09/20/2012 07:01 am ET Updated Nov 20, 2012

What Is The Melbourne Festival? An Insider's Guide To Melbourne's Biggest Cultural Event

The Melbourne Festival is a 17-day, multi-venue exploration of visual and performing arts held each October in Australia's cultural capital. It's Melbourne's preeminent yearly cultural event, showcasing theatre, music, film, dance, visual art and more -- and it's every bit as ambitious, audacious and sprawling as one could expect.

How to manage travel plans and ticket choices to such an event? Our HomeAway Australia team has some tips, plus info for anyone visiting Melbourne for the first time.

Find your home base.
Festival venues are located in and around the Melbourne City Centre, so staying in or near downtown will treat you well. Here's a run-down of some of the best neighborhoods to base your festival experience.

  • Melbourne City Centre: Right in the heart of the action, the Melbourne City Centre is an ideal location to base a Melbourne Festival holiday. It's the heart of the public transportation system (see below), which makes it easy to get into and out of. Not that you'd need to use it much in your day-to-day festival-hopping, of course: Most venues are a walk away.
  • Southbank: A major tourist hub, Southbank is an upscale neighborhood just across the Yarra River from the City Centre. Several festival venues, including the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, the Arts Centre and the Malthouse Theatre are located there.
  • Fitzroy: Packed with unique shopping options and trendy restaurants, Fitzroy is Melbourne's Bohemian core. It's well-serviced by public transportation and is an appropriate place to unwind after a day of museum-hopping.
  • Richmond: A historically industrial neighborhood, Richmond has recently experienced significant urban renewal. Today, it's a thriving, diverse area featuring affordable accommodation and dining options and an up-and-coming, lively feel.

Get around town.
Melbourne's City Centre is amply served by a variety of transportation methods. Trains, trams and buses use a standardized ticketing system called myki, which is replacing the outgoing metcard system. The myki card is a rechargeable smart card that can be used to access buses, trains and trams throughout the city. A bundled myki Visitor Pack is available for purchase for those interested in discounts to non-festival attractions.

In addition to myki, the City Circle tram that travels around the heart of downtown is free for anyone to hop on.

Plan your schedule.
The sheer breadth of options, stretched out over a 17-day period, means figuring out exactly what you're going to see when can be a daunting task. Thankfully, in addition to offering a comprehensive program view, the Melbourne Festival site allows you to view events organized by date and by genre, so you'll know exactly what's happening, when it's happening. A venue map makes it easy to plan hopping from venue to venue realistically.

Buy your tickets.
There are several options for purchasing tickets to Melbourne Festival events. A la carte event orders can be made online or over the phone through Ticketmaster, picked up in person at a number of outlets or purchased directly from venue box offices.

For deal-seekers, Matinee/Twilight Packages and Discount packages for multi-event ticket purchases are available. The Melbourne Festival also offers discounts for groups and students.

For more information about the ticketing process, the Melbourne Festival site has put together helpful FAQs.

-- Tom, HomeAway