Australia's second largest city is the country's cultural center, its most livable city, and a place that tourists return to again and again. Add in nearby attractions like Victoria's wine regions, the Great Ocean Road and Victoria's Grampian Mountains, and the result is a fabulous vacation destination.
Even if you stick to Melbourne's downtown neighborhoods, there's plenty to do, from touring museums like the Immigration Museum or the National Gallery of Victoria to enjoying al fresco cocktails in the Docklands district.
But Melbourne is also about its inner-city suburbs. You can surf and sunbathe to your heart's content in St Kilda, check out the street art or sample some of the best Vietnamese food around in Fitzroy, or shop for the latest fashions on Chapel Street.
Beaches like St Kilda Foreshore are a few minutes by tram from the city center and are always full of life - with soccer, volleyball, and cricket matches taking place every day, fishing charters on offer, and constant sunshine for most of the year.
Melbourne is also an excellent destination for food lovers. There's the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival in early April, as well as restaurants like Embla, Attica, and Igni serving up gourmet dishes that compete with any city in the world.
Start with a tour of the National Gallery, which includes aboriginal artworks, modern Australian talents, and works from all European eras. Then check out attractions like the Immigration Museum or the Melbourne Museum, or the massive range of independent galleries in areas like Collingwood.
Melbourne's hinterland is one of the world's greatest wine regions, featuring areas like the Yarra Valley, Geelong, and the Mornington Peninsula. Tour the best wineries and soak up the stunning scenery as you go.
Sports lovers will adore Melbourne. If you want to watch the world's greatest tennis players, a visit to the Australian Open in January is a must, while the Melbourne Cricket Ground hosts cricket, soccer, and Australian Rules football fixtures. There's golf, fishing, hiking, swimming, surfing, and even motor sports to be enjoyed as well.
Australia's summer runs from around November to early April, but even in the shoulder seasons the weather tends to be fine, with temperatures over 70 degrees. January is the time to visit for sports lovers, but you can enjoy wine tours and the beaches just as much in the Aussie spring or fall, without the inconvenience of huge tourist crowds.
The easiest way to reach Melbourne is flying into Tullamarine Airport (MEL), which is around 15 miles northwest of the city center. Shuttle buses run into town for A$14, and faster SkyBuses are available for A$18, while taxis will cost around A$55.
Some visitors will find it preferable to fly into Sydney and catch the train to Melbourne. If so, NSW TrainLink run daily services (11 hours in total) to Southern Cross Station, which is around a mile west of the city center.
If you decide to rent a car at Tullamarine Airport getting into town is easy. Just take the M2 straight into town. When the traffic on the M2 is bad, try taking the M80 and then the M1, which is longer but can be faster. Those driving from Sydney simply need to follow the M31 all the way to Melbourne.
Greyhound and Firefly Express run buses from other Australian cities to Melbourne, including Adelaide, Canberra, and Sydney. Both companies run buses into Southern Cross Station.
Luxury city center accommodation is easy to find in Melbourne, and leading options include Hotel Lindrum, Citigate Melbourne, and the Sebel. However, some of the best places to stay are outside the city center. Try the Prince and the Novotel for comfortable rooms near the seafront. There are also plenty of hostels for budget travelers, including the Melbourne Central YHA.
Melbourne CBD - the Central Business District (CBD) isn't as business-like as it sounds. It's actually the cultural heart of Melbourne, featuring the redeveloped Docklands district, the historic Block shopping arcade, and the fascinating Immigration Museum.
St Kilda - a far cry from the CBD, St Kilda is a classic Australian beach suburb. It's the kind of place where you can stroll down to the beach with your surfboard, attend a music festival, and dine on gourmet Asian food in the same day (or be in central Melbourne in minutes if needed).
Fitzroy - located in Melbourne's 'inner east', Fitzroy and neighboring Collingwood are bohemian communities with hundreds of galleries, bars, and restaurants, as well as stunning street art on almost every block. Fitzroy is a great place to be, thanks to the stores on Gertrude Street, bars like the Everleigh and the area's 19th-century architecture.
Getting around the CBD is easy thanks to the orderly grid system and the tram network (which is free of charge within the center of town). In the city as a whole, the trams, buses, and trains will take you where you need to go. Pick up a Myki card and charge it with the tickets you need (an A$7 daily limit applies).
Melbourne operates a fixed schedule of taxi rates. The meter drop is A$4.20 during the day (A$5.20 in the evenings). After that, it's around A$2.50 per mile during the day, or A$3 at night. Uber is active in Melbourne too, charging a meter drop of around A$2, then about A$1.50 per mile.
Having your own car is a great option if you want to see the scenery of the Great Ocean Drive or explore the Grampian Mountains. Rental outlets in Melbourne include Budget and Hertz, and visitors can expect to pay A$25 per day.
Melbourne is full of great places to shop. If you are after designer footwear, Little Collins Street is the place to go. Bourke Street Mall features fashion stores like David Jones, while Chapel Street is home to boutiques like Dorothy and Evelyn, Plane Clothes, and Olga de Polga. If you're in St Kilda, don't miss the open-air Esplanade Market.
The best places to shop for groceries in Melbourne are supermarkets like Coles (which you'll find all over town) and Woolworth's, but markets like Prahran Market are a good place to look as well. Expect to pay about A$5 for a gallon of milk and A$1.70 for a pound of apples.
Melbourne has hundreds of superb restaurants featuring cuisines from all over the world. If you are looking for high-end gourmet food, you can't do better than Vaporetto for Italian, the chicken experts at Embla, or the Greek meals at Attica. But cheap eats can be wonderful too. Check out Indian restaurants like Mukka or the BBQ burger joint Dexter for delicious food at bargain prices. Expect to pay A$20-30 for mains at bars like Embla, or A$10-15 for a burger at Dexter.
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