Here’s one almost a year late. A couple of days in Melbourne, from May 2022. Some ideas on how to spend 3 days in Melbourne, roughly how I did it (some slightly rearranged for better readability). (Hopefully) covering most of the top things to see in Melbourne on a first trip to the city. If you’re looking for somewhere easy to visit, in terms of planning required, getting around, safety, and having plenty of things to do, Melbourne might just be one of the top places to check out next.
Melbourne – First Impressions, Docklands, East End Theatre District
We arrived at Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station via the Skybus from the airport. Our hotel was by the corner across the street at the end of the station. We wasted no time settling down and were soon at our first food stop for the day. Schmucks Bagels was just next door, and the high ratings did not disappoint. A pretty high bar had been set for the rest of the food to come.
Just around the area, it was interesting seeing the blend of old and new. Towering glass clad skyscrapers soared next to conserved and repurposed old buildings. Trams from another era slid through the streets alongside the latest cars. But these all fit together perfectly into an everyday scene in downtown Melbourne.
Docklands is the by the waterfront on the other side of Southern Cross Station. It’s more known for it’s entertainment and dining scene but we were there mostly to stretch some legs and enjoy a slightly less crowded part of town. Views of Bolte Bridge from the waterfront was pretty spectacular too.
Having shaken off the fatigue from the flight and probably from years of being stuck at home, we headed towards the bustling Elizabeth Street for more food and city sights. Following Elizabeth Street down south, we ended up around Flinders Street Station and had a quick look at the cathedral, Fed Square, and the Yarra riverside. As downtown Melbourne was pretty compact, we passed these places again on other nights, so more on the above sights below.
East End Theatre District
After a day settling into Melbourne, we got a rental car and explored Mornington Peninsula, Philip Island and the Great Ocean Road (Great Ocean Road Part 1 and Great Ocean Road Part 2) over the following week. Back in Melbourne, we decided to stay on the other side of Melbourne city center, in the East End Theatre District. It was cool walking past the old establishments and historic theatres every day, and a pity that we didn’t get manage to see a show in one of the theatres there.
Our accommodation itself is an Airbnb in an old conserved building. Our host was passionate about the history and heritage of the place, and it made our stay much more meaningful after his introductory sharing of the building. Gordon House was built as subsidized housing but interestingly incorporated design concepts and features that might not have been expected in subsidized housing. Over time the building was repurposed, until its current iteration as upmarket apartments. The unit we stayed in seemed to have some of its old décor and furnishings intact, which was pretty cool. The inner courtyard, brick stairwell and glass roof made for an interesting stay, and a nice contrast to the modern buildings visible just beyond the roof.
Melbourne Day 1 – Melbourne CBD: Queen Victoria Market, Old Melbourne Gaol, State Library Victoria, Melbourne Skydeck, Southbank Promenade
First full day in Melbourne, exploring a couple of attractions within walking distance in the center of Melbourne.
Queen Victoria Market
Food’s always first. We started the day at the historic and still very much alive Queen Victoria Market, which had a great selection of produce, both raw and ready to eat. Other than the huge food section there was also a large section at the back with non-food items. Some generic, some interesting. Unfortunately or not part of that section was undergoing works. We had quite a workout just walking through the open sections and thinking hard on what to eat given the never ending choices available.
Old Melbourne Gaol
We worked off the breakfast with a walk down a few streets to the Old Melbourne Gaol. While the lawn outside was open and welcoming, the inside of the preserved building was dark and ominous. The long, dimly lit corridors and cells plastered with horrifying stories from the past probably contributed to the somber mood just beyond the gift shop. Interestingly, given the range of characters that have walked down these hallways, the Old Melbourne Gaol was a nice starting point in understanding a little of Melbourne’s more recent (post colonial) past.
State Library Victoria
Just a block down Russell Street from Old Melbourne Gaol is the State Library Victoria. The historic library is free to enter, and most tourists, like myself, head straight for the upper floors of the La Trobe Reading Room for that iconic view. As the library is still a functioning one, it’s a good idea to be considerate towards other library users. Other than the spectacular view, look out for the exhibitions and displays along the corridors of the upper floors. I’d also recommend not limiting your visit to the La Trobe Reading Room but also the rest of the areas open to public, as the building is an interesting one, and there are other cool and unexpected exhibits along the way. The Ned Kelly display, in particular, connected the dots especially after visiting the Old Melbourne Gaol just before this.
We weaved through the shopping streets and found ourselves at the Royal Arcade. While the façade wasn’t exactly eye catching, the interiors were mesmerizing. Walking through the doors felt like stepping back in time, and rightfully so. The Royal Arcade is over 150 years old and is the oldest surviving arcade in not just Melbourne but Australia. Among the carefully restored features of the Royal Arcade are the statues of Gog and Mag, standing guard on each side of Gaunt’s Clock and still striking the clock every hour.
Elizabeth Street/ Swanston Street
For food and shopping, Elizabeth Street provides endless options. Having to pick one restaurant for any meal wasn’t easy. Most of our time in Melbourne was after a full week on the Great Ocean Road, and we unconsciously gravitated towards Asian food, possibly nudged by the wide variety of Asian food available here too. The following shots were across 3 meals, all different restaurants, but all Asian (more Asian food we tried that are not featured here too). Many of these with an Australian twist.
