Over the coming months, Experience Oz will be running a series answering the frequently-asked question by potential travellers “When is the best time to visit…?” for some of Australia’s best and most popular travel destinations. Here, we look at Melbourne, VIC.
A brief summary of this article:
- Autumn (March-May) labeled the best time to visit Melbourne
- Season famous for its blend of “festivals, fashion, food and flowers”
- Average autumn temperatures: Max 20°C (68°F) , 11°C (52°F)
- Essential spots to visit in the city: Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Museum, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Botanic Gardens, Melbourne Aquarium, Melbourne Zoo
- Top destinations for day tours/short trips: the Yarra Valley, Grampians National Park, the Great Ocean Road, Phillip Island
It’s been a point of pride for many residents of Melbourne in recent years that the city has often been listed amongst the very top of various “World’s Most Liveable City” lists issued by independent bodies, battling the likes of Vienna, Austria and Zurich, Switzerland for the top spot. When you stand back and look objectively (disregarding all feelings of Aussie pride) at Melbourne’s overall package of lifestyle offerings, it isn’t too hard to see why, either – it encompasses a “big city” vibe without being overcrowded or polluted, has multiple efficient methods of public transport, delicately balances greenery with urban development, and is renowned throughout the world for its bent towards all things artistic and gourmet.
It’s a large city that is the base for head offices of many global companies, yet still retains something of an “indie” atmosphere – in many ways, Melbourne is akin to an increasingly famous rock group who refuse to “sell out” while still gaining more fans. All throughout the year, Melbourne is alive with fantastic restaurants, quirky cafes and charming boutique shopping options that will keep any visitor busy, while the cultural focus towards art and history mean the cavalcade of galleries, museums and concerts offer entertainment regardless of the season.
While all of this is all well and good, what about for those who are planning to visit the city for the first time and must choose which time of the year to visit Melbourne? After all, our holidays often come but once a year, and – particularly for those travelling to Melbourne from international destinations – choosing the right time to plan the journey is crucial to get the maximum amount of enjoyment out of any city. So just when is the best time of year to travel to Melbourne?
According to various authorities and experts we polled on Melbourne, the best time of year to travel to Melbourne is autumn, for a variety of reasons. Various annual festivals, sporting events and other entertainment options during autumn combine with reasonably comfortable weather and the ability to plan for periods both within and outside school holidays (depending on your family situation) makes it fairly easy to come up with a Melbourne-in-autumn itinerary to suit almost everyone. But what exactly makes Melbourne in autumn so special?
Why Melbourne in Autumn?
As mentioned above, food and drink have always been two of the core reasons why Melbourne stands above most other Aussie cities, and its celebration of both is in full swing during the autumn months with its annual Food and Wine Festival occurring for a period of two and a half weeks during the first half of March. The festival serves as an avenue not only for local cooks, chefs and other culinary specialists to show off their skills but also plays host to some of the top international gourmet talent as well; if you’ve got even a vague desire to try some fine cuisines or sample a drop of some of the region’s best vineyard produce, it’s an exceptional time to visit Melbourne.
This is particularly true in areas like Fitzroy Gardens, which combines a dining experience during the festival with its inherent pleasant natural surroundings. Many of the events that take place during the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival are free, making it a cost-effective way to while away a day or two while holidaying in the city.
Nature does, in fact, also come to the forefront in Melbourne during autumn as the changing seasonal foliage adds an additional layer of charm to the proceedings; there’s just something about the city’s numerous parks and gardens that looks especially beautiful when draped in the vibrant reds, yellows and browns of this time of year.
It’s an ideal time to visit such city landmarks as the popular Carlton Gardens area, which serves as home to both the Melbourne Museum and Royal Exhibition Building – both of which serve as cultural attractions that provide those with an interest in art or history (or both) the chance to while away the hours exploring their many exhibits.
The Melbourne Museum in particular strives to keep as far away as possible from falling into the token stuffy, mundane atmosphere of browsing a museum that many others in different cities suffer from – feel free to attend any of the varied events held there that allow you to grab a glass of wine and some snacks while perusing the exhibits. Depending on your level of interest, it’s easy to spend at least half a day at the Museum as it combines natural history with various interactive highlights to make it suitable both for adults alone and those with kids alike.
“There’s just something about the city’s numerous parks and gardens that looks especially beautiful when draped in the vibrant reds, yellows and browns of this time of year.”
The undisputed natural highlight of Melbourne city during autumn, however, has to be the Melbourne Botanic Gardens – while it’s impressive all year round, the autumn season’s colour blend adds an extra touch of tranquility to what is an already serene location. Situated within an expansive, 36 hectare area right in the heart of the city, the Botanic Gardens contains over 50,000 individual plants originating from destinations all over Australia.
Melbourne’s government – and those who tend the gardens personally – have to be commended for providing such a high quality oasis of peace sitting smack-bang in the centre of the relatively bustling environment of one of the country’s largest cities. Plus, the fact that it’s a completely FREE way to while away a half-to-full day can’t be discounted, either.
