What to do in Melbourne

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Melbourne is Victoria’s capital. It tried to become Australia’s capital once, but had to settle for being its cultural capital. Melbourne is home to some top museums, has a lot of street art, and flawlessly combines historic buildings with modern skyscrapers. When walking Melbourne’s streets, you’ll notice the city seems to attract artsy people. I knew Melbourne from it’s sporty side though, as the city annually hosting the Australian Open, one of four Grand Slam tennis tournaments. Apart from tennis, Melburnians also love Australian football, cricket, and betting on horse races. During our four day visit, we discovered there’s a lot to see and do in Melbourne.

Our first day in Melbourne was spent working in the  Victoria State Library. It’s a huge and beautiful building, both on the outside and inside. The WiFi is fast and free, so we managed to get some work done between students being tutored and doing research. There are a lot of computers available for free use as well, if you didn’t bring a laptop on your trip.

The rest of the days we wandered through Melbourne, exploring the city on foot or by tram. Here’s a small part of all the things you can see and do in Melbourne.

Visit a museum in Melbourne (or three)

Visiting museums probably sounds boring to most of you, like it does for me, but I have to admit I had a great time in all three of Melbourne’s museums we paid a visit. The first one is The Ian Potter Centre, located on Federation Square (I’ll come back on this later). This museum is an art centre, displaying both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian art from the colonial period to the present day. General entry is free and it’s opened from 10h to 17h. This was the least interesting one for us, we’re not that into classical art.

Australian Art at The Ian Potter Centre
National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne

The Ian Potter Centre is part of the  National Gallery of Victoria, situated on the other side of the Yarra River. The NGV has more interesting galleries, in our (not so artsy) opinion, and general entry is free as well. If you want to see special exhibitions like the one about Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei currently on show, you do have to pay an entrance fee.

When entering the building, we were greeted by an enormous installation constructed of almost 1,500 tessellating bicycles, called Forever Bicycles. It’s an impressive piece by Ai Weiwei, and tourists where lining up to have their picture taken with this piece of modern art. Unfortunately we were too late to join the free Daily Highlights tour that starts every day at 11h and 13h, so we explored the museum on our own.

We skipped the galleries with paintings and archeological objects and headed straight to the top floor, which houses modern art and design. Most exhibitions (or at least the ones we thought interesting) are on display for a limited period of time. You can check out the NGV website for information about what’s currently on and what’s coming soon. During our visit a design collection was showed, featuring design furniture, fashion, and jewellery. There was also a fascinating music-producing installation called Clinamen by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, and Brecht was really excited about Jess Johnson’s Wurm Haus. The extraordinary centrepiece of her installation, Ixian Gate, is a dystopic world visitors can enter through virtual reality headsets. Brecht always wanted to test the Oculus Rift technology and jumped on this unexpected chance to do so. It was a weird but amazing experience!

Birthe checking out the Design Collection
Clinamen by Celeste Boursier-MougenotClinamen by Celeste Boursier-Mougenot

When arriving at the  Melbourne Museum we were amazed by this huge and modern building standing right across from the historic Royal Exhibition Building, two architectural opposites. Our guide told us the Melbourne Museum is almost entirely made of glass at one side, so the Royal Exhibition Building can be seen at all times from that side of the museum. The REB was built in 1880 to host an international fair where new technologies were exchanged between scientist from all over the world. The building is meticulously restored and now used for trade shows, fairs, and cultural and community events. It’s the first building in Australia listed as UNESCO World Heritage, being one of the last surviving exhibition centres from its time.

You have to pay a $14 entrance fee (for adults) to visit Melbourne Museum. Once inside, you can join one of the free guided tours featuring the highlights of the museum, which we did. Our guide told us about the Royal Exhibition Building, Phar Lap the racing horse who gave Australians hope during the Great Depression, the possum skin cloak worn by Aboriginals from birth to death, and much more. We always join a free tour if there’s one on offer and it fits our schedule. It’s very interesting to hear someone tell about the artefacts and you learn about fascinating things you otherwise would have passed by.

We spent another two hours exploring the museum on our own: the little forest in the museum called Forest Secrets, the giant blue whale skeleton, the dinosaur walk, the interactive exhibitions about the human mind and body, the stories about people serving in the First World War, and the first Australian computer. There’s so much to be seen in this huge museum you can easily spend a whole afternoon or even a whole day there. We had to rush through it in the end because the museum closes at 17h. This was without a doubt the most interesting museum of the three, having a great variety of exhibitions on different subjects.

Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne
Our favourite, Melbourne Museum
Impressive Blue Whale Skeleton
Dinosaur Walk at Melbourne Museum
The First Australian Computer

Sit back and enjoy in Melbourne

Melbourne is vibrant and always moving, but there are also plenty of spots where you can escape the busy life, sit back and enjoy. We both like to laugh, so Brecht booked tickets ($17.50 each, including a $5 online booking fee) for a comedy show at the The Comic's Lounge. He decided we would go on Tuesday, when they host ten professional comedians trying out new material. We don’t know any Australian comedians, so this was the perfect opportunity to sample a few of thme. You can book a ticket including dinner as well, but Brecht had read the food wasn’t that great there.