At night, we visited the Melbourne Skydeck, an observatory 300m high in the Eureka Tower. The shimmering lights stretched into the horizon as the city heads towards the end of another day. Nearer to the CBD, lights from the regional trains snake through the city, almost like a pulse I think the view would have been spectacular in the day and at dusk too, but without a doubt the evening view was special.
After the Melbourne Skydeck, we walked along the Yarra River at the Southbank Promenade. Great looking nightlife and waterfront dining, but looking a tad too fancy for us. Nonetheless, an awesome way to end the day.
Melbourne Day 2 – South Melbourne, St Kilda, Prahran
We spent our second full day checking out a couple of districts to the south of the city center. It may look a little daunting without a car, but the trams were sufficient for these destinations.
South Melbourne Market
More food! We didn’t expect the mouthwatering spread at South Melbourne Market and personally preferred it slightly to Queen Victoria Market. Again, we had a tough time deciding what to fill our limited tummies with, but were happy with our final decisions. The non-food shops were also interesting to explore and we bought some souveniers here.
St Kilda/ Luna Park
Further down south, closer to the coast, we stopped at Luna Park for a closer look at this eye catching theme park. The iconic Luna Park of Melbourne is the oldest theme park in Australia and has been operating for over a hundred years old. It is also home to the second oldest roller coaster in the world, the Great Scenic Railway. Pretty cool to see an operating wooden roller coaster (only 2 operating in Australia) and the brakeman standing in the middle of the train (only 7 such roller coasters in the world). We weren’t quite up for rides that day so we had a walk on the outside and then walked down the lively beach at St Kilda. The historic St Kilda Sea Baths is also along this stretch of the beach.
St Kilda/ Acland Street
Acland Street is an old commercial street known for its many restaurants and historic cake shops. We visited Monarch Cakes, a 90 year old cake shop specializing in traditional Eastern European Cakes. We tried the Chocolate Kooglhoupf, the Plum Cake, and the Polish Baked Cheesecake. Felt like something a close friend or family might might bake for you (if they had the talent), as the cakes were oozing with homeliness. The collection of old magazines and posters on the wall not only added to the décor, but are a testament to the lasting popularity of these traditional cakes.
Heading slightly back up north, a little inland, our next stop was Prahran. We were looking forward to check out Prahran Market but unfortunately arrived a little late when most shops were closing or had closed. We took our exploration outside the market, where the streets felt a little rougher and more industrial than the city center, definitely with its own character.
Como House & Garden
From Prahran, we walked to Como House and Garden, which was supposed to be a place to learn about how the rich lived in luxury in the past. Unfortunately again due to the oversight in our planning, we did not make it for the tours. We did, however, manage to walk around the gardens, which were beautiful. On hindsight, we could either have done our earlier stops at a slightly quick pace, or drop by Prahran before heading to St Kilda.
Flinders Street Railway Station
On the way back, we stopped by Flinders Street Railway Station to admire its magnificent façade. Flinders Street Railway Station is located centrally and we actually passed it almost every day. Other than being a historic spot and looking really pretty, you’d also find regional train services here.
Federation Square and Big Esso
Across the street from Flinders Street Railway Station is Federation Square, an arts and events space and a nice hangout spot. We ended our day at Big Esso, an indigenous owned bar and kitchen where you can get a taste of indigenous foods and flavors.
Melbourne Day 3 – Fitzroy, Melbourne Museum
Our third full day was spent in the area to the north of the city center, an area dominated by the Melbourne Museum but also home to other arts and cultural icons.
Rose Street Artists’ Market
The Rose Street Artists’ Market is where you can find local handicrafts and artworks directly from the artists. It’s a small and cozy community so it will not take very long, but definitely worth a visit for a different perspective of Melbourne.
Just a couple of streets down from Rose Street Artists Market is the Fitzroy branch of Lune Croissanterie. Here’s where to go for really long queues and really delicious pastries. We probably went a little overboard here but glad we did. This outlet is in a cool look space, but unfortunately there aren’t many tables available so some planning might be required if you prefer to dine in.
The Melbourne Museum is a great place to learn a little more the Aboriginal, post-colonial and natural history of Melbourne and Australia, all three of which played a significant role in shaping Melbourne to what it is today. There was so much to see that it got a little overwhelming, but I’d highly recommend spending some time here. In fact, the Melbourne Museum might have been better as one of the first things to see in Melbourne. Nonetheless as this is a short itinerary, the last day is still early.
After an information packed afternoon we hopped over to Lygon Street, known for its café culture and Italian restaurants. We checked out Donnini’s and Brunetti, both of which were interesting experiences to try something different here. We also checked out some of the bookstores along this street.
The Paris Cat Jazz Club
We wrapped up our trip to Melbourne with a live music session at the Paris Cat Jazz Club. It was a pretty last minute decision (bought tickets just a few days before) but glad we managed to get tickets for it as it was quite the experience hearing the music of Stan Kenton from a big band in an intimate setting. Definitely hitting the right notes and ending this trip on a bang. Hope we’ll be back to Melbourne soon!