Everything you need to know about visiting Melbourne and Sydney, Australia

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Oceania » Australia » Victoria » Melbourne » CBD
April 22nd 2013
Published: April 22nd 2013EDIT THIS ENTRY

Here is my extensive list of everything you need to know about visiting Australia (Melbourne & Sydney):

Now with pictures!

Of course there's a lot more to Australia than just these two cities, but they are popular and I spent considerable time in both so they are the ones I'm most versed in.

Disclaimer: I was in Australia in 2011, so some of this information may be out-of-date (restaurants closed, museum prices raised, etc.)

To Do in Melbourne:
- Queen Victoria Market. Lots to see, fresh produce, clothes, hats, etc. Look for the sales, negotiate for better prices. Only open certain days of the week. Get a burger (it is huge, cheap, and has egg, cheese, etc., so delicious, I think the vendor is down the cheese aisle). Get a beer (Holgate Brewhouse Temptress Chocolate Porter) and just sit and people watch.

- St. Kilda Beach. Nice place to just lay out and relax. Waves are slight if any, and water is usually pretty chilly. Food/drink around this area is pricey so I recommend packing a lunch. Get there by taking a tram from the center of the city. Also in this area is Luna
Me on the bridge spanning the Yarra RiverMe on the bridge spanning the Yarra RiverMe on the bridge spanning the Yarra River

Near Federation Square. Melbourne CBD (Central Business District) in the background.
Park (amusement park, only open certain times of the year, certain days) and the St. Kilda Botanic Gardens, which are pretty.

- Federation Square. This is a great meeting spot with friends, there are often street performers hanging about that you can just sit and watch. There is a decent bar on the edge of Federation Square towards the Yarra River that serves large beers. This spot gets busy at night with people going to the bars. Very nice area to just chill and watch life go by. There are sometimes events here. Across from Fed Sq is Flinders Street Station. The cathedral across the street is St. Paul’s.

- The Alexandra Gardens and Queen Victoria Gardens are on the other side of the Yarra from Fed Sq; very lovely green areas. A nice place to picnic, play some footy, or just wander around. There may be a cost for the Queen Victoria Gardens, I'm not sure.

- Eureka Tower. It is touristy, but you do get a great view of the city and surrounding areas from the Skydeck 88 floors up. Does cost a little (I believe under $10) so if you are not afraid of heights, I recommend it.

- Melbourne Museum. This museum is incredible, you must see it. Special exhibits come all the time and the regular exhibits are well worth the entrance fee. Use your student ID card and get a discount (they should accept international). Entrance the hour before closing is free, so if you are trying to kill time, it is a good place to just wander around. The Carlton Gardens, that surround the museum and the Royal Exhibition Building, also very nice and happen to be a World Heritage Site.

- The Docklands. This is a shopping area down by Melbourne Harbor. The shops are pricey but it is a nice area to wander through and just look. There are nice restaurants there too, but again, pricey. In the warmer months there are occasionally festivals and performers.

- Brighton Beach. A short tram ride from the center of the city gets you to this colorful little beach. It is touristy, mainly because there isn’t much to do here expect chill on the beach, but it is nice and quaint. There are small, colorful beach houses along the beach that make for cool photographs. Restaurants and cafes nearby are decent, again they cater to tourists so will be on the $$ side.

- Chinatown. It's like most Chinatowns. A lot of restaurants with hostesses standing out front to draw you in. It is colorful and cultural, and if you are lucky you can find some yummy sushi or peking duck. Melbourne has a strong Asian influence so you can find lots of good Asian cooking if you look hard enough. I recommend reading restaurant reviews before you sit down though, some places are definitely better than others.

- The Royal Botanic Gardens. Very pretty, lots of walking paths.

- The Southbank is a nice wandering area, some small cafes, shops, etc. I recommend just starting at Federation Square, crossing the bridge toward the gardens, and just walking down along the Yarra, until you spot the Melbourne Aquarium on the other bank. Batman Park (beside the Aquarium) is a nice enough spot.

- The Docklands Park and Webb Bridge. This is fun little park with strange new-art chrome circles. If you walk through the park to the Yarra, you will cross the Webb Bridge to the southside area known as Yarra's Edge. There isn't much to see here, but at night it’s a great spot for a photograph of the city.

- The laneways. To quote from a website: "OFTEN MISSED BY TOURISTS, MELBOURNE’S LANEWAYS ARE A VERITABLE TREASURE TROVE OF BARS, RESTAURANTS, GALLERIES, AND BOUTIQUES. Melbourne’s laneways are narrow enclaves where mainstream culture takes a back seat to allow for one-off boutiques, unique galleries, tiny cafés and hidden bars." Pretty much these are tiny streets with outdoor seating for nice restaurants, interesting little shops, and delicious "street" food. The best way to find them is just wander around the city. Preferably with a companion and during daylight hours.

