Having worked in many parts of the city and explored like a tourist whilst living as a local I feel I am well qualified to talk about the pros and cons of living in Melbourne.
So here is my take on the best and worst things about living in Melbourne.
How many major cities in the world can you see penguins 7km from the CBD?
I’m happy to be corrected, but I don’t think there are many. The only place I’ve been that competes is Cape Town and their penguins were nearly an hour’s drive out of the city.
In Melbourne, the penguins have decided to form a colony right under St Kilda pier, a tram right from the city centre.
CON: The Weather Amuses Itself
Neil Finn, of the New Zealand band Crowded House, wrote one of their most-played songs ‘Four Seasons In One Day’ right here in Melbourne.
And he wasn’t writing a fictional piece.
A 50km/h northerly wind bringing dust in on a 35-degree day can easily turn to hailstones by mid-afternoon and a need for heating in the evening.
There is only one way to dress in Melbourne and that’s in layers. Be prepared.
PRO: The Sporting Capital of the World
One of my favourite things about moving to Melbourne has been the range of different major sporting events that happen here.
Melbourne is one of four cities to host a tennis major, has a Formula One Grand Prix, the Boxing Day Test Match, the Melbourne Cup horse race and the AFL Grand Final.
The MCG is one of the most famous and oldest sporting venues in the world and the first to hold an International cricket match and is hard to miss from nearly anywhere along the Yarra.
There are even two public holidays in the state dedicated to sporting fixtures, with both the Melbourne Cup and AFL Grand Final deemed important enough for the workforce to stay at home and watch.
Need I say more?
In Melbourne, sport is life.
Having worked in London for a number of years before our move to Melbourne I was surprised at how archaic the Myki system is compared to the Oyster card.
For starters, the card tapping system is sllooooowww meaning you often stand there for a second or so waiting for the beep.
Secondly, why do we even need a Myki card at all? In London, I just used a bank card to tap on and off, but this isn’t even an option. This is really awkward when we have people come from abroad to stay with us, especially seeing as our spare Myki cards have a habit of expiring, another quirk we didn’t experience in London.
It’s also bloody expensive for fares and even the card itself is $6.
There are no doubt improvements are being made every year, but as a solution to mass public transport in one of the most famous cities on earth, it’s still crap.
The coffee culture in Melbourne is unreal. It seems every corner, cart and (in some cases) carriage in Melbourne is overseen by a barista.
In the UK, coffee was based around a small number of chains (Cafe Nero, Starbucks, Costa) which spread across the country. In Melbourne, nearly all are independent, with even the mighty Starbucks essentially forced out of town.
With nowhere in Europe willing to take them in, many people left Italy after the Second World War and settled in Melbourne, bringing their espresso machines with them.
This culture has grown over many years and has led to Melbourne having the highest number of coffee shops per capita of any city in the world and being regularly voted amongst the top coffee cities in the world.
PRO: The Education State
Spend enough time staring a the cars of Melburnians and you’ll see that many of the numberplates carry the tagline ‘The Education State’.
I didn’t know the reason for this before looking it up recently, making the assumption it was purely to do with the number of schools or universities.
This is part of it (and in truth, it is also part State Government PR too) but it is also designed to represent the number of education landmarks in the state such as the State Library, Immigration Museum, National Gallery and Melbourne Museum.
CON: No Train to the Airport
Despite the airport opening 50 years ago and being less than 25km from the CBD the only way to get there is by road.
A project has now been kicked off and is due to complete in 2029, but until then the taxis are
As for why one taxi driver I spoke to is convinced it was a backhand deal when the M2 toll road was opened, to ensure the company who runs it got their money back.
The truth is probably a little closer to home. Strong lobbying from taxi firms and the airport to protect fares and parking fees, alongside much higher public transport priorities in Melbourne has left proposals dating decades pushed to one side.
There are fantastic markets across the city, from small farmer’s markets (shout out to my local in Williamstown which is brilliant) to some which are much bigger and a staple of living in Melbourne.
South Melbourne Market is probably my favourite, stuffed full of local produce, quirky shops and the best dim-sims in the city (a Chinese-inspired dish food which was invented in Melbourne in 1945).
Queen Victoria Market is the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere and one of those places where you can get almost anything you need. Australian souvenirs – they got you, close-up photo of your eye – absolutely, your body weight in chicken feet – speak to my man here.
Footscray Market has all the sights and smells we experienced in markets such as Pak Khlong in Bangkok. It is like travelling abroad from the comfort of your own city and is a great place to bag some food bargains.
