In 2019 we made Melbourne our new home, and since then we have been using our days off to visit as many places as we can in and around this amazing city.
In this post I’m sharing some of the most ‘Bonza’ places we’ve found so far.
‘Bonza‘ – something that is good or well executed.
“Bonza, mate, she’s a ripper.”
“Bonza tackle mate.”
So yeah, not great places, Bonza places.
I can fake an Australian accent, and have now started saying ‘how you going?’ rather than ‘how are you doing?’, so I’m pretty much Australian now. And I swear quite a bit, so I’ve found fitting in pretty easy.
I’ve split the post in to three sections:
- Melbourne City Centre (near Flinders Street Station)
- Melbourne Suburbs (further afield in the city)
- Day Trips & Weekend Breaks
These are all places I’ve visited myself, so this is not a generic list and I hope you find a couple of unexpected entires on here. Also, if we thought they were crap, they just didn’t make the list at all!
I will continue to expand this post as we visit more places and will share it via email each time there is an update. Please join the mailing list below if you want to be updated (you’ll also get my free Victoria Travel Guide).
And if you don’t want to, then you’ve probably got a few roos loose in the top paddock (told you I was fitting in), this newsletter is a ripsnorter.
- Melbourne City Centre
- Melbourne Suburbs
- BONUS LIST: Day Trips & Weekend Breaks From Melbourne
Melbourne City Centre
DETAILS: This section covers the area within walking distance of Flinders Street Station.
If you’re planning to stay in the centre of Melbourne check out:
Flinders Street Station
OK, OK, so not a strong place to start. Whilst I do #fuckinglovetrainstations they’re not exactly an exciting place to visit! But Flinders Street is probably the most iconic building in Melbourne and most people (without a car) will start their journey around Melbourne from here, so I’m starting with it – so I’ve used it as a reference point for all the locations on this least.
I promise that at least some of the entries on this list will be a bit more original!
HOW TO GET THERE: From Flinders Street Station, um, well you’re there. Walk out and look back and if you can’t see it you’ve probably been hit by a tram.
Queen Victoria Market
In the Disney movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks there is a song with the line ‘anything and everything a chap can unload, is sold off the barrow on the Portobello Road’. Vic Market is the Australian equivalent of this and has been servicing Melbourne since 1878. It is the largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere, selling food, clothing and curios from hundreds of stalls. It’s best just to head in without a plan and see what you find!
HOW TO GET THERE: 1.5km north-east of Flinders Street Station, it is around a 20 minute walk.
COST: Free (depending on how many painted boomerangs and knock-off Ugg boots you buy!)
Cat Cafe Melbourne
We first visited a Cat Cafe whilst we visited Chiang Rai in Thailand, but found one in Melbourne too! Unfortunately, our little cat Smudge has had to wait for a few months before joining us in Australia, so we needed a cat-fix, and this is the perfect place to get one! Cat Cafe Melbourne has been open since 2014, and takes in cats from rescue centres to live in this relaxing environment. Set across two floors, there is loads of space for them – keep an eye out for the special ‘cat staircase’ that gets them between floors! It is in a trendy re-vamped neighbourhood that is well worth a walk around in its own right.
HOW TO GET THERE: Cat Cafe Melbourne is about a 15 minute walk from Flinders Street Station about 5 mins from Victoria Market, so is a great place to stop on the way.
COST: Booking is for a 1hr slot and is best done in advance – $12 or $15 with a coffee.
A Sporting Fixture
Melbourne = Sport.
There is the F1 Grand Prix, Aussie Rules Footie, Boxing Day test match, the Melbourne Cup horse-racing, Australian Open tennis as well as a whole host of others such as rugby, netball, sailing, golf and possum wrestling (the last one’s a little niche).
You simply have to get to get to a sporting fixture of some kind whilst you’re in the city, and with the MCG (Aussie Rules/cricket), AAMI Arena (rugby/soccer) and the Rod Laver Arena (tennis) all within a stone’s throw of one another there is no excuse not to!
For the proper Aussie experience it has to be an Aussie Rules match whilst tucking into a hot Four’NTwenty Pie and trying to figure out what the fucking hell is actually happening on the pitch (big sticks, punch ball, kick, random points awarded). Games are played from March to September before being replaced by the cricket season. A big game at the MCG can attract over 100,000, and with four teams calling it home, it’s not too difficult to find a big fixture to attend.
