For starters, Melbourne is the most European of Australia’s cities and has been heralded by many as the best place to shop and drink in Oz.
Plus, for those who crave open spaces, the Great Ocean Road winds its way along the coast, there’s bushwalking in the Grampians, the Gold Country to the north and the wilderness of Croajingolong National Park to the south.
And don’t forget to go fairy penguin spotting at Phillip Island or, if you can’t make it there, along St Kilda’s pier.
The Victorian capital oozes culture. Art, music, theatre and comedy acts abound, along with live bands, great shopping and friendly cafés.
Melbourne is also home to the Aussiest of Aussie pastimes – football (we’re talking Aussie Rules, mate). Players are even more famous here than any Neighbours stars, which also happens to be fi lmed in the city.
Home to the world’s second largest Greek population, Melbourne has a fascinating range of markets, delicatessens and restaurants.
Whatever your favourite cuisine – Greek, Kosher, Italian, Maltese, Vietnamese, Thai – you’re sure to find excellent budget choices here.
Arriving in Melbourne
To get to the city from Melbourne’s international airport at Tullamarine, you can grab a taxi or jump on a Skybus coach, which will take you to the heart of the Met; Melbourne’s public transport system.
Getting around Melbourne
Melbourne has an excellent transport system, which enables visitors to switch between tram, train and bus on one ticket, so getting around is pretty cheap.
Go to visitvictoria.com for more information
There is loads of backpacker accommodation in Melbourne, much of which is centred around two areas: the city centre (convenient and bustling) and St Kilda (cheap and grungy).
During the summer season many of the popular hostels are packed solid, so you’ll need to book ahead if you don’t want to end up on the streets.
Prices range from about $25-$30 per night. Check TNT Magazine for hostel listings.
For share accommodation and rentals, check hostel notice boards and pick up The Age on Wednesday and Saturday or The Herald Sun, which has classifieds every day, with a real estate supplement on Saturday.
City Circle Tram: Save a few bucks by taking this free tram (the burgundy and gold coloured one) which runs every 10 minutes from 10am-6pm.
The Melbourne Cricket Ground: Includes the National Sports Museum. Take a tour to explore the sights and sounds of the 1956 Olympics and a history of the home of Australian sport.
Dating back to 1853 (making it 70 years older than the original Wembley), going to an AFL game at the ‘G’ is the most Aussie of sporting experiences.
The Melbourne Museum: State-of-the-art museum housing everything from Aboriginal artefacts to contemporary art.
Aussie Rules Football: If you’re around from March to September, make sure you watch a game or two of this hilariously nonsensical sport.
September’s Grand Final (played at the MCG) is the biggest event on Australia’s domestic sporting calendar. See afl.com.au
Australian Open: January gives you a chance to see the world’s big tennis hitters up close in one of the four world Grand Slams. See australianopen.com
Australian Grand Prix: For petrol heads or simply lovers of big events. March 15 to 18.
Melbourne Aquarium: It has four levels and environments including rock pools, billabongs and oceanarium.
Victorian Arts Centre: Melbourne’s cultural hub with concert venues, the National Gallery and the Performing Arts Museum.
Melbourne also has a great selection of contemporary art at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in South Yarra, the
Centre for Contemporary Photography in Fitzroy and the Museum of Modern Art.
Federation Square: Located right next to Melbourne’s main hub, Flinders St Station, Fed Square is the beating heart of the city, home to free events on a weekly basis, as well as giant screens whenever there’s a major sporting event on.
It’s also where you’ll find the excellent Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI).
Rialto Towers: The tallest office building in the Southern Hemisphere, with an observation deck on the 55th floor. Wicked
Neighbours: You can actually visit Ramsay Street, aka Pin Oak Court, Vermont South, if you venture into the suburbs.
You can also attend one of the hugely popular Neighbours quiz nights in St Kilda, where the stars turn up to mingle with their fans. The night is generally topped off by Alan Fletcher, aka Dr Karl Kennedy, playing a gig with his band.
Shopping: Melbourne is a complete shopping experience.
Take your credit card to Prahran, Acland Street (St Kilda), Chapel Street (South Yarra), Toorak and Brunswick Street (Fitzroy).
