Melbourne is a diverse city which offers a lot on almost everything – carefully planned cosmopolitan, skyscrapers, European and Asian cultures, history, sceneries, wilds and beaches. Even without venturing far, the Melbourne CBD (central business district) alone is charming enough to let you saunter aimlessly for days. In this Melbourne travel guide, I’ll be sharing with you everything you need to know; transportation, best time to visit, things to do and see and decoding Myki.
Disclosure: This post contains links to more travel information and to ease your planning. Some of them are affiliate links, meaning I may earn referral fee if you make a purchase through my links at NO extra cost to you. I only recommend services and products I use.
BEST TIME TO VISIT MELBOURNE
When is the best time to visit Melbourne? While it may drill down to personal preference (some people like summer for a reason) but averagely, most agree that spring (Sep to Nov) and autumn (Mar to May) have the most pleasant weather.
Summer (Dec to Mar) isn’t a bad choice either, if you’re aiming to take in the heat of events like F1 Australian Grand Prix, Cricket Match, Australian Open et cetera.
Rainfall wise, there’s not much difference between the months, and I was told that the rain is fickle there. Hence, rain is not really a good indication of when to go Melbourne.
CHEAPEST TIME TO VISIT MELBOURNE
If you want to have the cheapest travel, let’s take a meticulous planning path to save on accommodation. If no, just go with whichever months that suits your activities. After all, travel is about enjoyment.
Summer is the most expensive, due to the major events happening during the time. Winter (Jun to Aug) is believed to be the quietest and cheapest months, but less daylight for sight-seeing.
Accommodations are expensive during school holidays too. Typically, their school holidays are from mid to end of April, almost the whole July and end Sep to Oct. (Source: South Australia School Holiday)
To balance off all the pros and cons, and scrape off the less-than-ideal days in an OCD-ish way, here are the ideal cheap time to visit Melbourne:
- March – early April
- Jun, July, August (if your focus is on winter activities, less beach and sunshine)
- Early to mid-September
GETTING TO MELBOURNE
Most travelers fly into Melbourne Airport (Tullamarine). From Malaysia, both AirAsia and Malaysia Airlines have two daily direct flights to Melbourne. An overnight flight will allow you to arrive early in the morning and have a full day ahead to explore the city.
As observed in Jan 2018, AirAsia Kuala Lumpur to Melbourne flight seems to be cheapest at MYR419 one way (include taxes), but booking as early as 10 months ahead. Malaysia Airline seems to fly cheapest at MYR1,208 (include taxes) one way. Subject to change.
Tips: If you have the luxury of time, check AirAsia promotion during Free Seats period (don’t bother aiming for the free seat, just cheap flight) while Malaysia Airlines usually has promo price when MATTA fair approaches.
Other international flights arrive in MEL, with a layover at Bangkok or Singapore. Expedia is a good place to check on your options to get to Melbourne. Watch out for the ratings stated for each flight and choose the best flight available.
Visa Requirement for Malaysian
I found that the easiest way to know what visa requirement applies to me, by googling for “visa requirement for XX citizens” and there’s a Wikipedia page that I can scroll down to Australia. Take note, however, Wikipedia is a voluntarily contributed content and is not 100% credible, but it’s the start to get around.
The next step is this website by Australian Government which explains the type of visas required to enter Australia.
Malaysian needs an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) Subclass 601 to enter Australia purely for visiting not more than 3 months. There are a few ways to apply for ETA, with very different admin/visa charges:
1. Apply ETA at Malaysia travel agencies.
This is the cheapest, ranging from MYR20 to MYR60 depending on the agency. I did mine at a travel agency in hometown for MYR30, done within 15 minutes. Just bring your passport (the one you are going to travel to Australia with) and you will receive a tiny piece of paper which you’re supposed to clip it onto your passport. Don’t lose it, bring it to and on return from Australia.
2. Online application at Department of Immigration and Border Protection of Australia website. This costs AUD20 for each application.
3. Online application at VFS Global. The most expensive at 20 pounds. Eyes wide.. I know. Yes, in UK pounds.
There are a few websites offering ETA application services too, but very little info or reviews can be found.
WHERE TO STAY IN MELBOURNE
For the first timer, CBD is good and even better, if you stay close to Free Tram Zone. It will help you cut down the cost of getting up and around besides sparing your poor legs from soreness.
A little outside of Free Tram Zone, the funky Fitzroy and Collingwood came suggested by many tripadvisors. It’s a little grungy but reputedly ticks all the boxes for great coffee, good food and nice nightlife.
