Should I Visit Melbourne Or...?
I love living in Melbourne because it's a bustling city with good job opportunities, excellent transport services and clubs catering for every kind of leisure activity. If you're coming to Australia to work, it's a good choice (just remember to bring your umbrella and your winter coat). But I'll be honest - if you are coming to Australia as a tourist, I won't be upset if you don't visit my city.
If you have limited time to visit Australia, then your bucket list should include, in order of priority:
- The Whitsunday Islands (with a day trip to the Great Barrier Reef);
- Ayers Rock (with a camel ride);
- Sydney Harbor (preferably on Boxing Day for the yacht race, or New Year's Eve for the fireworks);
- Kakadu (but NOT if it's the wet season);
- Daintree rainforest.(ditto).
There are many, many other things to see in Australia but for my money, that list is by far the most important - and they are all a long way away from Melbourne. The bottom line is that if I had to prioritize Australia's tourist attractions, Melbourne would be very low on the pecking order.
If you are coming to Melbourne, perhaps to visit friends or on business, then I'd recommend planning day trips to some of the worthwhile tourist attractions in the countryside round about, rather than lingering in the city.
Weather in Melbourne
When I meet tourists in town, the first thing they comment on is the weather!
Most visitors to Australia leave their warm clothes at home, because the popular vision of Australia is of a warm, sunny place. Melbourne does have some lovely sunny days, but it also gets very cold. It also rains, frequently.
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you'll know that the further north you travel, the colder it gets (it's much colder in Canada than in the US, for instance). The same goes for Down Under, in reverse. Melbourne is much further south than anywhere else in Australia (except Tasmania), so it's cooler overall.
It's also very, very flat. There is nothing to stop the hot air from inland Australia blowing into the city, and when it does, it can be stiflingly hot. However when the wind changes and blows from the South, cold air from the freezing waters of Bass Strait howls into town. The wind can change any time. The weather in Melbourne is a national joke which goes, "If you don't like the weather in Melbourne, wait ten minutes".
As a resident, the weather doesn't bother me that much. I can traverse the city easily in nice, warm trams. If I want to go for a swim, there are plenty of indoor pools, and there's plenty of other indoor activities and entertainment. Besides, I'm not a beach bunny and have never really enjoyed hot weather. However, I know that's not what most visitors are looking for when they come to Australia.
Before moving to Melbourne, I lived in Sydney for many years. I prefer my life in Melbourne for many reasons, but I do miss Sydney's beauty. Many of Sydney's suburbs are drab and boring, but the city and eastern suburbs are gorgeous. Sydney is built on hills and its road layout was not pre-planned. The result is an interesting and varied topography, often with breathtaking and unexpected views. There are lots of high points to get spectacular views of the harbor.
By contrast, Melbourne is an ugly duckling. If you like architecture, you'll be fascinated by the variety of well-preserved 19th century buildings, but otherwise Melbourne has little to offer in the way of enchanting vistas. It has even made a tourist attraction of the widespread graffiti in its laneways and suburban streets.
Day Trips From Melbourne
If you are coming to Melbourne, I recommend the following day trips. If you visit the Visitors' Centre in Federation Square, you'll find brochures for a host of operators offering tours. Alternatively, hire a car and self-drive.
The Penguin Parade
Antarctica may have bigger penguins, but Australia's are cuter! Phillip Island hosts a large penguin colony and at dusk, you can take a ringside seat as thousands of them waddle up the beach and back to their burrows.
If you're visiting Australia from overseas, then you probably want to see a koala and a kangaroo. Healesville Sanctuary is the place to do that. It's the branch of the Melbourne Zoo which specialises in Australian wildlife.
Sovereign Hill is a recreated Gold Rush town from the 1850's. It's one of the best outdoor museums I've ever visited, with staff dressed up in authentic costumes, and shops selling products from the era rather than tacky souvenirs.
The countryside around Melbourne is so flat, you'd never guess there were once volcanoes here - except for the hot springs. If you feel like some pampering, there are several resorts offering day spa treatments around Victoria, using the therapeutic water. You'll find a list of them here.
The Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road is the road that runs along the coast of Victoria. The main attraction is the rock formations visible along the shore, especially the Twelve Apostles, which are about four hours' drive from Melbourne.
See thousands of little penguins waddling ashore at sunset
The place to see kangaroos, koalas and wombats
Natural mineral waters feed luxury spas
A recreated Gold Rush town complete with a live cast of "residents"
Impressive rock formations along the picturesque Great Ocean Road drive