So you find yourself with only a day to spare in Melbourne. That’s tight but there’s still so much you can see & do. Follow this itinerary, or simply select parts of it, to truly immerse yourself in the world’s most liveable city. Or if you have more time in town simply slice and dice our suggestions and use them when suits you!
24 Hours in Melbourne. Explore, unearth, taste and experience.
Up, up and away.
Something that very few visitors, and perhaps even fewer locals can say is that they have witnessed Melbourne wake up. A city of close to five million people doesn’t subtlety awaken. Lights go on, people emerge, trains and trams buzz and cars begin to hit the roads.
However you can rise above all this hubbub and get a birds-eye view as the city stirs. Quite literally! A hot air balloon ride above all this man-made energy and momentum is almost an ironic experience as you float serenely as a mere spectator to the show. Mother nature and the prevailing winds decide which path you will take and that oldest of power-sources – flame – dictates your altitude.
Your 24 hours in Melbourne unfurls beneath you as a magnificent patchwork of buildings, parklands, beaches and roadways gliding slowly by. It is spectacular and seldom-seen in equal measure. Very few have ever seen this unique view of Melbourne. It is a little like being the narrator to a storybook as you oversee the world beneath you.
Sure this is a ‘splurge’ but it’s a truly compelling, invigorating and memorable way to start your 24 hours in Melbourne!
^A one hour sunrise balloon flight over Melbourne with Victoria’s largest and award-winning hot air balloon company – Global Ballooning – costs $440 per adult and $340 per child (7 – 12 years old). For more info and options visit their website.
Coffee and Laneways.
Phew. You’ll need a coffee after all that adventure. You’ll find though that Melburnians don’t need a reason to have a coffee. It’s a religion here! Our shrines are the thousands of coffee-shops, coffee-vans and cafes spread throughout the city. Sure we’ll still talk to you before our first coffee of the day but we’ll be much nicer afterwards.
As a visitor we recommend exploring the labyrinthine maze of laneways and alleys in the CBD. Ground zero amongst these has to the grouping of lanes around De Graves St, Campbell Arcade and Centre Pl.
Here you’ll find an amazing confluence of city-workers, business-meetings, hipsters and tourists buzzing in and around the outdoor tables, chairs and shop-fronts. Good luck not taking scores of photos here. And you should – this is definitively ‘Melbourne’.
Just wander the lanes and find your own spot for breakfast and prepare for a large dose of people-watching.
A tram ride to Queen Victoria Market.
To use public transport in Melbourne you need to purchase and add credit to a specific transport card called a Myki. Similar to an Oyster Card in London for example. You can’t pay-and-ride onboard. To be frank, for a visitor, it can be a bit of a hassle so for our itinerary there really isn’t any need to purchase one.
However in much better news there is a generous section of the Melbourne CBD and Docklands precinct that is in fact free to travel around aboard Yarra Trams. This is a great option if you have weary traveller legs or if the weather is either too hot or cold to walk too far. (And no this doesn’t happen on the same day all that often!)
A tram is another true Melbourne icon so regardless of your destination you just gotta ride one. Even our Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, hops on a tram when he’s in town. True!
Click to enlarge map of Free Melbourne tram zone.
Queen Victoria Market (“Queen Vic” to the locals)
Dating back to 1878 the Queen Vic Market is the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere. It is an explosion of sights, sounds and smells with an enormous assortment of stalls, shops and food vans to cater to all tastes and paletes. It is a place to wander and observe. The shaded aisles and air-conditioned food hall are also a welcome respite and escape during those occasional oppressively hot summer days in January and February.
Our favourite activity here is just to meander and take in the action in the food markets. It is such a world away from boring, ubiquitous supermarkets. It is more like the manic markets of Asia and Europe. Here enigmatic stall-holders bellow out their daily specials, customers prod and sniff the produce and wherever you look food glistens around you. (Closed Monday and Wednesday)
Click an image to enlarge.
Street art and Southbank.
Now tram your way back across the CBD to the iconic Flinders Street Station. You can grab a great photo of its magnificent heritage facade from the corner of Flinders and Swanston Sts. But this isn’t actually our destination per se. We have come for street art and Melbourne is the undisputed home of Australia’s urban art scene. We are heading for a very famous laneway less than a block away from here. Small alleyway, massive reputation.
