The saying goes that Melbourne is your wife and Sydney is your mistress, meaning Sydney is how you like to spend a weekend and Melbourne is the one you want to come home to. It’s an accurate representation, as Melbourne can’t beat Sydney’s glitz, yet still has an overwhelming amount of sites, culture and activities worth bragging about. Those, combined with fantastic (and sometimes free!) public transportation, safe streets and a strong economy help Melbourne consistently rank as one of the world’s best places to live.
Here are the top 10 awesome things to do in Melbourne, Australia that will have you feeling like a local in no time.
What to do in Melbourne: Soak up the café culture
Melbourne is renowned for its cafes, and after you sip a Flat White at one of them you’ll never want to go to Starbucks again. There’s just something about the strong lattes artfully created by career baristas, who take pride in knowing your order after the first time you walk in. Most cafes also offer house-made treats such as fluffy croissants, juicy fruit parfaits and fresh-out-of-the-oven muffins, making it an easy decision to skip your hotel’s boring continental breakfast. Outdoor cafes are also the perfect place to people watch and soak in the sounds of the city.
Meet in Federation Square
While this place is crawling with tourists thanks to the information booths, hectic Flinders train station and the fact that many tours pick up day-trippers here, even locals can’t avoid Federation Square. One of the busiest places to visit in Melbourne, Fed Square is home to an impressive array of venues including the modern Deakin Edge and The Atrium, and regularly hosts events including fashion shows and wine and food festivals. Towering St. Paul’s Cathedral also looks over the square, which is bordered by the serene Yarra River, making it a great place to sit back and watch the world go by. It’s incredible to think that the square has only been around since 2002!
Shop ‘til you drop
Melbournians are a stylish bunch, and their fashion districts prove it. It’s easy to waste away an entire day popping in and out of boutiques, such as the ones you’ll find along hip Chapel Street. From runway-ready looks to homewares and stationary (don’t miss kikki.K, where everything looks like it jumped off a Pinterest board), it’s all here.
For a shopping strip with even more atmosphere, head to the St. Kilda district which has stores that suit all budgets, cafes and restaurants with great patios, and cake shops which will make anyone with a sweet tooth go crazy. Those who prefer the cover of a mall should try the glitzy Emporium Melbourne, or head out to Chadstone which is a short drive from Melbourne and has over 500 stores. A free shuttle departs from Federation Square daily.
Top tips: Shopping in St. Kilda or on Chapel Street? Be sure to stop in at Kookai, a beautifully curated store which offers stylish yet classic women’s wear that will make you look like a million bucks. If you need an afternoon tipple, try the Tea Salon in Emporium—their scones are delicious, the décor is adorable, and they’ll even serve you gin in a teapot so no one will judge.
Bask in the sun on Brighton Beach
While Brighton Beach itself isn’t exactly postcard-worthy, it’s well worth a visit for one reason: the bathing houses. Taking a cue from the Caribbean, the uniquely decorated cabanas that line the length of the beach are absolutely charming, and you’ll find yourself torn trying to pick a favourite. From Easter-egg hues to bright depictions of kangaroos and crabs, the owners take pride in having their houses stand out, making it one of the most popular Melbourne sights for the Instagram crowd.
Enjoy a slow stroll along the beach while taking in the views of both the houses and Melbourne’s skyline, then grab a bite to eat on the patio at The Baths. Sipping a crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc while watching paddle-boarders and boats head out from the neighbouring dock is a great way to spend a sunny afternoon.
Stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens
A serene outdoor oasis right in the middle of the city, the Royal Botanic Gardens are a welcome respite from the everyday hustle and bustle. Meticulously kept gardens are bordered by perfectly manicured lawns, and huge leafy trees and stick-straight palm trees provide shelter from the Australian sun. The gardens are like a living greenhouse, with different areas dedicated to particular plant species—take the cacti area, for example.
Pathways wind throughout the massive park, making it a great place for a leisurely stroll, and many Melbournians get their fitness fix here by jogging around the Tan which loops around the park (it’s named after the colour of the track, natch). There’s ample space to spread out and have a picnic, or simply soak in the scene at one of the cafes.
While the greenery is what the Royal Botanic Gardens are most famous for, it’s also steps away from the spectacular Shrine of Remembrance which is considered one of the top Melbourne city attractions. The war memorial is dedicated to those who have served in wars and peacekeeping missions that Australia has been a part of, and hosts remembrance ceremonies. Visitors are welcome to tour the building, and also walk up to the top where they can take in one of the best views in the city.
Try your luck at Crown
Who needs Vegas when you could just spend a night at Crown? This entertainment complex just a few minutes from St. Kilda and Fed Square is the next best thing to Sin City, boasting hotels, nightclubs, spas, numerous restaurants, luxury shops and a casino. If you find yourself there around sunset, be sure to head outside to one of the patios overlooking the Yarra River at the top of the hour. There you’ll catch the Gas Brigades, a nightly show which sees huge fireballs burst out from the towers as water falls down the side. Talk about a spectacle!
Watch a movie in the great outdoors
Australians love any excuse to stay outside. Enter Moonlight Cinema. From December to March, a giant screen is set up in the Botanical Gardens, which shows movies ranging from new releases to golden oldies such as Flashdance. Adult movie tickets are around $20 each, and you can hunker down on the grass on your own blanket or rent one of the comfortable beanbag chairs for about $9. Food trucks are on site, and you can also bring your own food in. Does it get any better than a picnic in the park while watching the sunset as your favourite movie plays?!
If you’re looking for another way to spend an evening, Melbourne’s famous Night Market is the place to be. Every Wednesday night from November through March, the historic Queen Victoria Market is transformed into a bustling bazaar. The smoky smell of meat sizzling on the grill wafts around you as lively music plays, and people line up at the dozens of food stalls serving up authentic dishes from around the world. Greek, Korean, Indian, Cajun, it’s all here. After filling up, be sure to browse through the artisan stalls selling clothing, jewelry and artwork for creations you won’t find anywhere else.
Get in the game
Finally, if there’s one thing Melbournians are known for it’s their love of the game. From cricket to horse racing, F1 to tennis matches and everything in between, Melbourne is passionate about their sporting events. Let’s not forget footy, which is like a mix between rugby and soccer but played in a circular field. Melbourne is the birthplace of Aussie Rules, and it’s worth trying to round up tickets to a game just to see what all the fuss is about. The city is crawling with sports stadiums, ensuring that no matter what time of year you visit, there will always be something worth cheering about.