I hit Melbourne with big ideas. I was going to paint the town red. I was going to see it all, do it all, eat it all and drink it all. One problem – I didn’t have a clue where the hell I was going. So this one goes out to all the Melbourne virgins, all those who, like me, want it all, but don’t have the time or money to make it happen. This is my two-day guide to the essential Melbourne.
To get a real taste of what Melbournites are all about, I took a trip to the city’s biggest church – the Melbourne Cricket Ground. One of the world’s great sports stadiums, the MCG recently celebrated its 150th birthday and had some major cosmetic surgery for the 2006 Commonwealth Games. My guide, Mr Church (I felt I had to keep calling him this all day), was an ex-President of Melbourne Cricket Club and knew as much about the MCG as anyone alive. We strolled through the empty stadium, admired the swanky corporate boxes, smelt the musky changing rooms and even bounced a “footy” on the hallowed turf. How much? A paltry $10. Where? Hop on a No.70 tram from Federation Square.
Next up, I was in for a dose of culture, and there’s nowhere better than Fed Square. It’s pretty hard to miss the mish-mash of steel and geometric shapes as you hit the Square, and there’s plenty here to keep even the most ADHD-affected brain satisfied. As well as being home to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, you’ll also find the National Gallery of Victoria. This is a brilliant art gallery with an eclectic collection ranging from modern art to Victorian representations of early Australia and indigenous art. Sore feet guided me outside again for a tough decision – a cold beer in the swanky Transport Bar or a coffee. I thought about going all cosmopolitan, but the sheer choice of coffees was too much for my brain. How much? Totally free. Where? Smack bang opposite Flinders St Station.
Lunch was definitely on my mind, but I thought I should squeeze a little one in – although the Rialto Towers aren’t that little. At 253m, it’s the largest office block in the Southern Hemisphere (yeah, against what? South Africa? Peru?). The view is amazing, flying out across the city into the suburbs, the ocean and the mountains. I tried the binoculars in the hope of finding something raunchy going on in one of the nearby buildings, but to no avail. So I got my cheap thrills by going outside onto the wind-blasted observation deck on the 22nd floor – now that’s what I call a blow. How much? $12.50’s worth of thrills. Where? On the corner of King and Collins Streets.
Time out: lunch break
I couldn’t take it any longer. The result of all this sightseeing was being absolutely starving. I shunned the high street and nipped into one of Melbourne’s many alleyways. Centre Place, near Little Collins St, is a bohemian-looking laneway full of buzzing cafes and perfect for the hungry traveller. Time to try some of Melbourne’s famous pasta. How much? $12 for a spot of lunch. Where? Just off Little Collins St, near William St.
Right, back to it. Melbourne Museum is another one of those buildings you can’t miss, a collage of glass, steel and what looks like a giant Rubik’s cube. Museum’s always make me feel like I’m on a school trip, so I grabbed the hand of the nearest small child and set off. There’s something creepy about stuffed animals, but they’re somehow mesmerising. There’s a whole section dedicated to Aussie animals, and a brand-new insect section, complete with ant farms, astounding beetles, buzzing flies and huge f@#kin’ spiders. Upstairs is a little more human, with exhibitions on design, indigenous culture, Melbourne’s history and, best of all, the Robinson/Scully kitchen from Neighbours. You can try and be cool, but we all know as soon as you see it, you’ll be going, “Oh my god!” How much? A wallet-pleasing $6. Where? In Carlton Gardens, north of the CBD. Just hop on a 96 tram at Bourke St.
Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
The day of the tourist is long, but patience is not. It was definitely beer o’clock. Brunswick Street is one of Melbourne’s backpacker hotspots, and with a street lined with cool bars and restaurants, it’s not hard to see why. It has a laid-back, urban village atmosphere and it wasn’t long before I was tucked away, nursing my battered feet with a well-deserved cold one. Where? Hop on a No.11 tram from Collins St.
