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? We've got you covered: here are 20 tips every first-time visitor to Melbourne needs to know.
Once you've got your head around the basics, try one of the 50 best restaurants or 50 best bars in Melbourne. And if you have a bit more time, here are a whopping 50 things to do in Melbourne to make your trip complete.
Melbourne travel tips
Plan your visit to coincide with a festival
There are festivals devoted to comedy, food and wine, beer, theatre, dance, film and art throughout the year. Check out LGBTQIA+ festival Midsumma in January, the luminous White Night festival in February, the Fashion Festival in March, the Comedy Festival in April, Good Beer Week in May, the Jazz Festival in June, Open House Melbourne in July, the Film Festival in August, Melbourne Fringe in September or Melbourne Festival in October.
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 and some booths at all 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.
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.
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 9 or 10pm, but there are plenty that keep going. Click 'Read More' for our list of the best late-night eats to keep the pep in your party step for nights when you need to soak up some of those high spirits, or maybe you’re just not ready for the night to be over.
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.
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.
Melbourne does think of itself as a 24-hour city, but it's not New York. Many bars close at 1am, and more close at 3. But you can get a quiet-ish drink late into the night – click 'Read More' to find out our favourites. And if you've got your dancing shoes on and you want to party until dawn? We've got you covered for that too.
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's weather is changeable as. In winter it is likely to be cold and raining, 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 changes blow.
Melbourne is a foodie city, and you can find wonderful cheap meals in every corner of the city. And 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 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. If it's fine dining you're after, Melbourne has plenty of that too – and click 'Read More' to find out how to dine on lobster on a tinned tuna budget.
Get off the main drag
Melbourne's famous laneways are the result of subdividing big properties, but they are among the city's happiest accidents. Street artists have turned our laneways and alleys into a colourful playground, and they are ever-so-'grammable. You'll also find some of our best bars hidden in laneways and off the beaten track. Go exploring our check out our guide to the best of the bunch.
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 are 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. Click 'Read More' to find out our secrets to score cheap tickets.
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. An extra hint: if you've never had one, try a flat white. A latte without the foam, it's an Australian original invention.
Research accessibility requirements
Melbourne's cobblestone laneways and heritage-listed buildings are charming, but they are not always wheelchair-, crutches- or pram-friendly. And although Federation Square has achieved its goal of becoming a public space for art, festivals, shows, pop-ups and even just a place to meet, its stairs and jagged paving stones are not good for those with special mobility needs. Do your research and find out what venues are suited to your needs.
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 Cherry Bar and the Tote have live music 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
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?).
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. And check out our guide to Melbourne's best free galleries.
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, 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.
Embrace the smashed avo
It might be 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 sparrow's. At lunch, you can depend on Melbourne's cafés for simple chicken-and-avocado, ham-and-cheese or chicken schnitzel sandwiches, toasties or wraps.
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.
Explore the suburbs
There is a lot of great stuff in Melbourne CBD, but that is not all there is to Melbourne. We can help you choose the best place to stay, and you should spend some time exploring areas outside the city proper. 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?
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.
Want to see the rest of Victoria?
If you're looking for a break from the inner-city grid, there's no better cure than a day trip from Melbourne. The state of Victoria is full of friendly neighbourhood towns, whether you're in the mood for a winery tour, a road trip or a national park to explore.