Whether it’s the sunshine, the world-class coffee, the great public transport or the abundance of pretty boys and girls, Melbourne has long been considered one of the most liveable cities in the world. A melting pot of culture and cuisine, it’s also a fantastic city to travel through, and most visitors will quickly understand why so many have come from around the world to call this city home. As Australia’s second most populous city it is also home to some of her best cultural venues, the perfect city to immerse yourself in the country’s sporting, theatrical and musical events.
In this Guide
Map of Melbourne
One thing Melbourne does better than most is mix the shopping, art and culture of the big city with the friendliness and cuisine of a small town. Or rather, many small towns, as the different suburbs of this sprawling city all have grown into their own distinct character.
So in which part of the city should you stay? While the great public transport means getting around the city is relatively easy, Melbourn is large, and commuting every day in the Melbourne heat isn’t always fun. Finding the right part of town to stay in will save you both time and money, and likely make a big difference to your trip overall.
In the map above I’ve outlined the four best areas to stay in Melbourne for travellers – areas that will give you lots to do, lots to eat and quality places to stay. To help make your Melbourne trip a memorable one, I’ll break down each area so you can pick the spot that’s right for you. Let’s go!
Where to Stay in Melbourne
The CBD & Southbank
The city’s central business district and Southbank are always alive with activity, and is the place to go for a High Street shopping spree or a sexy meal.
Head to Bourke Street Mall or Queen Victoria Market for all the big name shops during the day. At night, you can move to the laneways off the main haul for some great little bars. Section 8, Whiskey & Alement or Rooftop Bar are all favourites for a few drinks. Couple your quality Australian wine with an excellent selection of cheese at Embla, or line your stomach for a night out with an enormous and tasty burger at Arbory Bar.
Even if you’re not a gambler, it’s worthwhile spending an evening in Melbourne’s Crown Casino on Southbank; the largest casino complex in the Southern Hemisphere. As well as gambing, it has restaurants, bars, shopping and entertainment – Melbourne’s self-contained answer to Vegas.
The city centre is also where you will find Melbourne’s Chinatown, which was established in the 1850s during the Victorian goldrush. You can find an amazing selection of Chinese food here, perfect for those on tighter budgets.
If it’s the art scene that brought you to Melbourne, then you won’t be disappointed here either. Alongside the numerous galleries, this is a mecca for street artists, with wall graffiti changing on an almost daily basis.
Things to see in the CBD and Southbank
- Melbourne Aquarium, with a 2-million-litre tank, cute penguins and a mega crocodile.
- Royal Botanic Gardens, featuring a range of exotic and native flora.
- Princess Theatre, built in 1854 is an architectural marvel and still hosts some of Melbourne’s best shows.
- Flinders Street Station, the first railway station to be built in Australia in 1909.
- Eureka Tower, a 91-story tower, with an 88th floor viewing deck offering the highest public view in the Southern Hemisphere.
- National Gallery of Victoria, the oldest public art gallery in Australia featuring both an Australian and an international collection.
- Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Australia’s flagship contemporary art space.
Stay in the CBD and Southbank if…
- You you want to be at the centre of it all
- You only have a few days in Melbourne and don’t have much time for commuting
- You want easy access to a mix of experiences including shopping, history, art and nature
Where to Stay in the CBD and Southbank
For the Backpackers – United Backpackers
Located directly across from Flinders Street Station, this is a great place to stay if you want to be in the thick of it. It offers both dorms and private rooms, plus good shared facilities which are a great for meeting new people. The site feels extra safe thanks to its secure card access, and the free pancake breakfast is a treat. Best rates here.
For the Budget Traveller – Space Hotel
The Space Hotel is kind of like a super-hostel. It has a fun and communal atmosphere with a fantastic rooftop terrace, fitness centre, happy hour and private cinema. Its onsite Blue Moon Bar is popular with both guests and locals. As well as private rooms, dorms are also available if you are looking to save. Best rates here!
For the Luxurious Type – HFN Crown Southbank Riverside Apartment
Located on Southbank right near the Crown Casino, this 5-star hotel is in the heart of the entertainment district. Each apartment has its own patio, air conditioning and flat screen TV with Netflix, private kitchen and all the conveniences of a high end hotel. Of course guests have access to the indoor lap pool and fitness centre too. A little pricey, but very sexy, and perfectly located for you to do Melbourne in style. You can find the best rates here.
