You don’t have to be a tourist to enjoy these popular Melbourne experiences.
Don’t let the tourists have all the fun. These attractions showcase the best of Melbourne, from the sandy shores of St Kilda to the shelves of the State Library. Plus, if you’re not heading away over summer, checking out our city’s tourist attractions is an excellent way to have a fun staycation.
1. Wander around the Royal Botanic Gardens
The Royal Botanic Gardens is the place to escape the madness of the CBD without actually leaving it. It’s on the edge of the city, and more than 8,500 plant species call this place home. There are lush lawns and glittering lakes perfect for revitalising the mind and soul with a quick stroll or for lingering longer with a weekend picnic. Tours walk, workshops, and talks offer to teach you more of the intricacies of the gardens, while the Aboriginal Heritage Walk takes you on a journey into the rich history of the Kulin nation.
Spanning 38 hectares, the landscaped gardens are home to an eclectic and colourful collection of native and exotic vegetation, casting a picturesque scene around every twist and turn. There are more than 50,000 individual species of plant and flower here, giving you plenty to look at.
As well as pretty gardens, neat lawns, and exotic flower beds, the Botanical Gardens are also a hive of activity, with lots of things for visitors to get stuck into, whether you’re looking for a place to entertain younger members of the family, a quiet spot to kick back and relax in, or a cultural experience amidst sprawling scenery.
In a garden as big as this one, you may be wondering what the must-see attractions are. The first to see is Guilfoyle’s Volcano, a historic water reservoir that was initially used to store all the water needed for the garden. It underwent a restoration project after it was no longer used for 60 years and now is a beautiful area surrounded by low water usage plants and boasts amazing views of the city of Melbourne.
2. Imbibe some culture at National Gallery of Victoria
The National Gallery of Victoria is made up of two venues – the NGV International and NGV Australia. Both are impressive spaces, filled with world-class art, so you could easily while away an entire day at each. The International’s permanent collections include a Rembrandt, a Bonnard and a Tiepolo, plus a much-loved water wall at the entrance. Over at Fed Square, the Ian Potter Centre houses Indigenous and non Indigenous Australians from the colonial era to the current day.
The National Gallery of Victoria, popularly known as the NGV, is an art museum in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Founded in 1861, it is Australia’s oldest, and most visited art museum.
The NGV houses an encyclopedic art collection across two sites: NGV International, located on St Kilda Road in the Melbourne Arts Precinct of Southbank, and the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, located nearby at Federation Square. The NGV International building, designed by Sir Roy Grounds, opened in 1968, and was redeveloped by Mario Bellini before reopening in 2003. It houses the gallery’s international art collection and is on the Victorian Heritage Register.
The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, designed by Lab Architecture Studio, opened in 2002 and houses the gallery’s Australian art collection.
3. Go retro on Brunswick Street
Brunswick Street runs north-south through the inner northern Melbourne suburbs of Fitzroy and Fitzroy North, from Victoria Parade at its southernmost end, crossing Alexandra Parade, and continuing until it reaches St Georges Road in Fitzroy North, near the Edinburgh Gardens; there, its former northward course is continued by a much smaller residential street named Brunswick Street North.
Tram route 11 runs along the entire length of Brunswick Street for part of its journey.
Melbourne’s famed alternative side is in full force in Fitzroy, the city-centre hub of all things hip and kooky. Wandering up Brunswick Street, Fitzroy’s main strip, you’ll be confronted by everything from trendy bike shops and excellent hairdressers, second-hand bookshops and hometown fashion heroes such as Gorman, Búl, Kloke and Alpha 60. It’s the vintage clothes stores, though, that Brunswick is most celebrated for. Pre-loved clothing specialists like Hunter Gatherer, Vintage Sole and Yesteryear Vintage Clothing are just a few of the spots to head for that new leather bag, pair of vintage slacks or ripper denim jacket from the ’80s you’ve been after forever.
4. Get up early for the Queen Victoria Markets
Every great city has a significant market, and the open-air Queen Victoria Market makes Melbourne proud.
The place is rammed full of veteran stallholders passionate about fresh produce and more than happy to talk you through their wares. The fresh produce, meat and a variety of dairy and small goods mean it’s a working place that’s popular with locals, but the market has become a must-visit for tourists, too.
