Melbourne, named after the British Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, was first settled by a group of settlers led by John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner. Batman had earlier explored Port Philip Bay and had a short stay near Indented Head, a coastal township on the Bellarine Peninsula, before landing near the Yarra River and decided “this will be a place for a village” on the 10th of May 1835.
Batman negotiated a land deal with the local aborigines that had previously lived around the area for an estimated 40,000 years and within a few years the CBD’s grid layout took place. By 1847 Queen Victoria had declared Melbourne a city and the discovery of gold in Central Victoria in the 1850’s coincided with the Victorian colony being separated from New South Wales to become the State of Victoria. Gold brought much wealth to the city and many of the magnificent buildings built during this time remain today in all their splendour. Gold also made Melbourne the largest city in the British Empire outside London for quiet a few years.
Melbourne’s amazing mix of multi-culturalism also started as a result of the gold rush with many settling after trying to find their fortune. Many Europeans settled after the war and have also made an enormous impact on Melbourne. Over the last 40 years there has been a large Asian influx, with many people coming to Melbourne from the troubled regions like Vietnam and other countries. Recently, many people from the sub-continent like India and Asia have migrated to Melbourne for good education and job prospects.
1859 saw the Melbourne Football Club launched and Australian Rules football went on to become the lifeblood of Melbourne. The town loves its footy. Today the sport is a national competition, but over half of the teams still reside in this great city. With the Melbourne Cricket Ground or MCG the home of football being one of the most modern and largest stadiums in the world.
Melbourne's population grew steadily during the early 1900’s. The new immigration policy of the Australian government at the time promoted Australia across Europe, which helped boost the population enormously. Today Melbourne is rapidly growing and analysts predict it will out grow Sydney as Australia’s biggest city in the next few years.
When the Federation of Australia was formed on the 1st January 1901, when all six seperate British self-govenerning colonies agreed to unite and form the Commonwealth of Australia, Melbourne become the nation’s temporary capital. The first Federal Parliament was conducted in what was to become the Royal Exhibition Building. It was not until 1927 that parliament transferred to the new city of Canberra. The Exhibition Building has become one of the most beautiful architectural treasures in the city and is now part of the Melbourne Museum. An ultra modern extension to the main building was built to house its major exhibition and this extension compliments the old building and its surrounding lush Carlton Gardens parkland.
Melbourne was home to the 1956 Olympics Games, the first to be held in the southern hemisphere and the 2006 Commonwealth Games in 2006. AFL Football, the Boxing Day Cricket Test, the Tennis Grand Slam and the F1 Grand Prix have all put Melbourne in the forefront as the sporting capital of Australia. Melburnians just can't get enough of sport and special events. The Melbourne Cup, the race that stops the nation, held on the first Tuesday of November, is the highlight of the sporting and social calendar, with just about all of Australia stopping to watch this thoroughbred race dating back to 1861.
Building boomed in the 1980s followed by a short recession, led Melbourne to another property boom that started in the late 1990s and continues until today. To the south of the city, the once unused docklands area, is being transformed into a new modern suburb with high rise accommodation, cafes, bars, galleries and Melbourne’s biggest indoor arena Docklands Stadium (or Mervel Stadium). Docklands is growing at a huge rate and transforming the face of Melbourne, linking it with its river side entertainment precinct.
Vibrant, elegant, and multicultural, Australia's second largest metropolis frequently tops the list of the world's most liveable cities. With its tangle of hidden laneways, tree lined promenades, and grand Victorian buildings funded by the 1850s Gold Rush, the city has a distinctly European feel. Foodies will also find plenty to love. Famous Aussie chefs flaunt their talents here, and you can feast on everything, from Greek, Italian, and Indian cuisine to Spanish and Vietnamese fare.
