International travel may be off the agenda for now, but a world of experiences await you in amazing Melbourne. Culture and history, food and wine, shopping and socialising, the Victorian capital delivers on every front – and on a scale than can overwhelm even the most seasoned travellers. Just remember that this is the city where the journey can very quickly become the reason you set out in the first place. So rather than rushing from one attraction to the next, leave time to wander down laneways, mosey around independent galleries, linger over endless coffees and graze on street eats.
Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Melbourne. Book your stay with Choice Hotels.
8am: Enjoy breakfast at a cool cafe
Coffee is virtually a state of mind in Melbs. According to Tourism Australia there are around 2,000 cafes across the city, and you’ll find an inked barista tucked away in every nook and cranny. Key café precincts include Degraves Street, Centre Place, Hardware Lane and the top end of Collins Street, but often the best options are less obvious. Ask your concierge for a personal recommendation, then settle in for smashed avo and your choice of bean.
10am: Ride the City Circle tram
They say there’s no such thing as a free ride, but obviously ‘they’ haven’t been to Melbourne. All trams in the CBD are free to ride (just keep an eye on where the free tram zone ends). An oldie (literally) but a goodie, make sure you take a spin around the extremity of the city grid aboard the No. 35 W-Class tram. It includes recorded commentary on passing points of interest like Parliament House, the State Library Victoria, the Immigration Museum, Flinders Street railway station, Federation Square and St Pauls Cathedral. A full lap will take you around an hour to do. Hop off at the Library and head inside to see the magnificent La Trobe Reading Room. It’s a soaring six storeys high and houses some 32,000 books.
12noon: Explore Fed Square
We’ll assume for our purposes that you’ve finished your tram tour at the giant geometric jigsaw puzzle that is Federation Square (just ‘Fed Square’ to locals). The striking design was much maligned when it was first built, but there are few Melburnians now who would have it any other way. Fed Square is home to the excellent Koorie Heritage Trust, which will connect you with local Indigenous culture. Grab an express sushi lunch at Chocolate Buddha.
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1.30pm: Do a street art tour
You’ve skirted around the CBD, now it’s time to dive right in. There’s a network of laneways and arcades that crisscross the CBD and this is where the Melbourne magic happens. Strike out on your own to explore (hint: start by heading down Degraves Street and take it from there) or join one of the myriad tours that trek about the city each day. One of our favs is the Melbourne street art tour with a working artist, which is offered by Melbourne Street Tours. You’ll visit street art central Hosier Lane, AC/DC Lane (yes, it is a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll, but you’ll know you’ve made it when you have a laneway named in your honour), Presgrave Place with its urban art gallery, and kaleidoscopic Union Lane. The tour continues by tram over to West Melbourne to the Blender Studios, an arty bolthole for streety creatives. It’s not open to the general public, but as a tour guest you’ll have the opportunity to mix and mingle with the artists over wine and cheese.
4pm: Graze at the Queen Victoria Market
Visit the doyenne of Melbourne’s retail scene – the Queen Victoria Market. Consistently ranked as the city’s top attraction, the heritage halls are packed with purveyors of fine gourmet fare. Many offer tastings, so follow your nose and see where it takes you.
5pm: Be social with the locals
While these days it’s somewhat subdued, inner city Melbourne’s plethora of bars still bustle around 5pm as those back at work in the city drift in for a knock-off libation. If you’re visiting on a weekday it’s a fun time to be out and about. Uber cool rooftop Whitehart is walkable from the markets, as is chilled out Penny Blue in Driver Lane, or Art Deco-esque The Toff in Town in the Curtin Building. And marvel at what can be done with some shipping containers and a pile of pallets at Section 8 in Tattersalls Lane.
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7pm: Enjoy cheap eats
One of the great things about visiting Melbourne is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to eat out. And nowhere is that more the case than in Chinatown in the heart of the CBD. Sure, those with the sheckles can push the boat out on fine cuisine at celebrated Flower Drum (and it is sensational). But equally, the precinct’s humble dumpling houses like Shanghai Street will see you right, and at a fraction of the cost. You can’t go wrong if you follow the crowds.
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8am: Tick off another café
So, yesterday you ticked off a café for breakfast. That leaves 1,999 to go…
10am: Get cultured
Walk off your waffles by heading over the pretty Princes Bridge and down St Kilda Road to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). This large grey box holds innumerable international treasures, everything from gilded framed works from the Middle Ages to mind-bending modern art and decorative objets d’art. The gallery’s Australian collection resides in Federation Square at the Ian Potter Centre. Entry to the permanent collection at both venues is free of charge.
12noon: Walk the St Kilda Esplanade and Pier
Exit the NGV International onto St Kilda Road and board a No. 16 tram to St Kilda itself, Melbourne’s iconic beachside locale. This tram is not free, so you will need to touch on with a myki card. Alternatively, conjure up an Uber (it will only set you back a few dollars). St Kilda has many faces; sunny and sultry, cold and blowy, lavishly well-to-do, and downright gritty. Seeing it is a key component of the quintessential Melbourne experience. Browse in the shops along Acland Street, check out the historic photos on display at the St Kilda Sea Baths, and take a stroll along the pier (which is home to a colony of little penguins). Just remember to hold on to your hat!
3pm: Go punting in the gardens
Head back towards town, alighting from your chosen mode of transport at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria on St Kilda Road. Pay your respects at the Shrine of Remembrance before spending a couple of hours exploring the 32 different planted zones that make up the Gardens. Meander along the Australian Forest Walk, admire the lush foliage in the Tropical Glasshouse (note the daily closing time of 4pm), or relax in the shade on the Central Lawn. From there you’re within cooee of the Ornamental Lake, where a boater-wearing punter will be happy to row you around and fill in any blanks about your visit to Melbourne.
6pm: Eat your way across the globe
Melbourne laneway dining lets you go global. Top eateries include Lucy Liu for upscale Asian shared plates, super cool Supernormal for reinvented north Asian cuisine, perennial MoVida for Spanish tapas, and the lively Pastuso Peruvian grill and pisco bar.
Need a place to stay? Choice Hotels has you well and truly covered in Melbourne with a range of accommodation options to suit every budget. Search online and book direct for a Lowest Price Guarantee.
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has previously had the opportunity to travel the world as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten.