Melbourne is the second largest city in Australia and the hub of arts and culture for the state of Victoria. It’s a city that feels very much like San Francisco, without the hills, and the perfect place to use as a base for explorations in southern Victoria, or, to spend a little more time delving deeper into one of the most charming cities in Australia. There’s no shortage of adventures and cultural diversions to be had.
You never know what will be happening at Federation Square, just across the side street from Flinder’s Station. It’s worth a look just for the interesting architecture, the jumbo-tron screen that plays a variety of entertainment. It’s a great place to start your visit to Melbourne; a stop into the iSite (tourist information) will help you get your bearings. There are also loads of restaurants and shops as well as a couple of big museums in this square.
The Melbourne Aquarium is not to be missed. There are creatures in the waters surrounding the southern half of Australia that don’t exist anywhere else in the world.
What’s particularly good about the Melbourne Aquarium is it’s emphasis on the local: elephant fish, unusual types of sharks, a maori octopus that only lives in these waters and a whole range of leafy sea dragons and sea horses that will take your breath away. The Southern Ocean is cold so unless you’re willing to don a wetsuit complete with a hood to see these critters in person, the aquarium provides a welcome (warm and dry) window into their world.
Located in the docklands The Icehouse was Australia’s Olympic ice venue and is now the biggest skating rink and hockey venue in all of Australia. Who knew? It’s the perfect place to spend a hot afternoon cooling off and enjoying some Canadian winter-style fun! Skates can be rented (spend the extra few bucks and upgrade to the slightly nicer skates!) The cafe has a very special item on the menu, something uniquely Canadian and something almost never found elsewhere: Poutine. French fries, drenched in brown gravy, smothered in white cheese. It’s next to impossible to get the “right” cheese this far from Canada, but the cafe at The Icehouse does a fair approximation of the northern delicacy! You won’t find that everywhere in the southern hemisphere!
You haven’t really seen Melbourne until you’ve seen it from high above on the Eureka Sky Deck 88. It’s the highest observation deck in the southern hemisphere and the view is spectacular. The prismatic looking glasses that highlight Melbourne landmarks inform your bird’s eye view. Don’t miss The Edge experience, in which you enter a glass box and are shoved out of the side of the building with nothing beneath you, all the way to the street. It’s a pretty spectacular moment when the opaque glass turns clear beneath your feet!
There are plenty of places to eat in Melbourne, but none quite like the Chill On Ice Bar
Located in the Southgate Plaza, right on the banks of the Yarra River. They’ll suit you up in polar fashion and you’ll get to spend half an hour sipping drinks out of a cup made of ice in a bar that is also entirely made of ice. I guarantee you’ll be shivering inside fifteen minutes, and your feet will freeze to the floor! It’s quite a novelty!
Melbourne has been named the most livable city, but also holds the dubious honor of being the fifth most expensive city in the world to live in. Don’t let that deter you, there is plenty of free fun to be had in the city as well. The following attractions won’t set you back a cent!
A visit to the Shrine of Remembrance provides a window into the wartime culture of the state of Victoria. It’s well worth carving an hour or so out of your day to visit. It’s free, and you can request a complimentary guide, which will make all the difference in understanding the art and architecture of the place as well as the historical and cultural significance of it. If you happen to be in Melbourne over Anzac Day, don’t miss the dawn service and the huge crowd that turns out to honor the memory of past heroes and present servicemen and women.
Plan to spend a couple of hours getting lost at Queen Victoria Market It’s a great place to buy lunch, fresh fruits and veggies, or to load up on souvenirs for friends and family back home. There is a little bit of everything here. If you go on the weekend there will be extra over-flow market as well as loads of street performances to enjoy. Take time to wander in and out of the little shops and galleries on the streets surrounding the market as well. This whole district is very walkable and a delightful way to spend an afternoon!
Once you’ve parked your car, the Tourist Tram is a fantastic way to get around the outside loop of the downtown area. One of the things the echoes the vibe of San Francisco, half a world away, are the street trollies that move people through the maze of downtown. Keep an eye out for the historic looking maroon street cars as they are free and will take you past all of the major tourist haunts in town. There is also commentary provided along the route! They run about every fifteen minutes and are the best way to get around the city for free (even locals ride them!)
When the bustle and busy of the city starts to overwhelm your senses, take a walk in the Royal Botanical Gardens. This is the perfect place to let the kids run off some steam and maybe have a picnic lunch. The children’s garden, in particular, is a dog free safe zone for little people to have a great time and explore. It’s just on the opposite side of the Shrine of Remembrance and provides a welcome green space escape. Be sure to walk through the “Australian” portion of the garden and read the labels on the local plants and trees. It’s a lovely way to get a taste of Australian bush without ever leaving town.
Finally, the most culturally significant free fun in Melbourne are the National Galleries of Victoria there are two separate collections, The Ian Potter Center at Federation Square contains the Australian collections. The NGV International at 180 St. Kilda Road contains the international collections. Both are well worth an afternoon and the Ian Potter Center will be a fantastic introduction, for visitors to Australia, to the art and culture of this enormous and diverse country.
Be sure to wander the banks of the Yarra River, cross the many pedestrian bridges and leave plenty of time to enjoy the street performer and evening entertainment that spills out of the little cafes lining the river bank.