The Best Areas to Stay in Melbourne
Although not boasting a sprawling harbor, iconic bridge, or opera house, Australia’s second-largest city does rival Sydney as the business, cultural, and artistic heart of the country. Vibrant, bohemian, and multicultural, Melbourne is also arguably the sporting capital of the entire world, hosting major international events throughout the year as well as a unique code of Australian football. The extensive parks, inner-city beaches, excellent public transport, and easy access to attractions across the state are just more reasons why this city of nearly five million is regularly awarded the ‘World’s Most Liveable’.
Staying in the city center makes sense because of its fabulous amenities, handful of attractions, and easy public transport to the rest of Melbourne, but the streets are alarmingly overbuilt and many hotel rates, overpriced. Alternatively, and within just a few stops by tram (often free) from the city center, are spacious hotels on the city fringes: at Docklands, a rejuvenated and affluent suburb facing a delightful marina; Southbank, on the other side of the Yarra River from downtown and home to the extraordinary Crown Casino complex; South Melbourne, including Albert Park, which offers substantial gardens and an appealing suburban vibe; and East Melbourne, with its fashionable hotels and numerous colonial-era buildings.
Two other areas within 15 minutes by tram of the city center are tourist attractions in their own right: South Yarra, a stylish suburb crammed with boutique hotels, trendy bistros, and hip bars; and St Kilda, with its extensive beach, amusement park, live music venues, and palm-studded gardens.
The Best Places to Stay in Melbourne
- Best Luxury Hotels in Melbourne
InterContinental The Rialto • Langham • Sofitel on Collins • Crown Towers
- Best Boutique Hotels in Melbourne
Lyall Hotel and Spa • Treasury on Collins Apartment Hotel • The Jazz Corner
- Best Family Hotels in Melbourne
Crown Metropol • Quest NewQuay • Pan Pacific
- Best Budget Hotels in Melbourne
Cosmopolitan • Crest on Park • Grand Chancellor
Best Areas in Melbourne for…
- Best Area in Melbourne for Sightseeing: City Center
There aren’t a huge number of must-sees in downtown Melbourne, but many stay there because of the wonderful malls, markets, and arcades, and the innumerable restaurants and bars, especially along the picturesque Yarra River and narrow laneways for which the city is famous. Melbourne also provides outstanding public transport services, including trains all over the state and free trams within the city center and to its fringes.
- Best Area in Melbourne for Nightlife: St Kilda
The compact and bohemian beach suburb of St Kilda is home to three of Melbourne’s top venues for live music and cultural events: the historic Palais Theatre, Hotel Esplanade, and The Prince (Prince of Wales) Hotel. All are within walking distance of each other and of most hotels in this area. During summer, St Kilda becomes more vibrant as hip cafés along Acland Street become packed and screams of delight emanate from the Luna Park amusement park.
- Best Area in Melbourne for Food & Restaurants: Southbank
Along the southern edges of the Yarra River, which bisects the center of Melbourne, is a seemingly endless selection of classy bistros and bars in compact areas such as South Wharf, Southgate, and the sprawling Crown Casino complex at Southbank. All are perfect places to wine, dine, and people-watch, and prices are not always eyebrow-raising. Romantic, all-inclusive dinner cruises are also offered along the Yarra.
- Best Area in Melbourne for Families: Docklands
Only a few stops by free tram from downtown is the rejuvenated area of Docklands. Facing an attractive harbor and marina which are ideal for walking and cycling, it’s a spacious and quiet area with far less traffic than the city center. The appealing District Docklands shopping center is home to a games arcade, ice arena, cinemas, and mini-golf. Other family-friendly attractions in Docklands include the Melbourne Star observation wheel and the massive stadium, with up to three games of the unique code of Australian Rules Football each weekend in winter.
- Best Area in Melbourne for Beaches: St Kilda
About 4 miles from the city center by frequent tram, St Kilda offers a bohemian – but, at times, tacky – vibe so likably different from the rest of Melbourne. Along the lengthy beach, visitors can enjoy water-sports (such as paddle-boarding and kite-surfing) and cycling along the boardwalk, as well as legendary sunsets and welcome summer breezes. Added attractions are some of Melbourne’s finest cafés and funkiest pubs, three of the city’s premier live music venues, the quirky and historic Luna Park amusement park, and a pier that extends deep into the bay. What St Kilda does not offer, however, is decent swimming, so if getting into the water is important, head to Brighton Beach.
