The city of culture, creativity, and most importantly… coffee!
I once got a text from a friend saying, “My sister is in town for three days, where do you think we should go? What do you recommend?”.
Though often asked, this question is by no means easily answered. Melbourne is an extremely creative, progressive, and vibrant city – it is perpetually changing and evolving.
Melbourne boasts a seemingly endless stream of culinary and music festivals, art shows, markets, and other displays and gatherings full of creativity and culture. Every suburb has its own background and vibe. You can almost feel a buzz in the air as you are walking through the city. In fact, it’s tough to even write this article, knowing I will never be able to cover all the venues and activities worth mentioning in a three-day itinerary. But, I can tell you where to start! So here’s one local’s guide to three days in Melbourne.
Know before you go: Melbourne history and culture
First, let me lay some history on you. Melbourne grew and evolved into the modern metropolis it is today due to the gold rush of the mid-1800s. Countless people from all over the world made the trek to Victoria to get their hands on a piece of the precious metal. This made Melbourne the richest city in the world in the 1880s – a period also known as ‘the Marvelous Melbourne Era’. Many traces of the city’s multiculturalism originates from this time and is still very apparent today.
This is why most suburbs have their own distinct backgrounds, some of which are clearly visible through the vast array of authentic food on offer. For amazing Italian food, you can walk into any eatery in Carlton; for mind-blowing Lebanese cuisine, make the trek up to Brunswick (Mama Manoush is one of my favorites because of its décor and high-quality dining experience); and according to my Vietnamese friend Valorie, the best banh mi outside of Vietnam is at Nhu Lan in Footscray (a suburb where some of the street signs are in English and Vietnamese). The food here is so varied, you should do a food tour of Melbourne to try it all!
Apart from the abundance of unique architecture and diversity throughout the city, you’ll be stunned by how often the city is the beautiful backdrop for breathtaking events. Melbourne Council takes its title as the ‘Major Events Capital of Australia’ very seriously! White Night is an example of an event loved by visitors and locals alike. This three-day art show throughout popular locations in the city features light installations by artists from all over the world.
Other major events include the annual F1 Australian Grand Prix (15 March 2020), the Australian Open (20 January until 2 February 2020), and the AFL Grand Final (26 September 2020)… the list goes on and on. Should your visit align with any of the aforementioned events, make sure you fit them into your itinerary, you won’t regret it!
Now that you know a bit about the city, buckle up and let me take you through the great city of Melbourne in a three-day whirlwind itinerary.
Day one in Melbourne: The North
Coffee is a huge industry in Melbourne – at times, almost to the point of pretentiousness. There are baristas everywhere you look, whipping up soy flat whites like there is no tomorrow. So getting yourself a flat white and seeing what the buzz is all about should be the first thing on your to-do list.
Morning: Coffee and breakfast
The colorful suburb of Fitzroy is a great place to start your quest for caffeine. Fabulous coffee is served at Lune Croissanterie, a Melbourne staple worth visiting for its aesthetic and culinary chops. If you don’t feel like a massive breakfast, you can also grab yourself a handmade croissant from Lune’s beautifully restyled warehouse venue. The croissants are made on-site, in a big glass room that almost looks like a laboratory. You can witness how each delectable croissant is handmade in a pleasingly systematic way.
However, should you feel like a bigger breakfast, I’ve got your back. You can get great eggs Benny all over the city, but one of my favorite brunch spots is Industry Beans. I’ve spent many a summer day on their cute terrace, sipping an iced coffee and enjoying their wonderful meals.
Afternoon: Browse local markets
From Fitzroy, you can easily head over to the nearby Rose Street Artists’ Market (open daily) or the Fitzroy Mills Market (open on Saturdays) for an afternoon of browsing vintage fashion and locally made arts and crafts. Fitzroy itself is home to many unique stores with plenty of opportunities to do some vintage shopping!
Once you’re done browsing, it’s time to head over to my favorite suburb: Brunswick.
Evening: Explore Brunswick’s live music and local beers
Brunswick is filled to the brim with many pubs and great beer gardens. Live music is a staple here, especially at the local fave: the Retreat Hotel. They have live music daily, and more importantly, a large variety of Victorian beers. Their huge beer garden is my favorite spot to hang out, and if you are lucky, you might even see one of the Retreat’s famous possums wobble by! Should you feel more like a tasty cocktail (and some wicked banter from the staff), head upstairs to Amelia Shaw. This quirky and beautiful bar above the Retreat Hotel will surely be a great backdrop for your first evening spent in the beautiful city of Melbourne.