South Bank allows you to be relatively close to tourist attractions; National Gallery of Victoria, Eureka Skydeck 88, Royal Botanics Garden et cetera. It is said to have the best restaurants, café and shopping experiences although they’re on a pricier scale.
Hostel is a wonderful choice if you are traveling alone and do not mind sharing a dorm with other travelers. Melbourne trip on a shoestring budget will be easily achievable with single bed rate of around AUD30.
Travelling in four? Even better, because you will get the privacy by booking for the whole dorm and still rounds up to around AUD30 per person. I got this rate by checking on Central Melbourne YHA, a hostel which many travelers speak favorably of its prime location and clean environment. Central Melbourne YHA can be booked on Agoda.
However, hostels aren’t ideal for couples. The private double rooms are rather pricey, almost on par with standard hotels.
Below are the hotels I shortlisted for my trip before we decided on Miami Hotel :
1. Miami Hotel – approx. AUD90 to AUD100 for a double room.
Like it for:
- The cheapest among the good-rated hotels in Tripadvisor.
- 12-minutes’ walk to Queen Victoria Market and Free Tram stop.
- 10 minutes’ walk to North Melbourne Train Station (good when venturing out of Melbourne CBD)
- A common kitchen and pantry where you get to cook and save budget on dining expenses. Kitchenware and utensils are provided.
- Self-serviced laundry
- Skybus airport-hotel transfer available
Might not like it for:
- If you need to fly out early in the morning, you might need a taxi, as Skybus hotel transfer won’t be available.
- Whitewashed bathroom and very simple room give a hostel vibe.
Check for Miami Hotel’s room rate and availability.
2. City Tempo (Melbourne CBD) – approx. AUD120 to 140 for Studio Apartment
Like it for:
- Perfect location, only 2-minutes’ walk to nearest Free Tram stop and 5 minutes to QVM.
- Bourke Street Mall is just around the corner, two corners, to be exact.
- It’s a studio apartment concept, fully furnished like your own home, where you get to cook, wash laundry and dry them, work with high-speed wifi and enjoy the entertainment system.
Might not like it for:
- Its price tag that might put a dent in your budget travel.
City Tempo’s room rate and availability.
3. Radisson on Flagstaff Gardens (Melbourne CBD) – AUD140 to AUD200 for double room
Like it for:
- 2 minutes’ walk to Flagstaff Free Tram Stop and 5 minutes to QVM.
- Some rooms overlooking the beautiful Flagstaff Garden.
- Spacious contemporary rooms.
- Rooftop gym and sauna.
- Free wifi in all rooms and wifi in public area
Might not like it for:
- Again, price tag.
Radisson on Flagstaff Gardens is available for booking on Agoda.
Bed & Breakfast:
1. 169 Drummond Street (Carlton) – approx. AUD135
Like it for:
- A B&B accommodation with almost perfect score in Tripadvisor.
- 12 minutes’ walk to nearest Free Tram stop on La Trobe Street.
- Experience staying in a well-maintained Victorian terrace, in a good neighborhood, a stroll away from rows of restaurants on Lygon Street.
- Free self-serve continental breakfast
Might not like it for:
- No air-conditioner (but the place is well ventilated with high ceilings)
- Reservations can only be done through their website or Airbnb.
Now that we’ve mention B&B, there are plenty of Airbnb hosts in Melbourne, offering private rooms or whole apartment in modern condominiums. If you’re seeking a strategic location, check out hosts with apartments right across Southern Cross Station in Melbourne CBD. You will save a lot of traveling time and walking muscles. Skybus main station is just across the street too.
If you’re up for the vibrant hive Fitzroy, it offers a lot of tastefully furnished spaces. I had shortlisted some Fitzroy hosts earlier for our Melbourne trip, but procrastination got the best of me. Before I knew it, they were all fully booked! Hope you will have better luck.
Note: the above room and apartments accommodate up to 2 persons.
Once you have decided on Airbnb, remember to sign up using my Airbnb invite link, and receive MYR105 (~USD26) discount off your stay. Simply make a booking of MYR240 (USD60) or more and the credit will be applied to your reservation. I will get credits too if you sign up. We both win. 😊
GETTING FROM MELBOURNE AIRPORT TO CITY CENTER
A fuss-free way to get to Melbourne city, is by taking the Skybus from Melbourne (Tullamarine) Airport to Southern Cross Station in the city center. Ticket can be purchased from Skybus Ticket Booth outside of Terminal 3. Alternatively, you may purchase the ticket online and receive an electronic ticket on your smartphone, no printing needed.