PRO: Diversity of Cultures
Melbourne has the fifth-highest percentage of foreign-born residents of any city in the world.
I was expecting to see a large population of people from countries such as Vietnam here due to the close proximity, but Melbourne also has big populations from areas I didn’t expect such as Lebanon and Greek (Melbourne is actually the third biggest Greek city in the world, with the other two being in Greece!).
It’s been amazing getting to learn about so many different cultures here and mix with people of backgrounds I didn’t often find in London. It also makes for an amazing food scene in the city, which is included in one of my other pros.
CON: The Beaches
This one doesn’t really bother me as I’m not a beach fan, but if you are you’re not going to find the best ones in Australia around Melbourne.
Don’t just take my word for it.
I’d guess Tourism Australia know what they’re talking about, so the fact that their list of the 20 best beaches in Australia in 2022 doesn’t include a beach closer than three hours to Melbourne paints a picture.
They’re certainly not all awful – Brighton, Williamstown, St Kilda, and Port Melbourne all have things going for them, but in a country full of world-class beaches you’ll find many, many better ones.
PRO: Public Holidays & Time Off Work
If you like time off work, Melbourne will make you happy.
Victoria has a whopping 14 public holidays a year, the most in Australia. By using just 19 days of annual leave, combined with the public holidays and weekends in 2023 you could manage 48 days’ worth of breaks!
Victoria also has some great long service leave laws, which means that after seven years of working with the same employer, you’ll qualify for time off (maybe you could take a one-month sabbatical?). Combine that with most employers giving 4 weeks of annual leave a year (which can be rolled over and accumulated in Australia) and Melbourne proves to be a great place to get a good work-life balance.
Melbourne may well be the hayfever capital of the world.
I know I’ve struggled more with tiredness and cold symptoms since I’ve lived here, but I hadn’t figured it was hayfever until a chance chat with a professional gardener on an afternoon walk around Plenty Gorge. He put it down to the growing of crops further north which are funnelled into Melbourne by the Victorian mountain ranges, however, this study shows it’s probably more to do with the introduction of non-native grasses and quantity of birch and plane trees in the city.
Either way, stock up on your anti-histamines for a Melbourne summer.
PRO: Tap Water
This may seem like an odd choice, but I bloody love the tap water in Melbourne! Compared to where we lived in the UK it’s like drinking bottled water.
It turns out Melbourne actually won the award for Best Tasting Australian Tap Water (yes, it’s really a thing!) in a 2022 competition.
It turns out there’s a reason for it too. A protected catchment in the spongy Yarra Ranges away from public access, means the water is naturally filtered and needs less treatment.
PRO: It’s Safe
Melbourne is safe, very safe.
In fact, it’s in the top 10 safest cities in the world.
I’ve been living in Melbourne for four years now and seen/heard very little trouble. On our street people leave their bikes unlocked at the front of their houses, I can’t imagine doing that back in London!
Of course, you need to be careful and bad things still happen at times when you’d expect bad things to happen (3 am outside clubs for example!) but generally, you’ll run into very few troubles here.
PRO: The Food
Damn, there’s some good eating to be had in Melbourne.
Fuelled by a big immigrant population you’ll find top-class examples of everything from banh mi to kebabs (HSP anyone?!) from chicken parma to sushi.
If you’re looking for recommendations:
- Get over the bridge to Grazeland where you can find examples of the city’s best food in one place.
- Pop into South Melbourne market for a Dim Sim – created in Melbourne.
- Wander down Chapel Street in Prahran for dozens of fine eateries, Tokyo Tina being a favourite of mine.
CON: Hook Turns
If you haven’t heard of hook turns then I’m not surprised. This is the only city in the world where they exist, a truly unique part of living in Melbourne.
We have hook turns because trams run down the centre of many city centre roads. To stop the trams being delayed, at some intersections if you wish to do a right turn, you need to pull into the left-hand lane and wait until all traffic has cleared, before pulling across all lanes.
This video shows you what I mean:
Given Melbourne actually has the longest tram system in the world this is definitely a skill you want to learn to drive in our city.
PRO: It’s Not Sydney
It had to be done.
If you didn’t know, there is a pretty fierce rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney, a rivalry so big that they built a whole other city halfway between the two to stop the fighting about who should be the nation’s capital.
So as a Melbournian, it’s my duty to call out our New South Wales cousins, even if I do think Sydney is also a beautiful city.
And there are plenty of people who still regularly stoke the rivalry fires, check out the NSW Premier commenting on whether Melbourne was the more liveable city in early 2023.