- Best Areas in Melbourne for Gardens: South Melbourne and Albert Park
Thankfully, the original design of the capital of Victoria – self-labeled the ‘Garden State’ – included numerous parks and gardens. Disappointingly, few are in the city center but many can be found in inner-city suburbs, like Carlton and Fitzroy, which have few (or no) places to stay. South Melbourne boasts the magnificent Royal Botanic Gardens and adjoining Kings Domain. Both are extensive, free to enter, and packed with statues, glasshouses, and other colonial-era remnants and modern-day attractions. Barely 300m from the southern edge of these gardens is Albert Park which morphs into a racing track for the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix each year.
- Best Area in Melbourne for Watching Sports: East Melbourne
Generally speaking, Melburnians are even more sports-mad than the rest of Australia. Much to the chagrin of Sydneysiders, Melbourne hosts several major international events in tennis, golf, and horse and car racing, as well as regular matches of cricket and, especially, the unique code of Australian Rules Football. Within a compact area along the eastern fringes of the city center are the world-renowned 100,000-seat Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne Park (home to the Australian Open tennis tournament), and AAMI Park (for rugby union, rugby league, and soccer).
- Best Area in Melbourne for Shops and Markets: City Center
The streets of downtown Melbourne are congested with fashionable boutiques, multi-level department stores, and meandering arcades, and part of the main thoroughfare, Bourke Street, is a pedestrian mall teeming with high-end shops. Large, historic, and atmospheric, Queen Victoria Market on the northern edge of the city center sells fresh produce as well as clothes, souvenirs, and food. Arts and crafts stalls are also set up on weekends in the inner-city suburbs of Prahran, St Kilda, and South Melbourne, all easily accessible by tram from downtown.
- Best Area in Melbourne for Transport: City Center
Weary commuters may not agree, but the center of Melbourne boasts an excellent public transport system. Quickly linked by freeway to the airport (30 minutes) via express and direct shuttle buses, the city center is also home to three major train stations providing services to outer suburbs and regional towns that are worth visiting, such as Geelong, Werribee, and Ballarat. And from Docklands, on the western fringes of the city, ferries cross Port Philip Bay.
- Most Romantic Area in Melbourne: Southbank
The Yarra River bisects the center of Melbourne but is not nearly as impressive or romantic after dark as Sydney Harbour. However, the southern edges are lined for a couple of miles with stylish riverside bars and bistros – each ideal for people-watching during the day and intimate dining at night. Especially romantic is a dinner cruise on the old-style Spirit of Melbourne boat. Then, perhaps, finish an evening with a splash at the Crown Casino.
- Best Areas in Melbourne for Walking and Cycling: St Kilda and South Melbourne
Melbourne is blessed with numerous paths designed particularly for those traveling by foot and bicycle. The beachside path in St Kilda is part of a 7-mile-long stretch beside the urban coastline and is very popular with leisurely locals and serious peddlers. St Kilda is an easy bike ride from South Melbourne, dominated by the magnificent Royal Botanic Gardens (one of the finest of its kind in the world) and Albert Park Lake, which is encircled by a 3-mile path. App-based Melbourne Bike Share provides stands all over the city center and inner suburbs where anyone can rent a bicycle for a very small fee.
- Best Area in Melbourne for First-Timers: Docklands
The crowds, traffic, and noise within the overbuilt and claustrophobic city center (including Southbank) could overwhelm some visitors. Also, staying in suburban areas like St Kilda and South Yarra often requires understanding and battling the public transport system. Ideally located on the city fringe, and offering space and serenity not found in downtown, is Docklands. This area offers a magnificent marina lined with cafés and paths that are perfect for cycling and is walkable from the city center (or only a few stops by free tram).
- Safest Area in Melbourne: Docklands
This spacious, well-designed, and affluent area is crammed with high-rise apartment buildings. With wide, brightly-lit streets, it doesn’t attract the lowlifes and homeless who may congregate in downmarket suburbs like St Kilda and the narrow lanes across central Melbourne. Safe for evening strolls along the marina, Docklands is also ideal for families.
- Unsafe Area of Melbourne: St Kilda
The reputation of the inner-city beach suburb of St Kilda has improved markedly in recent years as tacky bars and shabby houses have been replaced with hip cafés and trendy apartments. However, taking precautions – such as walking along well-lit streets and using taxis late at night – is prudent. This is because some troublemakers and wayfarers do congregate along the beach and gardens, and the busy pubs, clubs, and live music venues attract drunken behavior.
The 7 Best Neighborhoods in Melbourne for Tourists
1. City Center
As one of the most historic cities in Australia, Melbourne is loaded with architectural delights as well as fashionable boutiques, extensive department stores, and meandering arcades. The city is also renowned for its narrow lanes, many daubed with intriguing street art and bursting with hip cafés. The Yarra River is also lined with adorable waterside bars and bistros, as well as the remarkable Crown Casino complex. Although the city center is becoming alarmingly overbuilt and, often, overpriced, public transport is excellent and free within downtown.