- Brunswick Street. A street to the north of central Melbourne that has a great, crazy nightlife scene happening. There are dozens of clubs, pubs, late night food spots, and people. Hit this area with a group of friends because it is not a particular great place to be drunk and alone. Many taxis roam this area at night too so be very aware when crossing the street and watch your wallet. All over a really fun place to party, just be safe.

If you have time to take some day trips around Melbourne:

- Go down the Great Ocean Road. It’s beautiful and well worth a few hours of driving. I got out to the Twelve Apostles and London Bridge (rock formations along the coast) and they were awesome.

- Go to Ballarat. This is more of a weekend trip. It’s a quaint little city a few hours northwest of Melbourne that has a cool mining town area that you can go to called Sovereign Hill. Nice place for some Australian history.

- Go to Phillip Island for the penguin parade. Totally adorable. Do check the dates and times though, not sure if it’s seasonal.

- Go to the Grampians National Park. Really nice nature trip, just be sure you have the bug spray!!! It will be cold up there, be prepared!

To Do in Sydney:

- Free walking tour. Designed for tourists, nice afternoon walking, FREE! (I’m not recommending a walking tour for Melbourne and Brisbane because I found it was more fun to wander those cities and discover on my own, but I’m sure those cities have tours as well.) http://www.imfree.com.au/

- Harbor Bridge. Gotta love it, don’t have to
The DocklandsThe DocklandsThe Docklands

pay to go up it. It’s free to walk across the bridge and you can get equally beautiful shots of the Opera House, harbor, and city from that level. Seriously, the price to go up it is ridiculous.

- Watson’s Bay. Beautiful, absolutely amazing out here. It’s the area surrounding Sydney; the peninsulas that would have greeted the first settlers, and the views are what make it special. Nature-y, calm, and not packed with tourists! Get here by public transit (boat).

- Sydney Tower's 360 Bar & Dining. This restaurant/bar offers a 360 degree view of the city. Does have a dress code (business casual – classy) and they want you to spend an arm and a leg on dinner, but it’s A LOT cheaper to go there for just a drink.

- The Fish Market and Darling Harbor. Cool places to check out and wander. Sometimes there are street performers around the Harbor. The fish market has fresh, cheap seafood. Huge portions.

- Bondi Beach and Manly Beach. Famous beaches, get to both by taking public transit (ferries).

- Opera House and nearby Royal Botanical Gardens. The Opera House is on every tourist's "to-do"
Me near St. KildaMe near St. KildaMe near St. Kilda

Melbourne harbor in background
list, and it should be. The Gardens provide a great relaxing area to view the harbor and Opera House itself...without fighting the crowds.

- The Art Gallery of NSW. It’s pretty cool, nice place to spend a few hours on a rainy day.

If you have time to take some day trips around Sydney:

- The Blue Mountains. Like the Blue Ridge Mountains here in Virginia, but better. Do a day tour because it’s a pain to get up there yourself and you’ll learn more with a guide. I suggest a packed lunch and prepare for it to be chilly.

- Watson's Bay. (Mentioned above but I think this area could be it's own day trip since there is so much nature to explore.) This peninsula is the entrance to Sydney Harbor. Great place to walk around and view the city from afar. One of my favorite spots from this trip.

Here are a few language-culture tips for visiting Australia:
- "Thongs" are flipflops or sandals with a strap between the toes

- "A jumper" is a sweatshirt or hoodie

- "Brekkie" is breakfast

- "Tea" when said by an Australian usually refers to dinner or supper

- "Ta" is like "thanks"

- Order a white coffee, meat pie or sausage roll at Pie Face and enjoy the deliciousness.

- Australian’s don’t tip, so you don’t have to. Servers are making living wages so don’t feel obligated.

- Do NOT try to take the tram without purchasing a ticket. The transit officers do get on the trams often and will fine you a lot of money if you didn’t pay your fare. Don’t risk it, not at all worth it.

- Site for public transit in Melbourne ptv.vic.gov.au

- The "CBD" is the Central Business District, basically the center of Melbourne. During the week stores (even major department stores) close around 9pm. Same idea in Sydney, closing early evening.

- You will need a real ID, not a school ID, to get into bars and clubs.

Food and drink advice for visiting Australia:

-Melbourne is like Australian foodie paradise. Please don’t buy cheap, terrible-for-you food when you’re in a city that is known to serve amazing dishes!