Other great pubs to check out in this area include the Spotted Mallard, Howler, and The Cornish Arms (make sure you visit the rooftop).
If you somehow still have some time left over and happen to be traveling by car, a great local experience is visiting the Coburg Drive-In Cinema. Especially on warm summer nights, watching a movie while sipping on a VB or ‘goon juice’ (only if you are not driving of course!) is a great experience.
Day two in Melbourne: the CBD (Central Business District)
Apart from the usual list of iconic venues and best museums in Melbourne (like the Eureka Tower, National Gallery of Victoria, SEA Life, and Luna Park – to name drop a few), there are countless other things to do in Melbourne.
When in a creative city with so much street art on display, the first thing on anyone’s list should be walking around and getting lost in it all.
Morning: Wander the streets — or go on a walking tour
The number one rule in Melbourne is that you never know what you’ll find if you actively walk into the laneways, beautiful arcades, and take a turn down that extra corner; a beautiful mural, a hidden cocktail bar, or a quaint little coffee corner may await you.
Some must-see spots in the CBD are the Royal Arcade, Block Arcade, the famous Hosier Lane, AC/DC Lane, Degraves Street, and Postal Lane. Other great venues for food and drinks include the Croft Institute, Beneath Driver Lane, Hopetoun Tea Room (don’t be deterred by the queue, it really doesn’t take that long), and Section8.
Now that I’ve given away some amazing places in Melbourne, you must promise to venture out and explore your own to discover something new too! If you don’t feel comfortable wandering around by yourself, there are countless walking tours available online that you can tag along with! (I personally enjoyed this free Melbourne walking tour). This way, you can get to the heart of what the city is all about.
While wandering, make sure to check out Bourke Street. It’s right smack in the middle of the city, and the music from the buskers will automatically draw you in. It’s normal for people to gather around the buskers to properly enjoy the live performances. Not everyone can busk here, which generally ensures a high-quality set of performances. Past notable buskers include Tash Sultana and the recent break-out star, Tones and I.
Another landmark that is impossible to miss is the impressive Flinders Street Railway Station. The clocks, that date back to the mid-1800s, still show the accurate train departure times until today. There’s also an old tradition in Melbourne in which couples would meet up underneath these clocks at the start of a date… even if they didn’t come into town by train!
After your adventures in the CBD, a great place to sit down and have a drink is at the nearby Ponyfish Island. It is located on an island in the middle of the Yarra River and gives you a beautiful view of Melbourne’s skyline!
Afternoon: Stop by one of the best museums in Melbourne
In the afternoon, a must-visit museum in Melbourne is the Immigration Museum. As mentioned before, Melbourne has a rich history of multiculturalism. This diverse history is displayed clearly and accurately in the Immigration Museum. They usually have interesting temporary exhibitions going on too. Should you want to dive even deeper into the indigenous history of Australia, the Bundjilaka Aboriginal Centre is also worth a visit. Both these wonderful and educational institutions will surely fill up your afternoon.
Want to explore a different type of museum in the afternoon? Lucky for you, there’s a large selection of museums and attractions in Melbourne.
Evening: Dinner in Chinatown
By now, you must be feeling quite peckish… which means it is time to head over to Chinatown! Melbourne’s Chinatown in Little Bourke Sreet is filled with awesome Asian eateries, ranging from tasty Chinese dumplings to even tastier Korean food. My favorite pit stop here is Shanghai Village (not to be confused with Shanghai Dumpling House or Shanghai Dragon Dumpling house – confusing, we know!). All the locals know that at Shanghai Village, they serve delicious and affordable dumplings, plus you can bring your own (BYO) alcohol!
Day three in Melbourne: The South
Melbourne locals have a strong affiliation with either the northern or southern suburbs. I, personally, am a big fan of both areas and have always enjoyed discovering everything there is, north or south!
Morning: Breakfast and browse Chapel Street
One of the more well-known streets in the Southern Region of Melbourne is Chapel Street. It’s filled with quirky shops, nice breakfast places, and booming clubs and bars. Not only is it nice to walk around in and score some yummy breakfast, but it’s also is the perfect starting point for the rest of your last day in Melbourne.