Cafés fight for space around the outside and heave with brunchers every weekend. The market’s opens at 6 am Monday-Saturday, but closing hours vary depending on the day, so make sure you check before visiting. And be sure to get a hot jam doughnut before you leave.
5. Hit the seaside at St Kilda
St Kilda is defined by two main strips, Fitzroy Street and Acland Street, with the famous St Kilda Esplanade providing a pleasant link between the two. While Fitzroy Street is all retail shops, gyms and fancy restaurants, Acland is a haven for cake lovers.
The cake shops and bakeries lining the street have been making Melbourne a sweeter place since 1934.
They are still serving up Eastern European classics thick and fast: make sure you try the plain cheesecake from Europa Cake Shop, the vanilla slice at Le Bon Continental Cake Shop and the chocolate Kugelhaumpf at Monarch.
6. Take a break at the State Library
The State Library of Victoria is a cultural landmark that houses an incredible amount of books and several exhibitions and galleries with a lot of history. The library was established in 1856 and is an excellent presence on Swanston Street with interior spaces to match.
The La Trobe Reading Room is a six-storey-high domed room that is magnificent to look at. Beautiful artworks depicting Victoria’s history are exhibited in the Cowen Gallery for visitors to peruse.
North and south rotundas and the Keith Murdoch gallery also hold exhibitions and artworks. The library offers everything needed for a productive workday – free wifi, printing services and plenty of seating options (our pick is La above Trobe Reading Room).
The State Library houses thousands of heritage items, maps, manuscripts, and newspapers, along with books and artworks. Digital material is also available for readers to access.
And all of this is free. You can also find people lounging on the lawns in front of the library on a pleasant day. Mr Tulk café and Guild café are close by to fuel the visitors with delicious treats while the Readings bookshop located inside the library gives them plenty to spend their money on.
7. Wander around the Royal Exhibition Building
Built in 1879 for Melbourne’s first International Exhibition, it was chosen as the venue for the opening of the first Commonwealth Parliament of Australia on 9 May 1901, and recently became Australia’s first World Heritage Listed building.
Experience the life, stories and affections of millions of people that have contributed to this national icon, Museum Victoria’s largest collection object.
Tours are held most days at 2pm, subject to availability. Tours may not run when the building is in use for certain events and exhibitions. Please call 13 11 02 to confirm.
The tour starts in the foyer at Melbourne Museum.
The Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens is one of the world’s oldest remaining exhibition pavilions (and was the first building in Australia to be named on the UNESCO Heritage List). Aside from having a fascinating history, the REB is drop-dead gorgeous inside and out. Tours are held most days at 2 pm, or you can snap the façade any time (try getting a pic from in front of the fountain or from in between the many tree-lined pathways nearby).
8. Check out all six floors of Curtin House
If you do one thing in Melbourne, we recommend hitting the extremely Melbourne Curtin House on Swanston Street. This six-storey vertical lane houses some of Melbourne’s most exciting tenants.
There’s Metropolis specialist bookshop, Human Salon the hairdresser, bar/restaurants Cookie and Mesa Verde, high fashion mavens Dot Comme, the swanky bar and band room at the Toff in Town, and Melbourne’s crowning glory Rooftop Bar right at the top. Visitors can practically get the whole Melbourne experience without setting foot outside the building.
Curtin House is 6 floors of eateries, shops, bars and offices right in the heart of the CBD in Swanston St.
Many will try and tell you its a secret place, but the venues and events here open all year round tell another story. One of fabulous bars, retail outlets and even a rooftop cinema in summer.
Just some of the names: Wing Chun Bing Fa Kung Fu, Cookie, Toff in Town, Someday, Bul and Metropolis.
Stand back from its entrance and you are looking at a six storey Art Nouveau building built in 1922, originally the Tattersalls Building, it was renamed after the Labor Prime Minister John Curtin.
9. Hunt out Melbourne’s hidden bars
Fact: Melbourne does hidden bars like no other city. And yes, sorry to all the Melburnians reading this, but we’re about to reveal some of our underground drinking secrets. We’ve got a laboratory-themed bar located down a tiny laneway (Croft Institute), one behind a fridge door (Jungle Boy) and a bookshelf (Loch and Key), a secret rooftop bar above a Chinese restaurant (Goldilocks) and a closet of a bar that barely fits ten people (Bar Americano).Sure, it might feel more like a scavenger hunt than a night out hunting these places out but, for a drink with a difference, it’s worth it.
