Whether you’re a first-time visitor to Melbourne or have lived here all your life, there are some absolute must-do Melbourne bucket list items.
Melbourne’s food, drink, coffee, art, theatre and sports culture are among the best in the world, and we reckon you should try to experience every single one of them at least once before you die.
So here is our ultimate bucket list:amazing things to do in Melbourne right now, plus Melbourne attractions, great restaurants, bars, fun festivals and everything in between.
See the Melbourne sunrise from a hot air balloon
What is it? Hot air balloons aren’t just for the countryside – they fly over Melbourne’s pretty city too.
Why go? If you can handle dragging yourself out of bed well before dawn, then the flight really is worth it. Unsurprisingly there are not many people around at sunrise, and drifting over the city in the dawn light feels surreal.
Where you start, travel and land in your balloon is always a mystery as the flights are determined by each day’s conditions – meaning you might see some of your favourite Melbourne locations from above or discover some new gems.
Don’t miss: A flight over the Yarra Valley is equally as impressive.
Get back to nature in the Royal Botanic Gardens
What is it? This expansive garden is home to an incredible 8,500 plant species, zen lakes and lush lawns.
Why go? Melbourne is lucky enough to have its Royal Botanic Gardens smack bang in the middle of the city. Being so accessible, the gardens are ideal for a picnic or even just somewhere different to eat your workday lunch. In addition, the expansive grounds means you’re rarely forced to awkwardly face off with someone for a good spot of turf.
Don’t miss: Hopping on a boat for Punting on the Lake or having a picnic in the gardens. Around Ornamental Lake seems like the apparent scenic choice for your go-to picnic location, but that’s precisely why you should think again. Explore the gardens thoroughly, and we reckon you’ll find your favourite new al fresco nook in no time. If you forget your lunch, make a beeline for Jardin Tan for Vietnamese cuisine.
See a blockbuster exhibition at the NGV
What is it? The National Gallery of Victoria, the grand modernist building that sits pretty on St Kilda Road, is also Australia’s oldest and most famous art museum.
Why go? The NGV brings major international art exhibitions to Melbourne, showcasing classic works of art alongside hot contemporary talents. In the past, we’ve seen Van Gogh, Hokusai, MC Escher, Dior, Dali, Warhol, works from New York City’s MoMA gallery, and the massive free NGV Triennial, which returned in late 2020.
Don’t miss: Given the near-constant rotation of fabulous special exhibitions at the NGV, you’d be forgiven for neglecting the equally impressive (free!) permanent collection. So nextSeveral time you visit, make sure you spend a good few minutes with Dosso Dossi’s portrait of Lucrezia Borgia, Duchess of Ferrara (1519-1530). It’s one of the only known portraits of the illegitimate daughter of Pope Alexander VI, which makes it, as NGV curator Laurie Benson explains, “a unique record of one of the most famous women in history”.
Take a drive down the Great Ocean Road
What is it? Justifiably one of Victoria’s most popular tourist destinations, the Great Ocean Road snakes all along the state’s southwest coast, starting in Torquay (1.5 hours from the CBD) and finishing up just before Warrnambool.
Why go? This winding stretch of road provides ample opportunity to reconnect with the ocean, the bush, and the sounds and sights of nature, whether driving, walking, horseriding, surfing, sailing or cycling.
Don’t miss: It’s about a four-hour drive without stops, but heed our warning: you’ll definitely want to stop. There’s just too much happening along the coast not to. Take a day trip, stay the weekend or just pack up and move there – plenty is going on down the Great Ocean Road.
Get a ground pass at the Australian Open
What is it? Every year, thousands head to Melbourne Park to watch the superstars of tennis battle it out in the fierce summer heat for the southern hemisphere’s only Grand Slam tournament.
Why go? Even if you don’t make it to the arena, Birrarung Marr is abuzz with live entertainment and food stalls for the Australian Open Festival, where live screenings of matches are played on big screens.
Don’t miss: If you’re a tennis fan, opt for a Ground Pass. This ticket won’t get you into the big arenas, but you’ll instead get access to all the smaller surrounding courts where up-and-coming tennis stars will play. Plus, the tickets start at only $49.
Visit Flinders Street Station and Federation Square
The main entrance to Flinders Street Station is a picturesque cultural symbol of Melbourne you’ll find on many postcards or tourist brochures: this gorgeous building was opened in 1910, and it is listed on the Victorian heritage register.
Inside you’ll find Australia’s busiest railway station, a small shopping area with tasty food options, and easy walking access to Southbank.
Across the road, Federation Square is another Melbourne icon, with a unique and fascinating architectural design, making the Square quite unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Once you’re at the Square, make sure that you visit the Australian Centre of the Moving Image, which has hosted fascinating displays on subjects such as Claymation and the Ian Potter Centre art gallery.
Melbourne is famous for its live music scene, particularly rock music. There are plenty of bands playing at any given time, and the city attracts international talent, including the up-and-coming variety.
