Melbourne – capital of the state of Victoria and winner of several ‘world’s most livable city’ awards, who wouldn’t want to visit? In October 2015, my boyfriend and I decided to up our life in Britain and see for ourselves what makes this Australian city so popular. I applied for a 1-year Working Holiday Visa, booked a one-way flight and packed our bags. We rented a flat in St Kilda, a suburb in south-east Melbourne, about a 25 minute tram ride from the CBD, close to the beach, shops and café’s.
There are loads of free things to see and do in this cultural city (check out my blog linked below for these), but when it comes to parting with our money for certain activities, we want to make sure we’re picking the best ones…
One of the first things I did after arriving was purchase a bicycle. Melbourne is relatively flat and public transport can be unreliable. If you are there for a few months, cycling everywhere makes travelling much easier (not to mention the health and environmental benefits). Check Gumtree or local bike shops for deals. You can even hire a bike from a variety of spots around the city, check out Melbourne Bike Share for details. Tips for cycling: you MUST where a helmet (a friend of mine was fined because they were without one), buy lights as it gets dark quickly, and try to stick to the cycle lanes where possible (there’s plenty, don’t worry). Though the initial price of a bike can be costly, bare in mind that transport (PTV) will be a maximum of around $8 per day on a Myki card. You will need this card to tap on and tap off each time you travel on a bus/train/tram and it’s available from stations and newsagents such as 7/11 (frequently distributed around Melbourne).
The second thing we did was to plan our assault on Melbourne, which can be fuelled by taking a trip to the Visitor Centre in Federation Square. Even if you have your trip all figured out, it’s a good idea to pop in there as they often have free coupons downstairs for 10-20% off some attractions.
My favourite Melbourne attractions:
Wiz up in the elevator to the 88th floor, which stands nearly 300m above the city to glimpse the views whilst getting your bearings. You can spend about 45 minutes up there sending your Instagram account into overdrive and peering down pretending the people at ground level are ants (just me? OK). Just a 10-minute walk from Federation Square and no more than $20*.
I actually worked here so I’m a little biased but it does make a great day out at any age and is easily accessible by public transport (Tram 55 for 25 minutes from Domain Interchange). I took friends and family here, who spent about 4 hours walking around. Walk through the lemur enclosure to find them leaping above your head and listen to the many talks happening throughout the day. $31.60 for adults, children are free on weekends and school holidays, though it’s obviously busier during those times. For student (Australian/International – take your card!) and for concession prices check their website.
A 5-minute walk parallel to Flinders Street Station, this museum is definitely worth a visit if you are interested in the multicultural society that is Melbourne. Spend a couple of hours here strolling through the galleries and learning about migrant history right up until the modern day ($14).
Located in north Melbourne, but still within walking distance from our starting point of Federation Square. This museum has a range of exhibition rooms: from aboriginal culture, rainforest environment, geology, biology and evolution and a history of Melbourne to name a few ($14). Allow a good 2 – 3 hours depending on how much you like to read (there’s a lot of information in there)!
There are 2 parts to this museum: a guided tour by a Sergeant who simulates the lock up procedure with you as the criminal (this part of the building ceased as a police station in 1994). The other part is a self-guided tour of the old gaol. The admission staff will advise you of which to do first depending on what time you arrive. If you are into justice, injustice, creepy cells, or history in general this is worth a visit (no more than $25, takes about 2 hours to do).
City River Cruise
Sit back and relax and enjoy your journey along the river Yarra. You can choose the direction; from Princes Bridge, either Cruise A or B (takes about an hour each way) or both (that’s what we did)! A great commentary/guide on-board usefully pointed out landmarks and fun facts. There’s a small box office on the Flinders Street Station side of the bridge to grab tickets from. See their website for costs.
In case you didn’t guess from the name, this is a steam-powered historic train that takes you on a railway journey back in time through the stunning Dandenong Ranges. To get there, take a 1 hour 10 minute train towards Belgrave from Flinders Street Station. From Belgrave station follow the signs. Though a little pricey at around $50 per person, volunteers maintain the railway so it has to pay for itself. We got the Belgrave to Lakeside Open Return ticket (about an hour each way). Take a packed lunch because there aren’t many places to buy food, and a jacket as the train is open (tip: sit on the ledge so your feet are hanging out the side of the train).
A penguin, koala, wallaby, and seal filled adventure! There are coach trips available but for flexibility it’s best to scout it out on your own so hire a car for 24 hours ($40-$80 plus about $20 for fuel). We went with Europcar for $70 and split the cost between three of us, but check out Budget Cars, Thrifty or VroomVroomVroom for comparison deals. The Island is a 2-hour drive from Melbourne CBD. I booked tickets online for a ‘3 Park Pass’ to Churchill Farm, the Koala Sanctuary and the evening Penguin Parade for $41.60. The first 2 of these attractions take about an hour to do, with an approximate 20-minute drive time between each. Stop for lunch in Cowes, the Island’s main hub, which has a Coles supermarket for food. Visit the seals and/or snap some great coastal views at the Nobbies Centre before heading to the Penguin Parade. The parade does not start until 8:30pm in summer but get there beforehand to settle in a good place (near the beach). Tip: Take a blanket and coat – we went in the summer but you are sat outside for a good couple of hours and it gets chilly!
Of course, there are many other activities: Melbourne Aquarium (which is OK, but the same as many other Sealife Aquariums around the world), the MCG for sports fans, Peninsula Hot Springs, the Melbourne Star and wine tours to name a few.
My final advice would be:
- Have a couple of ideas for each day as a backup. Melbourne is known for it’s ‘four seasons in one day’ where the weather can change instantly.
- If you get lost – ASK! Melbournians are uber-friendly and, more often than not, so proud of their city they’ll become beacons of tourist information.
- Enjoy your visit, and make the most of whatever time you have in this glorious metropolis!
*Currency: $AUD in June 2016.
Now that you and your bank account may no longer be on speaking terms, check out my blog for the best FREE things to do in Melbourne!