With a 1920s prohibition-era vibe, Eau de Vie’s unmarked entrance has fooled many a first timer. With an elegant interior that abounds with old-school charm, it is the home of some of Melbourne’s most talented mixologists. Set aside an evening for the cocktail degustation, a five-course food and drinks pairing in their intimate library space.
Or ,named after Thor’s mighty hammer, Viking-themed bar Mjølner Melbourne gives you the chance to finally drink mead out of a horn. Other tipples include Scandinavian-influenced cocktails and numerous whiskies. Drink the blood of the gods with cocktails like the ‘Blazing glögg’ or ‘Eric the Red’. The menu is suitably meaty, all enjoyed among tasteful Norse-themed decor below street level. Skol!
10. Let your hair down in Chinatown
Melbourne’s Chinatown district was first established back in the 1850s during the Victorian gold rush era, making it the most extended continuous Chinese settlement in the western world. As such, it’s also the oldest Chinatown in the southern hemisphere.
This vibrant quarter of the town is lined with karaoke bars, duty-free stores, and many fantastic little restaurants; it’s hard to know which one to choose. Located along Little Bourke Street and its surrounding lanes and streets, we recommend dumplings at Shanghai Village, mains at Supper Inn, and the desserts at Secret Kitchen.
Venture through the golden-roofed gateways and let the hanging lanterns guide you along Little Bourke Street into Australia’s oldest Chinatown.
In this iconic strip, between Spring and Elizabeth streets, neon lights hint at hidden bars, while dumplings, yum cha, karaoke and Asian fashion beckon from arcades, laneways and windows.
Visit at any time of year and you’re bound to find delicious food and inspiring sights, or see Chinatown come to life with festivals like Chinese New Year, Moon Lantern Festival and the Asian Food Festival.
11. Ride along the Yarra Trail
Are you itching for a new adventure? Saddle up and explore the city on two wheels.
We recommend the easy-ish ride along the Yarra Trail. Starting in Eltham, this trail is a pretty satisfying 22-kilometre ride towards Fairfield that follows the flow of the Yarra. It’s flat most of the way, with loads of green corridors to pass through.
Closer to the city, the trail is sealed, and your necessary pit stops include the Heide Museum of Modern Art and the colonial-era Fairfield Boathouse for some scones.
12. Throw yourself in the cells at the Old Melbourne Gaol
This historic building is a monument to the bad old days of capital punishment.
Most people visit here to see the somewhat gruesome armour and the death mask of notorious Aussie outlaw Ned Kelly. But there’s plenty else to see and do in this fascinating, creepy old place.
Explore the gaol, experience a modern-day arrest procedure and stand in the dock of the Old Magistrate’s Court.
The prison first opened in 1845, which means it’s one of the oldest buildings in Melbourne. Unsurprisingly, a building this old, where 133 people were hung, has its fair share of ghost stories – and the Old Melbourne Gaol regularly hosts one-hour tours.
13. Expand your mind at Melbourne Museum
Melbourne Museum rewards first-time visitors and repeats patrons equally, a glorious, sprawling space filled with themed displays, interactive areas, Imax cinemas, postmodern art, and no end of surprises.
The sheer scope of the permanent galleries (including one just for children) can be intimidating for recent initiates.
Still, for those who aren’t intent on digesting it all on one visit, the greatest treasures – including Phar Lap’s preserved body and a fascinating exploration of the history of mental health treatment in Australia – can be taken in over several visits.
14. Go on a road trip on the Great Ocean Road
Head southwest from Geelong, and you’ll soon see it: the faded log arch announcing your arrival at the Great Ocean Road.
Sandwiched between dense coastal eucalypt forests and the ocean, the road is one of the most spectacular drives in Australia.
Technically the route starts just outside of Torquay, but the best ocean vistas happen between Airey’s Inlet and Apollo Bay, where you’ll drive right along the precipice of the coastal cliffs.
