What to Do in Melbourne for a Perfect 24 Hour Visit
Often seen in the shadow of its more famous sister Sydney, Melbourne is well worth a visit on your next trip to Australia. Though sometimes slightly colder, Melbourne is a great place to spend a day, since it is bursting with art, culture, shopping, fine dining, sport, museums, and a plethora of unique attractions.
Getting to Melbourne
Visitors can jump on a flight to Melbourne from over 100 cities worldwide, or from any major city in Australia, and it is also a popular stop on a road trip down the coast from Brisbane or Sydney. Recognized worldwide for its facilities (let’s be honest, it’s mainly the coffee) and awarded the title of most liveable city seven years in a row, make sure you come check out this cool city for yourself.
One Day in Melbourne Itinerary
1. Flinders St Station
Start your one day in Melbourne at the city’s most iconic landscape, and the meeting point for Melbournians city-wide: Flinders St Station. Built in 1854 (though the current building was added later, around 1905), the heritage listed, art-nouveau building is the proverbial crown of Melbourne’s CBD. From here, you can see straight down busy Swanston Street, or look across the other side to see the modern, funky Federation Square. If you’re a railway junkie, walk along the 2,322-foot long platform – the longest in Australia, and fourth-largest in the world. Check out the stained glass windows, soaring ceilings, picturesque flower stalls and original tiles, before heading outside under the famous clocks (a very common Melbournian meeting place), and across the road to the iconic ‘Young and Jacksons’ Pub.
2. Young & Jacksons + a Cup of Melbourne Coffee
Another historic icon, Young & Jacksons has been serving Melbournians since 1861, and has several bars and dining rooms, including a scrumptious rooftop cider bar – perfect in summer. If you don’t fancy a pint, still pop in and say hi to the pubs most famous resident ‘Chloe’, a nude painting all the way from Paris that hangs in the appropriately named ‘Chloe’s Brasserie’. Causing delight to many throughout the years (as well as some pursed lips and shaken heads), Chloe has graced the walls of the pub since 1909, and has become a true Melbourne icon.
If it’s too early for a stiff drink, head around the corner to Degraves St and take part in a quintessential Melbourne ritual by grabbing a delicious, Melbournian alleyway coffee; some of the best coffee in the world (we think so, anyway). Choose from a range of cafes and grab a brew to go, or stop for a minute at one of the crowded, streetside cafe tables and do some people watching.
Once you’re all refreshed, head to the nearest tram stop and jump on one of the brown, retro looking ‘City Circle’ trams (number 35).
3. City Circle Tram
The City Circle trams are a fantastic, free way to see all the city highlights. Running on a loop that covers all the main city attractions, riding a tram is a quintessential Melbourne experience, and a great way to see all the sights without being stressed in traffic.
Running from Flinders St Station, down past the Aquarium to the Docklands, then back up through the city, passing the Treasury and Parliament House, the beautiful Princess Theatre, the amazing Carlton Exibition Centre and gardens and the famous Queen Vic Market.
4. Melbourne’s Best Shopping and Treats
Follow the tram route, either on-board or on foot (Melbourne is a great city for walking) down Swanston St to the famous Collins St, known for its upmarket boutiques, fancy hotels and swish restaurants. Do some window shopping (or real shopping, if you can afford it), then continue on past the stately Melbourne Town Hall (which has a pretty cool museum, if you want to check it out) and the famous Manchester Unity Building, another art-deco throwback. Don’t miss a visit to the gorgeous, Victorian-style Block Arcade, grab a scone and a cup of tea in the stunning Hopetoun Tea Rooms, and a choccy frog from Haighs on your way through.
Stop off at Bourke Street, a (slightly more affordable) pedestrian-only shopping strip, and visit the landmark department stores Myer and David Jones (treat yourself and head downstairs to the food court). Make sure you check out the old General Post Office (now a luxe H&M store).
If you’re keen to get into some more Melbourne shopping, head into Myer and the adjoining Emporium Shopping Centre, and get a birds-eye view of the streets below from the connecting bridges. The centre goes all the way through to Melbourne Central, another major shopping hub. Check out the famous ‘shot tower’, a 50-metre high original tower used for creating bullets, now part of the precinct. On the hour, the Melbourne Central Clock plays ‘Waltzing Matilda’, the unofficial Australian anthem, while a flock of native birds (mechanical ones, don’t worry) flap along.
Lastly, if you prefer your shopping in the open air, only a few blocks away lies the Queen Victoria Market, a Melbourne institution since 1878. Grab some delicious fresh produce, hand-made souvenirs, clothing, or local food (don’t forget to grab one of the hot jam donuts). There are tours that run that showcase some of the history and highlights of the market, or you can just have a wander through the many stalls. Throughout the year, the Wednesday Night Market also runs, a way to sample local restaurants, grab a drink, have a dance, or browse some more unique stalls.
5. Carlton Gardens/Museum/Chinatown
Once you’re all shopped out, take a breather at the nearby Carlton Gardens, home to the heritage-listed (yes, another one) Carlton Exhibition Centre, one of the oldest pavilions left in the world. Enjoy the grounds, full of fountains and flowers, or venture over and check out the adjacent Melbourne Museum, full of interesting artifacts and history of the city (and great for kids).