- Best Luxury Hotels: InterContinental The Rialto • Langham • Grand Hyatt
- Best Boutique Hotels: Treasury on Collins Apartment Hotel • The Jazz Corner
- Best Cheap/Moderate Hotels: Grand Chancellor • Ibis Central
Just past the western edge of the city center, Docklands is a renovated area of upmarket apartments. Based around a pleasant marina flanked by harborside bistros and dominated by a gigantic football stadium, Docklands is also popular with families. This is because of the cycling paths (bike rentals are easily available); The District Docklands shopping center, arguably Melbourne’s finest; and the amazing Melbourne Star observation wheel. What’s more, all hotels are only a few stops by free and regular trams from the city center.
- Best Luxury Hotels: Four Points by Sheraton Docklands • The Sebel Docklands
- Best Apartment Hotels: Quest Docklands • Quest NewQuay
Separated from the city center by the Yarra River, Southbank is dominated by the extraordinary Crown Casino complex. Other swanky areas for shopping, eating, and drinking extend along the southern edge of the river, and other sections are dotted with top-end hotels, fashionable art galleries, and sizable concert venues. Barely 5 minutes’ walk via one of the numerous bridges to downtown, Southbank allows visitors to enjoy the cultural, architectural, artistic, and culinary delights of the city center without staying among its crowds, noise, and traffic.
- Best Luxury Hotels: Crown Towers • Pan Pacific • Crown Metropol
- Best Apartment Hotels: WRAP on Southbank • Imagine Marco • Bella Hotel Apartments
- Best Cheap/Moderate Hotel: Ink Southbank
4. South Melbourne and Albert Park
Several blocks further down from Southbank and only a few tram stops from the city center, South Melbourne is an upmarket residential area devoid of tourists. It is home to the magnificent Royal Botanic Gardens which is packed with trees, statues, glasshouses, and colonial-era buildings. A little further south, Albert Park is based around a lake (encircled by a 3-mile path ideal for walking, jogging, and cycling) and roads that are remarkably transformed into the circuit for the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix. Only 2 miles by bicycle (which are easy to rent) is St Kilda, with its extended beach and alluring amenities.
- Best Luxury Hotels: Pullman Albert Park • Coppersmith
- Best Boutique Hotel: Royce Hotel
- Best Cheap/Moderate Hotels: Mercure Albert Park • Lily Sands Inn
5. South Yarra
Like neighboring Toorak and Prahran, South Yarra is a fashionable suburb of boutique hotels, refined bistros/bars, and weekend markets. With a likable suburban feel and carefree vibe, there are no busloads of tourists here and restaurant prices are set for locals. Ask residents for recommendations about the finest corner pubs, most authentic Italian eateries, and trendiest coffee shops. Only 2.5 miles by regular tram (and train) to the city center and to the vibrant beach area of St Kilda, South Yarra is also within walking distance of the amazing Royal Botanic Gardens.
- Best Luxury Hotels: Lyall Hotel and Spa • The Como
- Best Boutique Hotels: The Cullen • The Olsen
- Best Cheap/Moderate Hotels: Toorak Manor • Claremont Guest House
6. St Kilda
Although wide and sandy, the beach at St Kilda is not that great for swimming, but everything else is wonderfully ‘beachy’: welcome summer breezes, photogenic sunsets, seaside gardens studded with palm trees, water-sports, extended pier, boardwalk for cycling, oodles of eateries, and a quirky and historic amusement park. Bohemian and, in sections, a little tacky, St Kilda can also boast several terrific venues for live music and a pedestrian plaza full of cafés. All of this is only 15 minutes by tram from the city center.
- Best Luxury Hotels: Rydges St Kilda • Quest St Kilda Bayside
- Best Boutique Hotel: Tolarno
- Best Cheap/Moderate Hotels: Cosmopolitan • The Prince • Crest on Park
The eastern section of the city center and the suburbs just beyond offer the sort of extensive parks and beautifully maintained colonial-era buildings not found elsewhere in the city or suburbs. Unlike the increasingly overbuilt downtown, the extra space in East Melbourne allows the top-notch hotels located here more space and finer views. Only a couple of tram stops from the heart of the city, most hotels are also within walking distance of the sporting precinct that includes the iconic 100,000-seat Melbourne Cricket Ground.
- Best Luxury Hotels: Sofitel on Collins • The Windsor • Park Hyatt
- Best Boutique Hotel: Ovolo Laneways
- Best Cheap/Moderate Hotels: City Centre Budget Hotel • Comfort Hotel East Melbourne
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