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It may be winter up north, but for today’s Destination of the Week, we are going Down Under to pay a summer visit to a city that sometimes gets overshadowed by its larger and glitzier neighbor to the northeast. But this laidback Australian metropolis with the country’s buzziest food scene is ideal both for cosmopolitan delights and outdoor adventures. We’re heading to Melbourne, Australia!
WHAT TO DO
Located on the natural bay of Port Philip near the estuary of the Yarra River, Melbourne was founded in 1835 as part of the British Colony of New South Wales. It became the capital of Victoria in 1851 and a subsequent gold rush transformed the young metropolis into one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world.
Today, Melbourne has been ranked the world’s most livable city by the Economist Intelligence Unit, as well as the fifth most expensive. The merits of Sydney’s less renowned sister city include a rich museum scene, lovely green spaces lie the Fitzroy Gardens, the nearby Wilsons Promontory National Park and the Grampians mountain range, plus beautiful beaches in summer and snowy ski resorts in winter.
City life in Melbourne centers around the Hoddle Grid (the CBD or central business district) with recent urban renewal in the Portbank Melbourne area, Melbourne Docklands and the Southbank areas.
The CBD boasts five of the six tallest towers in Australia, with the Eureka Tower being the highest at 975 feet. You can buy tickets to the top ranging from 12-22 AUD ($10-19). The Skydeck Experience gives you access to Skydeck 88 and The Edge, an observation deck with a glass cube which projects over nine feet out from the building – with you in it – and is suspended over 900 feet above the ground.
Dubbed Australia’s garden city for good reason, Melbourne has an abundance of lush, green spaces and tranquil spots to escape city life. The most famous is Fitzroy Gardens, a six-acre landscaped area that dates back to the Victorian era. Beautiful features include the Cook’s Cottage (where Captain James Cook spent some of his early years), the Fairies Tree, the ornamental lake, the Tudor Village, along with scatterings of fountains, statues and rare foliage such as the Flame Tree and the Canary Island Pine. Other popular urban parks include Alexandra Gardens, Carlton Gardens, Princes Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens, for a full list visit the City Of Melbourne Parks and Activities page.
The Yarra River runs through Melbourne and creates countless entertainment options from the cultural Aboriginal Heritage Walk, to ArtPlay, a creative arts center for children. Adults will love the Chill On Ice Lounge and Ski Bar, where you can drink chilled cocktails in an Arctic environment surrounded by sculptures made from 50 tons of crystal clear ice.
For a warmer view of the river, hop on a boat cruise that winds down the famous waterway past Federation Square, Southgate and Crown. Choose from classic steamboat cruises with wine tasting to luxury gondolas that go upstream, downstream, to the Docklands or to Williamstown.
For a darker side of the city, the Old Melbourne Gaol is a fascinating experience especially for history buffs. Housing Melbourne’s oldest prison (which opened in 1845), the historic Magistrate’s Court and former Police City Watch House, the Gaol was once “home” to notorious outlaw, Ned Kelly before he was hanged there in 1880. Visitors can walk down the half-lit corridors that the condemned once trod, step into the chilly cells, and even go to the execution area and see Kelly’s Death mask. The more daring can take a night tour with the Hangman and risk the chance of meeting some of its rumored ghostly residents. Tickets start at 25 AUD ($22) for adults, and the night tour is 38 AUD ($33.50).
Those looking for something more strenuous should check out the 1,000 Steps Kokoda Track Memorial Walk, in the Dandenong Ranges National Park at Mt Dandenong. The track has been around since the 1900s but concrete steps and wooden railings have since been added to make it easier to get up the 1.7-mile climb, which usually takes about an hour, to the picnic spot at One Tree Hill. The full trail loop is 5 km with – you guessed it! – 1,000 steps that pass by plaques depicting the lives of those who fought and died on the trail during the Kokoda campaign in Papua New Guinea during World War II. Be sure to take plenty of water and wear walking shoes or hiking boots, as its quite a grueling trek to the top (the more adventurous even do laps!). For more information on the history of the trail and directions to get there, check out OnlyMelbourne.com.au.
Another outdoorsy spot for thrill-seekers is the You Yangs Regional Park between Melbourne and Geelong, where granite peaks rise out of volcanic plains and create a fantastic area for mountain biking, trail running and hiking. The trails wind for over 50 km, so there are ample opportunities to soak in the magnificent views, 200 plus bird species, and eclectic bush wildlife such as possums, koalas and kangaroos.