Hosier and the adjoining Rutledge Lane are the epicentre of Melbourne’s vibrant street art scene. Not only is street art and graffiti not illegal here it is encouraged by the City of Melbourne. Laneways lathered in artworks is another of those iconic – get-the-camera-out – Melbourne scenes.
If you have more time in town or are very interested in street art and street artists make sure you explore inner-city suburbs such as Fitzroy, Collingwood, Richmond and Brunswick. You can also check out our Melbourne Street Art section featuring some amazing artworks and interviews with some of the cities top urban artists including Rone, Adnate and Kaff’eine.
Melbourne Street Art.
From Hosier Lane now cross over the Yarra River on the historic Princes Bridge (1888) to the area referred to by locals just as “Southbank”. From here there are incredible views back across the river to the skyscrapers of the CBD with the venerable old Flinders Street Station in the foreground.
This section of river-side promenade contains literally hundreds of options to choose from to wine and dine. From haut-cuisine to fast-food and back again. A great option for lunch is the Southgate complex. Southgate offers a diverse mix of restaurants, cafes and bars, a fantastic food court and plenty of retailers for the shopaholic. There is also free wifi throughout the complex for you to post up some of your mornings antics on social media.
A River Cruise | OR | Arts Precinct and Botanical Gardens.
If you fancy putting up the feet for a while and letting the city gently glide by then a river cruise is the perfect option.
We recommend a cruise that will take you upstream where you will pass some of Melbourne’s most famous landmarks, gardens and sporting arenas including the fabled MCG.
Once clear of the CBD and the impressive sporting precinct this is a peaceful part of the Yarra affording beautiful views of Toorak mansions, restful parks and ornate bridges. A nice recharge and relax after a busy morning of exploration.
^ We recommend City River Cruises and Cruise B: Parks, Sports Precinct and River Gardens. Prices start from $23 per adult or only $50 for a family of four. (Children 4 – 14). Visit their website for more options and information.
Melbourne Arts Precinct and Botanical Gardens.
Another great way to spend the afternoon is to explore the arts, culture and gardens for which Melbourne is so renowned.
The National Gallery of Victoria or ‘NGV’ was founded in 1861 and is Australia’s oldest, largest and most frequented art museum. It is divided into two separate collections housed in different buildings.
The Ian Potter Centre is located in Federation Square and is home to Australian art including Indigenous and non-Indigenous art from the colonial period to the present day. Whilst NGV International resides at 180 St Kilda Road and houses an extensive collection from Europe, Asia, America, and Oceania. General entry to both is free and it is a pleasant ten minute walk between them.
Be sure to cross the road from NGV International to wander amongst the stunning Queen Victoria and Botanical Gardens.
You will most likely get the urge to sit on a park bench or lie down on the grass beneath a shady tree as you wander. You should most definitely succumb to this calling. Chilling in the park is de riguer for Melburnians on a hot summers day.
Time for a Sundownder?
As the sun starts to lower in the sky above it’s time to reward oneself for a big day of exploration. Southbank Promenade is replete with many fantastic options for a late afternoon tipple in combination with spectacular views out over the river and city. However the most unique of these, and our favourite spot is Ponyfish Island.
The whole precinct along the river takes on a different atmosphere as evening approaches. Workers and business suits are replaced with diners, jeans, street entertainers and buskers. It’s well worth an amble and a few photos.
Click an image to enlarge.
Best Rooftop Bar in Melbourne. (Our pick anyway!)
If you reaaaalllyy want somewhere special to see the sun set as you nibble on beer-nuts, chat and sip at a mojito then Naked in the Sky in Fitzroy is the spot. Located only about three kilometres from the CBD (grab a cab) the view of the city is unrivalled. Pleasingly you don’t actually have to be naked to visit but it isn’t a kid-friendly zone. Time seems to melt into the horizon up here but be warned that Thursday – Saturday it will be very busy.
Time to head out of the city. (Not too far)
Whilst there are some amazing restaurants catering to every taste and whim within the CBD we’ve done that now right? Time to get a feel for another part of the city. The High Street strips with their two storied Victorian shop frontages are archetypal Melbourne. There are many locations to choose from all within about 5 kilometres or so of the city. Some great spots include:
- Chapel Street, Prahran/ South Yarra
- Brunswick Street, Fitzroy (Where Naked in the Sky is located)
- Acland Street, St Kilda
But we are going to suggest Lygon Street for two key reasons.
