Australia’s capital of sport, culture, fashion, food, and all things artistic, Melbourne is much more than the country’s second city. A must-see on Australia vacations, the city combines the best of Europe and Asia with its laid back Aussie lifestyle. It is an easy city to fall in love with on a first visit, with plenty to see and do when you return.
But what to see and do when you’ve got time to yourself? Here are four perfect one-day itineraries for your day at leisure in Melbourne.
Laneways and Lattes – Essential Melbourne
If you’ve only got one day to experience the essence of Melbourne, get an early start with breakfast and a flat white at one of the cafes on Centre Place. Take your time exploring for the rest of the morning, enjoying the odd shops and original designs of Melbourne’s laneways. Perhaps take an organized walking tour if you’re unsure where to go. Don’t miss Hosier Lane for some of Melbourne’s best street art. If you’re in town for a few days, swing back at the end of a trip. You never know what might have changed! Finish up your morning at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia for a free dose of Australia’s best contemporary art, or the Australian Centre for the Moving Image for a snapshot of its film and television history. While you’re here, don’t forget to admire the Moorish revival architecture of the Forum Melbourne theatre on the corner of Flinders and Russell Streets.
When it’s time for lunch, Melbourne spoils for choice at every price point, though Taxi in Federation Square offers an unbeatable view of the Yarra Riverbank. Rested and recharged, take a stroll along the river via Birrarung Marr, a traditional meeting ground for the land’s indigenous owners, which now boasts excellent city views. Cross the Swan Street Bridge and weave your way through Queen Victoria Gardens, coming out on Saint Kilda Road. Here, the National Gallery of Victoria offers one of the country’s most impressive (and free!) art collections, deserving at least an hour or two before dusk.
See what last minute tickets are going at the Arts Centre Melbourne, before hitting Southbank for dinner. If you weren’t tempted by a show, zip to the top of Eureka Skydeck 88 for unbeatable night-time views, before taking a wander along the promenade of the always controversial Crown Melbourne casino.
Historic and Hip Melbourne
Hit the Queen Victoria Market early for fresh coffee and a grazing breakfast, perhaps picking up some cheap souvenir gifts for friends and family back home. Then don’t miss your appointment with Old Melbourne Gaol for a particularly atmospheric dose of Melbourne history in the shadow of Australia’s most notorious inmates. Then take a stroll up Lygon Street, the beating heart of Melbourne’s vibrant Italian community. Suffice to say this is a great area for lunch, though locals tend to gravitate toward eateries at the northern end, close to Elgin Street.
Double back to Carlton Gardens, admiring the World Heritage Listed Royal Exhibition Building before losing a couple of hours in the cavernous Melbourne Museum, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. Once you’ve had your history fix, make your way to Brunswick Street, funky Fitzroy’s main drag. Local cafes and bars dominate this strip in between local art and clothing stores, so it’s a great place to pick up a unique find.
Your dinner options are plentiful, though Naked for Satan is always a popular choice for tasty tapas and awesome city skyline views. Afterwards, the night is yours to explore as you will, with cocktail bars and live music venues lining Brunswick Street and nearby Smith Street. Those with a taste for punk and hard rock might want to check out The Tote, a Johnston Street dive that includes countless Aussie rock icons in its alum.
St Kilda and the Botanic Gardens
Start your day with a morning in St Kilda, Melbourne’s favourite beach suburb. On Sunday, you can browse the St Kilda Esplanade Market for tasty treats and unique local souvenirs. Wander to the end of St Kilda Pier, and if it’s not too chilly, dip your toes into Phillip Bay. Wander the attractive foreshore down to Luna Park (open weekends only) and the ornate Palais Theatre before finding a spot on Fitzroy Street for a long, lazy lunch.
Take the tram back to Melbourne’s impressive Shrine of Remembrance. Commemorating every conflict in which Australia has played a part, this moving memorial offers insights into Australia’s complex military history, along with fantastic city view down Swanston Street. While away the afternoon in the Royal Botanic Gardens, or if you’ve had enough sun, visit the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art for a cultural feast on Australia vacations.
Not to sound like a broken record, but your evening choices are endless. Book tickets to one of the flashy musicals in town (stop by Halftix in Melbourne’s Town Hall for same-day discounts), or if you’re in the mood for something small and quirky, stop by the iconic Butterfly Club on Carson Place. Even if you can’t find a show to your taste, it’s worth stopping by for the cocktails and kitsch décor. If it’s Sunday (when Butterfly is closed), or you’re just not feeling the cabaret vibe, choose from one of the swanky bars inside Curtin House on Swanston Street. The Rooftop Bar is always a favourite.
From China to Paris – via Melbourne – in One Day
Start your day at the State Library Victoria, visiting its incredible reading room. Then, it’s time for yum cha (dim sum, to North Americans) at any one of the dozens of great local eateries in Melbourne’s Chinatown, the oldest in the western world. Stuffed with dumplings, waddle your way into the Chinatown Museum for the history of this fascinating part of town.
Curiosity satisfied, head on up to Spring Street, where you can admire the Princess Theatre, Parliament House, the Old Treasury Building, and the Windsor Hotel on one leisurely walk. Turn toward the serene Fitzroy Gardens, where you can take in a shot of history at Cook’s Cottage, the childhood home of Captain James Cook, the first Englishman to set foot in Australia. Built in 1755, the building was brought to Melbourne in 1934 and today serves as a small museum. From here, you can choose to either dive into the National Sports Museum at Melbourne Cricket Ground just over the road, or return to the CBD and spend some time browsing the so-called “Paris End” of Collins Street for luxury shopping.
Sunset cocktails anyone? It’s just not a visit to Melbourne without a cocktail at Madame Brussels, the cheeky rooftop bar named for Melbourne’s most notorious and beloved Madame. Ever so mildly sozzled (the Madame would approve), spend the balance of your evening exploring the bars and restaurants of the east end, where you’ll find more world cuisines than you can hope to indulge in one visit on Australia vacations. Perhaps enjoy a cocktail from a syringe at the kooky Croft Institute, choose your side of the wall at Berlin Bar, or sip your way through history at 1806, where the cocktail menu spans almost 400 years of creative beverages.