(Updated 03 August 2013)
The Australians are truly some of the nicest, most accommodating, and most giving people I have ever met in all of my travels. Perhaps it’s just that large island in the middle of nowhere that is so hard to get to that makes them nice, I don’t know, but if you have the chance to go, and can handle the long flight, you must do it!
Most people stay in downtown Melbourne – also known as the CBD – and as well they should. I first stayed at the Hotel Lindrum (http://www.hotellindrum.com.au/) shortly after they opened many years ago and I tell you, it is still worth the money and the “just on the edge of the CBD”: the staff are amazing, the rooms divine, and it’s not so noisy with clubs and restaurants right underneath you. And if you happen to be going to the Australian Open, it’s a great location: Melbourne Park right across the park and an easy walk!
The CBD isn’t much different than any other downtown: you have the restaurants, the shops, and some really interesting touristic things to see and do.
taxi: one of my personal favourites is in Federation Square (aka Fed Square) and it is called taxi (http://www.fedsquare.com/index.cfm?pageID=122). The food is amazing, the views spectacular and the people watching in the restaurant alone aren’t too bad either!
Chocolate Buddha: if you want something a little less expensive than taxi (above), then go here (http://www.chocolatebuddha.com.au/). I love this place and have been here many times, both for fun and even a relaxed business meeting.
For a special night out – date, friends, family, or just your own personal celebration – I highly recommend Becco (http://www.becco.com.au/) in the CBD. The temptation to be rushed at this upscale Italian restaurant is pretty prevalent from the start but with a bit of patience, and maybe even a comment to the server, things slow down and you can enjoy the atmospher, the amazing wine list, and the outstanding food. And if it’s on the menu: the buratta is amazing!
Also in the CBD is The Meatball and Wine Bar (http://www.meatballandwinebar.com.au/). This place is funky and cool and, if you can believe it, they even make a vegetarian “meatball” that rocks! The wine here is fantastic and although I’m not normally a fan of “family style tables” it works in the off-the-beaten path” restaurant. Seek it out if you need a relaxing lunch some day or maybe even a kick-back dinner.
And before I forget… if you are in the trendy Fitzroy area, you must go to the Trippy Taco. Okay, it’s mostly vegetarian, I think, but trust me when I tell you have not had vegetarian mexican food like this before! No beans and rice burrito here: it’s veg takes on the classics and it will curl your toes. And beware the hot sauce: they know how to do hotsauce right!
I am a huge fan of churches – the architecture, the peace, and the stained glass windows and St Patrick’s Cathedral does not disappoint.
But while you are in the CBD, two worthy sites to see are the Old Melbourne Gaol (http://www.oldmelbournegaol.com.au/) and the Queen Victory Market (http://www.qvm.com.au/). I opted to start with the Old Melbourne Gaol where Ned Kelly was imprisoned. It’s a self-guided tour but really fascinating and really interesting. The first time I went here, it was the Australian winter and I couldn’t get over how cold and damp it was in the Gaol. It kind of put everything in to perspective.
After the Gaol, I headed over the Queen Vic market for a bit of a wander and a coffee. You can find everything that you would ever want at the Queen Vic: fruit and veg beyond belief (made me wish I lived here just so I could shop here all the time), household goods, and yes, touristy things that you can take home to family and friends.
If you are in need of a break from the people, the cars, and all of the hazards of everyday life, you must go to the Fitzroy Gardens (located just a hop and a skip from the Hotel Lindrum). The park is just the place for a bit of peace and relaxation.
Healesville Sactuary. If you have a car or a friend with a car, you must go here just to see some koalas, kangaroos, and other native animals. What an amazing place. Unfortunately, you are no longer allowed to hold koalas but it was worth every penny and the sanctuary will appreciate the support
Great Ocean Road. I know, it sounds touristy and perhaps it is, but you really must go. To be honest, none of my Aussie friends wanted to do the drive, and I suspect yours won’t either, but there are tons of tour buses available so book in advance and do it. Why do I say book in advance? Because some of them book up quite quickly – there was one company that only took small groups and the bus had swivel chairs so you didn’t have to crane your neck! – and you don’t want to miss out. But most of the tours offer the same thing: tea and coffee along the way, a stop for lunch in a beach town (I recommend bringing your own snacks, drinks and lunch so that you have more time for exploring), and stops at Bells Beach
and the 12 Apostles
If you decide that you’ve had enough of the CBD and want a bit of relaxation and beach culture, head to the St Kilda neighborhood. This is the funky cool area with bars, small shops, an amusement park and beach, beach, and more beach.
I can recommend two hotels, and suggest a third if you decide to go to St Kilda. My favourite is the Urban Hotel (http://melbourne.hotelurban.com.au/) which is a very short walk from the beach. The decor is funky minimalist and the staff are fantastic. And the fact that they have a great coffee bar for brekkie in the morning doesn’t hurt things!
The other hotel that I can recommend, but only if the Hotel Urban is booked, is the Tolarno (http://www.hoteltolarno.com.au/). This hotel is funky and I loved the old hand-hewn wood floors. But the hotel is a tad on the noisy side – both inside and outside – but I would certainly stay here again.
The third place that I can recommend, although I have not stayed here, is the Prince Hotel. This is the classic, and famous, hotel in St Kilda. Every time I’ve been to St Kilda, it’s been booked so getting in can be a challenge. But even if you can’t get in, go to the bar which is one of the most happening scenes in St Kilda just for a drink.
If you decide not to have brekkie at the Hotel Urban, walk up the street, away from the ocean and go to Cacao (http://www.cacao.com.au/). The brekkie here is amazing: the cappuccino, latte, or whatever is HUGE, the croissants amazing, and the chocolates that you can take home are pure butter (or chocolate in this case). Cacao also has sandwiches that you can eat there or take away and papers to read so that you aren’t too far removed from the haps in the world.
And with that, enjoy!