There are regular opportunities to stop at beaches, and koala sightings are not uncommon. Travel off-season to avoid crowds – the road is just as great in the cooler months.
15. Go penguin spotting at Phillip Island
A two-and-a-half-hour trip from Melbourne is Phillip Island: a chunk of coastal heaven famed for its penguins and seals.
The craggy shoreline is broken up by numerous beaches perfect for swimming, surfing and seal watching: more seals live on the island than humans.
However, giving the seals a run for their money in the cute stakes are Phillip Island’s Little Penguins. Every night, like clockwork, you can watch the tiny penguins come ashore at Summerland Beach and march like little, feathery soldiers into their sandy burrows.
Phillip Island is home to the largest Little Penguin colony in the world.
You can experience the magic of watching these amazing seabirds waddle home from the ocean to their burrows any night of the year from our viewing platforms and boardwalks.
16. Wine and dine in the Yarra Valley
Over eighty wineries span the Yarra Valley, each of which express the diversity of its terroir, the passion of its producers, a mastery of traditional practices and a rebellious instinct to push the boundaries.
No other region in the world can boast the same consistent quality found in this internationally awarded range of wine varieties, which includes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and – Australia’s best-kept secret – the Yarra Valley Shiraz.
And with plenty of emerging varietal wines gaining popularity and prestige, there’s something for everyone in the Yarra Valley.
It’s incredible how quickly suburban Melbourne gives away to the Yarra Valley’s lush, rolling green hills. It’s one of Victoria’s premier food and wine destinations and just over an hour from the Melbourne CBD. The valley is awash with wineries offering tours, cellar doors and gourmet dining experiences: here are the 11 best wineries in the Yarra Valley. Even those looking for more ‘child-friendly attractions won’t leave disappointed. You can keep the kids (little and big) quiet with a trip to the heavenly Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery.
17. Meet the animals at Melbourne Zoo
The zoo is set among flower gardens and picnic areas. Many of the animals are now organised in bioclimatic zones: African rainforest featuring gorillas, mandrills, pigmy hippos and parrots; Asian Rainforest with tigers and otters; and the Australian bush with koala, kangaroos, emu, echidnas and endangered hairy nose wombats.
Popular exhibits also include the Butterfly House, the great flight aviary and the Trail of the Elephants. Melbourne Zoo most recently completed construction and opened their carnivores trail in early 2018.
The zoo includes a large schools section and caters to many school visitors annually, its immensely popular education program encourages young minds to conserve animals.
In 1989, a 35-year-old man died when he was partially eaten by a lion after he entered its pen.
On 15 January 2010 Melbourne Zoo welcomed its first elephant calf, Mali. This is the second elephant calf born in Australia, the first being in Sydney in July 2009. Mali is the first female calf born in Australia and the first calf born via artificial insemination.
Melbourne Zoo commemorated 150 years of operation in 2012 and this was celebrated in an Australian Zoos collector’s edition of stamps released by Australia Post in September 2012.
Australia’s oldest zoo is an inner-city oasis home to hundreds of creatures, great and small, housed in lovingly cared for, stimulating environments.
Watch seals and penguins gliding through the blue water in the Wild Sea exhibit, then head to the sprawling Orang-utan Sanctuary, where a family of intelligent orang-utans swing from tree to tree. And don’t miss the Trail of the Elephants, an immersive South-East Asian village and garden where you can learn about and see the gentle giants up close.
18. Get tasting on an Aussie Brewery Tour
These days, locally made beers and ciders are hugely popular – but how much do you know about how your favourite brew is made? This top-rated brewery tour company can help give you all the answers on one of their trips to the breweries of the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, and the inner city. The passionate guides will introduce you to brewers, teach you about the difference between a lager and a stout, and take you behind the scenes of the entire brewing process.
Private tours have been running well since late 2020 with public tours also back up and running. Bookings are a lot more flexible now, with refunds to anyone who can’t travel or attend. You can now book a public tour with a deposit of only $10 or if you are flexible, join a waitlist to be notified of future sessions as they book up.
Theye will be launching more tours over the next 18 months and all gift cards will be extended by at least 18 months. At Aussie Brewery Tours, they spend their lives visiting the best breweries, distilleries, cideries, wineries, food makers, creators and activity providers they can find.
