I used to love spending the weekend in Melbourne strolling around town. The Victoria market could take me hours before I’d do a bit of window shopping at local designer boutiques then make way to the Italian quarter for a lively meal. Finishing off the night at one of the many laneway cocktail bars was never in question. In the twelve years I’ve lived in Australia, I’ve probably been to Melbourne half a dozen times. But the last two trips were, can I dare say, different because of one tiny but essential ingredient. You’ve guessed it – kids!
Make no mistake, travelling with children is great. But I’ve come to realise that you can choose to drag them around all day only to pay the price later, or merely adapt your itinerary to ensure everybody gets something out of the trip. Fortunately, the latter is easily done in Melbourne. You’ll be glad you traded your Frose – Melbourne’s hip drink right now – for pancakes at one of the many trendy cafes.
All about that breakfast
There is no shortage of coffee in Melbourne. After all, the city is often named as the caffeine capital of Australia. In just about any cafe you can get a decent latte. But if you are after the authentic Aussie experience, ask the barista to pour you a flat-white, a milky coffee variant. Only once you’ve had your caffeine kick, and the kids had their smashed avo on toast – a very Melburnian breakfast – you’ll be ready to start the day.
A sea change
I always vow to pursue real outdoor experiences, but on a rainy day, I found myself at Sea Life, Melbourne’s Aquarium, with three children aged 6 months, 18 months and 3 years. The variety of exhibitions meant that everybody was entertained. The older one was immediately attracted to the giant saltwater crocodile and easily spent 20 minutes watching his every move. For the 18 month-old, the stars of the show were the king penguins, which were as high as him. For me, it was the giant aquarium where staff gave a presentation about the different sharks and the importance of conservation. While it was a bit long, the kids happily sat and enjoyed the hundreds of fish swimming behind.
Taking in Australian culture
I’d like to say that when we go to museums these days, we get to see the main attraction, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, I have found that most museums in capital cities have excellent playgrounds and special kids sections created to complement featured exhibitions. At walking distance from the city centre, you’ll find the National Gallery of Victoria. Aside from its impressive architecture, they often have interactive, hands-on activities for kids. Another one to add to your list is the Melbourne Museum with its new children gallery for the under 5s that has both indoor and outdoor play spaces.
Stroll around town
Of course, a visit to Melbourne wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the famous Queen Victoria Market, a century-old landmark. There, you’ll see just about anything, and you can literally spend hours going from stall to stall. At the Deli hall, you’ll find all you need to pack yourself a lovely little picnic to consume later at the Royal Botanic Gardens. Check opening times before you head to the market as it is only open five days a week.
Perhaps one of the best-kept secrets of all is the free heritage tram that circles the town. Not only will this save you money, but the kids will love its vintage look. The only thing, as I learned the hard way, is it can be very tricky to take a pram onboard. Fortunately, everybody I encountered there was kind enough to lend me a hand, which perfectly sums up the friendly feel of the city.