But perhaps Melbourne's biggest claim to fame is sports. The famous Melbourne Cup horse race, held on the first Tuesday in November, brings the entire nation to a standstill, and Australian Rules football elicits an almost religious reverence here. Catch a game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground; explore the city's diverse galleries, chic cafes, and shops; stroll through beautiful botanic gardens; cruise along the Yarra River; or hop aboard a heritage tram to discover Melbourne's magic.
1. Federation Square
When Federation Square opened in 2002 to commemorate 100 years of federation, it divided Melburnians. There were those who loved it and those who hated it. Either way, it has become an integral part of the city and a great place for tourists to start their sightseeing. Located opposite Flinders Street Station, a major public transport hub, the building's ultra modern design of open and closed spaces contrasts with the surrounding Victorian architecture. With more than 2,000 events annually, you can always find entertainment in the central outdoor performance space and intimate indoor venues.
2. Royal Botanic Gardens
In the heart of green parkland extending south of the Yarra River, about two kilometers from the CBD, the Royal Botanic Gardens are among the finest of their kind in the world. Established in 1846, the gardens encompass two locations: Melbourne and Cranbourne. The Melbourne Gardens cover an area of 38 hectares with more than 8,500 species of plants, including many rare specimens. The Ian Potter Foundation Children's Garden is designed to encourage the next generation of gardeners, and the Aboriginal Heritage Walk is a popular tour that looks into the rich heritage of indigenous Australians. Visiting the gardens is one of the best free things to do in Melbourne. In summer, live theater is a highlight of the gardens, and a moonlight cinema is set up under the stars. This is also a popular spot for a picnic by the lake or a traditional high tea at The Terrace cafe.
Royal Botanic Gardens
3. Melbourne Cricket Ground and the National Sports Museum
Melbourne is the sporting capital of Australia, so it is no surprise that a sports stadium numbers among the city's top tourist attractions. With a capacity of 100,000 and a history dating back to 1853, the MCG is considered one of the world's greatest stadiums. As the main stadium for the 1956 Olympic Games and 2006 Commonwealth Games, the birthplace of Test Cricket, and the home of Australian Rules Football, "the 'G" is woven into the fabric of Melbourne.
Daily 75 minute tours take visitors for a trip down a memory lane of great moments in sporting history and incorporate the National Sports Museum, including the Australian Gallery of Sport and Olympic Museum. You can also catch a game of cricket in summer or football during winter. Directly opposite the MCG is Melbourne Park, home of the Australian Open tennis tournament, held every January. You can hire a tennis court, and many concerts are held here during the year.
Melbourne Cricket Ground
4. Southbank and Arts Centre Melbourne
On the banks of the Yarra River, a short stroll from Flinders Street Station, this area is packed with cultural attractions. Southbank promenade is filled with indoor/outdoor cafés, restaurants, and live entertainment. An excellent arts and crafts market is held every Sunday, and the area is also home to many festivals throughout the year. Easily recognizable by its spire, the Arts Centre incorporates a range of theaters and spaces, including the State Theatre, Playhouse, Fairfax Theatre, and Hamer Hall, the premier performance space for the revered Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
Arts Centre Melbourne
5. Eureka Tower
Named in recognition of The Eureka Stockade, the 1854 rebellion of prospectors in the Victorian goldfields, the Eureka Tower stands 91 stories above ground in the heart of Southbank. The skyscraper's gold crown and gold plated windows add to the theme and literally sparkle when the sun catches the top of the building. Skydeck, on the 88th floor, affords the highest public view in any building in the Southern Hemisphere. Adding to the experience is The Edge, a glass cube that slides out three meters from the building for vertigo.
6. Arcades and Laneways
Wandering the labyrinth of lanes and alleyways around Flinders, Collins, and Bourke Streets reveals elegant, interesting, and quirky Melbourne at its best. The jewel in the crown is the magnificent Block Arcade in Collins Street. With its mosaic floor, period details, and unique shops, this is the place where late 19th century gentry promenaded, coining the phrase, "doing the block." It is worth lining up for a morning or afternoon tea at the Hopetoun Tearooms. This Melbourne icon dates back to 1892 and is the only original shop still in the arcade today. The opulent Royal Arcade is Melbourne's oldest arcade, and Flinders and Degraves Lanes are also well worth exploring. Several companies run guided walking tours of the lanes and alleyways.
