Getting Around Melbourne

So you decided to visit or migrate to Melbourne. But what is the best way to get around Melbourne when I get there, you may ask. I don’t know about the “best” way but I can only tell you how Raquel and I get around Melbourne. This could very well be the most efficient and cheapest way but we really cannot be absolutely sure as we’ve only been in Melbourne for less than a year, after all.

From Melbourne Airport to the CBD

Let’s start at the Melbourne Airport (for both International and Domestic flights) where a foreign visitor or migrant will most likely enter Melbourne. You have three ways of getting to the city from here and unfortunately, one of them is not by train — unlike in Sydney. You can choose from among the following methods of transportation: get a taxi, rent a car or get on a Skybus bus.

We always take the Skybus. It’s a 20-minute bus trip to Spencer St in the Melbourne CBD and there’s only a 15-minute wait in-between bus arrivals at the terminal. It’s reasonably priced at $24 for adults for a return ticket (if you intend to return to the airport within a year’s time) and $13 one-way to the city (or one-way to the airport from the city). It has ample space for your luggage, too.

If you take the taxi, it will be a 30-minute ride that will probably cost you around $35 to $40, one way. A taxi ride can only be justified if there are four of you sharing the fare with no intention of returning to the airport within a year ($13 x 4 = $52 vs. $40). Another justification for a cab is when you don’t know where your hotel is in the city and a cab can take you at your hotel’s doorstep. But it may still be cheaper to get on the Skybus and just get a taxi or tram at Spencer St to get to your hotel in the CBD.

The last option is to rent a car. Unless you intend to visit some far-flung area in Victoria or some place inaccessible by public transportation, I wouldn’t recommend it. When you rent a car, you better be used to driving a right-hand drive car and driving on the left side of the road. You’d also have to know about the weird hook turns they use in the CBD itself. You might as well be aware of the other road rules here. Another thing you have to worry about is the Citylink pass which is an electronic tag for cars to automatically pay for Citylink highway fares. In short, don’t get a car if you’re just going to be going to be around the CBD or in areas that are accessible to trains, trams and buses.

Get a Map

Now, let’s say you took my advice and got on the Skybus to Melbourne. On the ride to Melbourne, the bus will show a short 10-15 minute video guide to Melbourne programme. The video will give you an idea of what to expect in Melbourne which is very helpful to newcomers. At the front of the bus, there’s also a rack of touristy brochures. Be sure to pick up the Official Visitors Guide Me!bourne (yes, the exclamation point was intentional) which is for free.

“The Official Visitors’ Guide is a practical tool designed to provide visitors to Melbourne with a comprehensive understanding of the things to see and do. The guide is produced quarterly showcasing the four distinct seasons of Melbourne and complementing Tourism Victoria’s and City of Melbourne’s tactical tourism marketing campaigns.”

— Destination Melbourne Website

Here are, I think, the more important aspects of this guide apart from what you can see and do in Melbourne:

  • A map of the CBD in the centre fold.
  • A non-detailed map showing Greater Melbourne and the location of the popular precincts.
  • Route maps of the Melbourne Train Network and Melbourne Tram Network which will be very important if you intend to use the train and tram services extensively in Melbourne.
  • Also, discount coupons at the back of the booklet.

If you are going to be in Melbourne for only a short period of time, then the maps on this guide should be sufficient. With it, you’ll be able to find your way around the CBD without problems. The tram and train network maps will help you choose which lines you need to catch to get to a particular destination.

However, if you are going to be here for the long haul or to travel to some obscure out-of-the-way area in Melbourne and Victoria, you probably need to buy yourself a bonafide map book as soon as possible. The most popular Melbourne map book is called Melway at around $45.95 at a newsagent (newspaper and magazine store or stall) or bookshop. It’s so popular that when an address is listed on a real estate property, the Melway map reference code is used to pinpoint the property’s location.

It’s a bit on the expensive side though. Also, if you are going to be doing most of your roaming on foot, carrying a big and heavy Melway map book may not be such a good idea. You can instead opt to buy the $15-$20 Melbourne Compact Street Directory. It’s small, light and handy. It does not pack as much details as Melway but it should be detailed enough to get you around Greater Melbourne. This was the map book I had when I was apartment hunting without a car around Melbourne.

Taking Trams and Trains

Melbourne has a pretty good public transportation system with a lot of trains, trams and buses with routes in and around Melbourne. I cannot talk much about public buses though as Raquel and I seldom use them. The public transportation we use the most is the train, followed by the tram.

