Why Melbourne Needs To Be Your Next Urban Getaway
Have you ever spent a vacation at a gorgeous beach destination, only to find yourself just a tiny bit bored after a day or two? The white sand and blue waters may have been gorgeous, but perhaps there just wasn’t a lot to do. We’ve all been there, but luckily there’s a bustling, cosmopolitan destination where you can get your fill of beautiful beaches and waterfront views: Melbourne, Victoria!
I fell in love with Australia during my first trip there to the Perth metropolitan area, so I was very excited to see what else the country had to offer. Melbourne did not disappoint. As a much larger city than Perth, there was so much to see and do that five days felt like just barely enough time. Nonetheless, if your idea of a dream vacation is exploring a diverse and bustling melting pot of a metropolis, Melbourne is where you need to head. Read on to learn what you have to look forward to!
Things To Do in Melbourne
One great thing about Melbourne is that a ton of interesting attractions are located in its walkable city center. I’ll begin by highlighting some of those, then discuss the city’s tallest observation deck, followed by two suburban areas you won’t want to miss (including the city’s most famous beach).
Downtown (The Central Business District, or CBD)
Flinders Street Station
This beautiful train station is first on the list because it’s one of Melbourne’s most iconic landmarks. Not only does it have a beautiful exterior, but Flinders Street Station is also the heart of Melbourne’s commuter rail system.
Be sure to go back at night to see the station lit up as well. Although the dome pictured here is the most famous part of the station, you’ll also want to head one city block to the west (Elizabeth Street and Flinders Street crossing) to admire the equally impressive clock tower.
If you love the look of Flinders Street Station, there’s more where that came from! Melbourne is one of my favorite cities to date in terms of architecture. It’s a really fun mix of ultra-modern skyscrapers like the ones shown below and more traditional building styles from centuries past.
Melbourne’s CBD is fairly compact. It’s home to a lot of beautiful Victorian and Gothic buildings like the ones shown below, so the best way to experience the variety is to simply explore on foot.
Cathedrals of Melbourne
Perhaps unsurprisingly, downtown Melbourne is also home to a number of stunning cathedrals. The most notable is probably St Paul’s Cathedral, located diagonally across Flinders Street from the station discussed above.
On the edge of the CBD and the neighborhood of Fitzroy, St Patrick’s Cathedral (pictured below) is another impressive one worth checking out if you find yourself in that area.
Queen Victoria Market
One of the best things about an urban getaway is the opportunity to check out the city’s farmers markets. Queen Victoria Market, located on the northwest edge of the CBD, was pretty impressive! While I was there, I picked up some snacks, gifts, and souvenirs.
Since I’m from Seattle, I have to admit that Queen Victoria gives my hometown’s famous Pike Place Market a run for its money! There are just so many different sections, all of which cater to a certain thing (produce, meat and fish, souvenirs, etc). Unlike Pike Place, Queen Victoria may not be located on a picturesque waterfront, but it does take up two full city blocks and has many different corners to explore.
Street art near the market
Another reason to visit this particular part of town is all the street art in and around Queen Victoria Market. My favorite spot was this particular alley, but there are numerous interesting murals and art installments throughout the vicinity.
Laneways and arcades
Laneways and arcades aren’t exclusively limited to Melbourne (I found a couple of cool ones in Perth as well), but they are an important part of the city’s culture. While both terms refer to pedestrian areas lined with shops and restaurants, it’s my understanding that the arcades are typically more upscale and tend to be indoors. Check out the fancy shops and beautiful mosaic tiles in The Block Arcade, one of many in the heart of the CBD.
In contrast, laneways tend to be outdoor pathways that are too narrow for cars to drive through. Historically, they haven’t been as upscale as the arcades. However, they’re now home to many of the city’s bustling cafes, bars, and restaurants. A typical laneway can be found on Degraves Street very near Flinders Street Station.
The Yarra River
The final attraction in downtown Melbourne that I’ll mention is the Yarra River. It forms the southern border of the CBD, and both banks have large sidewalks where you can walk and enjoy the city views.