Covering Fitzroy, Collingwood, Richmond and Hawthorn, East Melbourne reads like a list of Melbourne’s best Aussie Rules teams. It’s also one of the best places to experience Melbourne like a local and/or indulge your passion for Australian sport.
Close to the city centre, Fitzroy is central for Melbourne’s kooky and cool. Brunswick Street is full of vintage clothing stores, second-hand bookshops and unique boutiques. On the weekend, Rose Street hosts Fitzroy’s popular artists’ market. At night, the same strip and its funky bars turn into a little street party. If you are looking for a spot with great drinks and fresh talent, don’t miss the aptly named Black Pearl.
Richmond is close to the city centre and, after heavy gentrification in the 1990s, is now one of Melbourne’s most desirable postcodes. Here you will find excellent Vietnamese food and sports bars for every taste. Australia is known for its love of cricket, and their beloved Melbourne Cricket Ground is right here in Richmond. Spending the day drinking beer and watching a one-day match is a true Aussie experience you need to try!
Hawthorn is home to much of Melbourne’s student population, making it a great place for backpackers. It has a top-notch nightlife, but is also a great location to grab brunch and relax, Aussie style.
Finally, Collingwood is all about architecture. The main drag centres around Smith Street, filled with boutique shops, excellent coffee and a collection of art galleries. If you are travelling with kids, bring them to the Collingwood Children’s Farm where they can learn useful skills such as cow milking and spend a few hours petting the animals. If you are looking for something a little harder, pop into Stomping Ground Brewery Co, a beer hall with a variety of craft beers to sample, as well as some quality live entertainment.
Things to see in East Melbourne
- Cook’s Cottage, built in 1755, the oldest building in Australia where Captain Cook lived with his wife.
- Model Tudor Village, located in Fotzroy Gardens, it represents a Kentish village opened in 1948.
- Parliament House, the state’s legislative home with public viewing galleries (closed weekends).
- Melbourne Cricket Grounds, opened in 1853 it is the 10th largest in the world. It is the official home of Australian Rules Football and considered the birthplace of Test Cricket.
- National Sports Museum, with interesting exhibitions of important sporting artefacts.
Stay in East Melbourne if you…
- Want to experience Melbourne like a young local.
- Are looking for Melbourne’s most exciting and intense nightlife.
- If you want to explore the funky side of Melbourne and indulge your hippy side.
Where to Stay in East Melbourne
For the Backpackers – The Workers Club
Located in the heart of Fitzroy, you will be in the centre of Brunswick Street’s shops and bars. It only has dorms available and the bar downstairs can get quite noisy at night, but it’s cheap and buzzing. This really is the place for backpackers ready to indulge in the Fitzroy scene. You can find the best rates here.
For the Budget Traveller – Richmond Hill Hotel
Located in the heart of Richmond, this hotel is just a five minute walk from the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and the Richmond Plaza. Set in a 19th century period building, it also sits on top of Richmond Hill, offering a fantastic view to enjoy day and night. The free buffet breakfast a treat, and its lounge bar is an excellent place to relax when you return in the evening. Get the best rates here.
For the Luxurious Type – Park Hyatt Melbourne
Five stars of luxury and located right beside the Fitzroy Gardens. Deluxe rooms complete with Italian marble bathrooms, you’ll also enjoy access to a lap pool, gym, wellness centre and spa, sauna and steam room. It also has its own award-winning restaurant to indulge in on those lazy nights. Best rates here.
Encompassing St Kilda, South Yarra, Prahran & Windsor, South Melbourne is a mix of natural delights, whether you’re after a classic Aussie beach or an abundance of green spaces.
St Kilda is like an old English resort town, with grand hotels, theme parks, theatres and restaurants. There’s plenty to do – check out the Esplanade Market on Sundays, spend an afternoon at Luna Park which, while a little run down, is still a ton of fun, and just next door, the Palais Theatre hosts some of the biggest shows to reach Australian shores. If you arrive in the morning, hit Acland Street where you will find a variety of bakeries, some dating from the 1930s, selling a variety of delicious treats (the vanilla slice at Le Bon Continental Cake Shop is the best!) For dinner and drinks in the evening, Carlisle Street should have you sorted for something delicious and affordable.
Next in this part of town is South Yarra, another trendy riverside suburb. Escape from the city in Fawkner Park, which has art deco pavilions, tennis courts and children’s playgrounds alongside open green spaces. Nearby you will find Como House, an old piece of Italian architecture, established in 1847 and named after Lake Como in Italy. South Yarra is also home to the Herring Island Sculpture Gallery, located in the middle of the Yarra River, with various odd and wonderful sculptures on display.
A bit closer into the city centre you have Prahran and Windsor, both known for their food and nightlife! Chapel Street is the place to start for a night out, though you might find yourself distracted by some of the amazing, if expensive shops that have occupied the strip. The food at Prahran Market (closed Mondays and Wednesdays) is also a gastronomic treat. If you’re really after an all-night party, then head to Revolver; the kind of place where people arrive at midnight on Friday and leave on Monday morning.
Things to see in South Melbourne
- See Yup Temple, 1856 Buddhist temple with a unique mix of European and Chinese architecture.
- The Jewish Museum & Jewish Holocaust Centre, sharing the unique history of the Jewish community in Australia.
- Aboriginal Heritage Walk, take a tour of the ancestral lands of the Kulin Nation to discover nature and culture.
Stay in South Melbourne if…
- You want something a bit more upper end
- You want something tourist friendly
- You’re after something central but with natural spaces
- You’re a foodie!
- You want something by the beach
Where to Stay in South Melbourne
For the Backpackers – Nomads St Kilda Beach
Located in the heart of St Kilda just minutes from the beach, it offers pod beds with their own charging points and privacy curtain. Their free pizza and movie nights makes meeting people easy, and with the tram right outside, getting around the city is even easier. You’ll get the best rates here.
For the Budget Traveller – Quest Windsor
Located in Prahran, Quest Windsor offers apartment style accommodation with hotel facilities. Enjoy your own own kitchen, dishwasher, and most apartments have a private balcony and outdoor lounge area too. Best rates here.
For the Luxurious Type – Tolarno Hotel
Air-conditioned guest rooms complete with fridge, microwave and flat-screen TV, this hotel features original art from local artists, including students from nearby colleges. The vibe here is very different from big name-brand hotels, and you’ll feel that as soon as you arrive. Bar and restaurant is on site for those lazy evenings, plus you’re perfectly located to experience the best of South Melbourne. Flash mixed with style and done so well – you won’t be disappointed. Best rates here.
Including the trendy suburbs of Brunswick, Carlton and Footscray, West Melbourne might be home to the city’s best food (it’s a tough one!) It’s also home to some of the city’s most popular urban art, and full of activities for families.
Brunswick could be one of the friendliest communities in the city. It’s famous for its artsy-fartsyness, some of which is so good it’s been standing for generations. This is also home to Melbourne’s zoo, always a popular tourist spot.
Carlton is Melbourne’s little Italy, so you know it’s going to have quality pasta and gelato in abundance. Get yourself a cone and enjoy it in the picturesque Carlton Gardens. If you want something a bit different to your usual spag bol, head to Heart Attack and Vine for some Venetian tapas. For you wine nerds, stop by Milk the Cow where you can taste a variety of Italian and Australian wines with fancy cheese boards. After dark, make your way to The Curtin bar to catch some of the city’s up and coming indie bands.
Footscray is more of a melting pot of different cultures rubbing shoulders, from Vietnam to Ethiopia. During the day Footscray Market is ground zero for fresh and exotic produce. Foreign chefs take these ingredients to make amazing new fusion recipes that you can also taste. If you are looking for a restaurant, think about Café Lalibela, which serves the best Ethiopian in the city.
Things to see in West Melbourne
- Science Works, an interactive science and technology museum including planetarium.
- Tinning Street Presents, a trendy gallery where you can view and buy works from local artists.
- New To You, a great second hand clothing market in Footscray if you are looking for a trendy bargain.
- Royal Exhibiton Building, built in 1880s and located in Carlton Gardens, it is a tribute to the wealth of the gold rush and has a range of excellent temporary exhibitions.
- Melbourne Museum, the largest museum in the Southern Hemisphere with its own IMAX theatre.
Stay in West Melbourne if…
- You’re after some quality international community and cuisine.
- You are travelling as a family and want easy access to lots of kid-friendly activities
- Are a lover of street art and sculptures
- Want somewhere tourist friendly and safe
Where to Stay in West Melbourne
For the Backpackers – Nate’s Place Backpackers
Free wifi, free breakfast, free Netflix, free rice, pasta, tea and coffee – could want anymore freeness than that? It also has a shared kitchen and a TV room with tiered seating, plus a rooftop terrace where new friends can be made nightly! Best rates here.
