Melbourne is Australia’s bar capital and hub of live music—often called the country’s “European enclave”. The central business district not only serves its after-work drinkers, but also attracts a young, trendy crowd.
Many of the city’s smarter bars are tucked away in the city’s numerous narrow lanes. Across the Yarra River, Southgate provides the arts precinct with a strip of bars and riverside views.
With plenty of culture, activities, art exhibitions, and live music, you could easily spend over a week here and not regret it. Heck, you might end up like so many other travelers and never leave!
This travel guide for Melbourne can help you figure out everything you need to know! This is my favorite city in Australia and most people have a hard time leaving it’s so good!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Melbourne
1. Street art tour
2. Fitzroy Gardens
3. Royal Botanic Gardens
4. Watch the sunset from the beach
5. Queen Victoria Market
Other Things to See and Do in Melbourne
1. Enjoy the cafés
The café culture in this city is part of its soul. Everyone here loves to have coffee or tea and a snack while doing some work or chatting in some arty café. Don’t miss doing this either. You can take the café tour with Melbourne Coffee Tours or Café Culture Walk to learn more about why Melbournians love their cafés so much and then spend an afternoon with a good book at your new favorite spot. I really enjoy the café 1000 £ Bend in the CBD.
2. Party in St. Kilda
Melbourne’s famous nightlife area is home to inexpensive restaurants, bars, and clubs — it’s the place to see and be seen. If you want to find Melbourne’s wild side, this is where it will be. (Base Melbourne is one of my favorite places to go party if you want to hang out with other travelers — and a few locals! Their downstairs bar is popular and has cheap drinks.)
3. Moonlight movies in the park
During the summer months, there are nightly movies (most of them major Hollywood features) in the Royal Botanic Gardens. Admission is $19 AUD ($14 USD) to the movie, and you can bring food and wine for a little evening picnic. (Bring a jacket too, because it gets cold at night!)
4. Ride the City Circle Tram
More than just a means of free transportation, the City Circle Tram provides “hop on, hop off” service between Melbourne’s sightseeing attractions, including Federation Square, the Old Treasury Building, Parliament House, and the Princess Theater. There’s a running recorded commentary as you pass or stop at a place of historical, cultural, or architectural significance.
5. Flinders Street Station
Flinders Street Station is a major landmark and popular meeting place in central Melbourne. Built in the late 19th century, the station features Victorian architecture and large clock faces. It is said to be the busiest suburban railway station in the Southern Hemisphere, and it’s a lovely imposing building to admire.
6. Hang out in Federation Square
Right along the route of the free City Circle Tram and across the street from Flinders Street Station lies Federation Square. This open square also serves up stellar people-watching. I like to take lunch here and just watch the city go by. Below the square on the river are also a number of restaurants and outdoor bars.
7. NGV Australia
Located in Federation Square, this is the home of the National Gallery of Victoria’s Australian art collection. Admission to the permanent collection is free (but fees apply to special exhibitions). It’s one of the best free activities in the city. The collection only takes a couple of hours to see. It’s open daily from 10am-5pm.
8. State Library of Victoria
The State Library of Victoria is a historic institution that sees 8 million visitors a year. Originally built in 1856, the library has grown into an event space that’s a source of pride for city residents. Come here before it opens and you’ll see a queue of people ready to pounce on the open desks. The famous central rotunda with its octagonal shape, original dark wood furniture, and book-lined walls is definitely something not to miss. There are a number of free tours of the library to teach you more about its history and striking architecture. It’s open 10am-9pm Monday-Thursday and 10am-6pm Friday-Sunday.
9. Como House and Gardens
Now over 160 years old, this estate is a mix of classic Italianate architecture and Australian regency, and it is considered the best of the historic houses in the city. It costs $15 AUD ($11 USD) and it’s open 9am-5pm every day (except Sundays, when it opens at 10am).
10. Immigration Museum
The Immigration Museum is located in the Old Customs House and primarily features relics of Australia’s immigration history. I really enjoyed learning about the people who left their homes to move to Melbourne and, knowing the current political situation, found it slightly ironic, given that Australia, like the US, has recently become very outspoken about keeping its doors shut. It’s open daily from 10am-5pm and costs $15 AUD ($11 USD).
