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Melbourne

Australia's most sophisticated city

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Melbourne (pronounced Mel-bin or Mel-bun, but never Mel-bourne!), is Australia’s most sophisticated city. Sorry, Sydney…but it’s true!

Victoria‘s capital is at the head of the pack when it comes to shopping, restaurants, fashion, music, nightlife, and cafe culture. It frequently beats other state capitals in bids for major concerts, plays, exhibitions, and sporting events.

Melbourne’s population – more than 3 million at last count – is one of Australia’s most multi-cultural, with waves of immigration meaning almost a third of Melburnians were born overseas or have parents who were born overseas.  More people of Greek descent live in Melbourne than in any other city except Athens, Greece. Chinese, Italian, Vietnamese, and Lebanese immigrants have all contributed to making the city what it is today.

This diverse population—and with trams rattling through the streets and stately European-style architecture surrounding you—makes Melbourne one of the most interesting and culturally rich in Australia. Sometimes, it’s easy to think you’re not even in Australia!

Melbourne’s origins go back to the 1850s, when gold was found nearby. British settlers arrived, proud that they were building a city of free men, rather than convicts as Sydney had been. Melbourne grew wealthy and conservative, until World War II, when another wave of immigration, mainly from southern Europe, made it a more relaxed place.

With elegant tree-lined boulevards and a strong cafe culture, Melbourne has a distinctly European feel but with an edgy modern side to it. Atmospheric laneways are lined with cafes and vibrant street art, architecture  both old and new and green spaces like the Royal Botanic Gardens.


When To Go

Melbourne is a fantastic year-round destination, simply because there’s such a variety of things to do. So even if the weather doesn’t co-operate with your day’s plan, there will be something else – something indoors – that will just as easily give you a sense of what this great city has to offer.

Galleries, museums and cultural attractions abound in Melbourne, ideal for when the weather’s not so great. But when the sun shines, it’s the great outdoors that will have you by the bay, on the beach or in a national park.

Melbourne has four distinct seasons, something of a rarity in Australia, where the seasons sometimes blur. So whenever your travel plans bring you here, you’ll find plenty of scope to discover what makes Melbourne tick.

How Much Time To Spend

How long have you got?  I could spend a lifetime in Melbourne, and at one stage contemplated it. After a wonderful holiday there, I packed up and moved there for seven years. What greater recommendation could I give you? Melbourne deserves to be savoured, and there is plenty to see and do – enough to keep you occupied for years!

But realistically, you will see a lot in a week.  Allocated just a few days and you will be cursing yourself once you get there. This is a fabulous city, and you won’t be disappointed. Even if it rains, there is plenty indoors to keep you not only occupied, but entranced.

If you can afford more than a week, take it. You won’t be sorry, I promise!

Events and Holidays

Local Events & Holidays include:

Melbourne Cup Day

National Holidays:

January 1: New Year’s Day
January 26:  Australia Day
March/April: Good Friday and Easter Monday
April 25: Anzac Day
December 25: Christmas Day
December 26: Boxing Day

On national public holidays, banks, post offices and liquor outlets may be closed or open for limited hours. There are also additional holidays in each state or territory.

Time Zone

To check the local time in Melbourne, click here.

Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) covers Queensland, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, and Tasmania. Central Standard Time (CST) is used in the Northern Territory and South Australia, and Western Standard Time (WST) is the standard in Western Australia. When it’s noon in New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria, Queensland, and Tasmania, it’s 11:30am in South Australia and the Northern Territory, and 10am in Western Australia.

All states except Queensland, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia observe Daylight Saving Time (DST) during spring and summer. At 2AM on the first Sunday in October clocks are advanced one hour. On the first Sunday in April at 2AM, clocks shift back one hour to standard time. However, not all states switch over to daylight saving on the same day or in the same week, so it pays to check if you are travelling at these times.

What To Pack and Wear

The phrase “four seasons in one day” is a much muttered one about Melbourne’s weather – usually by people who don’t live there! But there is some truth to it, the weather is notoriously changeable and it always pays to carry an umbrella (just in case!).

The best advice is to wear layers, which can be either added or peeled off as the weather changes. The other option, of course, is to hit Melbourne’s great fashion boutiques and stock up on a new range to fit what you happen to need!

What it Costs

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in $AU.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $20-70 per person
$$$ => Tickets $70 per person

Sleep
$ => Rooms less than $200 for a double
$$ => Rooms $205-300 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double

Eat
$ => $1-$35 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$ => $35-$80 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $80 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)

Shop
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $20-$50 per person
$$$ => Tickets $50 per person

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Fly the Friendly Skies

Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.