For bargain shopping, check out the factory outlets in Richmond along Bridge Road and Swan Street.
St Kilda: This beachside suburb is something of a cross between Soho and a fun resort.
Luna Park and the Palais Theatre, where acts such as Kylie Minogue have played, are relics of great days gone by.
These days it is a hip beach haven where you will find some of the coolest hostels, pubs and music venues.
Acland Street, the main street of St Kilda, is chock-full of cheap eats and funky shops.
Markets: Melbourne has a great range of markets, including Camberwell Markets, Queen Victoria Markets (corner of Elizabeth and Victoria streets), the state’s biggest market, selling almost everything – check out qvm.com.au.
St Kilda Markets (artists’ pavement stall), Preston Markets (corner of High Street and Murray Road), Prahran Market
(Commercial Road, South Yarra; great fruit and veg) and the Pipeworks Markets (Campbellfi eld, with 750 stalls).
Lygon Street: North of the CBD, “Little Italy” has heaps of restaurants, delicatessens, boutiques and arty shops.
Brunswick Street: Full of café creatures, enticing shops and good band venues. There are also some good, free private galleries in which to mooch around.
Parks and Gardens: Melbourne boasts some wonderful parks and gardens.
The jewel in the crown is the Royal Botanic Gardens on the banks of the Yarra River, 2km from the city centre.
Check out the Kings Domain on the south side of the river, adjoining the Botanic Gardens.
It contains the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, where outdoor concerts are held in summer.
Further south is the Shrine of Remembrance, which is a tribute to Australia’s fighting forces.
Close by are the Alexandria Gardens and Queen Victoria Gardens. Fitzroy Gardens near Parliament Station has a miniature Tudor village, and Captain Cook’s Cottage from the UK.
Beaches: Albert Park, St Kilda, Middle Park and Williamstown beaches are close to the city centre.
Melbourne’s beaches are on Port Phillip Bay, so for surf you’ll need to head to the coast on Phillip Island, Wilsons Prom, or around Torquay and Bells Beach.
Street art: Melbourne’s famous laneways are worthy of exploring not just in the hope of discovering the city’s latest bars, but because they are home to some of the world’s best street art.
Some of the most famous work can be found opposite Federation Square, in Hosier Lane, while areas such as Smith Street, in Collingwood, also have plenty to see. Tours are available.
Out on the town
Melbourne has a world-class entertainment scene with some of the coolest pubs, slickest bars and best clubs in Australia, plus all the comedy you could ask for and tons of theatre-type stuff.
Try St Kilda, Northcote or Fitzroy for bands, comedy and cheap drinks, South Yarra and Prahran for trendy clubs and the gay scene or the City for something more mainstream.
For info on what’s on, have a look in TNT Magazine or check out the The Age newspaper.
For pubs, clubs, music and comedy, have a look at the street press – Beat Magazine and InPress.
Melbourne Star Observer and Brother Sister have the goss on the gay scene.
For cheap tickets to the theatre, concerts and comedy, try Halftix in the Bourke Street Mall, which sells half price, same-day tickets for cash only.
Oh, and just to make it confusing, beer is sold in ‘pots’ (the equivalent of a half-pint) or pints.
South of the city and forming the eastern shore of Port Phillip Bay, you’ll fi nd the gorgeous Mornington Peninsula. Historic properties, walking trails, adventure activities, trail rides, seal and dolphin tours as well as diving are available.
Get there by bus via Frankston (take the Met from Melbourne) or by ferry from Queenscliff.
If you like bits of land that stick out into the ocean, you’ll love Wilsons Promontory National Park.
It’s the most southerly point of Australia’s mainland and its special features include outstanding coastal scenery backed by granite ranges, and an abundance of wildlife which can be seen on 20 walking tracks.
The best view is from the Mt Oberon walking trail.
Home of the famous nightly penguin parade (the animals, not the chocolate biscuits) in which hundreds of fairy penguins venture in from the ocean and march up the beach to their nests, Phillip Island is one of Victoria’s must-sees.
There is also an interesting koala sanctuary, seal colony, unique land forms and good surf beaches.
