So, you’ve forked over a month’s wage, taken a few days off and made the trip south-of-the-border into Mexico for PAX Australia. Undoubtedly the biggest gaming festival to EVER take place in Australia, you certainly made the right choice in maxing out your credit card: it’s okay, let’s just consider this purchase an “investment”, shall we?
If you’re from overseas, Melbourne is pretty much like any other city in the world: anyone born and bred in Melbourne thinks it’s the best thing since sliced bread, while anyone relatively new to the city won’t stop complaining about how cold it is, how pathetically obsessed Melburnians are with aussie rules football (more on that later) and how everyone walks around with a take-away coffee cup in their hands.
But for the most part, Melbourne is an extremely accessible city. Actually, it’s pretty awesome (note: born and bred part). The competitive comparisons with Sydney are pointless because they’re such different cities: Sydney has the hussle-and-bussle of a New York, whereas Melbourne is a bit more laid back and relaxed, like a Boston or Amsterdam. For people from South Australia, think of Melbourne as a bigger and (much) better Adelaide.
So what else do you need to know to get by? Here’s your tourist guide to Melbourne for PAX Aus.
Transport gets a bad wrap in Melbourne because it essentially breaks down during peak-hour, but off-peak times -- which is primarily when many of you will be using it -- shouldn’t pose any issues.
When you arrive into Melbourne, there are a number of ways you can get into the city. If you’re staying near the Showgrounds where PAX is being held, you can probably catch a cab, but you’re looking at about the same price as a cab into the city: anywhere between $40 and $60.
Cabs from the airport to the city carry a small surcharge, but drivers tend to know a lot about the city and inner-city suburbs, so you shouldn’t have issues finding your accommodation. If you’re on a strict budget, anticipate a cab ride of around $55, depending on traffic, which is horrendous on the in-bound (and only) freeway towards the city during peak hour.
Alternatively, there is the Skybus shuttle from the airport to Southern Cross station. An adult return ticket is $28.
Unfortunately, there is no train service from Melbourne Airport to downtown Melbourne. Your best options are either the Skybus, cab, pre-booked private car (generally cheaper than a cab), or … you can walk along the freeway for about 20km, but don’t do that.
There are multiple ways for you to get to the Showgrounds for PAX.
First thing’s first, though: buy a Myki pass as soon as you get into town. You can buy one online, too. This is your transport pass for buses, trains and trams.
Tram: Grab the No.57 tram from Elizabeth Street. This stops right at Gate 1 on Epsom Round.
Train: From the city trains run direct to the Showgrounds. Alternatively, you can jump on the Craigieburn line and get off at either Ascot Vale or Newmarket, and either walk (fair distance from both) or catch the direct train from these stations.
Cab: Depending on traffic, a cab from downtown to the Showgrounds is roughly $20-$30. Don't let the cab driver take the freeway, as this will cost you significantly more with surcharges, about $50 or more. Direct them to go down RACECOURSE ROAD or, alternatively, MT ALEXANDER ROAD.
In the city
If you’re looking for a break away from PAX and want to explore Melbourne’s CBD, you can easily walk around the city in a few hours, or jump on random trams. The subway city-loop literally goes in a loop around the city -- Flinders Street on one end, Flagstaff (financial and court district) on the other.
Cabs can be tough to find late on a weekend, especially Friday, and the State Government has created many cab ranks around the city to keep punters safe. The main one is at Flinders Street station, but there are a few others scattered around the place. There are long lines late at night, so prepare yourself.
Trains end at roughly 1am on weekends, but be wary of the time schedules as this varies between the different train lines.
Seeing as though the PAX days are long and tiring, you may want to wind down with a drink and nice dinner. Here are a few recommendations:
Eat all the food!
Mt Alexander Road, Moonee Ponds
This location is convenient as it is close to the Showgrounds. On the Craigieburn train line, head towards Moonee Ponds train station, walk down Puckle Street and turn right onto Mr Alexander Road. This section of the street is filled with restaurants, cafes and bars. Every cuisine is covered: Italian, Greek, Thai, Japanese and Middle Eastern.
Hardway Lane, Melbourne
A trip to Melbourne isn’t complete without a trip to Hardway Lane. You may need to book. There’s a host of great restaurants and bars down this laneway, right in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD. It’s also home to Big Boy BBQ, the best American BBQ take-away joint this side of the Pacific.