To ride on a train, tram or bus, you only need to purchase one ticket called a Metcard and you’d be able to ride any of the mentioned public transportations. The ticket is limited by zones, though, so make sure you purchase a Metcard for the zone you intend to go to. If you only plan to travel in or near the CBD, then a Zone 1 ticket should be enough. Note that on a weekend, a Weekly or a Monthly ticket will allow you to travel to Zone 2 and 3 even if you only have a Zone 1 ticket. Buy the ticket that’s suitable for the duration of your stay.

Here is the cost of a Zone 1 Metcard for Adults (discounted for non-adults including elderly):

  • 2 Hour: $3.10 ($1.80)
  • Daily: $5.90 ($3.10)
  • 10 x 2 Hour: $25.90 (12.80)
  • 5 x Daily: $25.90 (12.80)
  • Daily 5 Pack Weekly: $25.90 (12.80)
  • Weekly: $25.90 (12.80)
  • Monthly: $95.90 ($48.30)
  • Yearly: $1,026

For more details regarding the types of Metcards and costs, go to the Metlink Metcard fares/zones page.

You can purchase a Metcard from the train station terminals, ticket vending machines at some major tram stops and inside the trams themselves (but you must carry exact change) and bus drivers.

The train and tram routes in the Visitor’s Guide will help you find which tram or train line you need to catch to get to your destination. Details about the tram route (like the timetable and stops) could usually be found at the actual tram stop along its route. Unfortunately, some stops have been vandalised so the timetable would be missing from that stop.

As for trains, the train terminals usually have an automated board or screen monitors that will tell you from what platform you need to board and what time the train will come. Take note though that the platform number sometimes change at the last minute. Listen closely to announcements to learn about platform changes. The announcer will also let you know if a train has been delayed or cancelled.

If a tram and train both go through the same area you wanted to visit, which should you take? Well, it depends. Trains, once it leaves the platform, would get to the destination faster — at about half the time it takes a tram to get there. Train stations are also clearly marked so you will definitely know when you are where you need to go to when you get there. Whereas in a tram, unless you are already familiar with your destination, you might miss your intended stop.

Since trams also share the road with other road vehicles, it would also be subjected to the same traffic conditions as cars. But at least, you get to see more of the city through a tram. Another reason to take a tram is that although a train would get to a place faster, time in-between trains can be as long as 30 to 40 minutes apart during off-peak hours.

The City Circle Tram

There is another tram service that runs in Melbourne called The City Circle Tram. It’s a free service (no Metcards required) that circles the CBD perimeter. It should be easy to spot (and hear) as it looks like an antiquated noisy red tram with the words City Circle written on its sides.

“To catch the free City Circle Tram service, just wait at any of the specially marked stops on the route. Trams run in both directions every ten minutes, seven days a week between 10.00 am and 6.00 pm (except Christmas Day and Good Friday), and during daylight saving extended hours, 10.00 am-9.00 pm every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.”

–Metlink City Circle site

Most of the major tourist attractions in the CBD is a short walk away from a City Circle Tram stop so if you plan to have city tour for a day, you can save yourself a Daily Metcard purchase by just hopping on board a City Circle Tram instead.


Of course, if you need to get to somewhere you are unfamiliar with real quick, there’s always the taxi. There are numerous taxi ranks in the CBD. So if you find yourself unable to hail a taxi on the city streets, walk to the nearest taxi rank where a taxi will most likely be waiting for passengers. Or if you cannot find the nearest taxi rank, you can always call up the taxi service whose numbers should be at the back of the Visitor’s Guide booklet.

Though they may be expensive, from my experience, taxi drivers here could be trusted not to lead you around in circles just to get more fare out of you. In fact, if he got himself lost, he usually just pauses the meter while he finds his way around. And as far as I know, you do not need to tip the taxi driver but a good tip is always appreciated.

Far Flung Places

There are other notable places of interest outside of Melbourne such as Ballarat (Sovereign Hill), The Great Ocean Road and Phillip Island (to see the penguins) and the best way to get to these areas is through a tourist bus service. Two such services (I forgot their names) can be found along Swanston St near Bourke St. They would have their brochures in the Skybus anyway, so be sure to get one if you intend to go to regional Victoria.

Well, that’s it. I hope the information I laid out here would be of great help to anybody planning to visit or stay in Melbourne.

Published in: on May 10, 2005 at 12:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

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