I have been asked by friends and even strangers to share my recommendations for what to do in Australia for a few weeks. A few caveats, we did not get to every city nor did we see all there is to see in Australia by any stretch of the imagination. So I can only comment and share the highlights of what we did and what we saw.
I have to admit that I loved living in the Central Business District (CBD) of Melbourne. [Note: Australian and New Zealanders call their downtowns CBD.] Where we lived meant we could walk to anywhere in the CBD and because the city has an excellent public transit system, we had access to everywhere in the whole metropolitan area. Melbourne is a major international city that is still very livable and very easy to visit. In fact Huffington Post just named Melbourne as the world’s most liveable city.
I highly recommend visitors to Australia spend some time in Melbourne. And I mean spend time there, don’t schedule up every minute running around the city seeing museums (although the museums there are world class) or seeing the sites (although there are some very fun sites to see) but rather have some down time to explore.
If you go to Melbourne, stay in the CBD so that you can soak in the atmosphere. It is a walkable city and there are plenty of wonderful places to explore. I took several walking tours while living there recommend MelTours. We took their Laneway Tour early on in our stay in Melbourne and it was fantastic. There are hundreds of laneway and alleyways in Melbourne with all sorts of shops and sites and art work to see. There is no way anyone can see them all, but it doesn’t matter as we found this walking tour excellent. I took several of their other tours and they were also good.
It is important to note that almost every major Australian city has walking tours, including free ones. I did not attend any of the free ones, but I saw them everywhere with huge crowds, easily 40 to 50 people on the tours (even in the rain!). The tours I paid to attend never had more than 15 to 20 people, sometimes even smaller. My bias is in favor of the smaller more intimate tours and I believe you get what you pay for.
My favorite street in Melbourne was Bourke Street. In the middle of the CBD, Bourke Street is closed off to cars. Almost every afternoon and evening there are several different bands who set up on the corners and play live music. I loved walking around and listening to musicians play their various styles of music to the crowds walking through town.
I loved spending time wondering the aisles of the Queen Victoria Market. In fact I did almost all our grocery shopping. It is acres of shopping where you can buy fruit, vegetables, meats, chicken, fish, souvenirs, clothing, shoes and more. I planned my days and my weeks around its hours so that I could take advantage of the wonderful organic foods offered there.
No trip to Melbourne is complete without a word about coffee. I am not sure why Melbourne has such excellent coffee, but it does. And their specialties are espresso drinks. It is almost impossible to find a bad cup of coffee in Melbourne, really! CNN names Melbourne one of the Worlds 8 Great Coffee Cities. I have since learned that there are now walking tours of the great coffee shops in Melbourne. One of my favorite things to do was to Google best coffee shops in Melbourne CBD and then walk to whatever shop came up on top that day. Be warned that Australians have different names for espresso drinks than we do. Here is a guide to ordering coffee in Australia.
The other major city in Australia is Sydney. I spent several days there. We stayed at the Park 8 Hotel in the Sydney CBD that I found on Trip Advisor. We spent a little bit more to get a real window versus frosted glass. While there I wandered their CBD, took walking tours of the Rocks (the old part of the European settlement), ventured out to Bondi beach and climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Now the Bridge Climb is expensive, but it was worth it. Unless you are absolutely terrified of heights it is not to be missed. I was nervous beforehand, worrying about it being too hard or too scary, but it wasn’t. It was thrilling and beautiful!
Just like most people have a preference between San Francisco and Los Angeles, many people have a favorite between Melbourne and Sydney. I admit I am biased in favor of Melbourne (and prefer SF too!). I enjoyed my time in Sydney, but frankly it felt like any international city in the world. With the exception of the historic Rocks area, the city felt like it could have been in any country in the world. But Melbourne has a unique Australian flavor. When they modernized the city, they kept enough of the historic character of the city so that you have a strong sense of the past as well as the present, something Sydney did not do well in my opinion.
Bottom line: If I had a limited time in Australia, I would skip Sydney and spend more time in Melbourne as well as some of the other wonderful places in Australia. More on those places next time.
Do you have a preference between Sydney and Melbourne?
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