Melbourne is one of the coolest cities I have been to in a while and is very different than I remembered it. I have been to Australia 10 times but this was only my second trip to Melbourne and first since 2003. Melbourne is vibrant, buzzing, sporting, secretive, hidden, bohemian, beautiful and there are a ton of things to do in Melbourne. Melbourne has a café and street culture like no city I have seen and the people of Melbourne are proud of their world-class city.
I have always contended that Sydney is my favorite city and it may still be but I no longer even know if it’s my favorite city in Australia! That is how much I enjoyed my time in Melbourne.
Melbourne reminds me of San Francisco in many ways: in looks, attitude, tolerance, cultural mix and streetcars. Some Melbourne neighborhoods like Collingwood and Fitzroy are very similar to the Haight in San Francisco and a refreshing change from the Central Business District (CBD).
All this said, there is so much that I enjoyed in my week in Melbourne that I don’t even know where to begin in choosing five awesome things to do in Melbourne but here are 5 (or so) that you 100% should not miss!
Street Art Tour
Melbourne street art tours are actually run by street artists. Street artists can range from graffiti artists, sculptors, poets and a variance of many different alternative arts. All of which are fascinating and none I knew anything about.
When I first found out I was going to be doing a street art tour for 3 hours, I was not exactly thrilled. I was thinking, how will I be able to look at graffiti for 3 hours? But this ended up being one of the coolest things to do in Melbourne.
After meeting in Federation Square, which is basically the new central meeting point in Melbourne across from Flinders Street Station, we walked down to Hosier Lane. Hosier Lane is basically the mecca of Melbourne street art and there were some unbelievable spray paintings.
Hosier Lane is one of the places where graffiti is legal and people come every day to paint their art-sometimes over other peoples. There is some hierarchy here and respect amongst artists. Street artists are interesting people and they mark their territory in strange ways but that is part of what’s cool about seeing it as an outsider.
The guides are excellent, and as I said, street artists themselves. They really know where to find the best and most subtle examples of cool street art. They basically take you through arcades, laneways and trash-lined alleys to show you the street art.
The tour ends at Blender Studios; which is where you can actually see street artists in studio doing some contract work. It is pretty cool and even the bathrooms are graffiti covered of course. After several miles of walking around Melbourne they also give you a few beers and refreshments at the end of the tour; which costs AUD$69 a person. I highly recommend checking out a Melbourne street art tour.
Hidden Secrets Tours
Melbourne is a secretive and hidden city. The real Melbourne happens in the laneways, alleys and arcades. This is the Melbourne that locals love and the hidden secrets tour I did showed me things I never would have seen without doing it. This is definitely one of the best things to do in Melbourne!
The tour, which again, meets in Federation Square, is basically a casual stroll around the CBD. Your guide will literally show you the Melbourne that even locals don’t know about. They will show you local, shops, cafes, retailers, historical lanes, arcades and architecture. The tour also includes morning tea or in my case chili hot chocolate and lunch.
The hidden secrets tour is great because you see Melbourne through the eyes of locals over the generations. They show you the small places that have been operating for decades and give great background information that is not just lost in translation.
As a New Yorker, I see how the city of Melbourne is subsidizing long standing small shops and retailers that would normally not be able to afford to stay in the CBD with the rate of inflation. I wish New York City would do this as much of the character that Melbourne is fighting to maintain has already been sucked out in a city like New York-especially where I live in Greenwich Village.
Personally, after this tour I went back to many of the places my guide, Sarah, showed us. These places and cafes ended up contributing to my inflated opinion of Melbourne because I saw a side of it that I never would’ve seen otherwise. I feel like I really know Melbourne now. I know some of its secrets and hidden treasures. I like that. The hidden secrets tour costs AUD$95 without lunch or AUD$120 with lunch and lasts 3-4 hours. Again, I highly recommend it.
Melbourne Bike Tour
If you know me, you know I love riding bikes around cities. I think it’s a great way to see a city and cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. I do it at home in New York all the time. I did a bike tour in Melbourne with a company called Real Melbourne Bike Tours.
Murray, the owner, took me out for a 10-mile ride throughout much of Melbourne. This was a great to see the city and we didn’t focus on the main sites; he took me to the outskirts of town and some of the new areas that have been gentrifying lately.