19. Take in the sights and shops of Lygon Street
There are many things to love about Carlton’s famous strip, which has long been Melbourne’s Little Italy. Gone are the irritating restaurant touters; these days, it’s all about top-notch bars and eateries like Heartattack and Vine and Milk the Cow, pizza at DOC or Tiamo, and tasty charcuterie and cheese for later at French deli La Parisienne Pâtés. Culture-lovers flock to Cinema Nova, the massive Readings Bookstore and independent theatre La Mama.
The Italian restaurant district synonymous with Lygon Street occupies the few blocks between Queensberry Street and Elgin Street in Carlton. It is populated by the Italian families which migrated here in the 1950s, and holds the record of being the first place to install an espresso machine in Australia. It is also considered the birthplace of the ‘Aussie’ pizza. The area is heavily European in nature, and is the home of the yearly Lygon Street Festa, one of Australia’s largest outdoor street festivals.
The La Mama Theatre and Courthouse Theatre are also in this area, as is the heritage-listed neon sign at Borsari’s Corner, named after Italian cyclist Nino Borsari, on the corner of Grattan Street. Toto’s Pizza House, the first pizzeria established in Australia, has been located at the southern end of Lygon Street continuously since its opening in 1961.
20. Rock out at a live gig
Melbourne is not only Australias live music capital; it’s also the best city in the world for live music, with 553 live music venues in 2018 (that’s one for every 9,500 Melburnians). Cherry Bar has now reopened in Boney’s old location, and there are plenty of other haunts to check out. The Tote, The Gaso and the Corner Hotel are some of the best live music pubs, while the Toff in Town is great for a boogie. We even have a healthy population of slick jazz clubs.
21. Explore the historic Abbotsford Convent
You can feel the weight of the past as soon as you step into the grounds and look up to the gothic spires of the Abbotsford Convent. The complex began as a convent in the late 1800s and was also a commercial laundry, orphanage and aged care facility. These days, it’s a hub for artists, makers, community radio broadcasters and teachers – as well as a beautiful place to explore. Check out the work of local artists in the galleries, then roam the green hills and gardens and have a vegetarian feast at Lentil as Anything; the restaurant run by volunteers where you pay what you feel the meal is worth.
22. Catch an event at Federation Square
Melbourne’s central community hub is, shall we say, divisive – all don’t love its geometric design. But architecture aside, it’s always buzzing with events, screenings, talks, performances and activities. Whether it’s a weekend craft market, an exhibition at NGV Australia or a panel talk, you’re almost guaranteed to find something to pique your interest. Events still run despite the Metro Tunnel works, so don’t be put off by that vast construction site on the corner of Flinders Street and St Kilda Road.
23. Soak away your troubles at Peninsula Hot Springs
Craving a bit of downtime? Drive down to the Mornington Peninsula and soak your cares away in the soothing thermal pools of the Peninsula Hot Springs. Spend time in cave pools, get massages and chill out on day beds – you’ve earned it.
24. Head underground in Campbell Arcade
Did you know Melbourne has a hidden subway system? Sure, it’s not as prolific as London’s. Still, many a Melburnian has unknowingly wandered into Flinders Street Station’s Campbell Arcade and wondered what kind of bizarro underground world they’ve stumbled into. This subterranean secret dates back to 1956 and functions as part-thoroughfare and part-shopping precinct, home to a record shop, jewellery and women’s clothing stores, a unisex hairdresser and a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop. With its salmon-pink tiled walls, black granite columns and Art Deco signage that has remained essentially unchanged since the ’50s, you’ll feel as though you’ve time-warped back to the good old days.
25. Watch the footy at the MCG
It doesn’t get much more Melbourne than cheering on your favourite team at the ‘G, piping hot meat pie in one hand, cold beer in the other. But AFL isn’t the only thing that’ll get your blood pumping at the Melbourne Cricket Ground; as the name implies, cricket is the go during summer, and the fascinating National Sports Museum is open throughout the year.
Things to do in Melbourne in May
I was wondering what to do in Melbourne this May? We’ve got you sorted with this list of free things, art exhibitions, stage shows, festivals and more.