It’s also the home of the legendary Australian singer-songwriter-poet-author Nick Cave. Some popular spots to catch a band include the Corner Hotel, the Evelyn Hotel, the Spotted Mallard, the Post Office Hotel, the Ding-Dong Lounge, the Esplanade Hotel and the Palais Theatre.
Have a gourmet Greek dinner
Melbourne has the largest Greek population of any city outside of Athens, and the close-knit, vibrant Greek community always has plenty of cultural events going on.
There’s also the wonderful Greek Precinct, where you’ll find Greek cuisine of a standard that you’d expect in Greece itself! This area also has many Greek cultural shops, and the Hellenic Museum is nearby.
If you’re in Melbourne in March or September, you may also wish to check out the Antipodes Festival or the Greek Film Festival, respectively.
Spend the day (and maybe the night) at Melbourne Zoo
What is it? A massive display of the animal kingdom right outside Melbourne’s CBD.
Why go? You can watch the world flutter by at the butterfly room, visit the aviary’s colourful residents, and trek through the Trail of the Elephants to visit the close-knit family of big-eared beauties. Melbourne Zoo has all the animal action. There’s always something going on here, from the Zoo Twilights concert series in summer to keeper talks and high zoo teas. Be sure to say hi to the lion pride before you leave (follow the roars).
Don’t miss: For the wildest night of your life, book in for a Roar ‘n’ Snore – a zoo sleepover where you camp in the historic elephant exhibition.
Drink a cocktail at hidden bar Beneath Driver Lane
What is it? An underground bar in Melbourne’s CBD, Beneath Driver Lane certainly cuts the mustard amongst some of Melbourne’s coolest hidden bars.
Why go? If you like cocktails, whisky, blues, good service and eating Reuben sandwiches at 2 am, Beneath Driver Lane is the basement of your dreams. Occupying an old bank vault in the CBD, this bar has a speakeasy feeling that’s rare in a city whose underground spaces are sorely underused.
Don’t miss: Getting to know the well-rounded back bar that boasts a 100+ bottle selection of whiskies, including unicorns like Yamazaki 18 and Pappy Van Winkle.
Learn about Victoria’s convict past at Old Melbourne Gaol
Old Melbourne Gaol is a museum in the city centre, which operated as a prison from its opening in 1842 to 1929. It was the site of the execution of many of Australia’s most infamous criminals, including Ned Kelly; 133 people were executed here while the prison was in operation.
The museum offers a glimpse into life in the 1800s; some mentally ill and homeless people were also interred in prison, and the harsh conditions they were subject to seem quite shocking by modern standards.
The museum includes an impressive range of artifacts, including the death masks of many executed criminals. The museum is considered by some to be haunted, and ghost tours are offered by the museum that tells stories recorded by visitors and staff alike.
Have a night out at the Crown Casino Comple
The Crown Casino Complex is a massive casino and resort complex adjacent to the Yarra River; it is the largest casino complex in the southern hemisphere and one of the largest internationally.
Open 24 hours, seven days a week, except for three public holidays per year, it’s great fun if you enjoy gambling, but it has so much more to offer: it’s a luxury shopping destination, as well as having beautiful restaurants and pumping nightlife.
The Atrium area is gorgeous, with lovely fountains and sound/light shows, and there are pyrotechnic towers just outside the complex itself that is fascinating to watch; shooting fireballs into the night sky, they are referred to as the “Gas Brigades”, and are the largest of their type in the world.
Admire Aboriginal art
There are several Aboriginal art galleries within Melbourne’s city centres and surrounds and an extensive collection of Aboriginal art within the City Gallery (inside Town Hall), the Flinders Lane Gallery, the Ian Potter Museum of Art, and NGV International.
Aboriginal art is lauded internationally for its beauty and symbolism, and Melbourne is an excellent spot to learn about the importance of art in indigenous culture and the beauty of the artworks.
Enjoy a taste of Italy on Lygon Street
The Lygon Street Italian Precinct, also known as Little Italy, is a gorgeous leafy street running through several Melbournian suburbs, with a rich café culture that introduced Melbourne to the love of high-quality coffee for which the city is now famous.
You’ll find world-class Italian dining here, as well as Italian produce and culture stores, the beautiful Lygon Buildings (built-in 1888), and shopping boutiques.
Eat a parma
What is it? The pub staple features a crisp chicken schnitty coated in a layer of napoli sauce, slices of smoky ham, topped with a horde of melted cheese and grilled to perfection. It’s vegetarian counterpart often substitutes the chicken with meaty eggplant or mock meat, and it’s usually served with a side of chips or a salad for the “health-conscious”, or both.
Why go? The fried bird was actually voted Melbourne’s favourite dish by Time Out’s readers in a survey conducted in 2020. Before we get into it, though, it’s important to note the correct spelling and pronunciation: it’s parma with an ‘a’, not parmi with an ‘i’ – here’s looking at you, Geelong and the rest of the country. So you know you’re all wrong.