If you spend any time in the centre of Melbourne, you are going to end up on one of the iconic laneways which run like dark arteries through the city. There’s no doubting they are interesting, but I was not as excited by them as I expected to be, maybe due to the time I spent working in Camden in London which has very similar alleyways with street art (but many more middle aged goths).
Probably the most famous is Hoiser Lane with its ever-changing graffiti, but my (any many other people’s) favourite is Centre Place – gloomy, cobbled and flanked by noisy diners it’s an atmospheric place to hang out.
HOW TO GET THERE: Both Hosier Lane and Centre Place are within 5 minutes walk of Flinders Street Station.
Fitzroy Gardens are a short walk from Flinders Street and are a peaceful place to escape the bustle of the city. Of particular interest are the ‘Fairy Tree‘ and miniature Tudor Village.
Royal Exhibition Building
I do love a good UNESCO Heritage Site, but this is not one of them! It’s not bad, but just not good. Opened in 1880 for Melbourne’s first International Exhibition, it was added to the UNESCO list in 2004 as the only surviving 19th century ‘Palace of Industry’.
The gardens surrounding it are beautiful, and it is due to re-open fully to the public in 2020, which will allow people to see inside for the first Tim pin many years. I will head back then when the scaffolding is down, and see if I change my opinion!
Either way the Polly Woodside is quite a sight and has an interesting museum telling its history alongside.
Built in Belfast, it did more than 1.5 million miles at sea before ending up at Melbourne’s South Wharf. Mostly used as a trade ship between England and South America, this iron-hulled workhorse has been lovingly restored to her original state.
Sea Life Centre Melbourne
Melbourne’s Sea Life Centre is right in the heart of the city, close enough that with a concerted effort, the inhabitants could make a break into the Yarra.
It’s a great place to go on a rainy day, with the standard aquarium fare of walk-through glass tunnels and smaller tanks alongside a big display of Little Penguins and all 5-metres of ‘Pinjara the Mega Croc’
Details: This section covers things to do in the suburbs of Melbourne. They are all accessible by a short trip in the car or on public transport.
St Kilda Penguins
It’s one of the great delights of the Southern Hemisphere that there are penguins. I loved visiting them in South Africa as a kid. Australia is home to the smallest penguins in the world, the appropriately and obviously named Little Penguin (hardly a surprise from a country that decided to rename the program Countdown to Letters and Numbers!). There is a huge colony at Philip Island but you don’t have to travel that far, as they also have a home right under St Kilda Pier.
HOW TO GET THERE: Jump on the number 16 tram at Federation Square and it’ll take you about 30 minutes to get to St Kilda.
Ok, I’m probably a little biased as this is where we set up home in Australia, but Williamstown is fantastic! There is an amazing beach, the historic botanic gardens, Point Gellibrand Coastal Heritage Park (where the first European settlers in Victoria arrived), a beautiful little town centre and the classic view of Melbourne across the bay. You can even have lunch in a re-creation of the Titanic. What’s not to love!?
A walk around the peninsula similar to this one, would be the perfect plan, starting on the bayside to take photos of Melbourne, then walking through Point Gellibrand Park, past the beach and ending up at my favourite place in Williamstown – Jawbone Marine Sanctuary (pictured above).
HOW TO GET THERE: Easily accessed from Flinders Street Station, it will take about 30 minutes by train. There are three stops in town, Williamstown Beach is best for Fort Gellibrand and the beach, with Williamstown being best for the centre. For an alternative trip, get the St Kilda Ferry from Port Melbourne or St Kilda for an amazing trip across the bay.
This photogenic spot is heaving on a hot summer day, but is worth visiting all year round thanks to the Instagram friendly Victorian bathing boxes. There are great views back to the city and it can be a great surfing spot in the right conditions.
HOW TO GET THERE: About 25 minutes by car from Central Melbourne, or 40 minutes by train from Flinders Street Station. Brighton Beach has its own station which is about 1km walk from the beach.
