quaint little villages – Olinda and Sassafras. Stop for lunch at Ripe in Sassafras – don’t miss the Lindt hot chocolate drinks and try the breakfast risotto. You can also pick up some snacks at the counter to eat later in the day.
After brunch drive up the Mt Dandenong Tourist Road to the William Ricketts Sanctuary, a garden of ferny glades that is the setting for 92 mystical sculptures. William Ricketts (1898–1993) was an Australian potter and sculptor of the arts and crafts movement. In the 1950s he spent a lot of time absorbing the traditions and culture of the Aboriginal peoples of Central Australia and the influence on his sculpture is clear in the Sculpture Park here – a life-long project that reflects his deep understanding of the relationship between Australia’s natural environment and her indigenous peoples. You can take an audio tour (or downloadable podcast) through the Sanctuary, which really brings to life the work and passion of William Ricketts. It is free to enter this magical place.
Next up, make a stop at Sky High for views over greater Melbourne 26 Observatory Road , Mount Dandenong Melbourne, Australia 3767. There is a restaurant and various attractions to trap the tourists here but you can just pay a per car entrance fee of $5 and enjoy the views.
Then set your GPS towards Healesville. This town in the heart of the Yarra Valley is a fun destination on its own but it is also home to one of Australia’s best wildlife centres. Healesville Sanctuary is not a zoo but a conservation organisation dedicated to fighting wildlife extinction. It started out as a sanctuary where people could bring sick and injured wildlife for treatment and you can sometimes watch operations being carried out in the hospital.
Plan your visit around ‘the bird show’ (this runs at 12:00pm and 2:30pm) – ‘Spirits of the Sky’ is a spectacular introduction to Australia’s magnificent birds. A new attraction is Tales from Platypus Creek – watching these mysterious creatures interact with the keepers is amazing. There are also a couple of dingo puppies just now on display – exciting for the breeding programme and certainly offering maximum cuteness to visitors!
Melbourne from the water
A kayaking trip in a city? Yes a kayaking trip along the Yarra River, which meanders right through the centre Melbourne. This is one of the busiest trading ports in the southern hemisphere and the Melbourne kayak trip starts from the historical Victoria Docks. From the kayak you see the ‘Melbourne Star’ Ferris wheel, pass under the Bolte Bridge, with its two huge free-standing pillars that were built just high enough (apparently) to be taller than the Harbour Bridge in Sydney. Then carry on past the Melbourne central business district, looking out for the landing places where early settlers arrived back in the 18th century. In the end it’s not even about the sights you see but the experience of being out on the water and watching the city from a different perspective. A kayak tour takes around 1.5hrs and is suitable for all ages with no experience necessary. Obviously you should schedule this for your best weather day.
After the kayaking trip wander along the Southbank enjoying the atmosphere and the views of the city. Grab a light lunch at Pony Fish Island – a cool bar/cafe perched under the Pedestrian Bridge between Melbourne city and the Southbank.
In the afternoon catch another Fringe Festival event or museum. If you want to stretch the mind after the muscles head to Scienceworks and Melbourne Planetarium – just five kilometres from central Melbourne – is a revolutionary interactive museum that brings science to life. Current exhibitions include Science Fiction, Science Future, which proves via hands-on and full-body experiences that concepts like teleportation, holograms, invisibility and mind control are not just for the movies. Entry costs $12 for an adult and children are free, although some special exhibitions cost extra. Open daily, 10am – 4:30pm
To get to Scienceworks at 2 Booker St in Spotswood via public transport catch the train (Werribee and Williamstown Lines) to Spotswood and then allow for a 10 minute walk. Or there is a ferry service daily from Southbank – Williamstown Ferries (03) 9682 9555.
If you love eating out but your kids don’t necessarily want to spend hours in restaurants, treat yourselves to a ride on the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant. What a way to combine a tour of Melbourne with a gourmet dinner aboard one of a fleet of historical tramcars! The burgundy-painted, brass-tinged restaurants on wheels are decorated inside with red velvet curtains, fringed lampshades and curved booth dividers.
The skill of the chef producing such excellent food in her tiny kitchen is amazeballs (it’s not as tiny as the toilet though)! Many of the wines are from the Australian state of Victoria’s famous wine regions. But it is the staff who really make this experience fun. The head waiter is full of larks and the team really make it a pleasurable ride for everyone.
The lunch trip (1-3pm) and the early dinner (5.45-7.15pm) departures are best for families (the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant welcomes children from the age of five upwards) The Colonial Tramcar Restaurant operates in Melbourne every day of the year and it travels through the city and surrounding suburbs, including Albert Park, St Kilda and South Melbourne. It’s not cheap but it is a wonderful experience and what a way to finish off your holiday in Melbourne!
Check the weather forecast! Springtime weather in Melbourne can be unpredictable – there are often mild, sunny days but it can be cold and wet as well. It is a great time to experience Melbourne’s famous ‘four seasons in one day’! So take a look at the forecast a few days before you arrive and order the three-day itinerary according to how the weather is looking.
Public transport in Melbourne Melbourne has a good public transport system – see the website for journey planning – but if you plan to use it you will have to get Myki smart cards, which can be used on trams, trains and buses. You can buy and top up the Myki card at station ticket offices and many retailers, particularly 7-Eleven stores.
Use the City Circle tram The City Circle tram is a free ride that loops around the city. It circumnavigates central Melbourne every 10 minutes from 10am to 6pm and runs along Flinders St Harbour Esplanade, LaTrobe and Spring Streets. This is a great way to save shorter legs from getting tired.