It's a paradise for sports fanatics, foodies, wine snobs, animal lovers and shopaholics. Straddling the curvy, lazy Yarra River, Melbourne is Australia's second largest city but, some would say, its best. Get lost in its narrow, cobblestone laneways, stumble on a cozy little cafe or bar, take in a major art exhibition or join 100,000 other rabid fans at a footy match. It's got all the big-city perks, and you can get from the big smoke to the rainforest, wine country or ocean in less than two hours' drive. There are many ways to explore it, too, and we run some of them down below.
Start your first day in Melbourne at the crack of dawn for a bird's eye view of the city on a Melbourne hot air balloon ride. Or if heights aren't your thing (and you like sleeping in a bit) take a Best of Melbourne City Tour of the major sights (and some minor gems). Alternatively, you can opt for a morning tour or afternoon tour. Another good overview can be had on a Yarra River cruise.
Once you've got your bearings it's a good time to get out on your feet - this is after all an excellent city for walking. Get lost in a maze of shopping on the Melbourne Lanes & Arcades Walking Tour. Or stroll along the Yarra and into Birrarung Marr Park, one of the city's newest (and finest) parks.
There's a lot to see downtown - or in 'the City', or CBD (central business district), as the locals call it. There are several excellent museums, including the National Gallery of Victoria's twin sites, the International (with art and antiquities from around the globe) and the Ian Potter Centre, which houses a superb collection of Australian art. The latter is housed within the award-winning architectural centerpiece, Federation Square, which is packed with restaurants and bars. Speaking of eateries and watering holes, the CBD is filled with them; locals make a sport of finding the newest ones down a hidden laneway - see if you can beat them to it. Elsewhere in the CBD you can dine on yum cha in Chinatown, score some Greek CDs in Lonsdale Street, browse the stalls at Queen Victoria Market, or come face to face with the sharks at the Melbourne Aquarium.
A short walk or even shorter tram ride way are the Inner Suburbs - the neighborhoods that ring the CBD. You can rub shoulders with university students and shoppers in Carlton, or linger over a cappuccino in bohemian Fitzroy. In between them lies the World-Heritage-listed Royal Exhibition Building , a 19th-century gem; and the kid-friendly Melbourne Museum, with dozens of natural and cultural history exhibits.
For a good bargain, check out the Melbourne Smartvisit Card, which comes in 2-, 3-, or 7-day options and gets you into over 60 attractions and tours and saves you heaps.
Once you've made the rounds of the CBD and the inner suburbs, it's time to range a bit farther. From the city, take the ferry to Williamstown, where you can grab a hearty pub lunch and some gourmet ice cream. You can detour to the Scienceworks Museum, filled with the hands-on exhibits and experiments kids will dig. Another ferry from Williamstown will get you across the bay to the beaches, bars and beautiful people of St Kilda. Continuing northward by tram you can hit the shops and cafes of Prahran. On the other side of the CBD, crawl the pubs of North Melbourne, or savor the Middle Eastern deli delights of Brunswick. Also north of the city is the Melbourne Zoo, where they've recently opened an orangutan sanctuary. For more Australian art, pack a picnic and take the train to the Heide Museum of Modern Art.
Melbournians are mad for sport. They invented Australian Rules Football ('footy'), and they lay claim to the first Test Cricket Match, played here in 1877 at the local temple of sport, the 'G' (Melbourne Cricket Ground), which can hold over 100,000 people. It's an exhilarating experience - try to get to a footy match between March and September, or for the cricket from October to March. There's no shortage of other sports - Formula One car racing (the Grand Prix is in April), tennis (catch the Australian Open in January), swimming, rugby, soccer. And horse racing - the Spring Racing Carnival lasts nearly two months, and 'The Race That Stops a Nation' - the Melbourne Cup - is an official holiday.
Locals are also food-obsessed. Wave after wave of immigrants has blessed the city with culinary variety, including Greek, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Ethiopian, Spanish, just to name a few. You'll find restaurants, cafes, tapas bars, trattorias, noodle joints, and more. Add to that the outstanding state of Aussie wine and beer and you know you're in the right place to eat and drink. A unique way to sup and sight-see at the same time is to take the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant, a beautifully restored 1920s tram that does a lazy circle around the CBD. Or take a leisurely dinner cruise on the Yarra River. For a towering view, book lunch or dinner on the 55th floor of Melbourne's tallest office building.
Another way to spend your second day in Melbourne is to spend - shop, that is. From the and the Big Three shopping centers and the department stores in the CBD to thousands of specialty, independent, and second-hand shops all over town, you'll have a hard time coming away empty-handed. Should you need help, however, book yourself into the Melbourne Shopping Spree Tour - an expressway to the bargains aplenty at the city's numerous factory outlets.
There's another world out there beyond the suburbs, ranging from rugged beaches to tropical rainforests to high country scrub, teeming with wildlife and lots to do. Kids tend to go gaga over the 16-inch (40 cm) fairy penguins that roost on Phillip Island, as well as the koalas, kangaroos, platypi and other local fauna at Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary. There are still more kangaroos - along with waterfalls, fern gullies, Aboriginal rock art and breathtaking views - in the rugged, lush mountains of the Grampians National Park. You'll find more natural splendor along the tight curves of the Great Ocean Road, where you can surf or sunbathe to your heart's content, or in the Dandenong Mountains.
The Central Highlands of Victoria stretch north and west from Melbourne, and the old mining towns of the Goldfields are in the heart of it. You can pan for gold in Ballarat, go back to the Goldrush days in Sovereign Hill, or take the Talking Tram in Bendigo. There's lots of beautifully preserved 19th-century buildings, and it's an antique-hunter's paradise.
Melbourne is situated amongst some of the finest wine country in the world, located just a short drive from the Yarra Valley, known especially for its production of fine pinot noir, chardonnay, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. For the novice seeking to develop a better palate , the wine lover who likes to pair fine dining with his swirls, or the seriously dedicated foodie looking for an award-winning gastronomic experience accompanied by some of the best vintages, there are numerous options to experience the region that fall just shy of jumping in the grape barrel barefoot. Not to be forgotten, the Mornington Peninsula also has some outstanding wine, producing some cold-climate beauts like pinot noir and chardonnay.
That's heaps of things to do in Melbourne, though if you're still searching be sure to look at our complete list of tours, activities and things to do in Melbourne . And if you have more time on your hands consider a trip to one of the other major Australian cities. For an excellent roadtrip head west to Adelaide. Or you could go in the other direction to Sydney. The Diamond Pass is a good option for organizing several tours in multiple cities.