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Flinders Station at night
Photograph: Roberto Seba

20 things every Melbourne visitor needs to know

If you're planning a visit, consult our handy guide to what to do (and not to do) in our city

Cassidy Knowlton
Adena Maier
Written by
Cassidy Knowlton
Contributor
Adena Maier
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Coming to Melbourne for the first time? Welcome to Australia's cultural capital (sorry, Sydney)! But where should you stay? What should you pack? How should you spend your time and money? There's a lot to see and do in our city — and there's a lot that you can probably give a miss. To help you sort the wheat from the chaff, here are 20 tips every first-time visitor to Melbourne needs to know for a successful trip.

Looking for more tips on what to do? Consult our guide to 101 things everyone should do in Melbourne at least once and make sure at least one of our city's best restaurants makes its way onto your itinerary.

Melbourne travel tips

Plan your visit to coincide with a festival
Photograph: Ben Clement

1. Plan your visit to coincide with a festival

Melburnians love to have a good time, and as a result, our city has festivals devoted to comedy, food and wine, beer, theatre, dance, film and art throughout the year. Check out LGBTQIA+ festival Midsumma in January, the Fashion Festival in March, the Comedy Festival in April, Good Beer Week in May, Open House Melbourne in July, Melbourne International Film Festival in August, Melbourne Fringe in September... Yep, we told you: there are heaps. 

Buy a Myki before you board
Photograph: Liam Davies

2. Buy a Myki before you board

If you want to engage a Melburnian in conversation, there are two sure-fire topics: the weather and the Myki system. The contactless ticketing system for Melbourne's public transport network cost $1.5 billion and has been riddled with problems, but the bottom line is this: a Myki card costs $6. You can buy them at machines, train stations and in some retail outlets (such as 7-Eleven and Tattersall's outlets), but you cannot buy them on the tram or bus. When you buy a Myki, choose between 'Myki money' (your fare will be deducted each time) or 'Myki pass', which is a set amount of money for a set number of days of unlimited travel. If you board a train, tram or bus, 'touch on' your Myki by tapping it against the Myki reader. When you get off at your station or stop, 'touch off' by tapping it again. The only exception is trams in Melbourne CBD – listen out for announcements, they will tell you whether you are in the free tram zone. If you are, you don't need to touch on or touch off. 

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Stand on the left, walk on the right
Photograph: Christian DeKnock

3. Stand on the left, walk on the right

If you want to take it easy on an escalator and let the machine do its thing, stand on the left and chill. If you are in a hurry and you want to do a hectic run up or down (NB: safely, please), you are welcome do to do so on the right of of the escalator steps. And an extra tip: know what you are getting in for before you decide to climb the escalator at Parliament Station. It is a long way to the top if you want to walk and roll. 

Go on a walking tour
Photograph: Supplied

4. Go on a walking tour

If you are able, the best way to see Melbourne is on foot, so lace up those boots. A walking tour is a great way to learn some of the history of the city, discover some hidden gems and get the lay of the land. These are our nine favourite walking tours in Melbourne, or you could check out the fluro-green shirt-wearing I'm Free Walking Tours – they are, as advertised, free.

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  • Restaurants

Our fair city wears the mantle of 'Late Night Champion' with pride. Nowhere else in the country can you party at all hours and then go out for a civilised meal. Many Melbourne restaurants do close their kitchens at by 10pm, but there are plenty that keep going. When the streets have gone quiet and you're after something greasy to soak up all the booze mingling in your stomach, consult our handy guide

 

Pack for all seasons
Photograph: Mike Wilson

6. Pack for all seasons

The 'four seasons in one day' trope is old and tired, and the 'you don't like the weather, wait an hour' trope is even older and tireder, but you get the gist. Melbourne weather is like a flaky boyfriend — incredibly unreliable and never seems to have a solid plan. In winter it is likely to be cold and rainy, but you can also get some gorgeous 24-and-sunny days. In summer you might arrive smack-bang in the middle of a 40-degree heatwave, but it could equally be a chilly high of 14 with a chance of showers. Bring a raincoat, boots and layers, so you can stay comfortable when the winds of change blow. 

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  • Restaurants
  • price 3 of 4

Melbourne has a robust fine dining scene, but you can also find wonderful cheap meals in every corner of the city. Did you know that we have the best croissants in the world (no less than The New York Times says so)? You can also try formerly Michelin-starred food in Melbourne for less than $10. Or you can head to Chinatown and try some of our wonderful cheap and cheerful dumplings. But if you're after something elevated that won't leave you scrounging for pennies when rent is due, we've rounded up cheap hacks for fine dining restaurants here

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  • Theatre
  • Musicals

Melbourne has a relatively small (relative to Broadway and the West End, that is) but very vibrant theatre scene. At any one time, there could be half a dozen big blockbuster shows and at least a dozen smaller productions around the city. Tickets to many shows can be well over $100, and there is no TKTS booth like in London or New York to snag half-price tickets. But that doesn't mean you always have to shell out the sticker price. Find out our secrets to scoring cheap tickets here.

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  • Restaurants
  • Cafés

Melbourne is the coffee capital of Australia, and some Melburnians would say the world. Thousands of baristas in thousands of cafés across the city pride themselves on the quality of their roasts, beans, milk ratios and all the rest, and Melbourne does not tolerate bad coffee. For the best of the best, consult our handy guide here.