There are heaps of beaches below the Yarra river, all worth visiting. I do feel obliged to mention that the beaches get increasingly more beautiful the further you trek down the peninsula. St. Kilda is the most well-known beach in Melbourne, with the stunning Luna Park at its shores. Luna Park great to visit if you are a theme-park fiend, but it’s also a gorgeous place to experience even for those who are terrified of roller coasters!
People often stroll along the pretty St. Kilda Pier, but not many people are aware that during sunset, tiny, adorable fairy penguins are known to appear above the waves. It’s such a cool experience to see these little creatures return to their holes after a long laborious day at sea catching fish. Obviously, there are no guarantees in sighting them (as there are never any guarantees when it comes to wild animals). If they do make an appearance, you are urged to treat the animals with respect. No touching, no flash photography (it blinds them temporarily) and give them their space.
Evening: Unwind from your trip
After all this excitement, it is time to unwind at the Esplanade Hotel (or The Espy, as the locals call it) and order a ‘schooey of draught’ (a beer). This legendary and very popular bar, which only recently reopened, not only looks divine but also boasts multiple different eateries within its premises, all with great food and drinks on offer.
Got any bonus days in Melbourne?
Did you get hooked on Melbourne and can’t get enough? Very understandable. Not only are there heaps more things to do in Melbourne, but the options of places to see are also endless!
If you have more than three days in Melbourne, here are a couple of day trips that will add to your holiday:
- Phillip Island
As I mentioned, the further you trek down, the more pristine the beaches and nature gets. A great example of this is Phillip Island. These are the old stomping grounds of the Hemsworth brothers (I mean… if it’s good enough for the God of Thunder, it’s good enough for everyone right?). The nature here is truly breathtaking.
Wild rugged beaches, a koala sanctuary, and home to the world-famous penguin parade, Phillip Island is a must-see for nature lovers. A bit like in St. Kilda, here too penguins come ashore on a nightly basis. However, here the phenomenon happens on a much larger scale than up in Melbourne – it’s truly a magnificent sight. Please be aware that this event is ticketed, you can reserve your spot in advance here!)
- Yarra Valley
When traveling east of Melbourne, you’ll quickly come across the Dandenong Ranges’ beautiful nature reserves. Further east to it lies the Yarra Valley. In the Dandenong Ranges, you can go on great walks and hikes, or catch a ride on ‘Puffing Billy‘ – an authentic, old steam train which still takes passengers through the Dandenong Ranges everyday.
Feel less like a hike and more like a glass of vino? Wine country is just down the road! To enjoy the region’s great wines and not worry about having to drive, make sure to book a tour through Yarra Valley wine country. Due to its variable climate, the Yarra Valley can produce a wide variety of wines and boasts many different vineyards. In my personal opinion, must-visits are de Bortoli Winery, Helen & Joey Estate, and Dominique Portet Winery.
- Great Ocean Road
Heading southwest of Melbourne, you’ll arrive in Geelong in an hour’s drive. A further 20 minutes away is the quaint yet popular surf town of Torquay. The town’s famous surf beach, Bells Beach, was featured in the iconic movie Point Break. This is the home ground for many world-famous surfing competitions and labels. Torquay also doubles as the gateway of the renowned Great Ocean Road.
This beautiful ocean-side drive, with its winding roads and spectacular views, will take you through many quaint towns and unforgettable scenery. Plus, you’ll find many attractions to see along the way. Worth mentioning are the Great Otway Fly, the Twelve Apostles, and various lighthouses scattered across the coast. You can even book a Great Ocean Road tour so you don’t have to drive the sometimes-tricky roads all by yourself.
Two insider tips: If you’re traveling the Great Ocean Road during Australia’s whale-watching season (between July and September), make sure to visit Logans Beach in Warrnambool. This bay is frequented by migrating whales seeking warmer waters to calve. And, near the end of the Great Ocean Road in a small town called Cape Bridgewater, you may be able to spot the local seal colony.
Make the most of your days in Melbourne
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to metropolitan and regional Melbourne – let alone Australia! Three days isn’t very long, so make sure you allocate as much time as you possibly can to experience all the stunning nature and countless cultural, culinary, and creative adventures this beautiful region has to offer.