Melbourne City Guide
As the sporting capital of Australia and a world-class arts and dining precinct, Melbourne pretty much has it all. Now home to five million people, Melbourne is a sprawling metropolis with a vibrant cultural scene that balances local needs with tourist amenitis. Located on Port Phillip Bay, the city hosted the Olympics in 1956 and the Commonwealth Games in 2006, also home to sports apparel brands 2XU and Pedla. Climate and cultural differences between Sydney and Melbourne resemble those of beachy Los Angeles and misty San Francisco.
To make the most of this Melbourne city guide for endurance athletes, note a few patterns and features. Facilities are broken into categories according to their running, cycling or swimming focus, with a separate section highlighting quality gym facilities in Melbourne. Exact hours aren’t indicated unless very restrictive, and prices are also omitted in the knowledge that no listed facility charges more than $20 for day access. Instead, a full directory of telephone numbers is provided in the final Directory section, so you can call ahead to confirm your intended training time. The place names in Directory link directly to the venue’s Google Maps profile – click on the venue’s name to generate directions. Finally, the Sleeping & Eating section towards the end of the guide provides an insight into good places for sleeping and fuelling during your time in Melbourne.
Orientation & Logistics
The Melbourne CBD and Southbank area is the focal point for business and accommodation and a central point for accessing everything great about Australia’s second largest city. At the city’s center is the modern Federation Square development, with plazas, bars, and restaurants by the Yarra River. In the Southbank area, the Melbourne Arts Precinct is the site of Arts Centre Melbourne – a performing arts complex – and the National Gallery of Victoria, with Australian and indigenous art. To the south is the bay, a mecca for outdoor activities, while to the east are the hills as well as world class wineries.
The climate is temperate but quite variable across all seasons. Winter (Jun–Aug) is cool with reasonably short days while Summer (Dec–Feb) is hot and the peak travel time. This temperate climate allows endurance athletes to be able to train all year round in Melbourne, however be prepared for anything!
There is no shortage opportunities for runners visiting Melbourne. One of the most popular running tracks is located a short stroll from the CBD, navigable between meetings. The Botanical Gardens circumnavigation ‘The Tan’ is a 3.8km, mostly gravel track that benchmarks Melbournites, similar to Vancouver’s vertiginous Grouse Grind. It is well marked with 250m markers and floodlit until midnight, typically taken clockwise (Strava segment). The mild elevation opens fantastic views of the city, the Yarra River and the Shrine of Remembrance as well as a short challenging hill to climb each clockwise lap – handy for orientation for first timers to Melbourne.
There are two running tracks located close to the CBD, Lakeside Stadium and Melbourne Olympic Park. Lakeside Stadium is Melbourne’s premier athletics track located adjacent to Albert Park Lake, a short tram ride from the CBD. Melbourne Olympic Park was a training venue for the 1956 Olympics. It is now used as a training facility for one of Melbourne’s Australian Rules Football teams but is generally available for public use and has a 3-lane running track.
Other choice running routes include the running track around Albert Park Lake, an anti-clockwise 4.7km and totally flat. The Yarra River trail beginning at Federation Square in the CBD and following the Yarra River upstream winding its way along a mostly flat route past the Melbourne Tennis Centre, home to the Australian Open, and the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground.
If you are after a trail running experience, a drive out to Lysterfield National Park (30km SE of CBD. This gateway opens up off-road tracks and the high likelihood that you will come across kangaroos and wallabies during your run. It also has some popular mountain biking trail networks – including the State Mountain Bike Course, a venue for the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
Seek out two running groups to be part of a crew when you’re in Melbourne – Run Like Crazy and Hunter Athletics. Another option is to join a local parkrun, with Albert Park parkrun and Parkville parkrun easily accessible from the CBD every Saturday morning at 8am (N.B. Northern Hemisphere).
Beach Road is Melbourne’s cycling corridor, a 200km return route following the coast of Port Phillip Bay from Port Melbourne all the way to Portsea and the spectacular Point Nepean. This route is alive with cyclists, particularly on weekends, where parking restrictions make it very cycle-friendly. You can choose any distance along the route which becomes more interesting past Frankston (45km in) where the flat course ascends Oliver’s Hill (a short sharp climb) and the terrain is more undulating through Mt Eliza, Mornington and Mt Martha.
For shorter options the Albert Park Lake circuit (home of the Melbourne Formula One Grand Prix) is an easy option with great accessibility from the CBD, a dedicated bike lane, smooth roads and great views.
Melbourne’s terrain is relatively flat until you make your way further out of town so if you’re in search of hills there are some great options but requires more riding or travel.