CON: Traffic To Get Out of the City
Having worked in London for a long time, the traffic isn’t the worst I’ve experienced, but if you want to live in the less expensive suburbs east or west of the city then you’re going to go up against two of Melbourne’s most infamous pieces of road – the Westgate Bridge and the Monash Freeway.
This piece from The Age Newspaper (which was from 2016, and I can assure you it’s got worse since then) said:
Motorists crawled along at 22km/h on average during the morning peak on the West Gate Freeway, and 35km/h on average on the Monash Freeway in November 2016 – almost 20km/h slower than two years earlier.
So think twice before you move too far out of the city to find a cheaper way to live in Melbourne, as you might just find yourself stuck.
PRO: Cool Suburbs
There are so many quirky and cool suburbs around Melbourne it would be hard to name them all but move between them and it feels like they have different personalities.
Some of my favourites are:
- Prahran with its market and the restaurant hub of Chapel Street
- Yarraville with its small-town feel and old cinema (also named the fifth coolest neighbourhood in the world in 2020 by Time Out)
- Fitzroy for unusual shops and pop-up eateries
- Coburg for a jail that’s been turned into a retail and cafe hub
- Williamstown because – well it’s our home and has stunning views across the water to Melbourne, a palm-lined botanic garden and one of my favourite places in Melbourne the Jawbone Reserve
PRO: 1-3 Hours in Any Direction Gets You To Some Incredible Places
Melbourne is surrounded by almost every type of landscape you can imagine, some of which won’t be bettered anywhere in the world.
There’s the world-famous Great Ocean Road, one of the greatest drives anywhere with the start only just over an hour west of the city.
The Grampians are 275km by road from Melbourne, named after the mountain range in Scotland they feel like they belong there.
Healesville sits less than an hour from the city, nestled in the Yarra Valley with the amazing Healesville Sanctuary and dozens of wineries.
Further east than Healesville is the Victorian High Country. Covered in snow in winter, it’s like a little portal opened up to the European Alps.
Just south of Melbourne is the Mornington Peninsula with its iconic beaches, hot springs and vineyards.
And I haven’t even included Gippsland, Philip Island, Mildura, Ballarat, Geelong or Daylesford on this list!
CON: It’s Hard To See New Countries
I got very used to cheap short-haul travel in Europe, so I have found Melbourne and Australia in general frustrating.
You’ve probably noticed that Australia‘s quite big, but air travel is also very expensive. Even getting to our closest cities in Adelaide and Sydney costs far more than the short country-hopping trips we used to do in Europe and getting anywhere outside of Australia is a long way.
It’s 3 1/2 hours to New Zealand, nearly 8 to Singapore and 6 to Indonesia. Be prepared to do a lot of travel in the state once you arrive in Melbourne (which has a lot to offer) but don’t expect to rack up many new countries if your bank balance isn’t bulging.
PRO: A City on the Seafront
I haven’t visited many bad cities in the world on a seafront. Cape Town, Dubrovnik, Lisbon, and even (say it quietly) Sydney are absolutely crackers.
There is something very special about driving over the Westgate Bridge on my way to work in the morning, with the sea on the right and the city on the left – the sun rising over Mount Dandenong and often the hot air balloons looking down.
Seafront cities are very special and Melbourne is no exception.
CON: The Montague Street Bridge
If you live in Melbourne you’ll have heard of this famous bridge.
It’s been hit by over-height vehicles 54 times since built and even has its own website, the factually named howmanydayssincemontaguestreetbridgehasbeenhit.com.
It sits at only three metres, as the street was raised after its contraction to try to prevent flooding and now it seems to confuse many drivers, despite multiple safety measures in place around the bridge.
I found this video particularly funny. This guy went to see what was going on at the bridge and a truck actually drove into it when he was there! What an amazing coincidence.
PRO: City Centre Trams Are Free
In Melbourne CBD the busy loop around the city centre is free.
This is great for exploring the best sights in Melbourne and stopping queues as passengers don’t have to tap on and off this route.
This map shows you the size of the free tram zone, which you can see covers everywhere from Flinders Street to Queen Victoria Market, Parliament to Docklands – a big area.
It isn’t all good news though, with some sources claiming the free tram zone actually encourages people to drive.
I can’t say I’ve ever used it that way, we find it handy to get around the city once we’ve got the train in.
CON: The Wind
This might just be a me thing (as it certainly doesn’t top any statistical charts of Australia) but it always seems to be windy in Melbourne.
Maybe it’s because it’s the first time I’ve lived by the coast, or maybe because I’m just not a fan (get it?) of the wind, but I have found it a con of living in Melbourne.