You could also book on to a tour of the Mornington Peninsula, which stop at Brighton, such as the one below:
One of our favourite little suburbs of Melbourne, Yarraville is a heavily gentrified neighbourhood which is now full of cool little independent shops and coffee houses (Cornershop is our favourite). There is also the boutique art-deco Sun Theatre to enjoy if you’re looking for a night out. Also it hosts a significant number of tattooed men wearing flat caps often combined with a suit. As I said, heavily gentrified.
HOW TO GET THERE: On the same line as Williamstown from Flinders it will take you about 20 minutes on the train.
Take a Trip on the Water
Melbourne might look like it’s got a sea front, but it’s actually set in a huge bay. It’s well worth taking the time to get out on the water, with lots of companies offering trips from near Princes Pier at Port Melbourne.
A second mention in this post for the local St Kilda Ferry which stops in Port Melbourne, St Kilda and Williamstown at set times of the day. One leg is $14 with four legs being $30 (though they are currently seeking Government funding to bring the price down. The owner told me they are aiming for $5 a trip). This isn’t a full tour, but you can combine some time on the water with trips to other places on this list.
Melbourne Star and Docklands
The Melbourne Star is one of only four giant observation wheels in the world and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere.
Originally opened in 2008, it lasted 40 days before having to be dismantled for major repairs and then scrapped. It opened up again in 2013.
From 120m in the air the views of Melbourne’s skyline are stunning and you’ll get ample time for photos with a 30 minute round-trip.
There’s more to the Docklands that just the Melbourne Star too, with a modern shopping mall and lots of restaurants here. It’s a great walk back into the city from here too, looping around the edge of the water and past Marvel stadium before following the Yarra River back to Flinders Street.
Not-very fun fact: The seven spokes are designed to represent the points of the star on the Australian flag.
Popular with runners, sightseers and also home to the Melbourne Grand Prix (it’s amazing the way they transform this area every year) Albert Park is great for a lazy Sunday-afternoon visit and wander.
The walk around the edge of the lake is around 5km, but don’t worry, there are a few places to stop for a caffeine pit-stop on the way!
Shrine of Remembrance and Melbourne Botanic Gardens
This is one of our most-visited places in Melbourne.
The imposing Shrine of Remembrance was originally built to honour the servicemen and women lost in World War I, but is not used as a place to honour all Australian military personnel. It is the central point in the city for Anzac Day (25th April) and Remembrance Day (11th November) ceremonies. The location on top of a hill at the end of St Kilda Road also offers fantastic views back across Melbourne.
Right beside The Shrine is Melbourne Botanic Gardens, where we’ve visited on numerous occasions, bringing visitors from the UK and picnics. Opened in the mid-1800s it is a huge area with over 50,000 species of plant and a stunning ornamental lake in the centre where you can head out for a punt.
If you’re looking for the perfect city shot of Melbourne, get out to Sandridge lookout in Port Melbourne. I love this spot an it’s on my list of ‘My Favourite Photo Spots in Melbourne‘.
Get here early, as the sunrise turns the sky behind the city some wonderful colours.
Plenty Gorge Park
Whilst this may seem a way out of Melbourne, it’s technically still in the suburbs and it’s on the list for good reason.
Plenty Gorge Park is one of the closest places to Melbourne’s CBD where you can see Australia’s most iconic animal, the kangaroo, roaming wild. We’ve also seen echidna here and there are meant to be platypus in the waters, but we’ve not managed to see one yet!
Located north of the city in Melbourne’s stunning Royal Parks, Melbourne Zoo is a great place to visit, especially if you are here with kids.
It’s got all the animals you’d expect to see here, with a real focus on the native Australian fauna – the platypus exhibition is especially good.
Our favourite bits are the bamboo forest and lemur walk (ok, I know neither of these are native!). The bamboo forest is very cleverly done, immersing you in a dense Asian world, with paths leading through the creaking pipes to animal enclosures. It felt like being transported into completely different world. The lemur walk allows you to get up close and personal with the Ring-Tailed Lemurs, as they hop from posts to trees and do their best to trip up the visitors. I go the photo above with a fairly short lens, so you can see just how close they get.
South Melbourne Market
Another of Melbourne’s iconic markets.
The food here is awesome, with all the cultures of Melbourne coming together in one place. From Aussie/Chinese volcanic Dim Sims served up with a potato cake to Greek spanakopita with olives.
