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
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.
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.
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- Melbourne City Centre
- Melbourne Suburbs
- Day Trips & Weekend Breaks From Melbourne
Melbourne City Centre
DETAILS: This section covers the area within walking distance of Flinders Street Station.
Flinders Street Station (8/10)
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 (7/10)
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 (7/10)
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 (7/10-10/10)
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 (7/10)
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 (5/10)
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!
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 (8/10)
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.
Brighton Beach (6/10)
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 (8/10)
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.
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 (10/10)
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 (10/10)
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!
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 (8/10)
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 10/10
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.
Useful Tools for Booking Your Sabbatical
I always use Skyscanner or Agoda alongside Google Flights to make sure I’ve got the best price. I use Google Flights to save a route and monitor price changes and a combination of Skyscanner and Agoda to get the cheapest tickets.
If you are in the UK I would also highly recommend signing up for Jack’s Flight Club to get incredible flight deals sent to your email inbox every week.
When booking accommodation I always start with Booking.com as they generally have the best range and prices. I also regularly use Airbnb for longer stays and apartments in cities (use this link for £25 off your first stay). For a different experience try signing up to Housecarers for free house-sitting opportunities (get 10% off membership with this link).
Travel insurance might seem like an unnecessary cost, but when a flight gets cancelled, injury occurs or you damage a piece of gear you’ll regret not paying in advance. I’ve used World Nomads for two sabbaticals and (after badly damaging a hire car in Laos!) found the claim process to be simple and transparent.
Getting from the airport to your destinations is an added stress after a tiring flight, so take the guesswork out and pre-book with JayRide.com. Their prices often beat the local taxis and I've found them to be reliable and easy to use.