Vibrant, elegant, and multicultural, Australia’s second-largest metropolis frequently tops the list of the world’s most liveable cities. The town has a distinctly European feel with its tangle of hidden laneways, tree-lined promenades, and grand Victorian buildings funded by the 1850s Gold Rush.
Foodies will also find plenty to love. Famous Aussie chefs flaunt their talents here, and you can feast on everything, from Greek, Italian, and Indian cuisine to Spanish and Vietnamese fare.
But perhaps Melbourne’s biggest claim to fame is sports. The famous Melbourne Cup horse race held on the first Tuesday in November brings the entire nation to a standstill, and Australian Rules football elicits an almost religious reverence here.
Catch a game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground; explore the city’s diverse galleries, chic cafes, and shops; stroll through beautiful botanic gardens; cruise along the Yarra River; or hop aboard a heritage tram to discover Melbourne’s magic. On top of all these exciting things to do, rewarding day trip adventures lie a short drive from the city buzz.
When Federation Square opened in 2002 to commemorate 100 years of federation, it divided Melburnians. There were those who loved it and those who hated it. Either way, it has become an integral part of the city and an excellent place for tourists to start their sightseeing.
Located opposite Flinders Street Station, a central public transport hub, the building’s ultra-modern design of open and closed spaces contrasts with the surrounding Victorian architecture. With more than 2,000 events annually, you can always find entertainment in the central outdoor performance space and intimate indoor venues.
Federation Square also houses the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, dedicated to Australian art, and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). More commonly called “Fed Square,” it is also one of Australia’s largest free Wi-Fi sites.
Royal Botanic Gardens
In the heart of green parkland extending south of the Yarra River, about two kilometres from the CBD, the Royal Botanic Gardens are among the finest of their kind in the world. Established in 1846, the gardens encompass two locations: Melbourne and Cranbourne.
The Melbourne Gardens cover an area of 38 hectares with more than 8,500 species of plants, including many rare specimens. The Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden is designed to encourage the next generation of gardeners, and the Aboriginal Heritage Walk is a popular tour that looks into the rich heritage of indigenous Australians.
Visiting the gardens is one of the best free things to do in Melbourne. In summer, a live theatre highlights the gardens, and a moonlight cinema is set up under the stars. This is also a popular spot for a picnic by the lake or a traditional high tea at The Terrace cafe.
Melbourne Cricket Ground and the National Sports Museum
Melbourne is the sporting capital of Australia, so it’s no surprise that a sports stadium numbers among the city’s top tourist attractions. With a capacity of 100,000 and a history dating back to 1853, the MCG is considered one of the world’s greatest stadiums.
As the main stadium for the 1956 Olympic Games and 2006 Commonwealth Games, the birthplace of Test Cricket, and the home of Australian Rules Football, “the ‘G” is woven into the fabric of Melbourne. Daily 75-minute tours take visitors for a trip down a memory lane of great moments in sporting history and incorporate the National Sports Museum, including the Australian Gallery of Sport and Olympic Museum. You can also catch a game of cricket in summer or football during winter.
Directly opposite the MCG is Melbourne Park, home of the Australian Open tennis tournament, held every January. You can hire a tennis court, and many concerts are held here during the year.
Southbank and Arts Centre Melbourne
On the banks of the Yarra River, a short stroll from Flinders Street Station, this area is packed with cultural attractions. Southbank promenade is filled with indoor/outdoor cafés, restaurants, and live entertainment. An excellent arts and crafts market is held every Sunday, and the area is also home to many festivals throughout the year.
Easily recognisable by its spire, the Arts Centre incorporates a range of theatres and spaces, including the State Theatre, Playhouse, Fairfax Theatre, and Hamer Hall, the premier performance space for the revered Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
National Gallery of Victoria
The oldest public art gallery in Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, holds more than 70,000 works of art in two city locations. The international collection is housed in the St. Kilda Road building, initially opened in 1968 and extensively renovated in 2003.
The building is renowned for The Great Hall, where visitors are encouraged to lie on the floor and gaze at the colourful stained glass ceiling. The extensive Australian collection is held in the Ian Potter Gallery in Federation Square, featuring Australian art history from Aboriginal works through to the Heidelberg School and contemporary mixed media. One of the highlights is the large triptych format, The Pioneer by Frederick McCubbin.
Named in recognition of The Eureka Stockade, the 1854 rebellion of prospectors in the Victorian goldfields, the Eureka Tower stands 91 stories above ground in the heart of Southbank. The skyscraper’s gold crown and gold-plated windows add to the theme and literally sparkle when the sun catches the top of the building.
On the 88th floor, Skydeck affords the highest public view in any building in the Southern Hemisphere. Adding to the experience is The Edge, a glass cube that slides out three meters from the building for vertigo-free visitors.
Arcades and Laneways
Wandering the labyrinth of lanes and alleyways around Flinders, Collins, and Bourke Streets reveals elegant, interesting, and quirky Melbourne at its best. However, the jewel in the crown is the magnificent Block Arcade in Collins Street.