11. Melbourne Museum
The Melbourne Museum showcases Australian social history, indigenous cultures, science, and the environment. It’s located next to the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens. The highlight of the museum, for me, was the extensive Bunjilaka Aboriginal Culture Center, which highlighted aboriginal culture, art, and history. It’s open daily from 10am-5pm and costs $15 AUD ($11 USD).
12. Indulge in a wine tour
Wine tours are very popular in this area. The Mornington Peninsula is a famous wine-producing region about 45 minutes from Melbourne and is home to more than 40 wineries. There are a lot of day trips available to the Yarra Valley too (which is where most tours take you). If you don’t have your own car or don’t feel like spending the night in the area, day trips from Melbourne cost $150-200 AUD ($110-143 USD).
13. Plan a day trip to Phillip Island
Located a few hours from the city, Phillip Island is a weekend hot spot for locals looking to enjoy some beach time. The island is renowned for the nightly penguin parade (when thousands of penguins return from the sea to nest), its koala sanctuary, and the huge seal colony that lives offshore. The island can be visited as a day trip, but due to infrequent buses, I would recommend spending at least a night here! The trip there costs about $15 AUD ($11 USD).
For more information on specific destinations, check out these guides!
Melbourne Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Dorm rooms with 8-10 beds are about $25 AUD ($18 USD) and smaller dorms (4-6 beds) are around $30 AUD ($21 USD). Private rooms that sleep 2 range from around $85-120 AUD ($60-85 USD), depending on things like shared bathrooms vs. private bathrooms. Most hostels included linens and WiFi in the price and many offer free breakfast.
Budget hotel prices – You’ll find a bit of everything in this large city, with doubles starting at $120 AUD ($85 USD) per night. A room that sleeps 2 in a centrally-located 2 or 3-star hotel is about $220 AUD ($157 USD). These rooms include air-conditioning, a private bathroom, and a TV. Many hotels also offer free breakfast. There are a lot of Airbnb options in this city and they are much more economical than a hotel! On Airbnb, a shared room in a home averages about $29 AUD ($20 USD). You can find whole apartments starting around $100 AUD ($71 USD).
Average cost of food – You can easily find pizza parlors, noodle bars, and cafes where you can eat for under $15 AUD ($11 USD). Melbourne is probably the best place to eat cheaply in Australia, especially if you like Asian food. I’ve had some of the best sushi experiences here. However, expect to pay around $20 AUD ($14 USD) for most sit down restaurants meals (without a drink). There is also a lot of wine in this region that is very affordable. A week’s worth of food is $65-100 AUD ($46-71 USD) for basic groceries like pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foodstuffs. Grab and go places cost around $8-10 AUD ($6-7 USD) for sandwiches. Fast food (think McDonald’s) is around $15 AUD ($11 USD) for a meal.
Backpacking Melbourne Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker budget, you can do it for $80 AUD ($58 USD) per day. With this budget, you’ll be staying in hostel dorms, cooking most of your meals at the hostel (or sometimes picking up a quick sandwich), and using the myki pass to get around on public transportation. I’d add about an extra $10-15 per day if you want to eat out or drink a lot.
On a mid-range budget of about $240 AUD ($170 USD) per day, you can stay in a private hostel room or at a budget hotel, eat fast food or pick up light meals (like sandwiches), have a couple sit down meals, drink more, make use of the myki Explorer card, and even enjoy some tours.
On a luxury budget of $525+ AUD ($375+ USD), you can book a room at a nice 4-star hotel, enjoy sit down restaurants for every meal, take a day tour into the countryside to do some wine tasting, and use taxis to get around the city.
This chart can give you an idea of daily expenses (prices in USD):
Melbourne Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Here are some ways to save money when you visit Melbourne:
- Get a phone plan – If you’re here for a while, the telephone company Telstra has really improved their service and offers great phone packages that have great coverage throughout the country. Their call/text rates aren’t that high either, so the credit will last you a while. Vodafone is another option. They have amazing deals (sometimes better than Telstra) too but they have more limited coverage around the country.
- Drink goon (box wine) – Goon is an infamous staple on the Australian backpacker trail. This cheap box of wine is the best way to drink, get a buzz, and save a lot of money at the same time. 4 liters typically costs $13 AUD ($9 USD) (compared to a six pack of beer for the same price). Drink this before you go out and save on spending money at the bar.