Upon arrival we got our table number. We were seated in the middle of the front row, right in front of the stage. Being picked out of the audience by at least one comedian was inevitable. We were a tad nervous and didn’t dare do anything else than sit, drink, listen and laugh. The first thing the first comedian (our favourite, Doug Chapell) did, was ask us if we were a couple. He asked a few more questions, but easy ones, and it was actually funny, nothing to be nervous about. We had a great night, drank a few (expensive) beers, and laughed until we cried. Unfortunately we didn’t remember any of the names of the other comedians.

View from our table at The Comic's Lounge
Cosy at Rooftop Cinema in Melbourne

Nothing is more relaxing than plumping down on the sofa under a blanket, crawl against you significant other, and enjoy a movie. Why not do this in a beach chair under the stars on the roof of a building in the heart of Melbourne? We booked tickets ($25.50 each, including a $3.50 online booking fee) to go watch the Pixar animated movie Inside Out at the Rooftop Cinema. It was really cozy and we loved the movie! Bring enough warm clothes and a blanket though, because even in summer it can get cold at night. If you forget, you can rent a blanket for $5. There’s a rooftop bar as well and they sell burgers and gourmet ice cream to please your cravings.

Wander the Melbourne streets

In between museums, a good laugh, and a great movie, we wandered through the streets of Melbourne, hunting geocaches and hitting some of the city’s most popular hangout spots. Federation Square, a public square in the heart of Melbourne, is one of them. It’s surrounded by hip bars and restaurants, home to some cultural attractions like The Ian Potter Centre, and conveniently located right across from the famous Flinders Street Station. This impressive venue can be hired and is known to hosts numerous of cultural, music, and sports events. There’s even free WiFi. During our visit there were a bunch of beach chairs to take a rest and a free juggler lesson was held. There’s always something to do at Federation Square, so don’t miss out!

Flinders Street Station
Street Art at Hosier Lane
Federation Square in Melbourne
Graffiti Piece for Australia Day

I mentioned there’s a lot of street art in Melbourne. Hosier Lane is one of those alleys flanked with graffiti painted walls. We passed through this street on two consecutive days and already discovered new graffiti artworks. Although we only went to Hosier Lane, you can find a great many more alleys like this. You can find a DIY Street Art Walking Tour on Hummingbird Away. Wish we had read Katie’s post before we visited Melbourne!

As you may or may not know, one of my favourite things to do is visiting markets. Every Wednesday between 17h and 22h (in summertime), there’s the Queen Victoria Night Market in Melbourne. At Queen Victoria Market there’s a day market almost every day, but once a week it houses vendors selling (handmade) jewellery, clothes, scarfs, bags, soap, and more. There are a few stalls selling wine and sangria, and way too much stalls selling all kinds of food, making our choice of dinner a hard one. Eventually we chose cheese fondue and paella, both delicious! We watched a cartoon artist at work, but I chose a pair of earrings over a cartoon portret as an early Valentine’s Day gift. When we were leaving, a massive group of people blocked our way. We rose onto our toes to try and see what all the fuss was about: a street artist performance of course!

Queen Victoria Night Market in Melbourne
Birthe browsing at the Queen Victoria Night Market

Markets can get quite busy, as was this Night Market. For some peace and quiet, you better head over to the  Royal Botanic Gardens. People are sitting on benches or the grass throughout the park, enjoying the beautiful nature surrounding them, feeling miles away from the busy Melbourne streets. We took a break here from all the walking, reading a book while being distracted by the birds hopping and walking around.

Melbourne likes its sports, so different sport venues are to be found all over the city. Melbourne Park for example, is made up of the Rod Laver Arena, known for its major role in the Australian Open, and the Hisense Arena, which is home to Melbourne’s basketball and netball team, and houses cycling events. Across the street there’s the famous (although not to me) Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Unfortunately we arrived in Melbourne after the Australian Open. Although we didn’t attend any other sports matches, it’s supposed to be quite the experience.

Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne
View of Melbourne while walking to Melbourne Park

How to get around in Melbourne

During our visit to Melbourne, we stayed at Crystal Brook Tourist Park. Our campervan was parked at a 5 minute walk from the bus stop, which is a 45 minute bus ride away from the centre of Melbourne. The bus passes every 15 minutes and the last one back departs close to midnight. We bought a Myki Visitor Value Pack at the tourist park, which cost us $14 each. It includes one day’s worth of travelling by public transport (maximum $8 at all times) and coupons for numerous activities and sights in Melbourne, like the Melbourne Museum. You can top this card up on the bus, in tram and train stations, and you just have to scan it when getting on and off the bus. Melbourne is covered in tram and train tracks, so it’s easy to get around. When you walk, you see more though!

We only spent four days exploring Melbourne, but we could have easily stayed longer. Being ranked as one of the world’s most liveable cities, there’s a whole lot of interesting and fun things to see and do in Melbourne. Enjoy!