Go exploring
Photograph: Visit Victoria

12. Go exploring

One of the best things to do in Melbourne is get out of Melbourne, at least for a little while. One of Australia's best cool-climate wine regions, the Yarra Valley, is right on our doorstep, and you can get there by car in under an hour. Check out our list of the best wineries in the Yarra Valley, and if you don't have a designated driver, there are plenty of bus tours that depart from Melbourne and will let you taste and buy to your heart's content without risking a knock on the window from the cops. If you want to see Victoria's famous Twelve Apostles, you should hit the Great Ocean Road. This one isn't as suited to a day trip, though – stay overnight in a coastal town like Aireys Inlet, Lorne or Port Campbell to make the most of your time and really explore the area.

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Research accessibility requirements
Photograph: Supplied

13. Research accessibility requirements

Melbourne's cobblestone laneways and heritage-listed buildings are charming, but they are not always wheelchair-, crutches- or pram-friendly. To stay on the safe side, do a bit of research or call ahead and find out what venues are suited to your needs. 

Do your shopping during the day
Photograph: Robert Polmear

14. Do your shopping during the day

Melbourne is known for its great shopping, but don't expect that awesome boutique to be open after 5pm or on Sundays. Many shops close pretty early Monday-Wednesday and might be open just Saturday and/or Sunday morning. Your best bets for late-night shopping are Thursday and Friday nights, with many shops open until 9pm on those days. 

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Get amongst Melbourne's live music scene
Photograph: Vince Caligiuri

15. Get amongst Melbourne's live music scene

Melbourne has a thriving live music scene, and you don't need to shell out big bucks to see gigs at stadiums or big halls. Live music stalwarts in the north, the Tote and the Gasometer, have gigs on most nights, and you'll find great undiscovered gems alongside more established acts. We have compiled a list of where to see live music every single night of the week in Melbourne, so you never have to suffer in silence. 

Be respectful about what you take home
Photograph: Daniel Boud

16. Be respectful about what you take home

If you’d like to take home an Indigenous-made souvenir, be aware that not all Aboriginal art is authentic or ethically sourced. There’s an Indigenous Art Code that provides a legal framework for commercial dealings and sets ethical standards. If you’re buying from a gallery, pick one that’s a signatory to the Code. Besides this, you should always ask for details of the work’s provenance (who made it, where, and when) and proof of authenticity (did the artist named actually make this work?).

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Many of our museums and galleries are free
Photograph: Renee Stamatis

17. Many of our museums and galleries are free

Melbourne is home to one of the world's most visited galleries, with millions of people stopping by the National Gallery of Victoria every year. The NGV houses some absolutely world-class art in its permanent collection, and it's absolutely free to see. The gallery hosts a rotating cast of temporary exhibitions, which cost money, but the permanent collection is always free. The permanent collection of film, video, games, pop culture and history at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image is also always free. For more, check out our guide to Melbourne's best free galleries

Our beaches don't have waves
Photograph: Visit Victoria

18. Our beaches don't have waves

Many a visitor to Melbourne has been left underwhelmed by our beaches, because there's something rather fundamental missing: waves. All of Melbourne's beaches are on Port Phillip Bay, which is great for avoiding sharks, but not so great for surfing. Many of us enjoy the tranquility and safety of Melbourne beaches, where the ocean more resembles a gentle, shallow bath than the fearsome sea. But if it's waves you want, you'll need to hit the road. Drive to Phillip Island or head down the Great Ocean Road to enjoy Victoria's more celebrated (and wave-filled) beaches.

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Embrace the first meal of the day
Photograph: Supplied

19. Embrace the first meal of the day

It's apparently the reason millenials can't buy houses, but breakfast (and brunch) in Melbourne is a big deal. Melbourne is really big on café culture, and you can get fantastic smashed avocado on toast and much more adventurous brunch options all over the city. Most cafés will serve breakfast until at least 2pm, especially on weekends, so there's no need to get up at the crack of dawn. At lunch, you can depend on Melbourne's cafés for simple chicken-and-avocado, ham-and-cheese or chicken schnitzel sandwiches, toasties or wraps. 

Explore the suburbs
Photograph: Jeremy Weihrauch

20. Explore the suburbs

There is a lot of great stuff in Melbourne CBD, but that's not all there is to Melbourne. To really get to know our city, it's crucial that you spend some time exploring areas outside the city grid. Our area guides can help you make the most of the suburbs – highlights include the Abbotsford Convent in Abbotsford, the Astor Theatre in Windsor, Lune Croissanterie in Fitzroy and Heide Museum of Modern Art in Bulleen. 

Where should you stay?

  • Hotels
  • Luxury hotels

In the mood to treat yourself? A visit to one of the best spa hotels in Melbourne will do the trick. After a day of exploring the best that this city has to offer, you’ll probably be in the mood for some relaxation, whether that be a luxurious massage or a refreshing dip in a cool hotel pool. So kick back, put your feet up and enjoy.

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Want to see the rest of Victoria?

The best day hikes from Melbourne
  • Travel

For a breath of fresh air, head out of the city this weekend with our guide to Melbourne’s best day hikes. From local wonders to seaside spectacles, regional Victoria is brimming with picturesque walks great for getting your heart pumping. 

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