With its mosaic floor, period details, and unique shops, this is the place where the late 19th-century gentry promenaded, coining the phrase, “doing the block.” So it’s worth lining up for a morning or afternoon tea at the Hopetoun Tearooms. This Melbourne icon dates back to 1892 and is the only original shop still in the arcade today.
The opulent Royal Arcade is Melbourne’s oldest arcade, and Flinders and Degraves Lanes are also well worth exploring. In addition, several companies run guided walking tours of the lanes and alleyways.
Melbourne Museum and Royal Exhibition Building
A short tram ride from the CBD, the Melbourne Museum is surrounded by beautiful gardens and parkland. This modern purpose-built museum houses a diverse collection depicting society and cultures.
Highlights include Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre; the Phar Lap exhibit about Australia’s greatest racehorse; and the Children’s Gallery, a series of hands-on activities designed to stimulate and engage youngsters.
Adjacent to the Melbourne Museum is the elaborate Royal Exhibition Building. Built in 1880 to host Melbourne’s International Exhibition, the building also held the first Commonwealth Parliament of Australia in 1901. Regular tours are available, and the building is still used for exhibitions and special events.
City Circle Tram Tour
Trams are a big part of Melbourne’s public transport system, and the City Circle Tram offers tourists a free and easy way of seeing the CBD. Accompanied by a commentary, the hop-on, hop-off heritage tram passes many of the grand historic buildings, including Parliament House, the Old Treasury Building, Princess Theatre, and the Windsor Hotel. The trams run every 12 minutes and take about 50 minutes to complete the entire loop.
Although the 22-hectare Melbourne Zoo dates back to 1862, the 320-plus species of animals have the best of modern facilities in state-of-the-art enclosures. The award-winning Trail of the Elephants is an insight into the lives of the resident Asian elephants in a traditional village garden setting. Another highlight is the Orang-utan Sanctuary, where the animals live in their treetop home.
With many wild encounters, including “roar and snore,” twilight music concerts, and behind-the-scenes tours of some enclosures, Melbourne Zoo offers animal-lovers a fun-packed experience.
Captain Cook’s Cottage, Fitzroy Gardens
Captain Cook’s Cottage was brought to Melbourne from Captain James Cook’s native home in Yorkshire, England and erected in Fitzroy Gardens. The quaint cottage is an insight into the life and times of Cook’s seafaring adventures and exploration of Australia and other parts of the world.
Also in the beautiful Fitzroy Gardens is the magnificent Spanish-mission style conservatory is always filled with a vibrant floral display in the beautiful Fitzroy Gardens. Children will love the tiny Tudor village and Fairy Tree.
Yarra River Cruise
River boat cruise is not only the perfect way to see the sights, but it’s also an insight into the history of the Yarra River. Many cruise companies can be found along Southbank, and it’s a relaxing and fun way to get your bearings before you set out to explore the city on foot.
While you’re gliding down the river, keep an eye out for Birrarung Marr, called initially “Birrarung,” meaning “river of mists and shadows,” a waterfront parkland celebrating Aboriginal ties with the Yarra River. If you’re short on time, the one-hour River Gardens Melbourne Sightseeing Cruise gives you a relaxing tour past top city sights, like the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne Cricket Ground, and National Tennis Centre.
Shrine of Remembrance
Sitting majestically in Kings Domain gardens, the Shrine was built after the First World War to commemorate Victorians involved in the Great War, either abroad or at home.
Today, it serves as a poignant reminder for all servicemen and women and is the central focus for ceremonies on ANZAC Day, held on 25 April, and Remembrance Day, held on 11 November each year. Guided or self-guided tours are available daily, and lighting on the building is particularly beautiful at night.
Docklands is Melbourne’s newest waterfront entertainment precinct. With the highest concentration of green-star rated buildings in the Southern Hemisphere, the satellite village is filled with cafés, restaurants, tourist attractions, and parklands.
The view from the giant observation wheel, Melbourne Star, is spectacular, and the area is also home to Etihad Stadium, the Junior Wonderland amusement park, and the Icehouse, a world-class ice sports venue. An art and vintage market is also held along the waterfront every Sunday.
Queen Victoria Market
Popular place with locals and tourists, this historic icon has been at the centre of fresh produce shopping since 1878. In addition to the magnificent food halls, market stalls sell everything from clothing, art, and toys to that hard-to-find unique souvenir five days a week. Tours are available, and special events such as night markets, music concerts, and other functions are often held during summer.
Open to the public, even when parliament is in session, Parliament House is one of Melbourne’s best-kept tourist secrets. It was built during the Gold Rush, and its interior is lavishly decorated with gold leaf, chandeliers, and a superb mosaic floor. Free, informative tours are held Monday to Friday on days when parliament is not in session.
Located in the elegant Old Customs House, the Immigration Museum tells real stories of people worldwide who now call Melbourne home. The permanent collection is interactive and engaging, and special exhibitions add to the museum’s appeal. A visit here provides a different perspective of early European settlement, as every person arriving had to pass through customs here.
How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Melbourne
Fans of the long-running Neighbours TV soap opera can take a “Neighbours” Tour of Ramsay Street to see filming locations and the original Ramsay Street houses. You also have the opportunity to meet one of the cast members.
