The sun goes down over the Yarra River on Melbourne's Southbank
Melbourne is a modern, vibrant city in the southern state of Victoria, Australia, known for its foodie, fashion and arts scene. There's a friendly rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne and many travellers will choose to visit one or the other, but in my opinion, both cities are a must-visit when planning your trip to Australia! (See here for my 4 day Sydney itinerary)
Sitting on the Yarra River, Melbourne is one of Australia's best cities, boasting a colourful CBD (central Business District), full of lively bars, shops, markets and culture. But it's not all just busy streets - Melbourne also has plenty of green spaces, quieter suburbs and sandy beaches. Not to mention the Grampians National Park and the Great Ocean Road, which are located just a couple of hours drive from the centre of Melbourne and make a great self rive road trip.
Here's some of the best things to see and do in Melbourne in 4 days
Day 1 - Visit the Docklands and Royal Botanical Gardens
The area between the Docklands and the Royal Botanical Gardens follows the Yarra River right through the south of the city, passing the Southbank Promenade. Spend the whole day taking a leisurely stroll along the river, stopping at various points along the way.
The Docklands is an area of modern high rise developments surrounding Melbourne's harbour. Here you will find the Marvel Stadium, home to many sports fixtures and concerts. Jump on the Melbourne observation wheel for views over the harbour and afterwards enjoy a coffee or brunch at one of the many waterside cafes.
Leaving The Docklands, walk towards South Wharf. This area is dominated by the Melbourne convention centre, but there's also a small shopping mall with a food court, perfect for those on a budget - grab a drink and sit on the steps overlooking the Yarra River for a break!
The Southbank Promenade
The Southbank promenade is one of the best areas in Melbourne for waterside dining, with cafes and restaurants lining the river edge. There's several up-scale restaurants here, which is great for enjoying a cocktail as the sun sets over the Yarra River in the evening. There's also a shopping mall with a food court and outdoor seating area, which again is great for those on a budget!
For sweeping views over the city, visit the Melbourne Skydeck, a glass observation tower with panoramic views and a glass-floored cube. If you're not a fan of heights, then you can catch a river cruise from the Southbank, for a relaxing trip down the Yarra River.
Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens
From the Southbank promenade, continue following the river past the Olympic park and towards the Royal Botanical Gardens. The gardens are beautiful and perfect for getting out of the city. There's only one small cafe in the centre of the botanical gardens, so I would recommend packing a picnic and spending some time here unwinding and exploring the different gardens. There’s plenty of fountains for you to top up your water bottle too. If you’re feeling active, you could run the 4 km Tan track which wraps around the edge of the gardens.
After relaxing in the Botanical Gardens, make your way back to the CBD for some dinner and to put your feet up after a day of walking!
The Melbourne Botanical Gardens are huge and a nice way to spend the afternoon
Day 2 - Explore Melbourne's CBD (Central Business District)
Melbourne's CBD is a vibrant mix of narrow lanes, adorned with colourful artwork and graffiti, small shopping arcades tucked away down the side streets and large main roads with well known high street brands. Save your legs and make use of the Melbourne tram, which is free to ride inside the CBD!
Have brunch in Degraves Street
Degraves street is a small lane, just off Flinders street, to the south of the CBD, and is populated with cute little cafes and restaurants. It's a great place to fill up on brunch ahead of a day exploring.
Visit Federation Square
Opposite Flinders street metro station is the area of Federation Square. Here you'll find a couple of events venues plus the Ian Potter Centre showcasing historic and modern art. Also here is Koorie heritage trust, which is another modern gallery featuring Aboriginal artwork.
Visit Melbourne most famous Graffiti street - Hosier Lane
The small laneways of Melbourne's CBD are known for its sophisticated graffiti art, but the most well known street is Hosier Lane, just opposite Federation Square.
One of the many impressive Graffiti art pieces in Melbourne's CBD
Window shop in the upscale Collins Street
Collins Street houses many upscale designer shops and high end restaurants. Meander down Collins street and Little Collins Street, looking down the little alleyways in between.
Go Shopping on Bourke Street
Bourke Street and Little Bourke Street is where you'll find popular high street brands, so if you need to do some shopping, this is the best place to go.
Relax in Carlton Gardens
After spending the morning weaving in and out of the streets and laneways of Melbourne's CBD, you'll reach Carlton Gardens, in the north of the CBD. These gardens are just one of many small pieces of green space to enjoy in the busy city.