- Cook often – Eating out in Melbourne is not cheap. The best way to reduce your food cost is to cook as many meals as possible at your hostel.
- Book tours as a package – Australia has a lot of fun activities and exciting tours that will eat into any budget. If you plan on doing any tours while you’re here, booking activities together through a hostel or tour agency will get you a discount and save you tons of money.
- Work for your room – If you’re on a budget and looking to save some cash, many hostels offer travelers the opportunity to work for their accommodation. In exchange for a few hours a day of cleaning, you get a free bed to sleep in. Commitments vary but most hostels ask that you stay for at least a week.
- Couchsurf – Accommodation in Melbourne can be quite pricey. If you plan ahead, you can usually find really a fun Couchsurfing to host you during your visit. This way, you not only have a free place to stay but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see.
- Fill up your water bottle – The tap water is clean and safe to drink in Melbourne. Cutting the $2-3 AUD ($1.45-$2.15 USD) for each bottle of water will reduce your daily spending. Not buying bottles of water also good environmental impact too!
- Use the free City Circle tram – This free hop on hop off tram has stops near most of the city’s biggest tourist attractions. Pick up a free map at a tourist info center, and get on your way!
- Take a free walking tour – I’m Free Walking Tours offers a handful of free walking tours to help you get oriented with Melbourne, and to learn all about its sights and history!
Where To Stay in Melbourne
I’ve been a backpacker in Australia for ages! Here are my favorite places to stay in Melbourne (Base St. Kilda is one of my favorite hostels in the world!):
For more hostel suggestions be sure to check out my list of five favorite hostels in Melbourne.
How to Get Around Melbourne
Bus – Melbourne’s bus system travels between all major hubs like shopping centres, schools, and attractions. The fare is determined by how many zones you’ll be travelling in, starting at $3 AUD ($2.15 USD) per leg. You need a myki card (or the mobile app) to get around.
You can top up your myki to get around, or you can buy a weekly, monthly, or yearly myki pass. A one-week pass costs $44 AUD ($31 USD). There’s also the myki Explorer pack, which includes one day of unlimited travel on Melbourne’s public transport system, as well as special deals and discounts on other attractions (like 20% off your admission to the Immigration Museum). This pack costs $15 AUD ($11 USD).
The bus to and from the airport with Skybus costs $18.75-36 AUD/$13-26 USD (one-way vs. round-trip).
Free Trams – Melbourne has an excellent Free Tram Zone in the CBD (Central Business District), stretching from Queen Victoria Market to Docklands, Flinders Street Station, Federation Square, and Spring Street. The City Circle Tram is also free, and stops at almost all of the city’s historic sites. You don’t need a myki if you’re using the free system!
Bicycle – Melbourne has over 84 miles (135 kilometers) of bicycle trails, and an excellent Melbourne Bike Share program to go along with it. Download the app to find the nearest docking station, and you’re good to go! A day pass with unlimited 45-minute rides costs only $3 AUD ($2.15 USD), while a weekly pass is $8 AUD ($5.75 USD) for unlimited 45-minute rides.
Taxis and Rideshares – Taxis are expensive here. Skip them. You can rideshare via several mobile apps, however, including Uber, Taxify and DiDi. For Uber, you can save $15 off your first ride with this code: jlx6v.
When to Go to Melbourne
Melbourne is a great spot year-round, and there’s always so much to do. I prefer visiting Melbourne between March to May, and then September to November. These are the shoulder seasons, and temperatures are much more comfortable during this time (with the highest being about 75°F/24°C). It’s also less touristy.
The summer months from December to February are the busiest in Melbourne, seeing as how it’s Australia’s summer and so many North American tourists flock here to escape the cold. The temperatures during this time are usually in the high 70s°F (high 20s°C), but they’ve been known to climb a lot higher.
Winter in Melbourne (June to August) can be quite cold and dreary, especially in comparison to Sydney and Brisbane. But you’ll certainly get the best travel deals and hotel rates during these months, so it might be worth your time anyway…especially if you’re most interested in the cafe and foodie scene.
