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Melbourne travel tips

Discover the vital information all visitors to Melbourne need to know: what to do and, especially, what not to do

Flinders Station at night
Photograph: Roberto Seba

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

E-class tram interior
Photograph: Liam Davies

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. 

Photograph: Christian DeKnock

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. 

Ben Oliver leading a Drinking History Tour
Photograph: Supplied

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.

Table of food at Musashi Ramen
Photograph: Graham Denholm

You can eat late, but you need to know where

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. 

Umbrella on Melbourne
Photograph: Mike Wilson

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. 

Table at at Matteo's
Photograph: Graham Denholm

You can eat well, for cheap

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. 

Hosier Lane 2017
Photograph: Graham Denholm

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 laneway bars

Generic theatre box office
Photograph: Cristian Ungureanu
Theatre, Musicals

Theatre need not cost an arm and a leg

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.

Coffee at Brother Baba Budan
Photograph: Vince Caligiuri
Restaurants, Cafés

Get into coffee culture

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. 

Twelve Apostles

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.

Federation Square at night
Photograph: Supplied

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. 

A shot of a woman browsing through clothes on a rack
Photograph: Robert Polmear

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. 

Cherry Bar stage
Photograph: Vince Caligiuri

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 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. 

Weaving at Homeground Festival 2016
Photograph: Daniel Boud

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?).

Australian Centre for the Moving Image 2016 exterior 01 feat signage courtesy ACMI 2016 photographer credit Renee Stamatis
Photograph: Renee Stamatis

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

Torquay Beach
Photograph: Supplied

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.

Smashed avocado and eggs at Rustica Hawthorn
Photograph: Supplied

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. Here are Melbourne's best cafés.

Where should you stay?

Crown Towers spa
Photograph: Supplied

The best spa hotels in Melbourne

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.

A shot of the rooftop jacuzzi at The Langham
Photograph: The Langham
Hotels, Luxury hotels

The best luxury hotels in Melbourne

Spending a night in a luxurious hotel is a treat that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. Thankfully, you don't need to leave Melbourne to find world-class accommodation in the heart of the city. 

Adelphi Hotel rooftop Dec 2017
Photograph: Meagan Harding
Travel, Short getaways

The best boutique hotels in Melbourne

Do you want to stay somewhere just a little bit different, somewhere with a story or unique selling point – somewhere boutique? Fortunately Melbourne's boutique hotel scene is heaving with interesting stays available across the city. 

Want to see the rest of Victoria?

Travel, Short getaways

The best day hikes from Melbourne

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. 

Great Otway National Park
Photograph: Robert Blackburn
Travel, Short getaways

The best day trips from Melbourne

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. 

Travel, Short getaways

The best road trips from Melbourne

Don't just read about Melbourne getaways... get out and try one! These day trips from Melbourne are paved with cool things to see and do, and driving means you won't miss a thing along the way. Just choose your direction and hit the road.