Australia’s second city is a foodie’s paradise so it is no surprise that two of its biggest attractions are open air food markets. The oldest is Prahran Market, which is famous not only for its history but for hard-to-find ingredients including game meat and poultry, fresh fish and crustaceans or specialty cheeses. A local staple on Commercial Road since 1891, the Prahran Market is now a great spot for aspiring cooks to learn new skills. Newer but far bigger is the Queen Victoria Market, the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere boasting over 1,000 stalls where you can find local fruit and vegetables, imported delicacies, or handmade gifts and jewelry, such as at Aminalee in String Bean Alley.
Melbourne is as famous for its eclectic nightlife as it is for its daytime activities thanks to a bustling music scene. There are live venues throughout the city, whether your taste is classic jazz or hard metal, hip hop or rock. Pick up a copy of free street papers Beat and Inpress, or the entertainment sections of The Age and Herald-Sun to find out the hottest gigs and dance clubs each night. One of the more unique bars in the city is Naked For Satan, named after Russian immigrant Leon Satanovich, who was famous for making vodka moonshine during the Great Depression – wearing nothing but his underpants as he worked, prompting the phrase, “Let’s get Naked for Satan.” Nowadays this local hotspot emulates a typical Basque bar serving beer, wine, and of course infused vodka, along with finger food skewered on toothpicks. Stab whatever you fancy either at the bar or from a waiter, collect all your picks and the restaurant will tally what you owe afterwards. Upstairs, Naked In The Sky is an open air restaurant overlooking the Fitzroy area on Brunswick Street and offering amazing views of the city.
Also out in the open air is the Rooftop Cinema at Curtin House, which is a fully licensed bar that serves food, drinks and airs film screenings nightly at 9.30 pm. Upcoming films include Anchorman, Casablanca, Stand By Me and and The Goonies. Below on the sixth floor is the Mesa Verde restaurant, home to Melbourne’s biggest collection of tequila, and serving gourmet cantina style cuisine – from tacos, chicharrones, guisado and pepitas to bourbon glazed pork ribs and huevos rancheros.
Making the most of the bountiful local produce on the land and in the ocean, Rockpool Bar & Grill is run by one of Melbourne’s most highly acclaimed chefs, Neil Perry, and was actually inspired by the great steakhouses of the US and Canada. While the seafood is superbly fresh, the restaurant is most famous for its grain fed beef that is sourced from the Rangers Valley, NSW, and is dry aged on the premises. Non-meat-eaters can enjoy shellfish on the raw bar such as freshly shucked oysters or Alaskan King Crab.
Another of Melbourne’s beloved local chefs is Andrew McConnell, who owns a number of restaurants including Cumulus Inc., Cutler & Co. and Golden Fields. Located in Melbourne’s famous art and fashion precinct on Flinders Lane, Cumulus Inc. reflects the buzz of Melbourne with its open plan kitchen and communal tables that serve quality food from coffee and a “full English breakfast” to fresh salads, charcuterie plates or slow roast lamb shoulder for dinner. Cutler & Co. is a newer property in a funkier location in Fitzroy that shares McConnell’s excitement over the flourishing food scene in his native city.
The Little Creatures Dining Hall is another popular spot in the Fitzroy area that serves their own Little Creatures Pale Ale and invites patrons “in serious need of a fresh hop hit and a bite to eat.” They encourage spontaneous dining and pop-ins but do accept reservations for 10 people or more. Menu items include a wide variety of pizza, sharable plates such as cheese and bacon croquettes, or entrees like homemade pie of the day.
Wine enthusiasts will love the easy access to the nearby Yarra Valley (about a 45-minute drive from the city center), where they can taste some of Australia’s finest wines including some stellar Chardonnays, and which makes for a great day trip or overnight.
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.
Melbourne Airport (MEL) also known as Tullamarine Airport, is the second busiest in Australia after Sydney. There are four terminals: one international terminal, two domestic terminals and one budget domestic terminal. When booking your flight, be sure to not confuse it with Melbourne International Airport (MLB), which is in Florida!
The airport services destinations on both sides of the globe, with Virgin Australia (which is partners with Delta) flying from Singapore, Auckland and Abu Dhabi as well as Los Angeles among other gateways. While getting there from the east coast is more challenging, there are many layover options in Brisbane and Sydney.
Oneworld Alliance frequent flyers have plenty of choices on Qantas, which flies from Los Angeles, London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Bangkok, Auckland, and Shanghai. Fellow Oneworld member British Airways flies from London, Hong Kong, Singapore and Adelaide, while Cathay Pacific services Hong Kong.
