Melbourne has been my home since 2019 and I’m often asked by friends back in the UK ‘what is Melbourne known for?’. You see, Melbourne is one of those funny cities without an obvious landmark such as the Colosseum or Statue of Liberty. Unless you’ve been here it can be a little hard to understand what makes this place so special.
So what exactly is Melbourne known for?
Melbourne is known for being one of the most liveable cities on earth. Often referred to as ‘the Sporting Capital of the World’, besides this it is also famous for its graffitied laneways, excellent coffee, cultural diversity and bayside location.
This eclectic Australian city has something for everyone. Culture lovers, beach lovers, food lovers, history lovers and nature lovers will all find their niche here.
In this post I’ll cover off some of Melbourne’s most famous landmarks and attractions.
Flinders Street Station
Having opened this post by saying Melbourne didn’t have an ‘obvious’ landmark, I haven’t missed the irony of now opening this list with probably its most famous landmark!
Flinders Street is the oldest railway station in Australia, there has been a station here as far back as 1854. Back then it was nothing more than a small wooden building, the brick icon that we now know and love was completed in 1910.
With over 100,000 people moving through its grand archways on a busy day, Flinders Street is the busiest station in the Southern Hemisphere. It is famous for the phrase ‘meet me under the clocks’, which means meeting someone at the front entrance, under the nine clocks that show the departure times for the main lines out of the city centre.
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St Kilda Penguins
A great Southern Hemisphere coastal city simply has to have penguins nearby (we love you Cape Town!) and Melbourne doesn’t disappoint on this front. When in the bustling heart of the Central Business District at Flinders Street it is odd to think that a colony of penguins is less than 20 minutes away on the tram.
The St Kilda Penguins are ‘Little Penguins’ a breed only found in Australia and New Zealand. They are named because they are, well – it must be pretty obvious – small. Not just small though the smallest, these guys are the littlest penguins on earth.
The biggest colony in the area is down at Phillip Island, but for a view close to the city, head down to St Kilda Pier at dusk and you’ll see them coming home for the night.
Unfortunately, I’ve never got a photo of the penguins themselves, owing to the lack of light, but the above photo shows you the bonus of getting out to see them, beautiful views back across the Port Phillip Bay to Melbourne with the sunset glowing above the cityscape.
Brighton Beach is one of the most famous beaches in Victoria and the best inner Melbourne Beach, with its multi-coloured beach huts one of the most famous sights in Melbourne.
These beach boxes are incredibly sought after by people who have more money than most of us can ever dream of. In 2018 box 76b sold for $337,000. That’s $337k for a 2m³ shed with no running water or electricity! Wow!
They are stunning to look at, however, even on a cloudy, wet day like the one above. I love how each has a different personality, with everything from koalas to space invaders paint on their fronts.
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Melbourne is probably not the first place that comes to mind when thinking of ‘the best coffee cities in the world’, but spend a bit of time here and you’ll realise there’s a very good chance it is.
A wave of immigration from Italy and Greece after World War II, along with their beloved espresso machines, brought coffee to Melbourne in a big way.
As the city grew and the standard of living got better, gentrified neighbourhoods got filled with independent coffee shops and a population around them that had the time to sit and enjoy.
Now you’ll barely find a big brand in town (there is one Starbucks hiding, almost apologetically, opposite Flinders Street Station), with every place promoting something unique – Harvard trained Baristas, single-origin beans plucked from the crap of some small, furry animal, the kind of lighting normally reserved for a blitz, you know the type!
If you’re into your coffee you won’t be disappointed here, in fact, you’ll probably turn a hobby into a mild addiction.
There are dozens of wonderful markets dotted around Melbourne, from bi-monthly farmer’s markets that can be found in almost every suburb through to the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere.
The most famous of these is Queen Victoria Market which has a mixed bag on offer from gourmet foods through to basic fruit and veg, cheap touristy curios through to unique artwork. If you’re not looking for anything in particular, chances are you’ll find it here. This is the perfect place to browse when you have no real plan in mind (and holder of that statistic from the first paragraph).
Two of my other favourites (apart from our local farmer’s market in my home suburb of Williamstown) are South Melbourne Market and Prahran Market.
Prahran is the place for organic veg boxes, locally produced cheese and huge fish counters. You can spot someone who’s recently been there as they tend to be clutching a cardboard box of still-muddy veggies.
