It’s blockbuster week as Melbourne hosts the Formula One Grand Prix, the AFL season opener and the NRL all at the same time.
Melbourne is bracing for the biggest four days on its sporting calendar with hundreds of thousands of diehard fans converging on the city as the Formula One Grand Prix goes toe-to-toe with the AFL season-opener and the NRL.
It’s the second year running that the major sports have been on a collision course in the same week, making Melbourne the place to be for sports lovers and thrill seekers alike in March.
The first Grand Prix of the season is expected to attract more than 270,000 fans, most of them international visitors, to Albert Park, 3 km south of Melbourne’s CBD, over four days from Thursday March 22 to Sunday March 25.
Across town, a crowd of close to 100,000 is expected at the AFL season-opener between Richmond and Carlton at the spiritual home of football, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on March 22, with matches at Marvel Stadium the following two nights.
It will be a major overdose of sport for Australia’s second-biggest city, and potential gridlock on the city’s roads and transport network, particularly on the Thursday night.
But it’s certain to be music to the ears of hoteliers, restaurateurs and tourism officials as the city is swamped by visitors and locals alike.
You’ll find a city well and truly in party mode.
According to data from Roy Morgan Research, nearly one in 20 Australian travellers (4.5 per cent) attend a sporting event when they travel.
And those visiting Melbourne are almost three times as likely to attend a football game or race.
Having hosted an Olympic Games (1956) and Commonwealth Games (2006), as well as annual prestigious events like the Australian Open, the Melbourne Cup and major cricket internationals, Melbourne’s sporting credentials – not to mention its stadiums and facilities – are second to none.
But beyond the roar of the football and the drama and spectacle of the F1 circuit, you’ll find a city well and truly in party mode. It’s not only Australia’s sporting capital, but arguably the cultural capital as well.
As temperatures start to cool, Melbourne in March is a hive of activity with enough festivals, theatre, exhibitions and concerts – as well as top-class dining experiences – to make everyone feel at home.
Melbourne’s theatre scene is one of the best in the country and includes everything from major theatrical productions to late-night cabaret shows.
Melbourne is a multi-cultural city and this is reflected in its colourful neighbourhoods and dining precincts, from the Italian-influenced Lygon Street in Carlton, to the oriental cuisine of Chinatown and Victoria Street in Richmond, or Coburg’s Middle Eastern eateries.
Great shopping can be enjoyed in Melbourne’s city centre or by taking a short tram ride to Chapel St at South Yarra or DFO Docklands. You’ll also find large shopping centres further out in the suburbs.
Start your day of sightseeing and shopping by visiting the largest and oldest open-air market in the southern hemisphere – the Queen Victoria Market – for a quick bite and a coffee. It’s a short walk from the City centre and is bounded by Peel, Franklin, Victoria & Elizabeth Streets.
When you’re not trackside, take the time to explore these iconic Melbourne neighbourhoods.
The riverfront walkway is also known as Yarra Promenade and is home to restaurants and cafes as well as the Crown Entertainment Complex. Southbank has 2 km of absolute Yarra River frontage which is lined by wide pedestrian promenades offering scenic views of the river and city skyline. Adjacent to the Princess Bridge is the Arts Centre Melbourne, which includes a concert hall and several theatres dominated by a distinctive white spire that soars into the sky.
Chapel Street is arguably Melbourne’s most-vibrant fashion and food strip. The street – which runs from Windsor to Prahran and the more upscale South Yarra – is home to vintage treasures, local designers and international brands. The Jam Factory is one of the main focal points. An actual jam factory at one time, it is now a modern shopping complex with cinemas, cafes and restaurants. Make sure you also visit the Prahran Market (pictured) – Australia’s oldest continuously-running food market at Commercial Road. There are numerous stalls and shops selling fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and deli foods, as well as the most amazing gozleme, pizza and coffee.
Stroll along leafy Lygon Street and discover Little Italy – the place where Melbourne’s famous cafe culture was born. A quick tram trip will have you in the middle of cafes, bars, restaurants and clothing boutiques in this busy Italian neighbourhood. You’ll also find great Italian meat, cheese, coffee, olive oil, wine, bread, pizza and gelato all within a couple of blocks’ radius. Check out D.O.C. Gastronomia Italiana Delicatessen, at 330 Lygon Street, and sample one of 60 different types of prosciutto.
First established in 1839 as Melbourne’s first suburb, Fitzroy is known for its large number of pubs. A number of Fitzroy’s traditional hotels can be found tucked away down back streets in residential areas, giving the sense of a village atmosphere away from the bustling shopping strips. Fitzroy is home to a number of galleries and art studios, some tucked away off the main thoroughfares. It also has a thriving and creative street art community with large scale murals on the walls of some buildings along Fitzroy St, Johnston St, Rose St and Alexandra Avenue.
When it comes to shopping and eating, Richmond offers a vast collection of restaurants, hotels, pubs, cafes, bargain retail outlets and two large under cover shopping malls. The section of Victoria Street between Hoddle Street and east of Church Street is often referred to as “Little Saigon” and is at the heart of Melbourne’s wonderful Vietnamese community.
Located at sandy Port Phillip Bay, St Kilda is famous for its food, entertainment and nightlife. Acland Street is a bustling shopping precinct with cafes (ideal for weekend breakfast), continental cake shops, fashion and second-hand shops. Nearby Fitzroy Street is renowned for its restaurants, hotels and bars. The most famous attraction on St Kilda’s beach is the St Kilda Pier and it’s also home to Luna Park.
Docklands is an easy – and free – tram ride west of the CBD. Originally used by container ships, the area has been redeveloped into a modern residential, leisure, sporting and dining precinct. You’ll find a DFO South Wharf shopping outlet here, next door to the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel – it’s a bit like the London Eye. Marvel Stadium is also close by.
Behind the Scenes Tours
If you’re a sports nut who’s desperate to go behind the scenes of some of Melbourne’s world-class sporting venues, check out these tours.
Widely-recognised as the home of Australian sport, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) has been the scene of many great sporting events, as well as many ‘firsts’ in Australian sporting history and is now included on the National Heritage List. The MCG tour includes a visit to the players’ change rooms, the media facilities and a walk on the hallowed turf.
Also located at the MCG, the National Sports Museum houses numerous exhibitions and showcases some of Australia’s most significant sporting artefacts and memorabilia. It includes Australia’s Olympic campaign and is home to the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame and Australian Football Hall of Fame.
Rod Laver Arena is the home of the Australian Open tennis tournament held every January. Visitors will experience backstage areas used during the tournament including the player’s change room, the corporate boxes, the Media Theatre where post-match press conferences are held and the Walk of Champions.
Getting around Melbourne couldn’t be easier with an extensive network of electric trams that provide public transport to regions up to 20 kms from the city centre.
Remember, the trams inside the CBD free tram zone cost nothing. So you don’t need to swipe if you’re travelling around this zone, with the principle boundaries of Spring Street, Flinders St and La Trobe Street.
Visitors will invariably want to venture outside the free zone at some point, to places like South Yarra, St Kilda Beach or Collingwood.
You’ll need to buy a myki travel card at 7-Eleven to do that. Top it up with around $20 and it should last three or four days and can be used on trams, trains and buses.
Visitors can also buy a myki Explorer. The pack comes with a ready-to-use card, handy maps and discounts to some popular attractions.