Don’t miss: Not only is Melbourne now so parma-obsessed that it features on the menus of most pubs, but it’s also home to dedicated parma festivals and awards, not to mention Mrs Parmas: a venue that dishes up ten different variations of the chicken lover’s dream. Here are more of our favourite venues dishing up Melbourne’s best parmas.
Try the best croissant in the world at Lune Croissanterie
What is it? Lune Croissanterie’s croissants earned the venue the top spot on Time Out Melbourne’s best patisseries list, and they were dubbed “the world’s best” by a writer for The New York Times. Not a bad gig for brother-sister team Kate and Cameron Reid.
Why go? As with many celebrated Melbourne eateries (ahem, Chin Chin), such high accolades often mean crowds. The lines snake out of the door nearly every day. But does Lune really cut the mustard? In short, yes. Created in a climate-controlled lab, Lune croissants are almost mathematically perfect: crisp and golden with visible layers of delicate pastry. This isn’t really so unusual when you consider the fact that Kate Reid used to be a racing car engineer.
Don’t miss: The plain croissants are the OG, but we’re also particularly fond of the almond croissant. Lucky for us, Lune also opened an outpost in Melbourne’s CBD.
Go penguin-spotting at St Kilda
St Kilda is full of attractions for tourists and locals alike, from the delicious cakes of Acland Street to the community gardens and the thriving nightlife.
There’s also a gorgeous beach, with famous Victorian beach houses and a pier; surprising to many, this busy suburb of Melbourne has some unexpected residents, a colony of the St little penguins! This colony established itself in the 1970s on the St Kilda breakwater and arrived just after sunset every night of the year, being particularly numerous in summer.
Penguin guides are on duty during the daylight savings period to answer any questions about the penguins that you may have.
They do request that visitors treat the penguins, their nesting sites, eggs and chicks with respect: they love their family as much as you do!
Visit the Block Arcade
The Block Arcade is a retail precinct housed in a gorgeous heritage shopping arcade, opened in 1892. Rich in history and boasting stunning architecture, the Block Arcade is a step into the nostalgia of the past, as well as housing some lovely luxury boutiques and the quirkly Art of Dr. Seuss Gallery, the Hopetoun tearooms and Haigh’s chocolates.
Be brave and tackle the cold in Australia’s first ice cave
What is it? In 2018, Peninsula Hot Springs underwent a $13 million expansion, including nine new pools, a food garden, a new ice cave, and a deep freeze chamber.
Why go? The ice cave is the first of its kind in Australia, and hot/cold therapy is a well-regarded method to reduce inflammation, stress and soreness in the body (think footy players are jumping into the sea or having crazy cold ice baths).
Don’t miss: While you’d be pretty content to spend hours lazing in the pools, the ‘fire and ice experience’ is a standout. Guests are guided through a 45-minute workshop, which takes you between the site’s 60-degree hot sauna, its ice cave (a very cold -17), 4-degree cold plunge pool and geothermal hot spring, which sits at a balmy 36 degrees. Your heart rate will rise and fall, you’ll sweat, you’ll shiver, but you’ll also walk out of it with a profound respect for your body and its limits (seriously, forget bungee jumping – this is what thrill-seekers should be doing).
Have a dip in the Adelphi Hotel rooftop pool
What is it? Adelphi Hotel’s rooftop pool, which has swiftly become one of the most photographed pools in Melbourne.
Why go? Well, a glass-bottomed section of the pool actually cantilevers out over Flinders Lane, meaning you can spy all the tiny ant people scurrying along while you’re submerged in water. After an upgrade in late 2017, the rooftop pool deck is looking as fresh as ever. You don’t have to be a guest of the hotel, though you do have to pay. Grab a spritz and your beach towel, and you’ll be golden.
Don’t miss: An overnight stay in the hotel itself. Located within a hulking 1938 building on the busy CBD hotspot that is Flinders Lane, the Adelphi Hotel is a nice landing spot for those who value edgy design, location and first-rate service.
Catch a festival
Melbourne is renowned for its festivals; it’s worth checking out the visitor centre in Federation Square or looking online to discover what’s going on during your visit.
Some particularly popular festivals include White Night (an illumination festival in the inner city), the Lonsdale Street Greek Festival, Cultural Diversity Week, the Lunar New Year celebrations, the Midsumma Festival, the Moomba Festival, Christmas Festival.
Go on a safari at Werribee Open Range Zoo
The Werribee Open Range Open Zoo is a bit of a trek from the city centre, but it’s well worth it: this African-themed safari-style zoo allows you to get very close to a wide variety of exotic animals.
It also hosts various events, including the Rhythm of Africa. It’s a great spot to keep younger travellers entertained but also a lot of fun for wildlife-loving adults!