Melbourne can be an exciting place once the sun has set. The pubs and bars are far better than those in Sydney. Friday and Saturday nights will see most pubs (of both the trendy and the down-to-earth variety) packed to the rafters, and at lunchtime those that serve food are popular, too. To find out what's happening, check the Friday entertainment guide in The Age, Melbourne's daily broadsheet.
The Performing Arts
Melbourne is the most dynamic performing-arts city in Australia. Its theaters offer the gamut, from offbeat independent productions to large-scale Broadway-style musicals. The city is also the home of the most prestigious festivals, with the annual Melbourne Fringe Festival (3 weeks in late Sept/early Oct; www.melbournefringe.com.au) and the annual Melbourne International Comedy Festival (first 3 weeks in Apr; www.comedyfestival.com.au), attracting top Australian and international talent.
Venues all over the city participate in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and the Fringe Festival sees the streets, pubs, theaters, and restaurants playing host to everyone from jugglers and fire-eaters to musicians and independent productions covering all art forms. Try to get tickets if you're in town during either festival, but keep in mind that hotels fill up fast at these times. Another good time to plan your visit is during the annual Melbourne International Film Festival (late July through early Aug; www.melbournefilmfestival.com.au), when new releases, shorts, and avant-garde movies play at venues around the city.
The official government entertainment information site, www.thatsmelbourne.com.au/whatson, shows "What's On" in the theater world for up to a month in advance, as well as what's happening in dance, film, comedy, music, exhibitions, sports, and tours.
The best place to buy tickets for everything from theater to major sporting events, and to obtain details on schedules, is Ticketmaster (tel. 13 61 00 in Australia; www.ticketmaster.com.au).
Half-Price Tickets -- Buy tickets for entertainment events, including opera, dance, and drama, on the day of the performance from the Half-Tix Desk (tel. 03/9650 9420 for daily listings; www.halftixmelbourne.com) in the Melbourne Town Hall on Swanston Street. The booth is open Monday from 10am to 2pm, Tuesday through Thursday 11am to 6pm, Friday 11am to 6:30pm, and Saturday 10am to 4pm (also selling for Sun shows). Tickets must be purchased in person and in cash. Available shows are displayed on the booth door and on the website.
Additional Venues & Theaters
Check The Age to see what productions are scheduled during your visit.
Most of the city cinemas are within 2 blocks of the intersection of Bourke and Russell streets. Tickets usually cost around A$15 for adults. Among the independent cinemas, the one that stands out is the Astor, 1 Chapel St. (at Dandenong Rd.), St. Kilda (tel. 03/9510 1414; www.astor-theatre.com). Housed in a superb Art Nouveau building, the Astor shows a mix of classic movies and interesting recent releases.
The Bar & Music Scene
Melbourne's nightclub scene used to center on King Street, and while that area is still popular with large disco-style venues, the city is now awash in unique, hidden bars and clubs. It's best just to follow the crowds -- or in some cases, that couple slipping down a side lane and disappearing into a dimly lit entrance. Otherwise, the options listed are more enduring in their appeal.
Where to Share a Pint
Pubs generally stay open from midmorning until at least midnight most nights. Many remain open until 2 or 3am on Friday and Saturday nights, and you can always find a few open 24 hours.
Pick a Card ... for a Unique Pub-Crawl -- All the rage in Melbourne (and developed by clever Melbourne girl Michelle Matthews) is a pack of 52 playing cards called Bar Secrets Melbourne. The cards have pictures of and information (including maps) on the hippest and most unusual pubs and cocktail bars in town. Locals pick out a few at random, and the night's planned. The cards cost A$9.95 at bookshops and newsdealers, or you can buy them online at www.bar-secrets.com. They are well worth seeking out. Alternately, if you have an iPhone, you can buy it as an app for A$5. You will find yourself weaving up dark alleyways, climbing into lofts and down into basements, and always faced with something unique.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.