Make sure you arrive here hungry or you won’t get the most out of it!
Westgate Park is pleasant, but nothing special. An area of green, with a couple of lakes that buts up against the edge of the Yarra River and below the huge Westgate Bridge that connects Western Melbourne to the rest of the city.
It would not have made this list if it wasn’t for one thing…
…at a certain time of the year (late summer, usually March/April) the salt lake here goes a bright pink colour. It doesn’t always happen, as it relies on a mix of the right weather and a high salt content to get the algae to produce a red pigment, but when it does it’s spectacular.
Unfortunately, I’ve not yet been lucky enough to see it, so until I do, you get a photo I took from the park of Westgate Bridge as a placeholder!
BONUS LIST: Day Trips & Weekend Breaks From Melbourne
Details: This section covers places which are best visited as a day trip or weekend break from Melbourne.
Healesville & The Yarra Valley
DISTANCE FROM MELBOURNE: 64km (1hr 20m drive)
THINGS TO DO: Healesville is all about wine, wildlife and tranquility. The area is full of vineyards, and it is also home to the incredible Healesville Sanctuary which is full of Australian wildlife.
Read this post to find out more: 6 Things to do in Healesville.
Why not try out this tour of the Yarra Valley which takes in three wineries and ends at the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie, or pre-book your Healesville Sanctuary ticket?
WHERE TO STAY: We loved the magnificent Sanctuary Park Cottages, the photo above was taken about 100m from our luxury log cabin.
The Grampians National Park
DISTANCE FROM MELBOURNE: 255km (3hr drive)
THINGS TO DO: The Grampians rise up out of Western Victoria creating a stunning National Park, with magnificent viewpoints out over the surrounding area and hundreds of kilometres of walking trails. It is a relaxing, back to nature kind of place that is very popular in the summer with Victorians escaping the city.
- Boroka Lookout (in my photo above)
- The Balconies
- Mackenzie Falls
- Some of the best Aboriginal rock art sites in Australia
- Brambuk Cultural Centre
WHERE TO STAY: A Heavenly Escape is probably the most perfectly named place we have ever stayed. Set in a quiet area of woodland in Halls Gap this cabin is decked out with a spa, wood burner, BBQ and even a proper coffee maker. We will definitely be heading back as it was bliss!
Read this post to find out more: 12 1/2 Wondrous Things To Do (+ See) in the Grampians
DISTANCE FROM MELBOURNE: 115km (1hr 30m drive)
THINGS TO DO: Daylesford – the spa and hot spring capital of Australia – is easy to visit as a day trip from Melbourne. We didn’t visit a spa, or a spring so it would be easy to wonder why on earth we even bothered visiting! Well we did enjoy the 1.5km loop walk around Sailor Falls (pictured above) and popping in and out of shops in the quaint centre, so there! If you’re looking to edge yourself a little closer to a diabetic coma, we’d recommend lunch at the Sweet Decadence Cafe where they make their own chocolate, and it’s bloody good. At some point we need to give Daylesford a second chance and visit on a warm day and book a spa trip. Or not.
Werribee Gorge State Park
DISTANCE FROM MELBOURNE: 75km (1hr drive)
Werribee Gorge State Park is the great outdoors Australian style. Get a glimpse of the great Australia bush (hehe) only an hour from Melbourne. There are a number of circuits to walk, but some are not for the faint (or weak) hearted with steep climbs and cabled sections on the more difficult parts. We did a 5km loop that took us nearly two hours due to the gradient and hot weather! It is Australia at is rugged, natural best (there’s even the promise of platypus in the river) and we’d highly recommended a visit.
Torquay to Lorne
DISTANCE FROM MELBOURNE: Torquay is 105km (1hr 15m drive), though you will need an entire day to drive the coast to Lorne and the 150km back to Melbourne.
The Great Ocean Road is one of the most magnificent drives on our planet. To do it all you’ll need a week or so, but if you have a day to spare then I would suggest driving the stretch of coastline between Torquay and Lorne.
The drive to Torquay is an easy one, and here you have some beautiful beaches and the National Surf Museum. It’s then a simple case of following the coastal road to Lorne on which you’ll find highlights such as Bells Beach, Eagle Rock, Split Point Lighthouse and the historic Lorne Swing Bridge.