How best to spend 72 hours in Melbourne, Australia
Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city with a huge amount to offer. Australasia expert, Antonia Black, gives her insider advice on how best to spend a few days here
Victoria’s capital, Melbourne, has a strong multicultural presence, and this has helped shape the vibrant, cosmopolitan city we see today. Although Melbourne is often overlooked for its glitzier counterpart, Sydney, or laid-back Byron Bay, having met some of its fantastic guides, wandered its quirky lanes and escaped to the stunning Mornington Peninsula, I can confirm that there is so much to offer. In our opinion, it is well worth incorporating some time in this exciting place into a bigger trip within Australia.
Sitting at the end of Port Phillip Bay and split by the winding Yarra River, Melbourne’s suburbs sprawl out along the shoreline. Without a doubt, this is Australia’s cultural hub. Rumoured to be the fourth-fastest-growing city in the western world, Melbourne boomed ever since the free settlers came from Hobart in 1835. It has been named ‘the world’s most liveable city’, partly helped by its riverbank setting, a lively centre and fanatical love for the creative arts and good living.
If you are arriving internationally into Melbourne, a great way to adjust weary and jet-lagged bodies would be to grab a coffee – Melbourne’s caffeine scene is justifiably world-famous – and if you’re hungry, one of Fitzroy’s croissants from Lune Croissanterie wouldn’t go amiss. Victoria has long claimed itself as the ‘garden state’, and one of our favourites is the Royal Botanical Garden in the east, a great spot for a good dose of Victoria’s fresh air. Melbourne doesn’t offer the same sun and surf as elsewhere in Australia, but instead, it is a city of culture, coffee and creativity – so diverse and yet still defiantly holding onto its intact Victorian streetscapes.
Once you’ve settled into your hotel, it is time to head out to discover Melbourne’s much-talked-about foodie scene. A number of years ago, Melbourne was hit by a new phenomenon – a wave of super-cool, no-booking restaurants, for instance, Chin Chin, Lucy Liu Kitchen & Bar and Tonka. We, at cazenove+loyd, have the inside track on the latest hidden restaurants, and the best place to usually find them is dining hotspot, Flinders Lane, home to some of the best and most talked about restaurants in Australia.
Day 1: The city
Today, discover the historic labyrinth of laneways and arcades that Melbourne is famous for. Uncover the charming inner neighbourhoods, with each distinct enclave home to cultural flavours, specialities and charm. The guides we work with unlock hidden corners and show you everything from intricately detailed Victorian arcades to technicolored graffiti on the brick walls of cobbled Hosier Lane. Don’t miss a visit to either the Queen Victoria or South Melbourne market, each offering an insight into Melbourne’s famed liveability. While the Deli Hall at Queen Victoria is brimming with local and international flavours, the best place to purchase local produce, jewellery and designer products is at the South Melbourne Market, one of the oldest and most atmospheric in the city. The seafood tasting shouldn’t be missed either.
The Deli Hall at Queen Victoria is brimming with local and international flavours
Cosmopolitan Melbourne can be explored by foot, but if you are eager to cover more ground, we can arrange for you to explore the city by bike. Ride past Federation Square and the Yarra River to the home of the Australian Open Grand Slam Tennis and the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). For particularly avid cricket fans, we can arrange for an MCG member to show you around, giving you private access to parts of the stadium you wouldn’t otherwise be able to enter and even allowing you to walk out onto the hallowed turf itself. Finish the day in St Kilda (home to Jewish cake shops and the Luna Park). Alternatively, take to the Yarra River by private boat with your own skipper, sparkling wine and cheeseboard, taking in the magnificent skyline from a different angle.
To finish off your first day in style, we can organise a fantastic evening of art, music, fine dining and wine at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), which will be exclusively booked out for you. Following a private tour of the international collection, you will enjoy live music and a delicious dinner in front of Giambattista Tiepolo’s The Banquet of Cleopatra, a true masterpiece.
Day 2: Mornington Peninsula
On a second full day in Melbourne, after your fix of the city yesterday, our suggestion would be for a guide to scoop you up and take you out to Melbourne’s summer playground – the Mornington Peninsula. There’s something quite magical about the Mornington Peninsula, and only an hour’s drive away, it is a place where vineyards meet the seaside. An idyllic escape that feels worlds away from the metropolis. While many Melbournites spend weekend breaks in the private homes and seaside retreats that cover this expansive area, we believe you can get just the same taste of the area by spending the day with an expert guide.
Home to many beautiful historic homes and gardens, vineyards and wild coastlines, the array of experiences and activities we can arrange are endless. From a private, behind-the-scenes exploration of with a horticulturalist, a walk along the spectacular boardwalks at Cape Schanck, guided cycling with a professional and a round of golf at the Royal Melbourne Golf Course to structured wine tastings in award-winning boutique vineyards and gourmet lunches at the esteemed Pt Leo or Port Phillip estates. We can even arrange for you to have very special access to the Australian Performing Arts Collection, the biggest archive of its kind in the country, which is usually closed to the public. This allows you to explore archives dedicated to Australian circus, dance, music, opera and theatre heritage.
The famous Cape Schanck boardwalk runs towards the sea and rock formation known as London Bridge
If you are travelling with children, the peninsula is rich in engaging experiences, our favourite being a private, zookeeper-led experience at the Moonlit Sanctuary, an award-winning wildlife park. Alternatively, we can charter a boat for you for a day of swimming and kayaking with dolphins and sea lions.
Day 3: Great Ocean Road by heli
If you are short on time but eager to see one of Australia’s most breathtaking coastlines, we can arrange a very special day by land and air along the Great Ocean Road. After morning tea on the clifftop at Splitpoint Lighthouse, get up close with the local wildlife (from koalas to native parrots) before lunch at Apollo Bay’s acclaimed La Bimba. Later, after winding inland through the towering rainforest of the Great Otway National Park, you will emerge at one of nature’s greatest marvels – the Twelve Apostles and a glorious coast. Upon finishing the drive, return to Melbourne on a scenic 75-minute helicopter flight, giving a bird’s-eye view of the shore and fertile rainforests, before touching down in the heart of Melbourne.
Take in the breathtaking coastline views along the Great Ocean Road via helicopter
Where to stay?
The Crown Towers and Park Hyatt both offer excellent locations with well-appointed rooms and all the facilities. However, if you are looking for something smaller, United Places Botanic Gardens is an independent boutique hotel near the botanical gardens and some excellent restaurants. It is calm and intimate, with only 12 rooms and striking contemporary architecture.
When to go?
With a jam-packed events calendar and diverse geography, Melbourne can be visited year-round, although for the longest days and best possible chance of beach weather, December to mid-March are the best months in our view. Autumn is also a brilliant time of year, when days are still holding onto the summer warmth and the foliage is blooming.
Melbourne has an electric creative energy, which is simply unmatched anywhere else in Australia. It is one of the most intriguing Aussie cities, and you’ll find yourself wanting more…