While I’m sure that a city with as many skyscrapers as Melbourne has an almost endless supply of stunning observation decks, the tallest and most famous is located in the Eureka Tower. Located on the building’s 88th floor, this observation deck is actually the tallest in the southern hemisphere.
It’s also perfectly positioned on the south shore of the Yarra River, giving a complete view of the CBD with unobstructed views of the river itself, as well as Flinders Street Station, St Paul’s Cathedral, and Port Phillip Bay off in the distance.
Admission for adults costs 25 AUD (as of December 2019). I highly recommend purchasing their Sun and Stars package, which will let you visit twice for only 5.50 AUD extra for the second visit. You have two consecutive days to redeem your second ticket. As you might guess from the package deal’s name, the two tickets are designed to be used during the day and at night. I enjoyed seeing the city under the summer sun as well as during dusk when all the buildings began to light up.
Once you go up, there is no limit to how long you can stay in Eureka Skydeck 88. I bought my tickets in person the day I wanted to go, but I also went on a weekday that wasn’t busy at all. If you can, I recommend doing the same. Alternatively, book online in advance if you suspect it might be crowded the day you want to go.
St Kilda and Brighton
If you want to take advantage of Melbourne’s beautiful beaches, this is where you’ll want to go! St Kilda is home to Melbourne’s famous Luna Park, and Brighton is where the city’s photogenic Bathing Boxes are. I’ll cover both briefly and then give some tips for a visit to these beachfront communities.
St Kilda is probably Melbourne’s most popular beach area. Located a short metro ride away from the CBD, St Kilda is easy and affordable to get to from the city center. Its most noteworthy attraction is Luna Park, a historic amusement park only a stone’s throw away from the beach. While families with kids might want to go inside and spend a day there, I personally just snapped a quick pic of the famous main entrance and went on my way.
Brighton (and the Bathing Boxes)
Brighton is a residential area directly south of St Kilda. This is where you can find the Brighton Bathing Boxes, a long row of colorfully-painted sheds located on Brighton Beach. According to this article, the boxes were never actually outfitted with running water (or electricity), despite their name. Originally meant as a sort of changing area dating back to the 1800s, they are now used by private owners as recreational spaces. Luckily, the public can still enjoy their colorful exteriors despite being privately owned.
In the age of Instagram, it should come as no surprise that the Brighton Bathing Boxes are a popular (overrun, perhaps?) tourist attraction. I still recommend seeing them, but expect crowds. If you want a picture in front of a particularly creative one, you’ll probably have to wait in a short line.
What I Recommend
Here’s how I recommend seeing St Kilda and Brighton in one day. The most important thing to know is that the Brighton Bathing Boxes face west. That means the best lighting for pictures will be in the late afternoon. I recommend taking the metro from the CBD (or wherever you’re staying in Melbourne) to Balaclava Station around noon, walking over to Luna Park, and having lunch in St Kilda.
Once you’ve finished eating, walk south along the shore until you reach the colorful boxes around 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon, when the lighting is perfect. This walk takes about two hours, but you’ll get beautiful waterfront views the entire time. If you have the stamina, walk down just a little bit further south and check out the Brighton Beach Gardens, which are right next to the Brighton Beach metro station which can bring you back to downtown Melbourne.
Known for its bars and nightlife, Fitzroy is another interesting area in Melbourne boasting some unique historical architecture. I only had time to walk along Brunswick Street, the main road running north-to-south, but I’m still glad I got to see the neighborhood.
A World-Class Destination for Foodies
Melbourne isn’t an overwhelmingly massive metropolis, but its culinary scene is one of the most vibrant I’ve seen anywhere in the world. I don’t think I’ve been to any city with so many restaurants packed into every single city block. The choices are basically limitless, and you’ll never have to walk more than a few minutes to find something delicious to eat.
I enjoyed exploring a wide range of cuisines during my five days in the city. Although the following list is only a small sample of what’s available, click or tap any of the categories below to learn more about the dishes I tried and where I got them!
After trying kangaroo for the first time in Perth and having mixed feelings about it, I decided to try it again in Melbourne in the form of a burger. I have to say I enjoyed it a lot more this way! You can get one at Metro Burgers, a conveniently located casual restaurant that also offered other unique burgers such as emu and crocodile.