Skybus operates for 24 hours, with more frequency during the day, then reduced to 15 or 30 minutes interval during the wee hours. The ticket includes transfer to more than 100 hotels in Melbourne, so hold on to your ticket when you reached Southern Cross Station to get on the free transfer service. Detailed information and timetables can be found on Skybus website.
Skybus has airport transfer that will get you to St Kilda, Southbank Docklands and South Yarra too.
Cost: AUD18 per way, AUD36 return trip
By Bus and Train:
This method takes twice as long as traveling on a Skybus. Hence, only do this way if time is not an issue and you have only one luggage in tow, or less.
A Myki card is needed to travel on both bus and train, can be purchased from 7-Eleven or Skybus booth. (more about Myki later). Make sure you have Myki before you leave the terminal building.
Once on the kerb outside of terminal, walk to the right, in direction of T4. Follow the driveway (Departure Dr) till it intersects with Center Road. Turn right onto Center Road, ignore the taxi lane and make another right into Grants Road for the bus terminal. Look for Smartbus 901 on Bay 17.
Making sure the Smartbus 901 is heading to Frankston, tap on your Myki. The journey takes around 15 to 20 minutes to reach Broadmeadow Train Station. From Broadmeadow Train Station, take Craigieburn line towards city center.
Here’s when it gets complicated. Craigieburn Line does not stop at Southern Cross Station all the time. I would recommend improvising the journey (since Myki is already capped at AUD4.30 for 2 hours travel). Should the train skipped Southern Cross, then stop at the next station Flinders Street, or Parliament, or Flagstaff station. They’re all in Free Tram Zone.
Cost: AUD4.30. This is cap fare for 2 hours travel, so try not to linger for more than 2 hours. Thereafter, it will be AUD8.60 for full day cap.
The taxi calculator will give an estimated fare from Melbourne Airport to your destination. I keyed in Southern Cross Station as the destination and the estimated fare rounds to AUD67 inclusive of tolls and airport fees.
Uber has a fare calculator too, it gave me around AUD43 – AUD55 range for an UberX. You are probably better at using Uber than me, so I will skip the how to use the apps.
The website also indicates where are the pick-up points in Melbourne Airport.
If you haven’t signup for Uber, here is the signup link for Uber global.
Note: I’ve excluded another bus service Starbus from the list due to bad reviews I read.
GETTING AROUND MELBOURNE
Melbourne CBD is a very walkable city especially when the weather is cool and comfortable. I’ve tried keying in a few points (furthest from each other) in Google Map, and walking is always one of the top choices to get from A to B.
Southern Cross Railway Station –> National Gallery of Victoria (Southbank) ~35 minutes
Southern Cross Railway Station –> St Patrick’s Cathedral ~35 minutes
Southern Cross Railway Station –> Queen Victoria’s Market ~20 minutes
Don’t yelp yet, there’s tram. 😊
Trams (Free Tram and Other Trams):
Understanding Free Trams for a non-Melburnian like me, takes some brain juice.
Free Tram Zone (FTZ) runs in a circle, encompassing the center of CBD. At the end of this post, I had shared Google My Map, which I had pinned some of the free tram stops. Free tram stops will be clearly indicated by the sign “You are in Free Tram Zone” on the rail bars.
Now, for Free Tram. Travelling on tram in the zone is free, on the condition that, your journey starts and ends in FTZ. That’s what everyone says, but here’s the tricky part:
1. Free Trams will always travel within the circle of FTZ, clockwise and counter-clockwise. This is called Circle Line or Route 35. You can hop on and off, without needing a Myki.
2. There are, also, other trams that travel in FTZ but will eventually venture out to paid zones. Travelling on these trams within FTZ are free, but once they went past the FTZ, you will need to pay by tapping your Myki. There will be an announcement when they reached the last stop in FTZ (next stop is Zone 1), so you will decide – to alight the tram there, or tap your Myki. After alight, change to another tram that is going to your destination.
You can travel to St Kilda, South Yarra, Fitzroy, Collingwood and the rest of Melbourne from inside FTZ using the. Just remember to tap on your Myki.
Just to mention a few more-known destinations, they can take you to Belgrave (Puffing Billy), Brighton (Bathing Boxes and Brighton town), Geelong, Croydon (William Ricketts Sanctuary), Echuca, Ballarat (Sovereign Hill), Werribee (Werribee Open Range Zoo). Note that some of the destinations require changing to Vline, coaches or shuttle bus.
Many travelers had vouched self-driving to Great Ocean Road, Philips Island, Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley and other day trips. It gives the flexibility of traveling out of Melbourne City, but not that recommended for within CBD where parking fees are expensive.