The Dandenong Ranges National Park is accessible by bike (about 30km to the east of the CBD) and once you are there the options for riding hills are endless. At The Basin (a small suburb at the foot of the Dandenongs) begins the aptly named “1 in 20” climb which is extremely popular amongst Melbourne’s cyclists. A 6.7km / 5% “The Wall” is a great climb entering into the National Park opening up many more climbing options including an amazing lookout back to the Melbourne CBD at Sky High Mt Dandenong.
Another hilly option is out to Kinglake National Park, easily accessible from Eltham in north eastern suburbs of Melbourne (by train or bike). There are plenty of undulating roads and a picturesque 7km climb to the township of Kinglake.
Look out for group rides with Cycle Galleria’s Shop Rides or Total Rush (Saturdays, 7am). Cycle Galleria are also the place to go if you’re looking for a premium road bike rental in Melbourne.
Melbourne’s seafront access and performance sports infrastructure captures the breadth of swimming options. Located close to the CBD in Albert Park is Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre (MSAC). Facilities include two 50m competition pools (one indoor, one outdoor), a 25m indoor lap pool, a multi-purpose pool, a hydrotherapy pool plus a spa, sauna and steam room.
Located in the CBD is the Melbourne City Baths which is now considered to be one of Melbourne’s most architecturally and historically significant buildings. It has an unusual 30m indoor pool as well as a gym, group fitness classes and a cycle studio.
Open water swimming options are easy to find with Port Phillip Bay providing safe and convenient swimming spots along the coast. The Middle Brighton Baths is a good starting point with an enclosed swimming area that is used all year round. Water temperatures for open water swimming in Melbourne’s Bay vary from 20 deg C in summer down to 10-11 degrees Celsius in winter. The Brighton Icebergers swim all year round and are located at Middle Brighton Baths.
Other options around the bay include the St Kilda Sea Baths, a 25-meter natural seawater indoor heated pool which has been drawing patrons since the 19th century with beautiful views of the bay.
Brighton Beach, accessible by train to Brighton Beach station, 15km from the CBD, has amazing views back across the city and is home to the iconic bathing boxes.
Sleeping & Eating
It’s no secret that Melbourne is well stocked with food, drink and coffee options. Fat Albert Café in Albert Park is a good choice for post ride coffee and snacks. To stay close to the water, try Beachcomber Café or West Beach Pavilion, both offering glorious views across the water and back across the city. Either way you will find plenty of cafes in Melbourne streets offering quality coffee and food.
For the restaurant scene, Melbourne offers a diverse range of cuisines paying homage to its multi-cultural upbringing. The CBD laneways are full of restaurants and bars and it’s easy to find many different options and value for money. Try Chin Chin if the queue isn’t too long or book ahead at venues such as Supernormal, Coda, MoVida or Hazel for an iconic Melbourne dining experience.
Try the City Wine Shop for Melbourne’s answer to a traditional Italian wine bar. Choose a bottle from the extensive shop to take home or consume in the bar alongside the delicious share plates on offer.
Melbourne’s Chinatown is located in Little Bourke St in the CBD and is always a vibrant place to visit after hours. Upmarket options include Flowerdrum, Gingerboy and Longrain, while there is always plenty of value to be had including Shanghai Village Dumpling House and Shandong Mama, the latter laying claim to the best dumplings in Melbourne.
For your morning coffee, try ST. ALi in South Melbourne – ST. ALi was one of the first, one of the pioneers; the ones who defined specialty coffee in Melbourne; and the ones who continue to push boundaries forward.
Elsewhere in the CBD, “saturated” doesn’t even begin to describe the density of cafes. Depending on where you are located, try Liminal or Industry Beans Lt. Collins St. Otherwise follow the scent and discover an endless amount of brew options that Melbourne has to offer.
For accommodation look to QT Hotels – a brand with eight hotels in Australia, and one in Auckland. Their industrial chic covers several room categories, with their most basic rooms starting at £125 per night. Twin rooms, both regular and deluxe, account for friendly travel. As for wellness, QT’s Secret Garden provides a leafy enclave for guests, with the on-site gym providing a platform for free weights and cardio.
Outside of the CBD is Quest Bayside St Kilda is located a short stroll to St Kilda Beach and St Kilda Sea Baths making swimming, riding and running options all very accessible for any time of year.
Albert Park Lake: no number
City Wine Shop: +61396546657
Fat Albert: +61396993344
Lakeside Stadium: +61399261555
Melbourne City Baths: +61396589011
Melbourne Olympic Park: +61392861600
Melbourne Sports & Aquatic Park: +61399261555
Middle Brighton Baths: +61395397000
ST. ALi Coffee Roasters: +61391328966
Total Rush: +61394210070
QT Hotel, Melbourne: +61386368800
Quest St. Kilda Bayside: +61395939500