Head back into the city down Spring St to the Treasury and next-door Parliament House, both of which offer tours, before heading down Little Bourke St into Chinatown, one of the oldest Chinatown districts in the world. Stop at one of the many dumpling houses for a cheap, delicious lunch, or if you want something a bit fancier stop in at ‘Flower Drum’, an award-winning Chinese restaurant – though get in early, it is often booked out months in advance.
6. Federation Square/Botanic Gardens/Shrine of Remembrance
Once you’re full and rested, head back down Swanston St to Federation Square, opposite Flinders St Station. Before you get there, head past the gorgeous St Paul’s Cathedral on the corner and have a sneak up the famous ‘Hosier Lane’, next to the beautiful art-deco Forum Theatre. This alley is known worldwide for its amazing street art, which changes all the time, and visitors can often see artists at work in the alleys.
Then head across to ‘Fed Square’, as the locals call it, and visit one of the many on-site museums or galleries; enjoy the outdoor ambience and people-watching and grab an ice cream from the shop run by robots before wandering across the bridge, over the Yarra River, towards the Botanic Gardens.
The Botanic Gardens are huge, but well worth exploring if you have time. With around 8,500 plant species represented across a variety of unique garden areas, as well as lakes, waterfalls, heritage cottages and even a cafe (you’re never far from a cafe in Melbourne), you can make your visit a bit quicker by booking a garden tour at the Visitors Centre.
The Shrine of Remembrance, located at the far end of the gardens, is a war memorial originally built to acknowledge those who served in World War I, though it now honors those who have served in any war. Built in a classical style, the building lines up perfectly with Swanston St, and can be seen from the other end of the city. There is a crypt below, with the names of lost soldiers, and a museum with permanent and traveling exhibitions.
7. NGV: Experience Melbourne’s Premier Art Museum
Across the busy St Kilda Rd, opposite the Shrine, stands the NGV, or National Gallery of Victoria. With an outstanding, world-class art collection, as well as a host of international exhibitions, the NGV is well worth a visit, if you can fit it into your one day in Melbourne itinerary.
Check out the free permanent exhibits, ranging from ancient indigenous art through the masters, right up to Andy Warhol and post-modernism, or visit one of the seasonal visiting collections. The gallery itself is a work of art, with gorgeous skylights and stained glass, and an interactive, lush haven outside called ‘the Backyard’.
Don’t forget to check out the famous ‘water wall’ at the entrance; stand as close as you can and look up, you will feel like you’re flying (I learnt this as a kid, and still do it every time I visit).
Second Option: MCG
If you prefer cricket to Caravaggio, or footy to photography, head instead to the famous MCG, or the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The undisputed home of Melbourne Sport, the ‘G, as locals like to call it, has stood since 1853, was the birthplace of Test cricket and has hosted both the Olympics and Commonwealth Games.
With a capacity to hold up to 100,000 people, the ‘G is sacred to many Melbournians’ hearts. Take a tour of the extensive arena and grounds, check out the Australian Sports Museum or, if you get the chance, catch a game – there’s nothing else like it.
8. Arts Centre/Southbank/Crown Casino
Between the NGV and Flinders St Station stands a spire, which lights up at night. This denotes the location of the Melbourne Arts Centre, home to the ballet as well as a variety of musical productions, concerts and shows. Visitors can tour the arts centre, or catch a show – there is always something great on. In summer, there are often pop-up gardens and food trucks out front, and every Sunday the Arts Centre Market winds its way from the Arts Centre to the NGV.
If the Ballet doesn’t excite you, keep wandering past the arts centre, towards Flinders St Station, head down the steps and boom – you’re on the river. The Yarra River runs all the through Victoria down from the Great Dividing Range, and is the reason Melbourne is the city it is today.
Commandeer a ‘picnic boat’ yourself and explore the river up close, or simply wander along ‘Southbank’ (creatively named, as it is the Southern bank of the river) which has plenty of shops, casual and fine dining, bars, office towers and – most notably – the Crown Casino. The extensive casino complex comprises various gambling rooms, sports bars, restaurants, theatre shows, a cinema, luxury shopping and more – you could spend the entire day exploring. Have a pint, or just wander through the area, which also hosts weekend markets, street buskers and entertainment, and a nightly ‘fire show’ outside (with, apparently, the world’s largest fireballs) on the hour after dark. Grab some gelato, sit along the water and enjoy the free show.
Another great spot to stop on Southbank, if gambling isn’t your thing, is the Eureka Tower, which is just under 1,000 feet high and provides a marvelous way to get a unique view of Melbourne. Jump on the fastest lifts in the Southern Hemisphere up to the 88th floor, where you can see if you are brave enough to experience ‘The Edge’, a glass cube that juts from the building over the streets below.
Grab a drink at the quirky Ponyfish Island Bar, which is built literally on the river, around a pier pylon, or rub shoulders with celebs at the acclaimed ‘Rockpool Bar & Grill’. Finally, cross the river to Abory Bar, where you can enjoy waterfront drinks and casual (though delicious) food, and you’re right back where you started, at Flinders St Station.
Enjoy Your Day in Melbourne!
Melbourne is a great city, and ideally we would love you to spend more than 24 hours in Melbourne, exploring the city and its surroundings. But if you don’t have the time, you can still maximize your time in Melbourne with this action-packed itinerary and you’ll no doubt find yourself needing that coffee (and some good shoes); luckily Melbourne’s is world-class!
By Jenna Rank, a travel writer who calls Melbourne home.