South Melbourne Market has been going since 1867 and is probably my favourite of the lot. The narrow alleyways between stalls leading to big food courts remind me of the Covered Market in Oxford which we used to visit as kids. I love browsing here and can spend a small fortune at the Italian delis and local butchers. Don’t forget to pick yourself some dim sims on the way out, inspired by China, invented in Melbourne.
Melbourne’s graffiti-strewn laneways (or alleyways) are one of its most famous attractions. More than a million people visit Hosier lane every year, making it probably the most popular free attraction in Australia.
With street artists working in a grey area between what is and isn’t legal, the artwork is constantly being painted-over, updated and refreshed. It doesn’t matter how many times you wander the laneways, there’s always going to be something different on show.
You’ll find the best street art on Hosier Lane, AC/DC Lane (re-named after the band filmed their 1976 hit It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock’N’Roll) down what used to be called Swanston Street) and Rankins Lane.
The MCG (and the Sporting Parks)
Melbourne is known as ‘The Sporting Capital of the World’ with so many international events being held here regularly, from the F1 to the Ashes.
Here is just a selection of events that take place in the city:
- AFL Grand Final
- Formula One Australian Grand Prix
- Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival (including the $6m Melbourne Cup)
- Australian Open Tennis
- Boxing Day Ashes Test Match
Given Melbourne is a city of just four million there are often 100,000 at the MCG, 300,000 over a Grand Prix weekend, nearly 750,000 for the two weeks of the Australian Open Tennis and the city has also set a record of 123,738 for the Melbourne Cup.
It definitely earned its reputation.
Food from Around the World
Melbourne is a city built on immigration and it’s this that makes the food scene here so eclectic and diverse. Whether it’s Chinese dim sims, Greek Souvlaki, Italian Parmi, British meat pies, Vietnamese Banh Mi or Lebanese flatbread, the iconic food here has been passed down through families and adopted into Australian culture.
Head to any one of the 321 suburbs of this city and you’ll find something unique. The Greek food around Oakleigh, Lebanese bakeries of Coburg and Brunswick, Italian delis on Lygon Street or Asian markets of Footscray, food matters as much to Melburnians as coffee and (whisper it) maybe even AFL.
Melbourne Star and Docklands
The Melbourne Star is large on the Melbourne skyline when coming in from the west of the city. One of my favourite things to do when bringing new visitors in from the airport is to travel down the M2, taking them past the glass skyscrapers of Melbourne and the huge lit up wheel.
The area around is a great place to hang out for a few hours, with a big shopping centre and entertainment complex and a fairly short walk through the docklands into the city centre.
Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens and the neighbouring Shrine of Remembrance offer peace and quiet a stone’s throw from the heart of the city.
I have so many happy memories of exploring the Botanic Gardens. It was one of the first places we were brave enough to venture out to when our little girl was born, though we certainly made the tranquil gardens a little less peaceful that day!
The Gardens are huge with the centrepiece being an ornamental lake, with a shoreline cafe and traditional punts to explore the waters. There are kilometres of walking tracks snaking between beds of exotic flowers and under huge shady trees.
Come here to escape, have a picnic, read a book or just to marvel at such a huge slice of nature so close to a major city centre.
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Albert Park is less than 3km from Melbourne’s CBD, but feels a whole lot further away (well as long as you’re not looking at the mass of glass buildings on the horizon!). Famous with runners and walkers, the 5km loop around the lake is home to one of the best Park Runs I’ve ever done.
Space on the water is competed for by sailing boats, canoes and Australia’s famous black swans, but it’s the area around that makes it famous.
It’s hard to believe it on a lazy Sunday stroll, but once a year the roads surrounding the lake are shut down and given over to the theatre of a Grand Prix weekend. The video below shows the track in the off-season, it’s still hard to imagine F1 cars shooting around the track.
Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens
I need to get a better photo of the Royal Exhibition Building, as the one above is certainly not doing it any favours, however, this is one of the grandest buildings in Melbourne.
The World Fair movement of the 1850s, that continues to this day, is designed to show off national achievements and exhibits. In the past, they have contained everything from agricultural displays to human zoos (literally people in cages from far flung corners of the globe).
Melbourne hosted fairs in 1880 and 1880 at this magnificent building, with intact grand hall, which is now a UNESCO Heritage Site.