Australia. It's known for vegemite, the Sydney Opera House, the Hemsworth brothers and being home to the deadliest creatures. It had been my top destination for many years. I envied the accents, the kangaroos and the consistent warm weather.
Then by perhaps a miracle, I got my chance in 2017 to spend five months there doing a foreign exchange program. It was one of the most exciting times of my life.
The university I was a part of was located in Melbourne, a city I’ve heard many people describe as up and coming, incredible for young people especially and home to many different cultures. I would agree. Melbourne is alive with tourists and locals, architecture and gardens and places to relax and places to be busy. And while you could walk down any street and find something to see or do, after living there for five months, I can recognize what should be top on visitors’ touristy to-do lists to get to know the city.
So without further ado — although it’s been a while since I've said “mate” or “brekkie” — here’s a bucket list for when you travel to Melbourne, Australia.
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1. Sunbathe at St. Kilda Beach.
I truly believe that sunshine can make you happier when I visit beaches like this one. Join the tourists, joggers, rollerbladers, families and swimmers who flock to this area. It’s a playground for everyone with a long boardwalk, nearby restaurants and food trucks, a pier where penguins like to hang and, of course, the ocean and its sandy shore, which are perfect for laying out, swimming and other water sports.
2. Peruse the Queen Victoria Market.
It’s time to shop till you drop! And I’m serious, you might want to spend all your money here. The Queen Victoria Market (also known as the “Vic Market”) began in 1878 and has fresh food and handmade items from local family-run businesses. You can also go on a foodie tour or look at the schedule and visit a special market event like the Winter Night Market, which also has live entertainment.
3. Go crazy at an AFL game.
Yes, Australia has cricket and rugby, but AFL (Australian Football League) is where it’s at! They tackle without any protective gear, so it’s intense, and they only pause at the end of each quarter, so it’s very fast-paced. Footy, as the Aussies call it, is nothing like American football. Every player is running, kicking, hitting, throwing, rolling and tackling. (P.S. You can cheer on “my team.” Go Richmond!)
4. Search out Melbourne’s popular street art.
There are many lanes in the middle of the city that show the fascinating artistic skills of its residents. From the eclectic graffiti on Hosier Lane to the tribute to Prince on AC/DC Lane to the Melbourne mural at Duckboard Place, you’ll find a variety of exciting visuals and great backgrounds for your Instagram posts.
5. Discover the variety of cultural cuisines.
Since Melbourne is a bit of a melting pot, there is an immense number of restaurants as well as cuisines from all over the world. And don’t forget to try some kangaroo! (I had a kangaroo burger, and it was actually pretty good.)
6. Stop and smell the flowers at the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Right next to the Shrine of Remembrance, another great place to hang out, you’ll find a walkable garden that makes you feel like you’ve been dropped into a brightly colored painting. It has 8,500 species of plants, so grab a map and explore! In the warmer weather, you can also set down a blanket, wait for darkness to cover and watch a movie projected on an outdoor screen through the Moonlight Cinema.
7. Gather and celebrate with locals at a festival.
There is always something going on in or near Melbourne, so you can’t use the excuse that there’s nothing to do. During my first couple of weeks in Australia, I went to a White Night festival, a light show in the middle of the city. You’ll also find music, art and food events (my friends and I went to a wine and cheese fair one weekend), and even really niche festivals.
8. Expand your knowledge at the city’s museums.
No matter what you’re interested in learning about — the arts, sports, history, the city — Melbourne has an exhibit for you. Federation Square is a great place to start, particularly if you’re into art and events. I also went to the Immigration Museum, Melbourne Museum and National Gallery of Victoria.
9. Admire Melbourne atop a giant Ferris wheel.
If you want to see the entire city and its multicolored, twinkling lights, a late evening ride on the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel is the best way to do it. But keep in mind that it’s a little pricey. The Ferris wheel is also located in the Docklands, a waterfront suburb, where you’ll want to shop and enjoy waterside dining.
10. Get away from Melbourne for a day.
It might sound a little hypocritical in this article, but Melbourne truly does have some exciting adventures that are just a car ride away. Your options include going on a hike, hanging out with wildlife, visiting wineries, driving along the coast, tanning at beaches and more. Learn more about these destinations here.
Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that this is old footage from 2017, a time before I bought any normal equipment, so I apologize for the shaky camera!