If you’re visiting Australia for the first time, I highly recommend splurging on at least one meal to experience high-quality local cuisine. Although choices are numerous, I ended up trying Taxi Kitchen, which brands itself more along the lines of modern and sustainable than fine dining, but I’d say it was still a pretty nice dinner.
Their slow cooked lamb shoulder and scallop appetizer with glass of local red wine was everything I expected of good Australian cuisine after visiting some excellent eateries in Perth. Expect a bill of roughly 60 to 80 AUD per person at Taxi Kitchen (assuming drinks, appetizers, and possibly dessert).
Who can possibly resist Greek food? When I saw a semi-casual restaurant called Stalactites that looked like it was pretty popular, I knew I had to try it. I ordered a goat and onion stew which was incredibly delicious. Also, they’re open 24 hours!
Unsurprisingly, Chinatown has some deliciously authentic restaurants. I decided to get pork and veggie xialongbao from Shanghai Street. They were delicious, but I wish that I had time to try some of the other Chinese restaurants in the area!
If you love Asian food, Melbourne is the perfect place to try some harder-to-find options that you may not be able to get at home. Take, for example, Nelayan Restaurant. When an Indonesian restaurant is filled with Indonesian customers, you know it’s bound to be good! The dish I got, consisting of noodles and fried chicken, was super satisfying despite its simplicity. If you’ve never had Indonesian food before, give it a try here!
Your Thai was the perfect place to get green curry late at night after most other restaurants in the area had closed. It was basically what you’d expect, but here’s the kicker – they serve their rice in the shape of a heart!
Fish and chips is a popular dish in Australia, so I wasn’t going to leave Melbourne without it. I figured the perfect place to get it would be St. Kilda, and Pink Flake (a short walk from Luna Park) definitely delivered.
Located across the street from the Parliament House and next to the Princess Theatre, the fancy restaurant known as The European seemed to attract a well-dressed, older crowd. According to a quote on their website, “the European is not Spanish…. Nor is it French, Italian, Austrian or Greek. The European is a hybrid creation that evokes memories (and the occasional bit of longing) for the wine bars and cafes of all those places.” I’d tend to agree with that, and I thoroughly enjoyed the seafood pasta and clams with bone marrow I ordered there.
Where I Stayed
If you’re traveling to Melbourne on a budget like I was, choosing an accommodation can be tricky. I checked Airbnb and found some nice-looking budget options, but all of them were pretty far from the city center. After checking Hostelworld, I decided to stay at the Exford Hotel in the heart of Chinatown.
In terms of location, the Exford (which is really a hostel) can’t be beat. It’s close to everything, especially many of those amazing restaurants mentioned above. However, I didn’t love it because the ten-person dorm felt pretty cramped, and the room didn’t exactly smell super fresh. In contrast, the bathrooms were surprisingly clean.
If you’re intent on finding the lowest price in the best location in Melbourne (125 AUD for five nights), this is likely it. To book a reservation at the Exford Hotel via Hostelworld, click here. To browse other budget options in Melbourne, click here.
The Great Ocean Road: A Perfect Day Trip
Melbourne has no shortage of tempting day trips. As a sprawling metropolitan area surrounded by gorgeous countryside and stunning beaches, you should absolutely get out of the city for at least one day. The day trip I recommend personally is the Great Ocean Road. To learn all about it, check out my post reviewing the tour I took with Go West Tours!
If I had more time in Melbourne, I would’ve loved to check out French Island and Phillip Island. Anyone staying for more than a week could even take a ferry down to Tasmania. If you’ve been to (or are from) Melbourne and have additional suggestions for day trips, be sure to leave a comment below and let me know what I should see next time I’m in town!
To Wrap This Up...
Melbourne has pretty much anything you could want in a beautiful, vibrant city destination: great food hailing from all over the world, eye-catching architecture, easy-to-use public transportation, and beautiful beaches and river walks.
Have you been to Melbourne before? Is there anything crucial I missed on my first trip there? Also, did you know that Melbourne is predicted to overtake Sydney as the country’s largest city sometime this decade? Let me know in the comments below! And if you’d like to learn more about Australia, check out one of these blog posts! Thanks for reading!