Home of the Australian Open, the world’s largest tram system, friendly locals and cobblestone walkways, this city beckons discerning travelers from all walks of life.
Located in the southeastern coastal state of Victoria, Melbourne is often referred to as the cultural capital of Australia, this vibrant city is rated consistently as the world's most livable city due to the prime education, health care, entertainment, tourism and sports.
Unfairly judged, this city is often overshadowed by its big sister, Sydney to the northeast. Many Australians are either pro Sydney or pro Melbourne, but they are never fans of both cities. Sydney can be compared more to Manhattan with its skyscrapers, the rushed attitude of life, and the elegant atmosphere. While Melbourne is compared more to Seattle with its laid-back attitude, street art and intense coffee culture.
If you are making your way to Australia, don’t leave Melbourne off your bucket list as it can offer many activities to your Australian adventure.
Here are a few things I recommend doing while visiting Melbourne:
1. The Old Melbourne Gaol (pronounced jail)
I love visiting historic jails in cities where I travel. I don’t know if that means I’m a little grim or I’m simply interested in the criminal history that makes a city what it is today. This once jail, now museum, is an essential part of Melbourne’s history. It held some of Australia’s most notorious criminals, including bushranger Ned Kelly and serial killer Frederick Bailey Deeming.
We were allowed to walk the full premises, peek in the jail cells, learn the history and have our pictures taken as convicts. The guides do a wonderful job of telling stories and history of the jail and even involved us in interactive activities to give us an idea what life of a prisoner would’ve been like.
2. Hosier Lane
Hosier Lane is the most well-known graffiti laneway in Melbourne. While there are many graffiti artistic laneways in the city, this is the only one I visited. I love cities that allow artists to display their artistic style in a positive and promotional way. It gives a city an edge and allows people to appreciate the artists and their artwork. You can go on specialized walking tours to learn about the artists and history of the laneway, but wandering on your own is just as pleasant.
1. Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road, or GOR as the Aussies call it, is the most beautiful drive I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying. GOR begins 1.5 hours outside of Melbourne driving towards the coast. You may do a self-drive option or hire a local guide. I chose the latter as I wanted a local guide to do the driving and most importantly, to help us experience things we would miss out on if driving ourselves. We hired a guide from the popular tour operator, Outback Billy.
Our guide, Katie, showed up bright and early our second day into the trip in her sporty, 4X4 rugged Jeep. We took a small bag for a 2-day trip to the GOR and off we went to the outback. Katie, was free-spirited, cheeky and incredibly friendly as in typical Aussie fashion. She knew my biggest focus was animals, so she added many stops to the itinerary so I could see the native animals in the wild.
We parked in a neighborhood and loads of beautifully colored parrots were sitting in the trees just waiting to be fed. I held birdseed in my hand and a few parrots happily sat on my arms and pecked away. I was enjoying my bonding time with the parrots when I looked over at a small tree in someone’s backyard and a koala was sleeping in it. I placed the parrots on Katie’s arms and I began my photo shoot of the grumpy, sleepy koala. He was not as impressed with me as I was him, but I didn’t care because my heart was so full of happiness, even the grumpy koala bear couldn’t ruin my elation.
Katie had to practically pull me away from the tree to continue our trip. I was certain there was no way she could top this surprise…I was wrong.
We reached the coast and made our way down the curvy, coastal highway. By sunset, we made it to London Bridge. This a natural rock formation that has broken in two over time by the ocean waves crashing against it.
Travel tip: Visit either during sunrise or sunset as the colors provide a beautiful backdrop to the rock formations.
We quickly had dinner and headed to our simple cabin just off the highway. Katie being the excellent guide that she is, checked our bed for spiders. You do need to be careful with the critters and check your bed in the outback as most of them are poisonous or can offer a nasty bite.
The next morning, we checked out and headed to a breakfast spot to get some toasted sandwiches to take down to shipwreck cove. We hiked down to the cove, enjoyed our marvelous toasties and imagined how rough the seas would’ve been for those early settlers.
Next, we headed to the Twelve Apostles. This what the GOR is most famous for. The rock formations jut out of the water and have taken a beating from the surf for thousands of years. Helicopter tours are also available for a birds eye view. We viewed the rocks from beach level so we could see the sheer enormity of them. While taking photos, Katie introduced us to Tam Tams – an Australian chocolate cookie.
After our snack, we jumped back into the jeep and headed to the Twelve Apostles visitor’s center and the catwalk. From here you can enjoy the view from above admiring how different in size the formations appear.
On the way back to Melbourne, Katie took us to her favorite drive through fish and chips restaurant. The fish were massive and the batter was so crispy and flaky. It was a nice treat for the long drive back. We loved riding with Katie and absorbed her vast knowledge of the GOR. We were sad she wasn’t our guide for the rest of the trip, but alas we had to continue our journey.
2. Philip Island
Philip Island is about a 90-minute drive from Melbourne and is a popular day trip from the city to the view the Penguin Parade of the Little Penguins or Fairy Penguins on Summerland Beach. Fairy Penguins are the smallest of the penguin species growing to a size of 33cm and weigh 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds). Every night at sunset, the penguins will come ashore from their daily hunting and swimming and will make their way across the beach and back to their burrows in the ground. Guests may watch from stadium seating as the penguins make their long trek back home. We followed the penguins along the wooden catwalks to their burrows to watch them in their element. Once there, they congregated outside of their homes and chattered about their day.
Travel tip: Along the way, you should stop off at Maru Koala and Animal Park to get an up close and personal experience with koalas, wallabies and kangaroos. Koalas holding is not allowed, but the photo opportunities are endless with the kangaroos.
Melbourne is a fantastic place to visit especially when pairing city and bush together. While I only spent a short time in Melbourne and the outback, there is so much more to discover. I highly recommend giving this fun and artsy city a visit on your next adventure.
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