In terms of paid activities and attractions, some of the can’t-miss places to visit while you’re in Melbourne include Melbourne Zoo (great during autumn), Melbourne Aquarium (for the occasional rainy/cold day that still springs up from time to time), and the National Gallery of Victoria (one of the best exhibition centres in all of Australia, it’s free for general admission however you’ll need to pay a nominal fee to see the majority of special exhibits which take place throughout the year).
Of course, exploring outdoor destinations such as the Botanic Gardens can sometimes be a risky proposition in Melbourne given the city’s reputation for having “four seasons in one day” – thankfully, the autumn season offers a climate which is about as predictable as one can get in Melbourne (that is to say: not very). Temperatures during this season hover around a fairly comfortable 20 degrees Celsius maximum during the day and get down to an average of a cool-but-not-cold 11 degrees Celsius of a night; bring a jacket or cardigan, dress in layers, and have an umbrella handy and you’ll be prepared for pretty much any situation Melbourne’s autumn can throw at you.
As far as other outdoor activities such as sporting events (which the city is renowned for) go, while it’s not the busiest season of the year in Melbourne, those who enjoy a good live event will still have multiple choices – the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix race, Rip Curl Pro surfing event, Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship and even the Australian International Airshow all take place during this season, providing major spectacles occurring with regular frequency during this period. Tickets for some of these can be both pricey and hard to come by, however, so if you plan on attending you’ll want to purchase them as early in the sales cycle as possible.
Looking outside the city itself, this season is also the prime time to make a day trip to some of Melbourne’s surrounding highlights if you’re willing to put in the legwork. The Yarra Valley makes for an obvious choice due to its status as perhaps Australia’s most famous wine-producing region (although South Australians would no doubt argue the fact) and is reachable within around an hour’s drive from the city’s CBD, with numerous winery tours also operating that take you from the city to the valley to visit many of its most famous cellar doors.
The array of quality goods – and not exclusively wines, but also the likes of beers, cheeses, chocolates, fruits and various other forms of produce – in the Yarra Valley is simply astounding, and there’s more than enough on offer to satisfy even the fussiest of palates.
The amazing canvas of autumn colours that you’ll see during this season only serves to enhance the experience; the drive itself is quite scenic and allows you to view quite the panorama with a patchwork of vineyards and farmlands dotting the landscape.
Lastly, the spectacular Grampians National Park, while located a fair distance outside Melbourne at approximately 3.5 hours worth of road travel – is a must visit if you’re looking for a site to take a day tour. Featuring a series of precipitous sandstone ranges formed over the course of millions of years, the Grampians make for a striking site and feature an abundance of lookouts that provide truly awe-inspiring views; and best of all, the weather conditions make for the ideal environment for exploring each one by foot. It’s a region abundant in both scenery and nature with thousands of varieties of plant life and over 200 species of birds all capped off by the spectacular Mackenzie Falls – a tumbling cascade of water that crashes down and weaves its way through the park.
Add all these factors and options together and – assuming you’re willing to tolerate the occasional bout of suddenly cool weather and able to avoid the school holiday period that occurs from the end of March to mid-April – it’s not hard to see why most in the know feel that autumn is the best time of the year to visit Melbourne.
Bonus question: Can I experience Melbourne in a Weekend?
Yes and no. If by “experience” you mean “take in all the highlights the city has to offer”, then the general consensus from our experts is a resounding “no” – the common response was that you’ll need AT LEAST 4-5 days to get a true sense of Melbourne’s offerings and character, and this only encompasses visiting the major highlights listed above (not to mention other must-dos such as Federation Square, the Eureka Skydeck, Southbank, or the Docklands).
However, a weekend can still provide you with a solid itinerary; one of the advised best methods is to make the Eureka Skydeck your first destination and – with its viewpoint as the highest observation platform in the entire southern hemisphere – get your bearings and just see what parts of the city look most appealing to you, then go from there.
Melbourne’s free City Circle Tram can then be your next port of call, as it will take you to numerous important spots around the city which you’ll be free to hop off and explore; the tram has stops next to the majority of core highlights including Melbourne Aquarium, the Docklands, Federation Square, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Southbank Promenade, Fitzroy & Carlton Gardens and both the Royal Exhibition Building and Melbourne Museum, so you can simply prioritise which of these are of particular interest and go from there.
Most accommodation in the CBD is within easy walking distance of a City Circle Tram stop, so you’ll never truly be forced to travel long distances unless you’re planning to hire a car and make day trips out to some of the more faraway destinations in surrounding suburbs or outside the city itself.
Lastly, if you’re looking for a range of other things to do in and around Melbourne not only in autumn but various other times throughout the year – including tickets to some of the city’s popular attractions, be sure to visit our main Melbourne region section to view and book all the available tours, activities and attractions on offer online today.
In addition, if you’re looking for all the top things to see and do in and around Melbourne including activities, attractions and more, be sure to check out our main region section to browse and book online!