But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.

Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.

That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings.

Have Car, Will Travel

Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping, and the major companies like Hertz, Budget, Avis and Europcar all operate around Australia, alongside smaller local companies that are worth investigating.

There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ‘em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.

Ride-sharing company Uber is relatively new to Australia and is currently under scrutiny by state governments where it operates.  It currently operates in Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula and Geelong in Victoria, Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

Rides are ordered through a smart phone app, it’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.

Insurance

Hopefully, your trip to Australia goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?

Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.

Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:

Trip Cancellation — About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.

Medical —Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.

Trip Interruption — For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.

Travel Delay — Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.

Baggage — Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.

Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.

Do I need travel insurance?

If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. Standard medical and travel insurance is advisable for travel to Australia. Divers including the Great Barrier Reef or other Australian diving destinations should also ensure they have the appropriate insurance.

How do I choose an insurance provider?

Do your homework — check around.

The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.

Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).

If you have pre-existing health conditions — Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.

Credit card insurance — If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.

The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.

For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.

Exchange Rates and Currency

Currency

Australian dollars come in $1 and $ coins, and $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes.  Each is a different colour, so they are easy to tell apart. Other coins are 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents and 50 cents. ThCe $1 and $2 coins are gold, all the others are silver.

Prices sometimes end in a variant of 1 or 2 cents (for example, 52 cents or $1.78), a relic from the days before 1-cent and 2-cent pieces were phased out.  In these cases, prices are rounded to the nearest 5 cents, so 52 cents rounds down to 50 cents, and 78 cents rounds up to 80 cents.

Money, ATMs, Credit Cards

ATMs

If you get money from an ATM, you may incur charges (often $2 or $3 per transaction). Check with your bank before you leave home to find out which, if any, Australian banks will allow you to get cash without an extra charge. Many grocery stores, gas stations and major retail outlets let you get a limited amount of “cash out” when paying for your goods — this is an easy way to get cash while on the go.

Credit Cards

Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout Australia.  Visa and MasterCard are universally accepted in Australia; American Express and Diners Club are less commonly accepted, so it pays to check first. Always carry some cash, because some traders won’t take cards for purchases under $10 or $15.

Don’t forget to call your debit and/or credit card company before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. If you don’t do this in advance, you risk having your card denied/declined when you try to use it in a destination far from home. You should also call your company immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card — which doesn’t make sense if they are lost or stolen. So make a note of them and store them where you’ll have easy access.

Recently, companies have been issuing cards with embedded chips that prevent counterfeit fraud. Banks and merchants that don’t offer the chip-and-PIN technology are beginning to be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details on your specific cards.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

Tipping is always appreciated, but is not widely practiced or expected in Australia. It is usual to tip around 10% to 15% or round up to the nearest A$10 for a substantial meal in a restaurant, but certainly not mandatory. Some taxi passengers round up to the nearest round figure in a cab, but it’s okay to insist on every bit of change back. Tipping hotel porters and housemaids is sometimes done, but no one tips bar staff, barbers, massage therapists and spa employees or hairdressers.

Other costs:

Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and chemist shops (pharmacies/drugstores) will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.

Transportation

Melbourne’s tram system gives it one of Australia’s best urban transport systems. As they rattle through the streets, trams are part of what gives Melbourne its character. On some routes, the trams are sleek new models, often laden with advertising and painted in bright colours; on others, the old-style trams stick to their traditional green and cream paint job. Melburnians love their trams, and you really shouldn’t leave the city without jumping on one at least once.

Of course, there are other forms of public transport too – an extensive rail network, both suburban and to other parts of Victoria, and to a lesser extent, a bus service.

Getting around Melbourne is easy, even if you prefer to walk. The inner city is relatively flat and the major attractions are within a relatively short distance of each other.

Background

Culture

Melbourne is Australia’s cultural capital.  From galleries to museums to artists co-operatives and street art, there is a creative bent to almost everything in the city.

More than 100 gallery spaces can be found throughout the city, including many which specialise in Aboriginal art. Don’t miss the world’s first major public gallery dedicated to Australian art, the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia.  It’s sister, the National Gallery of Victoria, has an international collection to rival it for your attention.

Then there’s theatre, music, comedy, art-house cinema, dance, and a plethora of festivals to keep you entertained.

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