Visit the trendy suburb of Fitzroy
North of Melbourne's CBD is the suburb of Fitzroy. Fitzroy is a great place to visit and is full of vintage shops, quirky pubs and bars. There's a cool, younger vibe here which feels different to the main city. Fitzroy is one of Melbourne's most popular suburbs, and can be easily reached by a short tram ride from the CBD.
Visit Queen Victoria Market
In the evening, head to the Queen Victoria night market, which takes place every Wednesday 5pm - 10pm in the Summer. The market comprises of a huge covered food hall, where you can feast on almost every type of cuisine! Dotted around the market is live music and pop up bars. This is definitely one of the best things to do in Melbourne and is a must visit when you're in town.
The Queen Victoria night market - a must when in Melbourne!
Day 3 - Spend the day in the suburb of St Kilda
St Kilda is one of Melbourne's most popular suburbs to live in and it's not hard to see why. It has a lovely laid-back vibe with a beautiful coastal path and long stretches of rugged beach. There's a small high street, full of shops, bars and cafes and an abundance of cake shops! To reach St Kilda, take the tram from Melbourne CBD. (The tram takes approximately 35 minutes, depending on where you get on in the city).
Treat yourself at St Kilda Sea Baths
The Sea Baths complex comprises an indoor salt water swimming pool, cafes and also a day spa.
Visit St Kilda Beach
The soft, sandy beach in St Kilda is a popular spot, great for swimming and water sports. There's several cafes and kiosks along the promenade to keep you stocked up all day too. The far end of the beach is a dog friendly beach.
Standing on St Kilda Pier, looking across to St Kilda Baths and the beach
Walk along the St Kilda reserve
Behind St Kilda beach is the South beach reserve, leading into the Marina reserve. This narrow stretch of parkland is one of the most popular spots in St Kilda. Walking along the promenade with gorgeous coastal views of the beach and out to the ocean is a great way to spend an hour or so.
Visit Luna Park
Located on the front of St Kilda is Luna Park - a traditional amusement park, which originally opened back in 1912! The most famous attractions in the park are the old fashioned roller coaster and the ornate carousel.
Watch penguins at St Kilda Pier
After sunset, head to St Kilda pier to watch the penguins come in from their day at sea. The volunteers are there to make sure that the penguins are safe and you don't get too close. It's a great experience to see the cute little penguins waddle their way back home!
Sunset over St Kilda beach with views of Melbourne skyline (top) and the gorgeous penguins at St Kilda pier! (bottom)
Day 4 - Get out of the city
There's so much to see and do in the central area of Melbourne, but there's lots to do just outside the city too. A great way to explore the area is by booking onto a day trip, or hiring a car and exploring the area yourself.
Some great options for a day trip include wine tasting in the Yarra Valley wine region, hiking in the Dandenong ranges, or enjoying a river cruise down the Yarra River.
If, like us, you have a tight budget and booking onto an organised tour is not an option for you, then another great option to get out of the city is to visit the Yarra Bend Park.
The Yarra Bend Park connects with several other parks and reserves via a series of walking and cycling trails. Located to the east of Melbourne's CBD, it can easily be reached by tram. Pack yourself a picnic and head there for a few hours, enjoying the scenic walks along the Yarra river and through parkland. There's also a small non for profit farm, with a cosy cafe, which is great for families.
If you have a couple of days extra, I would highly recommend hiring a car and driving the Great Ocean Road, one of Australia's most scenic drives. If you enjoy hiking, combine the Great Ocean Road with a couple of days in the Grampians National Park too. For a 4 day itinerary on how to visit both of these stunning places, see my post here.
Walking through Yarra Bend Park
How long do you need in Melbourne?
I would say that 4 nights is a good amount of time to spend in Melbourne to see the main highlights and attractions within the city. However if you're planning on using Melbourne as a base to explore the surrounding region and booking onto a couple of day trips, then you may want to add a few extra days on.
Whats the best way to get to Melbourne?
By train - The train station runs right into the CBD and from there you can hop onto a tram or metro to various areas of the city and surrounding suburbs.
By bus - There's also several buses that leave Melbourne to other parts of Australia. You can catch a night bus to Sydney or Canberra from here if you don't have your own vehicle.
By plane - Melbourne's international airport is located just outside of the CBD and there's a skybus which runs from the airport to the CBD every 15 minutes.
By car - If you have your own car, I would highly recommend parking up outside of the city and catching public transport in. The roads are really busy and parking is exceptionally high.
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