Block Arcade in Collins Street
7. City Circle Tram Tour
Trams are a big part of Melbourne's public transport system, and the City Circle Tram offers tourists a free and easy way of seeing the CBD. Accompanied by a commentary, the hop-on, hop-off heritage tram passes many of the grand historic buildings, including Parliament House, the Old Treasury Building, Princess Theatre, and the Windsor Hotel. The trams run every 12 minutes and take about 50 minutes to complete the entire loop.
City Circle Tram Tour
8. Melbourne Zoo
Although the 22 hectare Melbourne Zoo dates back to 1862, the 320 plus species of animals have the best of modern facilities in state of the art enclosures. The award winning Trail of the Elephants is an insight into the lives of the resident Asian elephants in a traditional village garden setting. Another highlight is the Orang-utan Sanctuary, where the animals live in their treetop home. With many wild encounters, including "roar and snore," twilight music concerts, and behind the scene tours of some enclosures, Melbourne Zoo offers animal lovers a fun packed experience.
9. Captain Cook's Cottage, Fitzroy Gardens
Captain Cook's Cottage was brought to Melbourne from Captain James Cook's native home in Yorkshire, England and erected in Fitzroy Gardens. The quaint cottage is an insight into the life and times of Cook's seafaring adventures and exploration of Australia and other parts of the world. Also in the beautiful Fitzroy Gardens is the magnificent Spanish mission style conservatory that is always filled with a vibrant floral display. Children will love the tiny Tudor village and Fairy Tree.
Captain Cook's Cottage, Fitzroy Gardens
10. Yarra River Cruise
A river boat cruise is not only the perfect way to see the sights, it is also an insight into the history of the Yarra River. Many cruise companies can be found along Southbank, and it is a relaxing and fun way to get your bearings before you set out to explore the city on foot. While you are gliding down the river, keep an eye out for Birrarung Marr, originally called "Birrarung," meaning "river of mists and shadows," a waterfront parkland celebrating Aboriginal ties with the Yarra River. If you are short on time, the one hour River Gardens Melbourne Sightseeing Cruise gives you a relaxing tour past top city sights, like the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne Cricket Ground, and National Tennis Centre.
Yarra River Cruise
11. Shrine of Remembrance
Sitting majestically in Kings Domain gardens, the Shrine was built after the First World War to commemorate Victorians involved in the Great War, either abroad or at home. Today, it serves as a poignant reminder for all servicemen and women and is the central focus for ceremonies on ANZAC Day, held on 25 April, and Remembrance Day, held on 11 November each year. Guided or self-guided tours are available daily, and lighting on the building is particularly beautiful at night.
Shrine of Remembrance (Kings Domain gardens)
Docklands is Melbourne's newest waterfront entertainment precinct. With the highest concentration of green star rated buildings in the Southern Hemisphere, the satellite village is filled with cafés, restaurants, tourist attractions, and parklands. The view from the giant observation wheel, Melbourne Star, is spectacular, and the area is also home to Etihad Stadium; the Junior Wonderland amusement park; and the Icehouse, a world class ice sports venue. An art and vintage market is also held along the waterfront every Sunday.
13. Queen Victoria Market
A popular place with locals and tourists, this historic icon has been at the center of fresh produce shopping since 1878. In addition to the magnificent food halls, market stalls sell everything from clothing, art, and toys to that hard to find unique souvenir, five days a week. Special events such as night markets, music concerts, and other functions are often held during summer.
Queen Victoria Market (Queen Street near Flagstaff Gardens)
14. Parliament House
Open to the public, even when parliament is in session, Parliament House is one of Melbourne's best kept tourist secrets. It was built during the Gold Rush, and its interior is lavishly decorated with gold leaf, chandeliers, and a superb mosaic floor. Free, informative tours are held Monday to Friday on days when parliament is not in session.
