This isn’t going to be your average top ten list. Everyone can open a guide book and read about the Eureka Tower Skydeck, or the Melbourne Aquarium, or the latest glamorous restaurant. I’ll leave those ‘blockbuster’ attractions for you to discover on your own.
Instead, this list is made up of personal recommendations from this Melbourne Local to you — specific aspects of Melbourne that resonate most strongly with me as a local. And, of course, they can all be done on a paper-thin budget.
So, without further ado, let me present my top ten.
1. Walk the laneways.
This is one of the first things I do with visitors. Melbourne’s laneways are one of its most characteristic features; this is where many of its most loved institutions — its street-side cafes, its hidden bars, its street art — can be found.
So, try this short walking tour:
Begin with the Platform Artists Group in Campbell Arcade, then make your way up through Degraves Street and into Centre Place. From here, ‘do The Block‘ in The Block Arcade, then wander up to Royal Arcade and check out Gog and Magog. From here, just cut loose. Wander. Get lost. That’s the best way to learn the city.
2. Tram it.
Forget tourist buses; there are some great tram routes in and out of the city that will allow you to see not only the CBD but also some of Melbourne’s quirky inner suburbs. You’ll save money and encounter some of Melbourne’s colourful commuters to boot.
3. Eat Asian food.
One of the things that I miss terribly when I’m away from home is the huge range of authentic, cheap and and utterly delicious Asian food that we Melburnians take for granted. Vietnamese, Chinese and Malaysian cuisines are, I think, what Melbourne does best, probably because of the large populations of these ethnic groups in our city.
There are countless Asian cheap-eats in Melbourne, but three of my favourites are Hien Vuong 1 in Footscray for Vietnamese pho ($7.50–$9.50), Flemington’s Laksa King for tasty Malaysian laksa ($9.50), and Shanghai Street Dumpling in the CBD for Chinese food ($9.50–$10).
4: Drink coffee.
According to British chef extraordinaire Heston Blumenthal, Australia is home to the best coffee in the world. And, as every Melburnian knows, we have the best coffee in Australia. So picky are we about our coffee that US megachain Starbucks has completely failed to make the cut in Australia; they’ve reportedly lost $143 million as Australians turn up their noses at such inferior brew.
It’s not difficult to find tasty coffee in Melbourne; the bar is set high, so most coffee will hover around the ‘good’ mark, with a few places tipping over to ‘great’. A couple of these are Auction Rooms in North Melbourne, Seven Seeds in Carlton, Proud Mary in Collingwood and Brother Baba Budan in the CBD. Importantly, all these coffee institutions are also lovely cafes.
For comprehensive lists and rankings of Melbourne’s cafes, check out Beanhunter.
5: Look at street art.
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Melbourne is a great street art city, so all you need to do it pay attention to the walls around you. Hot-spots for art are the small city lane-ways (Hosier Lane is the most well-known of these) and Melbourne inner suburbs such as Fitzroy, Collingwood, Brunswick and St Kilda.
6: Explore the bike paths.
As soon as you get on a bike, a whole new Melbourne opens up for you. Bicycle paths wind through secluded green wedges, under futuristic-looking bypasses, along abandoned tramlines, around Melbourne’s lovely bay. This is one of the city’s real charms, so make sure you take advantage of it. You can pick up a cheap second-hand bike from Gumtree or hire a bicycle in the CBD using Melbourne Bike Share.
7: Books, music, art.
It’s not for nothing Melbourne is regularly referred to as the country’s ‘cultural capital’. The city was named the world’s second UNESCO City of Literature back in 2009, which spawned the fantastic Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas. The wonderful Ian Potter Centre is the nation’s first gallery dedicated to Australian art, and there’s free live music here every night of the week. Beyond this, you’ll find the city brimming with creative types who gravitate to Melbourne for exactly this reason. Get amongst it.
8: Rummage the markets.
I love markets. The energy, the noise, the bustle — these places are where a city feels most alive. Luckily, Melbourne has some fantastic markets, including the Southern Hemisphere’s largest open-air market, the wonderful Queen Victoria Market. My other personal favourites are Little Saigon market in Footscray for fresh fruit and vegetables, the Camberwell Sunday Market for random ‘trash and treasure’, and St Andrew’s Community Market for fresh air and general happy hippiness.
9: Enjoy the bay.
Despite Melbourne’s very un-beachy reputation, it’s very much a beach city. The bay-side beaches — the closest ones to Melbourne’s CBD — are not as spectacular as many of the surf beaches further down the coastline, but they’re easy to reach and make great swimming spots.
10: Get out.
There are some great day trips you can make from Melbourne without much difficulty. Obviously, if you have a car, travel will be easier and more flexible, but even without one there are some lovely spots to visit. Try the 1000 Steps Walk in Ferntree Gully (accessible by train) or drive out to the Yarra Vally for some wine tasting. You can get to many of the beautiful beaches along the Great Ocean Road by bus, or catch a V-Line train inland and see some of rural Victoria.
If you have any inside tips on things to do in Melbourne, feel free to drop a comment in the box below.