The Winter Village
You may remember this outdoor pop-up from way back in winter 2019 – those sweet old days before a certain you-know-what had Melburnians sheltering in their homes for a dark winter. Thankfully, this winter is looking up with the Winter Village’s (faux) snow-covered activation landing back in town from May 13 to August 29.
The Skyline Terrace at Federation Square has once again transformed into a free, family-friendly winter wonderland complete with ice skating, food trucks and pop-up bars, as well as a magical igloo village.
There are winter-themed treats perfect for keeping warm, or you can book a private igloo and get a food and beverage package that starts at $49 per person.
There’s a whole host of fun events and activities expected to happen throughout the season, including cheap skating days, brunch and skate packages and family fun days, so you’ll no doubt return more than once. The Winter Village is open seven days a week and is free to enter. Ice skating starts at $10 for toddlers, $18 for children and $26 for adults—more info on the website.
Disney: The Magic of Animation
After a massive renovation, ACMI is ready to host significant winter masterpieces exhibitions again. And our national museum of screen culture isn’t holding back, announcing a substantial 90-year showcase of Disney animation with a glimpse behind the scenes at Walt Disney Animation Studios, one of the world’s most prolific animation studios.
Now open, the exhibition features over 500 original artworks that date from the 1920s to the present day, including sketches and concept art from Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie to new release Raya and the Last Dragon.
Every piece exhibited has been specially selected by the Disney Animation Research Library (which, crazily, has around 65 million works of art from the Disney headquarters). It’s safe to say those early Mickey and Minnie cartoons look a hell of a lot different to what we watch today.
This exhibition shines a spotlight on Disney’s pioneering artistry and technical innovation, as well as the filmmakers and storytellers that have worked with Disney over the years. Disney: The Magic of Animation opens at ACMI on May 13. Child tickets are $17, concession tickets are $22.50, and adult tickets are $26.
Because the Night
There’s been a lot of hype about Because the Night, Malthouse Theatre’s new production where the audience can freely explore an immersive set while the cast performs around them.
“Immersive” really is the word here, and for once, the oft overused term doesn’t feel like a gimmick – nor does the intensely detailed open set undermine the integrity of the production. Because the Night is undeniably a work of theatre, but one that approaches the art with a bolt of inspiration that will attract new audiences to the discipline.
It’s apparent from the get-go that Because the Night is unlike any production Australian audiences have seen before. The audience is split into three groups, each entering the performance from a different location.
Ushers provide each person with a dark robe and Donnie Darko-style black rabbit mask to cover their face – apart from serving to differentiate the audience from the cast; the costume immediately puts visitors in the right headspace; goodbye Melbourne, hello Elsinore.
If you’ve seen Melbourne’s 2019 season of A Midnight Visit or even been lucky enough to attend Punch Drunk’s Sleep No More in New York, you’ll get the drill.
The cast of six – which when we heard was Keegan Joyce (Hamlet), Nicole About (Claudia), Syd Brisbane (Polonius), Ras-Samuel Welda’abzgi (Laertes), Jen Vuletic (Gertrude) and Artemis Ioannides (Ophelia) – are oblivious to the audience as they perform the loosely Hamlet-based story across the winding, labyrinthine set of Elsinore, a 1
The District Docklands gets a glow-up with Imaginaria – a magical “future play experience”.
Melbourne is a giant, glowing, otherworldy all-ages playground to explore in layman’s terms. Imaginaria allows Melburnians to explore fantastic custom-built, interactive structures like a giant inflatable bubble, brilliant light maze, and a “cosmic abyss”. The whole installation features bespoke sound, light and even scents activated as guests explore the dreamscape.
In April, the team installed two new buildings. One is a talking projection that uses artificial intelligence (like Siri or Alexa) to answer questions and chat with you.
The other is a series of interactive sound cylinders that allow you to hear sound in a relatively new way.
The experience comes from the imagination of Australian creative Nick Ennis, who has brought it to life thanks to a team of architects, musicians, fashion designers, light projectionists, audio-visual artists, sculptors, stuntmen and circus performers. Ennis says:
“We wanted to create a play experience that elevated you out of the digital fog and snapped you into the now.” Imaginaria has been extended right through to May 23 at the District Docklands (find it beneath the Melbourne Star). Tickets start at $24.