This travel post is written by Vera who blogs at Life is in the Small Things. She travelled to Melbourne and spent 2 weeks exploring the city and its surrounding regions in Victoria, Australia with her petite travellers Noey (5 years) and Mei (3 years) in September 2014. This holiday is suitable for families who love the vibe and convenience of a city holiday with a little nature thrown in.
Singaporeans have a love affair with Australia, and Melbourne is without doubt one of our favourite cities. I can’t say I’m surprised. Consistently voted one of the most livable cities in the world, Melbourne is casual but chic, with a vibrant arts and music scene, and plenty of markets, eccentric cafes, cobbled laneways, quirky shops, great restaurants, and interesting festivals and events to explore.
Our trip last year was the first time I’d been back in Melbourne in a while — certainly the first time with kids — and I must say I really liked it. The city centre was a good size and easy to navigate, and if you needed to get out for a bit, escape was close at hand, with the Yarra Valley, Phillip Island and the Great Ocean Road all about 1-2 hours drive away.
We spent some time during our holiday exploring Melbourne and its surrounds. I shared about our excursion to the Great Ocean Road in my previous post. In this post, I’m going to talk a bit about what we did and enjoyed in Melbourne city and its inner city suburbs. Here is what was a hit with my kids:
1. Riding the Trams
One of the first things you are sure to notice upon arriving in Melbourne is its iconic tram network. Criss-crossing the city, Melbourne’s trams are a major form of public transport… and a huge magnet to vehicle-loving kids like my son! A ride on the City Circle Tram is a great introduction to the city and the best part is that it’s free! On-route, an audio commentary provides details of the major city landmarks as you travel past them. Grab a seat near the front and you can watch the driver at work turning the gears and levers. My kids certainly loved this!
2. Exploring the Melbourne Museum
We only had time for one museum and I picked the Melbourne Museum upon my Godfather’s recommendation. We really enjoyed it and my only regret was that I had only budgeted a couple of hours for us to explore. The walk there was half the fun as we wound through beautiful Carlton Gardens. The little miss happily posed for photographs and they both took turns to pick up random sticks and terrorise the resident ducks.
The Melbourne Museum is a natural and cultural history museum exploring life in Victoria. It features seven main galleries and a children’s gallery spread over three floors, but we really only had time to explore one these and spent almost all our time in the Science and Life Gallery. It was hard not to walk in with the Dinosaur Walk right at its entrance!
We spent a good deal of time wandering seamlessly through the different exhibition spaces in the Science and Life Gallery. The children were fascinated by the dinosaur skeletons and I appreciated the many interactive panels around for them to learn about more about these creatures. Most of the skeletons on display are composed of casts from molds of real dinosaur bones but there are also some examples of real dinosaur fossils, like a Hadrosaur tail under the glass on the ramp, appearing as it did when it was found, complete with skin impressions.
The other exhibition space that we really enjoyed was Wild, where we encountered ceiling-to-floor, wall-to-wall display, showcasing the wonderful diversity of mammals, birds and reptiles from around the world. As you can see, it is also a great space in which to take a break!
There was more than enough to see and do to keep the kids occupied for a couple of hours and then some. I had hoped to also cover the Children’s Gallery, specifically the 1, 2, 3, Grow exhibition, which has been specially designed for 3 to 8 year olds, but unfortunately ran out of time. It was already 5pm and the museum was closing. I did regret it a little when I saw the interesting play areas outside the gallery and my kids did have a good time messing around in the little book corner while we waited for their Papa to arrive. It’ll definitely be somewhere we will check out the next time we are back in Melbourne!
3. Shopping at Queen Victoria Market
Shopping isn’t usually that popular with the kids, so they were only enticed to come along with the promise of fish & chips thereafter. But we all ended up having an interesting time walking around Queen Victoria Market (QVM). It helps that QVM is huge so there’s certainly something for everyone! A Melbourne institution for more than a century, the market offers a range of fresh produce like fruit and vegetables to meat and seafood, and delicatessen foods, as well as a non-food section selling everything from clothing to toys, homewares and arts and crafts. There were the souvenir stalls of course, but plenty of other things too.
We headed for the food section first, mainly for me to ooh and aah over all the delectable food I have to pay double the price for in Singapore, and also for us to buy something for the kids to munch on to keep them busy. We got a bag of mini mandarins that they wolfed down. In between, my daughter gravitated towards the clothing (Frozen dresses!) while my son managed to find a cheap pair of binoculars at only A$5 that he was really pleased about. They also stumbled upon a little play area and spent some time messing around, giving me some extra time to shop.
We had lunch at the market — the promised fish & chips from Funk Fish — and it was as satisfying as we hoped. I also couldn’t resist getting myself a half-dozen oysters from the market nearby since they were only A$1 a piece! And before leaving, I made sure to grab a cup of good Melbourne coffee from Padre Coffee for myself!
4. Eating Viet Food
One thing I always have in Australia is… Viet food! I love my pho and never fail to get my fix when I’m down under. There is just something about that soup combined with tender juicy Australian beef that is simply delicious! The suburb of Richmond is well-known for having some of the best pho in the state, but when in the city, Pho Bo Ga Mekong Vietnam on Swanson Street right in the middle of town is definitely a crowd favourite. We went all full of anticipation, and we were not disappointed. It was delish! Flavourful soup, tender beef, thin silky noodles. I guess the celebrity-covered walls don't lie. Definitely one of the more satisfying meals on our trip, and it wasn’t expensive either. I wish we had enough time on the trip for us to go back again!
5. Meeting Animals at Collingwood Children’s Farm
You wouldn’t normally expect to meet animals in the city, but that is exactly what Collingwood Children’s Farm offers. Located just 5km and a short 10-15 min drive from the city centre, this farm serves the aim of providing country experiences to city folk. Visitors are welcome to milk the cow at 10am and 4pm daily, and at other times to simply wander around to get close to the animals, including going into the paddocks with the sheep and goats, or simply enjoy the green space on the property near the banks of the Yarra River. My kids had a field day trying to get near the animals — and there are many! And while it was scary at first to get in the paddock with the sheep and goats, it proved to be a highlight to feed them hay.
If you visit on Family Day, which happens every first Saturday of the month, there’ll also be pony rides, tractor rides, guinea pigs to cuddle, so if you can schedule it, I think that is probably the best weekend to visit with young kids.
Every second Saturday of the month on the other hand, the farm hosts a Farmer’s Market from 8am to 1pm. I love farmer’s markets with their lovely fresh produce so I made it a point to visit on the particular morning. An added bonus of going on the morning of the farmer’s market is that entry to the market AND the farm is only A$2/adult (kids enter for free), and you are free to stay the whole day after the market ends! This is a real bargain, considering the regular entry price is A$9/adult and A$5/child! I thought the farmer’s market was a lot of fun too, with lots to check out and sample. We had breakfast there too, which we all enjoyed. (Yes, the popsicles certainly worked a treat!)
In short, we love Melbourne! The city offered a good mix of things to do, easy access to other interesting sights around Victoria. We hope to share with you some more of our favourite moments in and around Melbourne in subsequent posts.