This was a great way to get acquainted with the neighborhoods of Collingwood and Fitzroy. They reminded me a lot of San Francisco; which is a common theme in Melbourne-less the hills! Murray, showed me around to the local shops, restaurants and cafes. We stopped into a few places for some coffee, snacks and even a big brat from the Bratwurst Shop; a place made famous by Anthony Bourdain in Queen Victoria Market.
If you go, tell Murray I said hi and ask him for some photography tips because he does that professionally as well!
My main reason for going to Melbourne this time around was to watch the Australian Open tennis tournament. You can read about my Australian Open Experience but for this article, I am going to focus on the other sporting events in Melbourne that caters to a raucous sporting public.
The Melbourne Cricket Ground or MCG to many but to Melbourners, it is simply known as the G. This historic stadium is one of the most famous in the world. Perhaps not in America but if you follow Cricket, Australian Rules Football (AFL) or even the Olympics then you’ll know the name.
When I first visited Melbourne in 2003, I went to several AFL games in Melbourne at the MCG and the then called Telstra Dome (now Etihad Stadium). The MCG was run down and just felt like an old crappy stadium that needed to be ripped down. The 1956 Olympics were a long time ago! Yes Melbourne hosted the 1956 Olympic Summer Games and was the first city in the Southern Hemisphere to do so.
(Another small tidbit of information from my incredible mind of useless sports knowledge…the equestrian event from the 1956 Olympics didn’t actually occur in Melbourne; it occurred in Stockholm, Sweden because the Australian authorities wouldn’t let the horses come into the country!)
Nowadays the MCG still hosts the AFL Grand Final every year and was refurbished for the 2006 Commonwealth Games and looks fantastic. It is located right next to Melbourne Park where the Australian Open is held. They have also built a few other sporting venues right there including a new soccer stadium and even more tennis stadiums.
Melbourne is also a host city for a massive Formula One (F1) Grand Prix (GP) every March. I am not a big F1 fan but I am aware of the best guys and results. I also know how much the GP means to Melbourne and I hope to go one day. And finally, Melbourne also hosts the famous horse race called the Melbourne Cup. I am not a huge racing fan but the whole country of Australia stops for the three minutes this race goes on every year!
Over a week in Melbourne I ate at a bunch of fantastic places but of course I had a few favorites; including Vegemite and toast of course!. Melbourne is chalk full of restaurants to fit any budget and type of food. Melbourne is very multi-cultural and it shows in their cuisine and their neighborhoods.
My favorite restaurant in Melbourne was Chin Chin on Flinders Street. This Pan Asian restaurant that doesn’t take reservations will blow your mind. It was so good. The menu is vast and covers many areas of Asia. Luckily, they have an option called ‘Feed Me’ where you don’t have to decide and they just bring you food. That is what I did and everything was delicious! I especially recommend the son in law eggs and the short rib. I heard the desserts are amazing too but I was too full I could even consider it.
Another great spot in the CBD was a Greek restaurant called Gazi with an awesome ceiling. This is conveniently located just across from Melbourne Park and really does good Greek and Mediterranean style food. Melbourne has a massive Greek population. It has been said, it is the second largest Greek city after Athens. I don’t know if that’s true but the food at Gazi sure was good! Try the variety of dips to start and then the skirt steak!
Saint Crispin on Smith Street in Collingwood was a recommendation that was really good. It is worth the trek out of the CBD to try this new Melbourne hot spot. The portions are small but the inventive dishes are really good. I recommend just doing a 3 course tasting menu and go from there. Ask the waiter what’s good and just take their word on it because it’s one of those menus that sounds almost too fancy to understand but it’s all good!
I already mentioned the Bratwurst Shop; which was awesome in Queen Victoria Market. There’s also Phamish in St. Kilda; which has excellent Turkish fare. Then there’s the Meatball and Wine Bar. This place is clearly a takeoff on the wildly successful Meatball Shop in New York and why not, it’s excellent. The Melbourne version on Flinders Street is excellent as well and offers some interesting sauces including a green mint sauce-which you cannot get in New York.
So there are five awesome things to do in Melbourne although I could easily rattle off a bunch more including going to the beach in St. Kilda or the top of the Eureka Tower. The views from all sides are excellent and definitely try the edge for an extra AUD$12. It is pretty cool. I actually did it the day after Rafael Nadal did it…I wonder if the Aboriginal Elvis has ever done it!
Disclaimer: I received financial compensation from Tourism Australia and was comped all tours mentioned but not all food. The words and recommendations here are my own and have not been coerced in any way, as always.