Parliament House (Spring Street, near Carlton Gardens)
Great Ocean Road trip self guided tour
One of the most popular drives in Australia, the return Great Ocean Road drive from Melbourne is over 500 km, keep this in mind when planning your touring itinerary. This is my guide to driving the Ocean Road in a day, leaving from Melbourne.
It is possible to drive from Melbourne to the 12 Apostles in about 4.5 hours along the Great Ocean Road (non-stop).
Suggestions & what you can expect?
Leave as early as possible: 7 am or earlier from Melbourne is recommended.
Check sunset times to avoid getting to the 12 Apostles too late.
Driving the Ocean Road in the reverse direction may be a good option, perhaps stay overnight in Port Campbell the night before, which is near the 12 Apostles, and start the return day trip from there.
6.30 am ~ Depart Melbourne
Travel in a westerly direction over the West Gate bridge as you head to the Great Ocean Road. Following Highway One (Australia’s National Highway), is quite straightforward and not especially interesting.
There is a 24 hour BP Petrol Station at Little River which is about 30 mins after crossing the West Gate Bridge. A good place to fill up and grab a snack perhaps.
Keep following Highway One and look for the signs to the Great Ocean Road.
Follow the road (C134) towards Anglesea, I suggest you bypass Torquay on a day trip.
7.50 am ~ Anglesea
This is a sweet little town, a stop here is not recommended on a day trip, too many miles to cover still. Soon after Anglesea, the road follows close to the ocean and miles of wonderful beaches can be seen, this region is known as The Surf Coast, for good reason.
8.20 am Arrival – 8.40 am Departure ~ Memorial Arch
Passing through Aireys Inlet, the long golden surf beaches continue. Look out for the ‘Pole House’ on the right as you drive towards the Memorial Arch. Stop by the Memorial Arch to stretch your legs and read the history of the Great Ocean Road construction. This is a photo opportunity and is the official and historical entrance arch memorial, for the 3,000 workers employed to hand dig the road. Take a few minutes to walk down onto the beach.
After stopping at the Memorial Arch, keep driving up and over the hills where there are a few lookout points and driveways to homes that seemingly disappear over the cliff. This is the start of the dramatic section of the Great Ocean Road.
The Surf Coast
9.00 am Arrival – 9.30 am Departure ~ Lorne
Lorne is a favorite day trip haunt for Melbourne residents and has been for many years. Art Deco style buildings, loads of accommodation options, sea baths, safe swimming, surfing and paddle boarding, a great playground, skate park, bbq’s to use as well as loads of cafes and shops. The Lorne Visitor Centre (on the left as you enter the town and opposite the colorful lady sculptures) is worth a visit to see ‘The Great Ocean Road Story’ – a stunning display of photos and history.
Allow 30 minutes to visit this funky town on a one day drive. Do not dawdle too long… there is still a long way to go to reach the 12 Apostles!
9.35 am Arrival – 9.50 am Departure ~ Teddy’s Lookout
Drive through Lorne and turn right at the Lorne Hotel to follow the signs up to Teddy’s Lookout. The view from here is often seen in promotional tourism images. It is a steep road but vehicles going up have the right of way, so you will not need to stop. Keep an eye out for koalas in the trees around this area.
Maits Rest Rainforest Walk
10.30 am Arrival – 11.00 am Departure ~ Kennett River Koala Walk
Koalas in the wild! Many Australians have never seen a koala in the wild. Kennett River is a tiny little township and is a great place to see cute koalas, grab a cuppa maybe and feed the birds too. Allow a Lorikeet or a Rosella to harmlessly land on your head in their frenzy to be fed. Turn right towards the store and then immediately left up Grey River Road. Watch out for pedestrians, ducks, and birds on the road.
Very often a koala or two may be in the trees at the beginning of the road, park and have a walk to look for them or drive up the road one or two kilometers and look for them in the trees along the way.