How to Stay Safe in Melbourne
Melbourne is an incredibly safe place to backpack and travel – even if you’re traveling solo, and even as a solo female traveler. People are quite friendly and helpful and you’re unlikely to get into trouble. As Melbourne is a big city, be on alert for pick pockets and keep your valuables locked away.
When in doubt, always trust your instincts. If a taxi driver seems shady, just stop the cab and get out. If your hotel or accommodation is seedier than you thought, leave and go somewhere else. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID, before you travel in case of an emergency. Also, forward your travel itinerary to friends or family so they’ll know where you are just to be safe.
As a general rule, if you don’t do something at home, don’t do it when you’re in Melbourne. Follow that rule and you’ll be fine.
If you’re visiting Melbourne during the summer months, be prepared to handle the high temperatures. Wear lots of sunscreen, cover yourself, and drink plenty of water.
The most important piece of safety advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Melbourne Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
Below are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Melbourne. They are included here because they consistently turn up the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Momondo – This is my favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. The big cities have tons of listings! (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. Just enter your departure and arrival destinations and it will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost. One of the best transportation website out there!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- Melbourne Street Tours – I love the tours run by graffiti artists from Blender Studios. Prices start from $69 AUD ($49 USD), but they’re very much worth it!
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Melbourne Gear and Packing Guide
In this section, I’ll give you my suggestion for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack when you visit Melbourne.
The Best Backpack for Melbourne
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something a different backpack, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack with more tips, advice, and backpack suggestions!
What to Pack for Melbourne
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 6 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 8 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier.)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Melbourne Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
In A Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson
It’s hard to pick just one book by Bill Bryson that’s good, because they all are. He’s one of the most prolific and recognized names in travel writing. This book chronicles a journey through Australia and takes you from east to west, through tiny little mining towns, forgotten coastal cities, and off-the-beaten-path forests. Bryson includes lots of trivia in his tale as he travels around in awe — and sometimes in fear (thanks to box jellyfish, riptides, crocs, spiders, and snakes) — of this enormous country. This is the book that inspired me to go to Australia.
The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough
This is an Australian classic, originally published in the 70s, which follows the epic saga of a family living in sheep country in the Australian Outback. The story focuses on two main characters: Meggie Cleary with her forbidden love, and Ralph de Bricassart – a parish priest whose passion for Meggie haunts him. Even if this isn’t your type of book, it’s a really awesome insight into life in the Australian Outback (especially during the 70s).
A Long Way From Home, by Peter Carey
Irene Bob loves to drive fast, and her husband is the best car salesman in southeastern Australia. Together they decide to enter the 1954 Redex Trial – an endurance drive that circumnavigates the entire country. Willie Bachhuber, a failed schoolteacher, joins them. If they win their lives will be forever changed – but first they’re led out of the comfortable Australia they know so well and into an unexpected adventure full of twists and turns. Peter Carey is a two-time Booker Prize winner, and one of Australia’s most well known writers. Read this book!
Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback, by Robyn Davidson
This is Robyn Davidson’s memoir of her incredible journey 1,700 miles through the Australian desert to the sea, accompanied only by four camels and a dog. Davidson fends off sweltering heat, poisonous snakes, and dangerous men – all while wrangling her temperamental camels. It’s definitely one of those transformative stories that allows you to get super invested in the author as well as the severe Australian desert landscape. It has also been made into a great documentary!
The Songlines, by Bruce Chatwin
You can’t come to Australia without learning a little bit about the country’s Indigenous Australians. This is part travelogue and part autobiography, and one of Chatwin’s most famous books. Here, Chatwin searches the Australian Outback for the source of the Aboriginal “dreaming tracks,” the invisible pathways from which the Aboriginals’ ancestors sang the world into existence. The Songlines was an instant best-seller when it was published, and nowadays it’s a classic.
My Must Have Guides for Traveling to Melbourne
This book shows you how to easily collect and redeem travel points so you can get free airfare and accommodation.
Kristin Addis writes our solo female travel column and her detailed guide gives specific advice and tips for women travelers.
This book features interviews with dozens of teachers and detailed information on how to land your dream job and make money overseas.
My best-selling book will teach how to master the art of travel so that you’ll save money and have a more local, richer travel experience.
Australia Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Australia travel and continue planning your trip:
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