When I lived in Tasmania, I used to travel to Melbourne all the time.
As the closest major city to my hometown of Hobart, Melbourne was the place for us Taswegians to go if we wanted to attend a show, see a band play, or do some serious shopping.
Now that I live in Sydney, my trips to Melbourne have unfortunately become much less frequent. Before my most recent visit, there was a full 5 years in between my last jaunts south to Melbs (as it’s affectionately known). When tickets to the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child theatre show in Melbourne became available over Rob and I’s consecutive birthdays (they’re only 4 days apart!), we jumped at the opportunity to celebrate by taking a long weekend to revisit the city.
We didn’t head into the downtown as we’ve done it all before, and instead used the opportunity to seek out some of Melbourne’s alternative culture and hidden treasures. If you’re looking for things to do in this hip and happening city, here’s my personal recommendations for the best activities in Melbourne including some hidden gems!
Where to stay in Melbourne:
I’ve stayed in various locations around Melbourne over the years. On my most recent trip, Rob and I stayed in District Fitzroy, which is an apartment hotel in between the trendy inner city suburbs of Fitzroy and Collingwood. The area is fantastic and is a great place to base your stay in Melbourne if you don’t want to stay in the city centre. However, we found the hotel’s check-in process to be kind of weird and annoying (they wanted us to email through a selfie while holding our drivers license and credit card? What??) so I’d recommend checking out some Airbnbs in the area instead – there are loads of cool apartments available around this neighbourhood!
Things to do in Melbourne:
Seek out street art
Melbourne is known for having some of the best street art in Australia. Hosier Lane and the adjoining Ruttledge Lane are great spots to check out some of this art. These colourful and vibrant alleys in Melbourne’s city centre have murals and graffiti covering nearly every surface, including the garbage bins! You might even be lucky enough to spot an artist or two spraying something new on the walls while you’re there.
If you’d like to learn some of the stories behind the artworks, it might be worth hopping on a Melbourne street art tour. This tour is led by the street artists themselves and includes some fancy snacks of cheese + wine/beer!
Catch a tram
Trams have been a part of Melbourne since the 1880s and are still a major part of the city’s transport system. They are all over the city centre, and if you want to jump on a tram for free, you can do so within the free tram zone.
Alternatively, you can catch a tram all the way to St Kilda which takes seemingly forever but is also a novelty for those of us who don’t normally travel on trams. For this, you will need to get a myki card which is somewhat of a hassle, but it will also allow you to use the public transport network all around Melbourne so it’s probably worth it if you plan on getting around that way.
Wander along the Yarra
The Yarra River winds through downtown Melbourne. Walking along the riverside and over some of city’s bridges, such as the ultra funky Webb Bridge, is a great way to experience the city centre. Follow the Flinders Walk or Main Yarra Trail for views back towards the city.
Hidden Gem: Ponyfish Island
Ponyfish Island is a local favourite for office workers who flock to this joint after hours on a weekday. The appeal of Ponyfish Island is that you’re right in the middle of the Yarra underneath Evan Walker Bridge. Order a fancy cocktail and some food from their snack-style menu for a pleasant afternoon dining by the river.
An alternative way to experience the Yarra is through a twilight kayak tour. I didn’t get the chance to do this activity but it looks like a unique way to see the river as the city lights up in the evening!
Shop at a market
Melbournians really love their markets–there are pop up stalls and permanent markets scattered all over the city. Queen Victoria Market next to downtown Melbourne is the most well known. Situated in a huge city block within various large sheds, you could easily get lost for hours exploring this market (which has everything from fried ice cream to aromatherapy spray for your pets). QVM also does specialty markets on occasion, so check out their events page to see what’s coming up.
Hidden gem: Rose Street Artists Market
A more boutique option is the Rose Street Artists Market, which I checked out last time I was roaming the streets of Melbourne. The stalls for this makers market are set up every Saturday and Sunday 10AM-4PM in Fitzroy with vendors selling handmade items such as jewellery, homewares, and art. Definitely my kind of jam!
Get fancy drinks at a bar
If there’s one thing that Melbourne does exceptionally well, it’s small bars. There seems to be an unlimited number of rooftop bars, basement bars, craft beer bars, cocktail bars, and any other type of ultra-fancy bar that you can think of.
We visited a few great drink spots on our last trip to Melbourne. The Everleigh cocktail bar stands out as the most OTT hipster bar that I have ever set foot in, serving off-menu cocktails made to order by the barpeople in an old-timey setting.
If you’re looking to visit a bunch of bars while in Melbourne, it might be worth booking a hidden bars of Melbourne tour which includes some complimentary cocktails!
The brunch scene in Melbourne is like nothing I’ve encountered anywhere else. I would make some suggestions but honestly, any cafe in Fitzroy is a good place for an exceptionally fancy plate of breakfast food. Order an avo smash and a soy latte, and you’ll fit right in with the hipsters who frequent this area.
Hidden gem: Lune Croissanterie
This croissant bakery is not well known to tourists but is a local fave. They don’t just sell any old croissants… the baked goods you’ll find here are made in decadent and elaborate flavours. Beware, this place can get super busy so you will have to line up (for a long while!).
Check out St Kilda
One of the best things to do in Melbourne is to take the tram to St. Kilda (which takes aaaages as it stops every two seconds along the way, but I suppose that’s all part of the experience!).
Once you finally arrive, you’ll find whimsical and historic Luna Park (pictured above)–an amusement park with similar vibes to Coney Island in New York. There’s also a foreshore park, a beach, and a lengthy pier that you can walk along.
If you’re interested in spending half a day at St. Kilda to pursue some water-based activities, you can go swimming or rent a stand-up paddle board while you’re there!
Snap some pics of the Brighton Bathing Boxes
These colourful beach huts are a half hour train ride south of Melbourne’s city centre. They’re a popular spot for tourists to get some Insta snaps. I visited them on a super gloomy day but still found them to be proper adorable.
The bathing boxes were built from the 1860s then were rented out or sold to private buyers to use for dressing into swimwear and relaxing by the beach (kind of like a permanent beach umbrella that also offers privacy). There are currently 82 of these bathing boxes in Brighton and they rarely come up for sale. If one does become available, you’d be looking at spending upwards of $200,000 AUD to buy it!!
If you’d like to combine the Brighton Bathing Boxes with St. Kilda and a few other spots, you might want to book a Melbourne beaches bicycle tour to make your way down the coast!
Find some city skyline views
Many visitors to Melbourne will head to the Eureka Skydeck (which claims the title of the highest viewing platform in the Southern Hemisphere) or the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel in Docklands which is much like the London Eye.
If you’re hoping for something a little less touristy, there are some great places to eat or drink with a view. I mentioned Naked in the Sky earlier for its casual beer garden rooftop, or if you’re hanging downtown and want something classy you can head to Rooftop Bar (yes, that’s actually its name!) or The Rooftop at QT.
Hidden gem: Easey’s
The city skyline views pictured above are seen from Easey’s, named for its location on Easey Street in Collingwood. This diner-style burger joint is inside decommissioned train carriages that have been placed on the rooftop of a building! Pretty neat, huh! Rob and I went here for dinner one night, and we were exceptionally impressed by the graffitied uniqueness of the venue.