11.05 am Arrival – 11.10 am Departure ~ Cape Patton Lookout
The road continues to wind around the mountainside. Cape Patton is a good place to stop briefly, views along the coast stretch towards Apollo Bay and Cape Otway.
11.30 am Arrival – 12.30 pm Departure ~ Apollo Bay
Apollo Bay is a relaxing little town. No high buildings, easy parking, a long golden beach, a good information and gift center, playground for kids, loads of cafes, a petrol station, a small supermarket and plenty of awesome accommodation options.
Stop for a light lunch at the small village of Apollo Bay.
Your journey continues through the magnificent rain forests of the Otways National Park, on the left. If you are up to it, a 20 minute stroll in the majestic rainforest amidst the lush ferns and inhale really fresh air. Very old Beech Myrtle trees, tall tree ferns and an easy loop walk (no toilets). The road continues through the forest and open farmland before climbing up the Otway Ranges to Lavers Hill. At the top of the Otway Ranges there are few shops and a petrol station, the last toilet stop before the 12 Apostles.
Just before the Twelve Apostles are Gibson’s Steps. This is one of the best beaches. 88 steps cut into the limestone cliff face, leading down to the beach with stunning views towards two of the famous rock stacks. Not safe to swim. During storms or high tides, the steps may be closed off but the lookout platform is still worth stopping for. Parking is extremely limited at Gibsons Steps.
From the nearby 12 Apostles car park it is possible to walk back to Gibsons Steps (about 20 minutes walk) if you have been unable to park, but it will impact on timings for a one day trip.
It is a very short, 2 minute drive to the 12 Apostles car park. Loads of free parking, plenty of space for caravans and motorhomes. Helicopter scenic flights leave from here and are highly recommended! No booking needed, just rock up. This is a really busy time of day to be here, but still well worth visiting of course. The walk from the car park takes a couple of minutes to reach the viewing platforms.
Toilets and a basic cafe for drinks etc. The cafe and information center closes at 5 pm (all year round), but the viewing area for the 12 Apostles is open 24 hours a day.
Named after one of the most famous shipwrecks along the coast, Loch Ard Gorge is… gorgeous. Walk to the ‘Razor Back’ formation, follow the shipwreck trail, and head down to Loch Ard Gorge beach.
Rock Formations named after the two Loch Ard shipwreck survivors ‘Tom & Eva’. Formerly called the Island Archway until it collapsed!
4.40 pm Arrival ~ Port Campbell
How much time is spent in Port Campbell is dependent on your schedule, the weather, and the time of the year. It is a nice little town with some good walks around the coast, plenty of accommodation and even a microbrewer. During summer, when the daylight is so much longer, you could linger here a little while. If you are returning to Melbourne, check on Google maps what time your return to Melbourne will be and if it means driving in the dark. This is the most hazardous time to travel, especially after already driving hours to get here.
London Bridge, The Arch, and the Grotto
Just past Port Campbell are three more stopping points before heading home if you choose. It is a 5 minute drive to the Arch then another short distance to see what is left of the famous ‘London Bridge’. Another very quick drive and ‘The Grotto’ is the last of the sights recommended for a day trip. Though it is a lot to fit in. Return towards Port Campbell and follow the signs to Colac, onto Highway One again and back to Melbourne. Use your GPS or maps as the drive is not direct and involves a few turns.
Port Campbell to Melbourne
2 hours 50 minutes / 230 km
This is perhaps the hardest part of the Great Ocean Road self drive day trip.
After a spectacular drive with so much to see, the return trip is long and needs to be broken up with a few stops. Port Campbell to Colac involves a few turns, use a navigator if you can as it is not a direct route, but is the shortest. Native animals may cross the road at any time, use caution. During the days when daylight hours are shorter, it will involve driving in the dark. You can then head for the 12 Apostles viewing site.
Another option is return on the scenic inland road, and pass lush farmland and some historic towns.