664 km/413 miles, about 9.5 hours. One of Australia’s most scenic drives, the Great Ocean Road is a magnificent three-day self-drive touring route from surf capital Torquay to the famous 12 Apostles, ending at historic fishing village Port Fairy.
The most popular excursion from Melbourne is to the Great Ocean Road and the site of the famous limestone stacks known as the Twelve Apostles. The Great Ocean Road Small-Group Eco Tour from Melbourne is an easy and fun excursion.
This tour offers hotel pickup and drop-off, morning tea, lunch, transport in a 24-passenger vehicle, and park admission fees for stops at Great Otway National Park for wildlife viewing and Port Campbell National Park to see the Twelve Apostles.
You can also upgrade this tour to include a scenic helicopter flight. Another popular day trip is the Phillip Island Little Penguins Parade Evening Tour. This tour takes you by coach to Phillip Island to see fairy penguins make their way out of the ocean and across the sand to their burrows as they come home for the night.
The trip includes hotel pickup and drop-off, transportation, and a stop at the Visitor Center to learn about the penguins. In addition, families and wildlife lovers should consider the Puffing Billy Steam Train, Yarra Valley and Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary Day Tour.
This full-day tour takes you chugging through the beautiful mountain ash forests of the Dandenong Ranges aboard a historic steam train, with a stop for bird feeding and a traditional Aussie tea. After the train ride, enjoy close-up encounters with loveable native animals at the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary. Transport by air-conditioned coach with a live commentary, admission fees, and hotel pickup and drop-off are all included.
Where to go in Melbourne this Weekend
Good Beer Kitchen
Head off into the 10th anniversary of Good Beer Week with Arbory Bar & Eatery’s Good Beer Kitchen. Executive and Head Chef Nick Bennett of Arbory’s will go head to head, dishing up four beer-inspired courses alongside other renowned Melbourne chefs and MC’d by radio presenter Cam Smith. Each dish is designed to be paired with some of the best craft beers in the country, so there’s plenty of opportunities to sink a few cracking ales.
After Hours With Mirka
MIRKA, the extraordinary art exhibition showcasing Melbourne artist Mirka Mora’s works, is now exclusively open after hours. Only open on selected Saturdays, this limited experience is perfect for those that aren’t able to catch the regular sessions, and these evening viewings will let visitors observe more than 200 pieces from Mora’s distinguished 70-year career.
Whisky Tasting For World Whisky Day
Don’t forget about World Whisky Day with an exclusive tasting with Campari whisky ambassador Luca Baioni. You’ll be different sampling types of Glen Grant single-malt scotch whisky with a selection of canapes for you to snack on. It’s an intimate affair with the event only limited to 25 people, so grab your tickets now before they sell out.
Bottomless Drag Brunch At The Smith
With the arrival of Rupaul’s Drag Race Down Under, here comes an unlimited boozy brunch at The Smith with your favourite drag superstars. You’ll have a choice between favourite breakfast dishes like smashed avo and berry hotcakes or something heavier like steak sangas. There’s also an unlimited flow of Ru Paul-named cocktails, as well as beers or wines throughout the two-hour sessions.
International Durian and Food Festival
The durian fruit may be infamous for its distinctive aroma, but don’t knock it till you try it. With three of the world’s best types of durians from Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, this one’s for all the hardcore foodies and inquisitive folk. But, if it’s not for you, there are also rows of food stalls showcasing the best of durian-producing Asian cuisines, with entertainment such as Indonesian martial arts and lion dances around the festival.
Get immersed in Melbourne’s puppetry community with this dazzling show of illumination, large-scale installations and glowing neon lights. Proudly brought to by the same team behind Melbourne’s White Night favourite giant puppets, expect a sensational display of talent to mark the launch of A Blanck Canvas’ performance hub, the Playground.
Not A Drop To Drink
In order to draw awareness to the concern of food shortages due to water scarcity, this immersive installation creates specially curated meals to allow the audience to experience what a drought-responsive menu would be like. Based on the opinion of experts, this event is designed to spark realisations and conversations around urgent climate concerns.
Top Arts 2021 At NGV
An opportunity to showcase the hard work invested in the VCE Art and Studio Art projects over the last year, this event is always a source of inspiration to others and an exhibition of the immense talent of the next generation of artists. With a wide range of media displayed, visitors can also hear firsthand about how current exhibitors developed their ideas into such mind-blowing exhibits.
Eureka Skydeck’s 14th Birthday
One of the most iconic buildings in Melbourne, Eureka Skydeck’s memorable 14th birthday, is drawing close. For only $14, enjoy this mesmerising 360-degree view of the whole city or bring a friend to enjoy or suffer the riveting Edge experience of being suspended 300 meters in the air. These exclusive tickets will be on sale for the next 14 days.
Great Ocean Road Running Festival
Here’s a chance to break free from your regular jogging route and run alongside one of the finest stretches of coast in Victoria. The Great Ocean Road running festival sprawls along Apollo Bay and Lorne, letting punters enjoy the sights and sounds of the sea and bush whilst pounding the pavement.