The city of Melbourne is many things, among them, a sports-lover’s dream destination. Melburnians support sport with gusto at every level and from a lowly local footy match to a world-class sporting event like the Australian Open or Formula One Grand Prix, you can expect supporters to be loud and proud. Explore the city’s greatest sporting traditions with this checklist of must-dos for sports fans, and book your accommodation for your Melbourne sporting short break at ChoiceHotels.com.
1. Attend an AFL match
Melbourne lives and breathes Australian rules football. Also known as Aussie rules (or just ‘footy’ locally), the game takes over the city from March to September each year, with Australian Football League (AFL) matches played at the hallowed Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in Yarra Park and Marvel Stadium in the Docklands. Whether or not you’re a fan of the game, attending an AFL match is a must-do if you get the opportunity. Purchase a ticket online, grab a hot pie with sauce, and settle into your seat to enjoy the spectacle. You may not have much idea of what’s going on on the field, but it’s thrilling to watch all the same!
2. Tour trackside at Flemington Racecourse
Famous Flemington Racecourse is located west of the CBD (about 10 minutes’ walk from Newmarket railway station or take the No 57 tram from the city right to the gate). It’s best known as the venue for the annual ‘race that stops a nation’ – the Melbourne Cup. If you happen to be in town during the Spring Racing Carnival, frock up and spend a full day at the races. If not, plan a visit to the Flemington Heritage Centre. It contains a fascinating collection of memorabilia and exhibitions that pay homage to the heroes of the track – both human and equine. You can also book a guided walking tour. Entry to the Heritage Centre is by appointment and all tours must be pre-booked.
3. Drive around the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit
Melbourne’s serene Albert Park Lake is surrounded by open parkland much loved by the city’s jogging fraternity. However, it takes on a very different feel when the Australian Formula One Grand Prix rolls into town annually in March. The public road that encircles the lake is transformed into a racing circuit, and trackside fencing, stands, corporate marquees and pedestrian overpasses are constructed especially for the event (and removed afterwards). If you have access to a car during your visit to Melbourne, it’s fun to take a spin around the track. Just make sure you observe the speed limit!
4. Go behind the scenes at the Melbourne Cricket Ground
Melbourne gets its sporting mojo on at the MCG – fondly referred to locally as the ‘G’. Able to accommodate in excess of 100,000 people, the ground is arguably Australia’s most famous sports venue. In addition to AFL, the MCG also hosts the city’s summer of cricket, along with various large-scale events throughout the year. The 75-minute behind-the-scenes tour of the ground is one of the best value things to do in Melbourne. At just $25 for adults (at the time of writing), you’ll step foot onto the hallowed turf itself and see the Melbourne Cricket Club Long Room and Library, the player change rooms, the cricketers’ viewing room, the media centre, and the indoor cricket training centre.
5. Explore the National Sports Museum
If you are interested in digging a little deeper into Australia’s sports psyche, you have the opportunity to do it at the superb National Sports Museum, which is located at the MCG (you can combine your MCG tour with entry to the museum). Like the Flemington Heritage Centre, it houses an extensive collection of memorabilia and a range of interactive experiences that will appeal to the whole family. Be entertained by the Shane Warne hologram and relive the excitement of the 1956 and 2000 Summer Olympics that were held in Melbourne and Sydney respectively.
The National Sports Museum will be closed for refurbishment from mid-August 2019 to late February 2020.
6. Have a hit at Melbourne Park
Across the train tracks from the MCG sits Melbourne Park – a sporting precinct made up of Rod Laver Arena and Margaret Court Arena (tennis), Melbourne Arena (basketball and netball), and AAMI Park (rugby and soccer). The park is home to the Australian Open tennis tournament in late January, but top seeds like Roger Federer and Serena Williams aren’t the only ones who can strut their stuff on these courts. Court hire is available to anyone from February through to December, and you can also book a tennis lesson if you’re a complete beginner.
7. Meet the Living Legends
Many of the retired four-legged heroes of Australian horse racing live out their days grazing peacefully and posing for selfies at Living Legends at Woodlands Historic Park, located about 30 minutes’ drive north of Melbourne. What can best be described as a retirement home for racehorses, Living Legends will let you get up close and personal with names like Might and Power, Rogan Josh, Apache Cat, Brew, Fields of Omagh and Efficient. There are tours with a trainer at 11am and 2pm daily to meet the horses. The setting is absolutely sublime, and you’re likely to spot kangaroos and other wildlife (there’s a bandicoot breeding sanctuary not far away). Enjoy a Devonshire tea at the rustic Woodlands Homestead.
8. Admire Phar Lap at the Melbourne Museum
While he was foaled in New Zealand, Phar Lap is generally regarded as one of the greatest Australian sporting champions of all time. The taxidermied hide of the towering horse, who lived for just six years and won 37 races (including the 1930 Melbourne Cup), is on permanent display at the excellent Melbourne Museum. Find out the fascinating and ultimately tragic story of this icon, who carried the weight of an entire nation through the dark days of the Depression.
Need a place to stay? Choose from several Choice Hotels in and around Melbourne, including Quality Hotel Batman’s Hill on Collins – which is within easy walk of Marvel Stadium, and Comfort Hotel East Melbourne, which will put you in close proximity to the MCG. Harness racing fans should base themselves at Quality Hotel Tabcorp Park, which is located at Tabcorp Park – Harness Racing Victoria’s entertainment and racing complex.
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.