For the Budget Traveller – Plough Hotel
This is a great choice if you want to stay in the heart of trendy Footscray. Good quality rooms housed in a 19th century property with a lot of character. They serve a continental breakfast and have an in-house restaurant serving pizza, Australian dishes and a good range of vegetarian and gluten-free options. Best rates here.
For the Luxurious Type – IFSTAYS Blackwood Apartments
Can you say STYLE? Located in Brunswick, these penthouse style apartments offer large living spaces with hotel style facilities. Floor to ceiling windows offer an unforgettable view, and a communal pool, spa and BBQ area are available for you and your guests. Most apartments have their own balconies so you can relax at the end of the day feeling lush. Affordable luxury at its best. Best rates here.
Day Trips From Melbourne
If you have time, there are some great places to visit just outside the city. This is a great way to discover the green and natural Australia away from the cities, and sample some of her world famous wines.
The Yarra Valley is one of Australia’s top wine producing regions, only 80km from the centre of Melbourne. Its climate makes it ideal for Chardonnay, sparkling wine and Pinot Noir. The valley is large so it’s best to rent a car and drive yourself, and you can visit most of the wineries independently. Of course, if you want to just drink and relax there are many tours leaving from the city centre. Ask your accommodation for the top providers.
Less than 150km from Melbourne’s city centre, Philip Island boasts pristine white beaches and has a myriad of activities for the whole family. The highlight of any visit is watching the penguins emerge from the sea. The island can be reached from central Melbourne in around 90 minutes. It is connected to the mainland by bridge so can be reached by car or bus. There is also a passenger ferry that runs from Stony Point in the far south of the city. Along with its gorgeous, tranquil coastlines, it’s also home to the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix!
Great Ocean Road
Melbourne is also by the eastern start of the Great Ocean Road, running over 400km along Australia’s Southern Coast. Just by exploring the first hundred kilometres of the road you can discover the famous waves of Bells Beach, or spend a lazy few hours at Anglesea Beach. If you are willing to travel a bit further you can make it to the 12 Apostles, magnificent rock stacks that rise up from the Southern Ocean. It’s best to travel the Great Ocean Road by car, either independently or on an organised tour leaving from Melbourne.
Getting Around Melbourne
Most Australian cities are designed for cars, but Melbourne has a better public transport system than most. The Metlink service offers trams, trains and buses on one system with a myki card which you can top up at most stations.
The inner suburbs are serviced by a handy tram grid, and travelling around the CBD and Southbank is free on the tram. You can get the tram as far out as Footscray in the west, past Hawthorn in the east and down to St Kilda in the south.
The train is the easiest way to reach Melbourne’s outer suburbs. You can get a train to pretty much anywhere in the greater city from the central Flinders Street Station. There is also a city loop underground train with five stations around the city centre. The bus system will fill the gaps to help you reach your final destination.
The airport shuttle SkyBus is the best way to get from the airport to the city centre. It leaves every 10 minutes and is only $30 return.
Your final option to get around is Melbourne is Uber. It’s well used in Melbourne and a car should never be far away.
Getting a Sim Card in Melbourne
The three options are Optus, Amaysim and Telstra.
Amaysim is by far the cheapest service. But it’s clear where prices have been cut. Customer service isn’t great, and sometimes SIM cards can take a few days to be activated. But if budget is your number one concern, they’re for you. There are no Amaysim stores, instead they sell their SIM cards through the Post Office and major supermarket chains.
Optus’ pre-paid service is slightly more expensive, but they have a good network of stores around the city and at the airport. They also offer faster connection speeds, and getting set up is fast and easy. You will need your passport, but the whole process should only take around 10 minutes. You can top up in store or by using the Optus app.
Telstra is the most expensive, but generally offers more stable coverage even outside the city.
Safety in Melbourne
Melbourne is considered a safe city overall, and serious crimes against tourists are rare.
Much of the crime that does occur in the city is centred on Bourke Street, Flinders Street Station and Gray Street. These areas are not unsafe, but tourists should exercise extra caution if passing through these areas alone at night. King Street, at the north end of the CBD, is Melbourne’s Red Light District. In general travellers should be wary of pickpockets in the central areas, and may find train and bus stations in the outer suburbs a bit scary at night as they aren’t a lot of people around. However, public transport is generally safe.