If you read my post on what to see & do in Sydney, you may have already heard my (positively inspired) analogy that Sydney is the girl you show off to your friends, but Melbourne is the one you settle down with. Melbourne doesn’t have the bright flash of Sydney’s Harbour or the obvious glam of the Northern Beaches, but it has a much richer culture and it is v hip. It’s harder to get under the skin of, but once you do, you’ll want to live there forever and ever and have all your babies there.

When I was living in the city, I had a few friends (and mum) come visit, so I was able to fine-tune my tour guiding efforts and whittle down a nice list of the Best of the Best. To fall in love with this city, though, all you need to do is just be here and you’ll realise how magical it is, with or without my (marvellous) list. Who am I kidding, use the list.

1.  Come out of Flinders St. Station via the Degraves Subway and enjoy a coffee in one of the Laneway’s outdoor cafe seats. My mother, lifetime Seattleite and aggressive Starbucks fan, has officially confirmed the popular Australian sentiment that Melbourne has the best coffee in the world. So what are you waiting for?!

2.  Take the tram to St. Kilda and hang out at the beach. This is one of the rare places in Melbourne where you can walk around barefoot and not feel out of place. Plus, it’s about 80% foreign backpackers, so travellers will feel right at home. Eat one of those giant meringues in the bakery for me, please.

3.  Travel 90min out to Phillip Island to see the shockingly cute Penguin Parade, where hundreds of little penguins come out of the ocean at sunset, waddle up the beach, and tuck into their cute little penguin homes in the bush for the night. Possibly the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life. (Sadly, we were not allowed to photograph the penguins with flash, otherwise you know I’d have about 800 penguin shots.)

4.  Visit Wilson’s Promontory National Park (The Prom) for gorgeous beaches, great hiking, and killer views of the southern coastline. Mt. Oberon makes for an excellent day hike!

5.  Take in the Melbourne city skyline from the Eureka Tower, preferably at night when the whole city is lit up like a tree. Tickets are about $12 and it’s worth it, especially for the glass floor where you can just look straight down on all the bright lights.

6.  Attend a footy match (AFL) in the massive, 100,000 person capacity MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground). If you want to get really into it, pop into one of the tacky tourist shops near Flinders St. and buy a $10 team beanie. I’ve been using my West Coast Eagles hat to fool people into thinking I understand footy for years. Unsuccessfully, of course. As soon as I open my mouth… it’s all over.

7.  Hire a car, or hitch a ride with someone via the Couchsurfing message boards, and drive the Great Ocean Road. At the end, you’ll see about 7 of the Twelve Apostles, still every bit as impressive as a dozen might have been. The total drive is about 6 hours and can be done in a day, but it’s much more comfortable to stay a night in either Torquay or Lorne on your way there.

8.  Gorge yourself on the best Korean fried chicken at Gami Chicken, with two different locations on Lt. Lonsdale St. Get the aptly named “Corn Cheese” as a side, it’s corn and fried cheese and is like heaven on earth. Another favourite food option is the phenomenal Brazilian restaurant B’Churrasco on Abeckett Street, where you get all-you-can-eat meat and amazing entrees for about $60/person.

9.  Melbourne definitely has Australia’s best nightlife, so go out on the town! Catch a train to South Yarra station and crawl down Chapel Street from the mellow Imperial, to the pumping Pawn & Co, to Lucky Coq for really tasty drinks, and finish off at literally anytime of the day or night at the very intense, very intoxicating drug-den that is Revolver Upstairs. Be on good behaviour in the line, because they are notorious for turning people (me) away when they think (notice) that you’ve had too much to drink. Another great option for drinks: Rooftop Bar above Cookie in the CBD or The Toff a few levels below.

10.  Gawk at street art in the popular Hosier Lane, across from Flinders St. Station and right next to The Forum. It’s constantly getting makeovers from the many street artists around the city, so you’re unlikely to see the same thing twice!

11.  Skip the touristy Queen Vic Markets and see what’s seasonally on (often in the same space) while you’re there. In winter, the Night Markets sell a heap of delicious food, hot drinks, and thoughtful crafts. In summer, the Night Noodle Markets sell all varieties of asian street food in Birrarung Marr Park. Throughout the year, Melbourne puts on Food Truck Festivals, a massive Food & Wine Festival, and so many other foodie events that it’s hard to keep up. Something will be on when you’re there, I guarantee it. (Not the place to visit if you’re dieting.)

12.  If you have access to a car, you absolutely can’t miss the Grampians, about 3hrs NW of the city. Incredibly unique scenery that you would never expect in Australia, amazing hiking, and with none of the crazy tourist crowds you’ll find along the Great Ocean Road. Read more about exploring the Grampians here.

Make sure to check out my other City Guides for more must-sees when travelling around Australia!