- Don’t be surprised by prices being a bit higher than you are used to in America and comparable to dining in Europe. Minimum wage is higher here so food/drink costs more.

- Just don't go to Taco Bill. Yes it's funny sounding, but it's not authentic or even good Mexican food, and it's pricey for the food and drinks they do give you. It's sad. It is however, one place you can find Pacifico beer, but I would say that's the only reason you should go there. Their margaritas are not that good either.

- Nandos is a resturant that has chicken fingers, chicken wraps, chicken etc. It's ok, but I wouldn't waste your money.

- Hungry Jacks is like Australia's version of Burger King. It is actually better and fairly cheap. A decent choice if you are famished.

- McDonald’s (“Maccas”) is actually ok in Australia. When I was there, it was 50 cents for a vanilla ice cream cone, and that’s all I’d usually get.

- You need to try Vegemite. It’s required, just like a passport. So either get a bunch of friends together and purchase a small bottle you can then pass off to an Aussie once you stop scraping your tongue, or grab a small packet from a restaurant (they look like jelly packets). The way to eat vegemite is to coat a piece of toast in butter, then very gingerly scrap the tiniest bit of vegemite over the butter. Enjoy. Some Aussies eat it on crackers, so if you are a fan you can try that.

- Kangaroo meat is delicious. It's rich and not fatty like steak. I recommend trying it grilled.

- I’m a beer snob, but decent Australian-made beers include Cascade, Pure Blonde, and Carlton Draught (stay away from Carlton Mid).

- Poor, not-that-good, beers to avoid include XXXX, VB (Victoria Bitter), and Gold. Fosters is fine, but nothing special.

- Bundaberg rum is verrrrrry sweet in my opinion.

- Sierra tequila (the one with the little sombrero as the cap) is awful, stay far, far away.

- Jim Beam is decent, if you are a fan of bourbon.

- "Goon" refers to cheap boxed wine. You can usually get a box for around $10 and then plan to share it with your friends, usually before going out to a bar or club. WHITE IS MUCH BETTER THAN RED. It’s terrible stuff but cheap to pre-game on. I recommend mixing with orange juice to cut the taste. Buy Lexia boxed wine as it's pretty ok for what it is.

- Shop for food and household stuff at Aldi, Woolworths, or Coles. Aldi is a German store chain that is very cheap and stuff is often in bulk. Coles has good prices and you can find most of the stuff you are looking for there. Woolworth’s is like Martin’s in the States.

- Liquor, wine, beer, etc. is sold in separate liquor stores (Coles often have one attached) and you buy it there, separate from regular groceries.

- Medicines are also sold separate from the food stores at a chemist’s. There are several discount chemist stores around Melbourne, and if you are buying a decent brand it probably won’t be much cheaper at another shop. For sore throats I recommend Strepsils lozenges. I liked the blue ones best.

- Safety. There is of course safety in numbers, so travel as a group if you can. That said, the trams, buses, and taxis are very safe and the operators are very nice overall. I took the city buses almost every day that I lived in Melbourne and always felt safe and the drivers were very helpful (occasionally more than helpful as there were a few instances that a friend and I got lost and the bus driver/cab driver pointed us in the right direction or took us there for free).

- Follow basic city precautions – don’t show or talk about money in public, don’t be drunk and alone, carry your bag close to you and across your body and watch your wallet, and don’t carry open alcohol on the street.

- Try to take public transit when possible. Taxis are really, really expensive in the cities so I’d only say to use them if you are riding with a group and splitting the cost, or riding to or from the airport.


- Sydney’s airport is connected by a train line, thank goodness. Getting to and from Melbourne’s Tullamarine is a headache. Easiest way = Go to/from Southern Cross station via the Skybus (for a handsome price).

- If you are booking flights to travel around, I recommend Jetstar. Never had a problem
Sydney at nightSydney at nightSydney at night

From the Royal Botanical Gardens. Across From Sydney CBD. (Opera House would be to the right of this photo.)
with them or their service. DO NOT book Tiger Airways. They’ve had all sorts of issues and are absolutely terrible on all accounts.

Feel free to shoot me any questions. Always happy to help if I know anything about it. Have a great time down under!!!!!

Few more photos below...


Additional photos below
Photos: 17, Displayed: 17


Bondi BeachBondi Beach
Bondi Beach

Outside of Sydney
Me at Watson's BayMe at Watson's Bay
Me at Watson's Bay

Sydney in far background
Me at the Blue MountainsMe at the Blue Mountains
Me at the Blue Mountains

Outside of Sydney

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