- It is Melbourne’s version of Little Italy
- The further north you travel along it the more ‘Independent/ Student’ or Bohemian it becomes. There is a great contrast between the two precincts.
Lygon Street, Carlton.
After WW2 there was a great migration of Italian immigrants into Australia. The 2006 census lists roughly 1 million of Australia’s 24 million inhabitants as having some Italian heritage. About 30% of this population today lives in Melbourne. So if you love Italian food then to Lygon Street you must come.
It really does feel like traipsing down the viales and piazzas of Italy as you peruse for a place to dine here. And don’t worry, in this restaurant strip you will have help. Many of the restaurants have emboldened maitre-d’s out the front championing their gastronomic wares. The whole scene is a people-watching delight and the food on offer authentic and delicious. It can be a little hectic in busy summer months but hey so is Italy!
Lygon St, Brunswick.
Fancy something a little more alternative and much less ‘touristy’? Then head about two kilometres further north along Lygon Street to the suburb of Brunswick. A friend of mine once described this precinct as like
“being on the set of an independent movie”.
One of the biggest dining drawcards here is the perennially popular pizzeria – 400 Gradi. Owner and chef Johnny Di Francesco was crowned the ‘master of margherita’ at the World Pizza Championships in Parma, Italy in 2014. In the ensuing years many have become disciples to his mouth-watering menu.
Other great options for dinner here include the multi-award winning Rumi (Middle-Eastern), the hearty Sicilian dishes on offer at Bar Idda and the incredibly tasty Thai dishes served at Thaila Thai – an absolute local favourite due to its generous portions and super low prices. And of course we mustn’t forget the sweet tooth on our 24 hours in Melbourne. For a sumptuous desert of genuine Italian gelato head to either Zero Gradi or the evergreen local landmark – Gelobar.
Like most of this itinerary though we suggest you just wander and choose the restaurants, bistros, bars and cafes that best suits you and your tastes.
TIP: Don’t forget the scores of Food Vans cruising around Melbourne. Melburnians love them!! Serving everything from Thai – Italian, Burgers to Tacos and most cuisines in between. To find out where they are located, and when you can use the pithily named ‘Where the Truck’ app.
Late night into the early hours.
If you still have any energy left after and a full stomach and an epic day of discovery we recommend a final visit to the CBD laneways. They’ve turned all grown up now. Thing is you really need to know where to go. Many of the best bars in town lie hidden down darkened alleyways or behind a door without any signage or hint as to what fun and larks lie behind.
We love Section 8 (27-29 Tattersalls Ln) which is not much more than a former vacant lot with a shipping container as a bar. The ambience here is brilliant. It just shows that for a bar to work it’s more about the people than the surroundings. It’s a cool spot to have a photo taken too. Particularly if your friends and family might find it interesting to see you ordering beer from a shipping container.
Another favourite is Lily Blacks (12 Meyers Place). Self-described as a place for ‘the true cocktail aficionado’. It’s a place to sip a gin with a good pal in a vibe inspired by 1920’s Manhattan. The service is great although entering with a violin case is not recommended.
Still going? Bravo
Wow if you are still reading then we bow to your energy levels and wish to reward you with our absolute all time favourite bar in the city to round out your 24 hours in Melbourne. Careful though – it’s low key and laid back. The antithesis of a heaving ‘club’.
It’s a place to sink into large leather chesterfield couches, stroke your chin and feel wise, peruse a mind-mindbogglingly huge wine list and see the sun rise if the conversation and joie de vivre continue that long. Oh and it’s behind one of those non-descript Melbourne doors. You’d never know it’s there.
It’s called the Melbourne Supper Club (1/161 Spring St) and is often open until 6am – it kinda depends what’s happening. If you do stay that late then make sure you look up when you leave. You might just recognise something silently floating above you when you do 😉
All photography © Saxon Templeton unless otherwise credited
So what do you think?
Let us know in the comments below. Melburnians – what should be added? We’d love to hear your own thoughts.
^ Correct as at 10 January, 2017.