Resisting the urge to spend the night in the warm confines of the pub, I had to get some food inside me. Either that or I’d be pissed on two schooners (not a good look in fashionable Melbourne). So I made my way to the famous Lygon Street, just north of the CBD and known as Melbourne’s Little Italy. It’s virtually impossible to walk down Lygon Street without salivating – the smells emanating from the many restaurants and cafes are so good, it’s not uncommon to find dribble stains down the windows. How much? $12 for a small pizza, extra for some tasty beer. Where? Grab a No.1 or 22 tram on Swanston St.
“With a little understanding, I could find the perfect blend”. I was up for the trip of a lifetime – a tour of Ramsay Street. Imagine every time you opened your front door, you found groups of backpackers noseying about your street. That’s exactly what happens to the residents of Pin Oak Court every day. The small cul-de-sac doubles as the world-famous Ramsay St in Neighbours, and is a shrine to soap-loving travellers the world over. It’s surprisingly small and the houses look oddly familiar, yet strange. Our accomplished guide Phil knew everything about Neighbours (even more than my mate Dan’s mum, who records the bloody thing). As well as testing our Ramsay Street knowledge, he pointed out various iconic spots, such as where Bouncer got run over by Dorothy Burke. Or when Pam Willis first shaved her hairy armpits. Top it all off with a trip to Erinsborough High, and you’ve got some very satisfied backpackers. How much? $25 for childhood dreams to come true. Where? Hop on the bus at a pick-up spot.
Bridge Road, Richmond
Having declined the opportunity to purchase some excellent Neighbours memorabilia, I was in the mood for some spending. And where better than Melbourne’s shopping central, Bridge Road in Richmond? You could go to Chapel St, but you’d have to sell a kidney first. Bridge Road is lined with all kinds of clothes shops, from very cool street labels to outlets for cheap knickers. I sadly bypassed some excellent Carhart t-shirts, and treated myself to some much-deserved new pants. There’s nothing like the feel of new pants. How much? How high do you want to go? Where? Get a No.75 tram from Flinders St station.
Queen Victoria Markets
A trip to Melbourne wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Vic markets, home to the bizarre and the brilliant. It’s the perfect spot to buy a dodgy present for someone back home, or to just while away a couple of hours mooching about and laughing at the ridiculous amount of crap some people have to sell. Bongs, budgies, beanies, brownies, boots – it’s all here. After an intense mooching session, I somehow found my way through the maze to the food hall. The delis here are awesome, full of every kind of delectable foodstuff and foreign treats. In the end, I went for a giant bratwurst with sauerkraut and mustard. How much? Free, depending on food/bong purchases. Where? Catch any tram heading north along Elizabeth St. Open Thurs 6am-2pm, Fri 6am-6pm, Sat 6am-3pm, Sun 9am-4pm.
Time to hit the beach. St Kilda is one of Melbourne’s trendiest and most popular suburbs, and it’s not hard to see why. Loads of great pubs and cafes, a nice long beach, Luna Park, and a very cool vibe. I took a stroll along Acland Street, sampling some of the amazing cake shops, trying not to look too much like a complete fat bastard. Failing miserably, I hid my belly among the merry screams of Luna Park. Easily located through the insane grin of a giant clown, Luna Park is one of Melbourne’s most iconic sights and a classic photo op. After such merriment, there was only one thing left to do. Go to the pub. And where else but the Espy? The Esplanade Hotel looks out over the water, catching the sun as it sets over the city, and is the perfect spot to while away the evening discussing philosophy over a game of backgammon. Either that or get tanked and fall over on the way out. Which one I did, I’ll leave to your imagination… How much? $33.95 gets you all the rides you can handle at Luna Park. Cakes and booze – that’s up to you. Where? Hop on a No.16 tram from Flinders St Station. The experience: Backpacker King Neighbours Tours, Ph: (03) 9534 4755; MCG Tours, Ph: (03) 9657 8864.