Located about an hour’s drive east of the city, the Dandenong Ranges are scattered with little towns and lush eucalyptus bush. Visit one of the many tea houses and craft shops.
The Dandenongs are easily explored with a rented car or you can catch the historic Puffi ng Billy Steam Train from Belgrave to Emerald Lake.
Another natural gem near Melbourne is the Brisbane Ranges National Park. This ancient, forested escarpment is a refuge for koalas and renowned for its wild flowers.
Hanging Rock is a place of natural beauty and mystery as it was the setting for the classic Aussie movie Picnic at Hanging Rock, which tells the story of the Twilight Zone-like mystery of a group of girls who went missing from there in 1901.
Heading west from Melbourne is one of Australia’s most famous drives, the Great Ocean Road.
Ideally you’ll be winding by the sandstone escarpments, with the Southern Ocean next to you, in a green convertible MG with Miranda Kerr in the passenger seat. More likely you’ll be in a campervan or tour group, but that’s a suitable second.
From the surf capital of Australia, Torquay and the nearby Bells Beach, which was famously namechecked but not actually used in the classic surf film Point Break, to beautiful Lorne and onwards to Port Campbell and Warrnambool, it’s a fantastic drive.
The main attraction are the 12 Apostles, large sandstone outcrops that rise from the ocean, weathered by years of wind and surf.
Slowly they’re dropping away so don’t miss them. Nearby is the equally photogenic Loch Ard Gorge. Pop down and dip your toes in.
With everything from mountains and lakes to farmland and bushland, Western Victoria has something for every traveller and adventure-seeker.
No wonder the area is such a popular day trip for many a local.
Starting in the Wimmera region, take yourself off to Little Desert National Park.
Despite its name, it is actually full of fl ora and fauna, and it’s got some great walking tracks and camping areas.
If you’re not afraid of heights, consider heading to Mount Arapiles.
This world-renowned rock climbing challenge has over 2,000 ascents, with many levels of difficulties. Climbing is taught on a daily basis.
While you’re in the area, visit Natimuk Lake, which offers watersports, fi shing and accommodation.
Also nearby is the Coonawarra wine region, home of some of the best Aussie red wines.
The Grampians are arguably Australia’s most dramatic mountain range and a great spot for bushwalking. Halls Gap (250km from Melbourne) is a good place to base yourself.
The rock climbing here is rated as some of the nation’s best.
Forming the border with New South Wales, the Murray River is Australia’s largest river, with a history of riverboat travel and agriculture. Relax along its banks or join in a number of outdoor activities.
One riverside town worth visiting is Mildura, which is famous for fruit picking, especially oranges. If you are after fruit picking work, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding some here.
Further downstream you’ll fi nd Echuca, a large paddle-steamer port with some good water-skiing, swimming and house-boating.
Exploring the north-east of Victoria will get you high in the Victorian Alps and the rich Gold Country of Bendigo and Shepparton.
The Victorian Alps are ideal for snowboarding, cross country and downhill skiing at Falls Creek, Mount Hotham and Mount Buller, all of which have park terrain for the adrenalin seekers. Book ahead. It’s also worth looking into job opportunities on the ski fields.
About an hour’s drive from the snowfi elds is Bright, a picturesque alpine town with heaps of adventurous activities to enjoy, including horse riding, cave exploring, abseiling and hang-gliding.
For you history buffs out there, make sure you head to famous Australian outlaw Ned Kelly’s country – including the towns of Euroa, Glenrowan and Beechworth, which has Kate’s Cottage museum and a multi-media Kellyland (the outlaw larrikin would be rolling in his grave to know he’s got a theme park named after him).
South-eastern Victoria is a huge area of unspolit terrain, referred to as Gippsland. It has some beautiful and rugged wilderness areas such as Errinundra, Alpine and Croajingalong National Parks, serviced by good roads and interesting towns.
Beautiful and off the beaten track, explore High Country’s gold towns and snow fields, the coast’s stunning Ninety Mile Beach, the Buchan Caves, unspolit Mallacoota, and the pristine and peaceful Lakes Entrance National Park.
Images: Getty, TNT