Melbourne is Australia’s bar capital and hub of live music. The city has a European feel to it and is popular with backpackers and young travelers looking to enjoy its laid-back vibes.
While Sydney may have the more popular tourist attractions, Melbourne is the backpacker capital of the country and known for having a better nightlife. Not surprisingly, it’s my favorite city in Australia!
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! You definitely don’t want to rush your visit here. There’s a lot to see, do, and plenty of amazing places to eat at.
This travel guide to Melbourne will help you plan your trip, save money, and make the most of your time here.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Melbourne
1. Take a street art tour
2. See the Fitzroy Gardens
3. Visit the Royal Botanic Gardens
4. Watch the sunset from the beach
5. Explore 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.
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, there are nightly movies (most of them are major Hollywood features) in the Royal Botanic Gardens. You can bring your own food and drinks (including alcohol) and have a cozy picnic while watching some great movies. Think of it like going to the drive-in but without the car. Just make sure to check the weather in advance and to bring a blanket to sit on as well as a sweater (it can get a little chilly sometimes). Tickets start at 19 AUD ($15 USD).
5. Flinders Street Station
Opened in 1854, Flinders Street Station is a major landmark and popular meeting place in central Melbourne. The station features Victorian architecture and large clock faces. It was the busiest railway station in the world in the 1920s and is said to currently be the busiest suburban railway station in the Southern Hemisphere.
6. Hang out in Federation Square
Right along the route of the free City Circle train and across the street from Flinders Street Station lies Federation Square. Opened in 1968, this open square spans around 8 acres and 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. In the summer, there are often all kinds of different events here as well.
7. Visit the National Gallery of Victoria
Located in Federation Square, the National Gallery of Australia is the largest, oldest, and most-visited art museum in the country (over 3 million people visit each year). It’s home to over 75,000 works including modern and contemporary art, sculptures, paintings, and works from aboriginal and indigenous artists. You can see pretty much everything in a couple of hours. It’s one of the best free activities in the city. Admission is free though temporary exhibits may have an admission charge.
8. See the 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.
9. Wander the Como House and Gardens
Over 160 years old, this regal estate blends a mix of classic Italianate architecture and Australian regency. It’s considered the best of the historic houses in the city and offers a rare glimpse at the luxurious and opulent life of high society in 19th century Australia. Guided tours are available for 15 AUD ($11.50 USD) if you want to learn more about this beautiful mansion and its history. Admission to the gardens is free.
10. Visit the Immigration Museum
Founded in 1998, The Immigration Museum is located in the Old Customs House and features exhibitions about Australia’s immigration history. Europeans starting flocking to the country in 1788, bringing with them their own cultures that eventually swept the island and displaced the aboriginal peoples who called the island home for over 50,000 years. Admission is 15 AUD ($11.50 USD).
11. See the Melbourne Museum
The Melbourne Museum showcases Australian social history, indigenous cultures, science, and the environment. The highlight of the museum, for me, was the extensive Bunjilaka Aboriginal Culture Center, which highlights aboriginal culture, art, and history. They also have a children’s section that’s great for anyone traveling with kids. Admission is 15 AUD ($11.50 USD).
12. Indulge in a wine tour
Wine tours are super popular in this region. The Mornington Peninsula in the outer suburbs of Melbourne is a world-famous wine-producing region. Located 45 minutes from the city, it’s home to over 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 150-225 AUD ($114-172 USD) per person.
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.
For more information on specific cities in Australia, check out these guides:
Melbourne Travel Costs
Hostel prices – A bed in a dorm room with 6-10 beds costs between 18-25 AUD ($14-19 USD). Private rooms start at 60 AUD ($45 USD) though most are closer to 90 AUD ($69 USD) per night. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most include free breakfast as well.
For those traveling with a tent, there are a few holiday parks outside the city with basic unpowered plots costing between 30-60 AUD ($23-46 USD) per night. For more rustic camping, there are a few free parks outside the city if you want to stay further afield (they aren’t really close to the city but they are free).
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels start at 100 AUD ($77 USD) per night for a double room. Expect the standard amenities like Wi-Fi, TV, and AC. Expect higher prices in the downtown core.
Airbnb is also available around the city with private rooms costing 50 AUD ($38 USD) per night, though they average closer to 110 AUD ($87 USD). For entire homes and apartments, expect to pay at least 170 AUD ($130 USD).
Average cost of food – You can easily find pizza parlors, noodle bars, and cafes where you can eat for under 20 AUD ($15 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 at least 20 AUD ($15 USD) for most sit down restaurants meals (without a drink).
Grab and go places cost around 10 AUD ($7 USD) for sandwiches while Fast food (think McDonald’s) costs around 12 AUD ($9 USD) for a combo meal. Beer costs around 10 AUD ($7 USD) while a latte or cappuccino costs 5 AUD ($3 USD). For a bottle of water, expect to pay around 2.75 AUD ($2 USD).
A week’s worth of food is 72-98 AUD ($55-75 USD) for basic groceries like pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foodstuffs.
Backpacking Melbourne Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker budget, you can visit Melbourne for 70-85 AUD per day. With this budget, you’ll be staying in hostel dorms, cooking most of your meals, limiting your drinking, using public transportation to get around, and sticking to mostly free activities like free walking tours. I’d add about an extra $10-15 per day if you want to eat out or drink more. You can also lower this cost by Couchsurfing since you’ll eliminate your accommodation costs.
On a mid-range budget of about 225 AUD per day or more, you can stay in a budget hotel or Airbnb, eat out all the time, drink more, take some taxis, and even enjoy some paid tours and attractions.
On a “luxury” budget of 430 AUD per day or more, you can book a room at a nice four-star hotel, enjoy restaurants for every meal, take a day tour into the countryside to do some wine tasting, rent a vehicle to get around, go out drinking, and do as many other tours and activities as you want! The sky is the limit!
This chart can give you an idea of daily expenses (prices in AUD):
Melbourne Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Melbourne can eat up your budget as you eat and drink out a lot! But there’s plenty of ways to save money here. Here are some ways to save money when you visit Melbourne:
- 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.
- 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 a hostel with a kitchen to save money.
- 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 is pricey. If you plan ahead, you can find a fun Couchsurfing host for 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. Saving a few bucks for each bottle of water will reduce your daily spending (and the environment). LifeStraw makes reusable bottles with built-in filters so you can ensure your water is always clean and safe.
- 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
There’s a lot of great accommodation in Melbourne. I’ve stayed at tons of places. Here are my favorite places in the city:
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 ($2.30 USD). A day-pass is 9 AUD ($7 USD). You need a myki card (or the mobile app) to get around.
The bus to and from the airport with Skybus costs 15 AUD ($11.50 USD) one-way or 28 AUD ($21 USD) return.
Free Trams – Melbourne has a 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 – Biking is a great way to explore Melbourne as there are over 84 miles (135km) of bicycle trails here. You can rent a bike here for 30 AUD ($23 USD) per day.
Taxis and Rideshares – Taxis are expensive here. Skip them. If you do need a ride, use Uber — it’s much cheaper.
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 or 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 pickpockets and keep your valuables locked away (like any other big city).
When in doubt, always trust your instincts. If a taxi driver seems shady, get out. If your hotel or accommodation is seedier than you thought, go somewhere else. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID, before you travel in case of an emergency.
As a general rule, if you wouldn’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.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands out the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- 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!
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Rome2Rio – 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. Check it out to learn about the city’s street art scene.
- 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
Bill Bryson is 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.
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.
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.
Australia Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Australia travel and continue planning your trip:
Photo credits:4 – Jocelyn Kinghorn