After 2 weeks in Melbourne here is some useful information we gathered that will help with your stay.
Growing up in the U.S. we always felt like our country was one of the youngest ones in the world because the rest of the world seemed to have more history than ours (excluding the history of the Native Americans since their culture was squashed and pushed to a few areas of the country). Needless to say we were pretty ignorant when we arrived in Australia and did some research. America was embroiled in the Civil War when Australia was still a penal colony for Britain (although many other people also emigrated from Britain). It wasn’t until 1901 that Australia became a federation and another 30 years or so before it received its independence from the crown. However, Australia didn’t exercise this power until the mid 1980s. To put that into perspective, India gained and exercised its independence from the crown in 1947. So yeah, we were surprised at how young of a country Australia is.
Visas are needed for US residents, but it’s easy-peasy. Simply apply for your visa in minutes online. It is completely digital and is instantaneous. I’d do it at least a few days in advance in case something goes wrong. Go here to learn more and apply for your visa.
Vaccinations aren’t necessary for US residents entering Australia. Learn more on the CDCs website.
Even as an English speaker, the Australian accent can be tough to understand no matter which part of Australia you’re in. One thing we noticed right away is that Australians give nicknames to a lot of things including their own country of “Straya”. McDonalds is “Maccas”, Football is “Footy” and Tasmania is “Tazzy.” We definitely stood out as Americans, but most people asked us if we are Canadian to avoid insulting Canadians by asking them if they are American. And only once did a drunk on the bus shout “G’DAY MATE!” to us.
Melbourne is a very easy city to navigate and has a large public transit system.
To/From the Airport
Melbourne Tullamarine – Getting to and from Tullamarine is relatively easy, but it depends where you are or where you are trying to go. Public transport, taxis or the SkyBus are at your disposal.
Avalon – If you are flying in or out of Avalon (common if you are flying with JetStar), you have limited options. Avalon is quite far from the city center so you really only have two options: rental car or the Avalon Airport Bus Transfer. You can purchase tickets when you arrive from the counter or you can purchase them in advance. We used this transfer and it was a cheap and easy way to get into the city center.
Melbourne has Uber and it is great, but expensive. The public transit system is so solid you probably won’t really need to use Uber much, if at all.
The public transit system in Melbourne is excellent and will easily get you most places you want to go. Again, it’s not the cheapest system in the world, but definitely the best option. Pick up a Myki Card, top it up with some cash, and go. You just tap on and off of the buses, trains, and trams and it calculates the fares for you. For more information on the transit system and the Opal card go here:
The best way to sort out your route and itinerary when using public transit is to download the PTV (Public Transport Victoria) app. It is straightforward and always gives you the best routes (unlike Google).
Melbourne is spread out, but it is still very walkable, especially within each neighborhood. In fact, we recommend just selecting a neighborhood and wandering around. It is the best way to see the character that makes this city special.
If you want to get out of the city and explore the other areas of Australia, consider using the regional railway. For more in-depth information on train travel throughout Australia check out Seat 61.
There are a number of mobile carriers in Australia with Vodafone, Telstra, and Optus being the main ones. We went with Vodafone and it worked out well. Pick up a prepaid SIM at the airport before you head out. They have special deals for travelers that you might not find at any of the retail locations in the city. They will also set everything up for you right there.
WiFi is readily available in many Melbourne restaurants and cafes, but not 100% reliable so I’d recommend still picking up a SIM with data for emergencies, directions, etc.
Food & Drink
The food scene in Melbourne is similar to that of Sydney and other major cities. You will have no problems finding great food and drinks, but it will be pricey. Our budget didn’t allow us to eat out much in Melbourne, but when we did we found local recommendations, Foursquare, and Urbanspoon to be the most useful. Check out the places we liked in our Exploring Melbourne post.
It depends on your neighborhood, but good options should be easily accessible. If you can, get to Queen Victoria Market for your shopping needs. They have everything.
You can drink it straight from the tap.
Tipping isn’t necessary, but some servers expect it when they find out you are a tourist (ignore them). Understanding that the tip is built into the price is a good way to justify the greater cost of food and drinks at restaurants, so make sure to factor that into your decision. For more info on tipping in Australia check out WhoToTip.
The usual rules apply. It is a major city, but it is incredibly safe so there’s not much to worry about here other than the usual.
We don’t normally have any information on this, but while in Melbourne Maya needed to see a doctor (nothing serious). Luckily, it is very easy to find a doctor that will see you ASAP. Everything went smoothly and Maya was able to get the help she needed.
Melbourne is sprawling with lots of nooks and crannies, each with its own character. Picking one to explore or stay in depends on what you are looking for. Here are some of the neighborhoods that we checked out.
The central area of the city is made up of large shopping plazas, restaurants, museums, and parks all along the Yarra River. It is a great area to explore anytime of day, but not the best place to stay, in my opinion. There are great restaurants and shops all around, especially on Flinders Ln.
Squeezed between the Carlton Gardens, Melbourne Museum, and the University of Melbourne, this neighborhood clearly stems from some old money. There are some cool streets to wander here and some good shops and restaurants, however beware of the tourist traps (“Little Italy”) in the south section of the neighborhood.
You probably aren’t hip enough to live there, but you can enjoy the scene on a sunny day. This is a spot that most youthful travelers try to set up shop. It’s an interesting ‘hood focused along Brunswick St. reminiscent of the Mission in San Francisco, but with fewer tech nerds. Go for the street art (the most impressive we have seen anywhere), the shopping, and the night life. Get away from Brunswick to get a better sense of what the neighborhood is really like and to see where the locals hang.
We didn’t spend too much time in Brunswick, but this is another trendy residential neighborhood. Think less hipster and more young professional crowd. Again, lots of good shops and restaurants here. This is a good neighborhood to stay in if you want a more local vibe.
Northcote and Fairfield
This is where we spent our two weeks. It feels a bit more suburban than other areas of the city, but still has all the amenities you could ask for. Getting to CBD can take a little while, though (45 mins depending upon where you are). This is your best bet if you want to stay on the cheap in this very expensive city.
After just spending time in Sydney, St. Kilda, a beach side neighborhood, was a huge disappointment. We weren’t there in the best season, either (early spring), but we found the beach to be unimpressive. Like many touristy beach areas, we found Acland (one of the main streets) to be filled with crap, catering only to tourists. I’m certain the area is much more attractive in the warmer months when locals flock there to find relief from the heat, but I found it all underwhelming. Visiting Coney Island in the dead of winter is more exciting, if you ask me. Anyway, although this is a bad spot to stay in Melbourne, it is worth a visit, even if just for a few hours.