Lygon Street, Carlton
While most Melbourne Italians will tell you that the real Lygon Street is about 3kms up the road in Brunswick, the Carlton end still has its fair share of yummy pizzas and tasty pasta. If you want some of Melbourne’s best pizza, though, jump in a cab and head about $10 up the road. “400 Gradi” and “Woodstock”, both on Lygon Street, Brunswick end, have the best pizza going around.
Alternatively, if you wish to stay near the city in Carlton, DOC (295 Drummond St, Carlton) is a walking distance from Lygon Street’s main tourist hub.
When you’re done with dinner, grab some of the best coffee the city has to offer at Brunetti.
There are a number of great bars and restaurants along Southbank that offer affordable dining with prime views of the city and Yarra River. Check out ‘World’ and ‘Left Bank’.
Do you Huxtaburger?
Okay so the general rule of thumb in Melbourne is that Huxtaburger >>> every other burger in the city, possibly the country, if not, THE WORLD! *cue evil laugh*
The CBD store -- right around the corner from MMGN HQ just off Flinders Lane -- has opening hours more inline with office hours, as its location right in the hub of the CBD and nestled between office buildings makes midnight burger runs from drunk punters a rarity.
The Smith Street, Collingwood store, however, has far more accessible hours, and is also close to Brunswick Street and the many great bars in that area.
If you walk along the Yarra, past Crown Casino and along the River along the Exhibition Center, there is Meat Market -- some of the best steak in the city -- and Bohemian, which offers OUTSTANDING Spanish food and drinks.
Drink all the drink!
There is no shortage of bars and drinking venues in Melbourne. It is the bar capital of Australia.
Start at the top of Spring Street, at the Bourke Street intersection, and work your way down through the city from here. Cut through the laneways and you’ll find many a bar waiting to tantalise your tastebuds.
Crown has gone through a major makeover the last few years and is now a respectable place to enjoy a night out. You can literally bar hop within the casino, with high-class, fancy bars scattered throughout the complex.
Dress codes don’t really apply, but just don’t rock up drunk: security can be a little touchy.
Most of the restaurants along the Yarra on Southbank double as bars. Check them out and move along the Yarra.
Richmond is only a few train stops from the city. Multiple train lines go to Richmond Station, which offers direct access to Swan Street and its countless bars. Richmond is only one stop from Flinders Street station, and is just past the beautiful MCG.
St Kilda is on the other side of town, but it’s well worth the trip. Fitzroy Street on a Saturday night is messy, but in the best way. The street is filled with cafes, bars and nightclubs, while Acland Street has great food and bars. It’s about a $20 cab ride from the city, or a short tram ride.
Melbourne’s bohemian capital, Brunswick Street, is basically Melbourne’s nightlife hub. The place gets crazy on a weekend, and you can easily bar hop from the top of the street in Abbotsford, right down to the city entrance in East Melbourne.
More renowned for its shopping than nightlife, Chapel Street is the east’s answer to Brunswick Street. Head down the Windsor end and you have some of the city’s best nightclubs playing some of the best tunes from world-renowned DJs. Catch the train to South Yarra station, or a $15 cab ride from the CBD.
What NOT to do in Melbourne
A few tips for the wary traveler:
1. Don’t buy your coffee from Starbucks. This is social suicide in Melbourne.
2. Don’t wear open-toe shoes or thongs. Your feet will freeze.
3. Don’t get on the train without a Myki: ticket inspectors frequently roam train lines.
4. Don’t go to The Lord Of The Fries expecting meat: this is an exclusively vegetarian fast-food joint (and it’s awesome!)
5. Don’t wear short sleeves. The Melbourne chill is infamous.
6. Don’t be fooled by a sunny start to the day: this is Melbourne. The weather changes QUICKLY.
One thing about AFL …
While you’re in Melbourne, you’re bound to see MANY a footy supporter around, and many television screens with games being played.
There are a handful of games on this weekend if you want some footy goodness after your day at PAX: North Melbourne plays Carlton at Docklands on Friday night, St Kilda plays Port Adelaide at Docklands on Saturday night, while Richmond plays Fremantle at the MCG on Sunday. Apart from the North vs Carlton match, you should be able to get tickets at the door.
For its size Melbourne is a pretty safe city. But like any city this size you should always be wary of your belongings as pick-pocketing does occur.
Stay safe in the CBD on weeknights as this is when the most violent crime occurs. It's safe to walk around alone at night, but steer clear of trouble wherever possible.
Are you going to PAX? Meet up with other MMGN members!