Those who prefer Star Alliance can opt for Air New Zealand, which flying to its home country hubs of Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland, as well as Shanghai; or United, which flies to Sydney from Los Angeles or San Francisco, and connect there.
Emirates, which is now a transfer partner for the American Express Membership Rewards program as well as airline partners with Alaska, JAL, Jet, JetBlue, Korean Air, Qantas, South African Airways, TAP Portugal and Virgin America, flies from London, Singapore via Dubai, Kuala Lumpur. Australian low-cost airline Jetstar (a subsidiary of Qantas) flies from Honolulu, as well as Sydney, Christchurch, Singapore and Auckland.
Once at the airport, the city center is 12 miles away and you can get there via a short taxi ride, or the Skybus system has shuttles departing every 10 minutes and costs 17 AUD ($15) one way. Public buses also run to many parts of the city and surrounding areas. Check that your hotel doesn’t have a free shuttle service before you pay, as many do.
WHERE TO STAY
Radisson on Flagstaff Gardens Melbourne: This 184-room hotel is located across from Melbourne’s oldest park and next to the historic Queen Victoria Market in the CBD. Rooms feature complimentary WiFi, a flatscreen TV, mini bars/refrigerators, a work desk, and an ironing board and iron. There is a 24-hour business center, dry cleaning and laundry services, a rooftop fitness center with a swimming pool and massage services. Dining options include HQ’s on William Restaurant under the expert eye of executive chef Leigh Robbins for contemporary Australian cuisine, or there is also a buffet for breakfast and lunch. Room rates start at 169 AUD ($150) per night in January. This is a Category 5 hotel requiring 44,000 points for an award night.
Hilton On The Park Melbourne Hotel: Located close to the Fitzroy Gardens, shops, the sports arena and nightlife of the city center, the 419 rooms at this hotel feature complimentary WiFi, a flatscreen TV, work desk, marble bathroom and most have views of the park. Executive rooms have Executive Lounge access, with complimentary breakfast and refreshments throughout the day and pre-dinner drinks in the evening. The hotel also offers a babysitting service (for a fee), and there is a business center, fitness center, heated outdoor pool and eforea spa offers massage and facial treatments. The Gallery restaurant serves locally-sourced ingredients for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or the Park Lounge overlooks the the MCG sports arena and is a good spot to people watch over cocktails. Room rates start at $219 AUD ($194) per night in January. This is a Category 6 hotel requiring 50,000 HHonors points for an award night.
There is another property nearby on the water, the Hilton Melbourne South Wharf hotel.
Grand Hyatt Melbourne: This five-star hotel is located on Collins Street in the CBD and has 546 rooms and suites each with complimentary WiFi, a flatscreen TV, floor-to-ceiling windows, marble bath with separate tub and shower and a work area comprising of an L-shaped sofa, round table, and leather upholstered armchair. The City Club fitness center has Life Fitness cardio machines, a large weights area, group classes, a swimming pool with jacuzzi and sauna, a driving range and tennis courts, along with the Sanctuary Spa for relaxing treatments. Dining and drinking options include the Collins Kitchen, RU-CO for signature martinis and single malt whiskeys, the Bistro Bar, the Lobby Lounge, and the Grand Club Lounge on the 31st floor. Room rates start at 255 AUD ($226) per night in January. This is a Category 3 hotel requiring 12,000 points for an award night.
Park Hyatt Melbourne: Overlooking St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Fitzroy Gardens and some of Melbourne’s classic Victorian neighborhoods, this hotel has 240 rooms and suites that start at over 500 square feet and feature Madrona paneled walls and art deco rich furnishings, complimentary WiFi, a flatscreen TV, a work area with Ottoman, Italian marble bath with deep soaking tub and walk-in shower. There is a fitness center, swimming pool, sundeck, tennis courts and a full spa offering massages and facial treatments. One of the hotel’s most unique features is its sophisticated Afternoon Tea service, and true foodies can book a stay during the opulent Park Hyatt Masters of Food & Wine experience. There is dining in the Lounge & Garden, or the radii restaurant. Room rates start at 285 AUD ($253) per night in January. This is a Category 4 hotel requiring 15,000 points for an award night.