The big question. Myki is like Malaysia-TouchNGo, Hong Kong-Octopus, London-Oyster, Seoul-T Money, Bangkok-Rabbit EXCEPT for one thing. You can’t buy anything with Myki except paying for public transportation fares.
Myki can be used for Melbourne’s trams, buses and metro trains.
It cost AUD6 to buy a (blank) Myki card for adult and AUD3 for children aged below 18 years, including international visitors. Top up as you go. This website has a long list of Myki selling points, but for me, I would buy Myki-Explorer upon arriving at the airport.
What is Myki-Explorer?
It is just a Myki card with preloaded AUD9 credit. So the total cost for Myki Explorer (some called it Visitor Pack) is card price AUD6 + AUD9 preloaded = AUD15. The pack comes with free maps and discount brochures.
Do I need Myki?
No, if you’re using Skybus from the airport, traveling within Free Tram Zone and taking guided tours to outside of Melbourne, or self-drive.
Yes, if you will venture out of FTZ using trams, buses and metro trains. Eg; St Kilda, South Yarra, Melbourne University, Fitzroy, Collingwood, Puffing Billy (metro train only), Brighton etc.
When to Tap my Myki?
Myki is not needed when you travel within Free Tram Zone.
You will need to tap Myki card at the reader when you are leaving FTZ into Zone 1 and beyond. Example; You’re going from A in FTZ on a tram to B, which is in Zone 1. Tap on as soon as you board the tram or tap on upon hearing the announcement about leaving FTZ.
Plan Your Journey with PTV:
Public Transport Victoria or PTV Journey Planner is the best thing around and it’s FREE. You can plan your journey up to the tiniest details; how far do you need to walk, which direction you should head, the arrival time of buses, trains and tram. There’s even announcement on any delays and maintenance happening along the journey.
FREE THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Free Walking Tour – to get the hangs of Melbourne City and art lanes, Hosier Lane included
Queen Victoria Market – food, food! And plenty of fresh produce and meat.
National Victoria’s Gallery – for art lovers
St Kilda – for beach and sun lovers. Don’t miss the Penguin Parade at St Kilda’s Pier at sunset hour.
Brighton Beach & Bathing Boxes
Carlton Garden – take a stroll or pull out your biggest picnic basket
Royal Botanic Gardens
State Library of Victoria
Melbourne University (self-guided walk)
Southbank Promenade – take an evening stroll along the Yarra River
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN MELBOURNE
Eureka Skydeck 88 – for a view over Melbourne city, some says it’s over-rated.
Shop at DFO South Wharf.
Puffing Billy – take the heritage steam locomotive into Dandenong Ranges.
William Ricketts Sanctuary – forest full of sculptors, straight into mystical land (ok, I exaggerated with the word mystical).
CHOICES OF DAY TOURS
Great Ocean Road – one day tour or stay overnight.
Philip Island – at least 2 days are needed due to the long distance.
Mornington Peninsula – berry picking and wines.
Yarra Valley Wine Tour – wines again, and cheese.
Ballarat and Sovereign Hill.
GREAT COFFEE IN MELBOURNE
Melburnians love their coffee and if you too, is a coffee-lover, you are in luck to be enchanted by their coffee culture. Here are a few most-enamored coffees in the Melbourne:
- Monk Bodhi Dharma @ Rear 202 Carlisle St, Balaclava (St Kilda East)
- Market Lane – five stores in Melbourne
- St. Ali @ 12-18 Yarra Pl, South Melbourne
- Seven Seeds @ 114 Berkeley Street, Carlton
- Cup of Truth @ 12, Campbell Arcade, Degraves Street
HOW MUCH TO BUDGET FOR MELBOURNE TRIP
Meal: Budget AUD15 for lunch and AUD20 for dinner if you’re eating out. Breakfast is self-prepared.
Transportation: AUD 0 if you’re not leaving FTZ, AUD9 on days when you’re traveling further.
Entrance fees: AUD10 per day, but skip this if you’re not visiting any paid attractions. Or you can set a provision of AUD50 for your whole trip, just in case.
Hence, daily expenses of AUD50 should suffice excluding accommodation and tour packages.
Accommodation ranges from AUD35 (single bed in a shared dorm) to AUD100 per day for a budget hotel.
MELBOURNE GUIDE MAP
Here is the map I had created in Google My Maps and includes:
- Places of Interest
- Cheap Eats
- Free Tram Zone and its Stops (mostly)
- Recommended Accommodation
- Affordable Fish & Chips
Coming up soon: Melbourne Itinerary and Money Saving Tips for Melbourne Trip
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