Melbourne The Rialto: An InterContinental property, the Rialto is a historic hotel that was originally built in 1891 and has 253 rooms that feature a flatscreen TV, WiFi for 25 AUD per day (which is complimentary for Elite IHGRewards Club members), a work desk and chair, a stereo and a coffee maker. There is a business center, a fully equipped fitness center with state-of-the-art weight and cardio equipment, a spa offering Eastern holistic treatments, and an indoor pool. There are four restaurant areas, the Alluvial offering fresh, local produce, Merchant – inspired by the Venetian culture, Bluestone Wine Lodge and Market Lane Bar. Room rates in January start at 239 AUD ($212) per night in January. This is a Category 7 hotel requiring 40,000 points for an award night.
Melbourne Marriott Hotel: Covering 10 floors, this hotel has 166 guest rooms and 19 suites, all offering a flatscreen TV, WiFi, a mini-fridge, wet bar, table and chairs, a pull-out sofa, a coffee maker and even a toaster. The modern property has a full-service business center, fitness center, swimming pool, jacuzzi, and a sauna. The Essence on Exhibition restaurant serves modern Australian cuisine, while the Elements Lounge and Bar is more international. Room rates start at 249 AUD ($221) per night in January. This is a Category 7 hotel requiring 35,000 points for an award night.
The Westin Melbourne: Located on Collins Street close to the Regent Theatre and Federation Square, the Westin Melbourne has 262 rooms with WiFi for a fee of 20 AUD ($17.50) per day, a flatscreen TV, Westin Heavenly Bed, separate bathtub and shower, White Tea by Westin bath amenities, work desk, iPod docking station, and Juliette balconies a with city views. The Wellness Center has a lap pool, jacuzzi, sauna, steam room and WestinWORKOUT Gym, and there is also a business center with complimentary WiFi, and an art collection overseen by art curator John Buckley. The Allegro restaurant serves contemporary cuisine, the Lobby Lounges offers pre-theatre cocktails, light meals and tea, or the Martini bar has stronger options and a roaring fireplace. Room rates start at 265 AUD ($235) per night in January. This is a Category 5 hotel requiring 12,000 Starpoints for an award night.
Another Starwood hotel nearby is the Sheraton Melbourne Hotel.
Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts
Fine Hotels and Resorts is a hotel program specifically for American Express Platinum and Business Platinum cardholders. By booking through this portal, you receive added perks and benefits thrown in with your stay – sort of like you would with elite status or by booking through a travel agent with great contacts at a hotel.
The Langham Melbourne: This luxurious hotel located on the Southbank Promenade overlooking the tranquil Yarra River was built in 1865 and promises “service with poise.” There are 387 guest rooms with a flatscreen TV, WiFi for a fee, a coffee and tea maker, an iPod docking station, a desk, and a marble bathroom, with separate shower and bath. The Chuan Spa Day Spa has treatments based on the principles of Yin and Yang and the five essential elements, while the fitness center has cardio machines, weight stacks, sauna, steam room, swimming pool and sundeck. The Melba restaurant has a number of cooking stations including tandoori oven, turbo woks, rotisserie, seafood ice blocks, and floating desserts to create countless culinary options. Room rates start at 275 AUD ($244) per night in January.
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, Ink Bold, Ink Plus, British Airways Visa, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One Venture, Citi Hilton HHonors and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
The Lyall Hotel and Spa: This elegant hotel boasts an art gallery on each floor featuring the original work of local French artist Thierry B. There are just 40 suites ranging from deluxe one and two bedrooms to the grand suites and the Platinum Suite with two fireplaces and a huge outdoor terrace. All feature a flatscreen TV, WiFi, a pillow menu, underfloor heating in the bathroom, two shower heads and mist-free mirrors. The Lyall Spa offers therapeutic and prescriptive treatments, and beauty services. The Bistro Lyall focuses on contemporary seasonal cuisine, and the Lyall Champagne Bar has a wide collection of French bubbles and lighter bites. Room rates start at 272 AUD ($243) in January.
Along with the more well-known international brands, there are a number of smaller collections offering great accommodation options in the city. Crown is an Australian hotel resort collection that has three high-end locations in Melbourne, the Crown Promenade Melbourne, which is within walking distance of the CBD and the Melbourne Exhibition Centre, the Crown Metropol Melbourne, located adjacent to the Crown Entertainment Complex, and the Crown Towers Melbourne, with modern rooms rising above the South Bank.
Meanwhile, the eclectic but elegant Art Series Hotels includes The Cullen, inspired by Australian contemporary artist, Adam Cullen, The Olsen, a five-star property in South Yarra, and The Blackman, a contemporary boutique hotel on St Kilda Road with 209 rooms named after artist Charles Blackman. Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.
Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.