As Australia’s cultural capital, Melbourne is brimming with attractions that appeal to visitors year-round and span the arts, sports, nightlife and wildlife.
Melbourne is a culturally rich city that hums with life at all hours. With museums, galleries, live performances, the perfect coffee, a view over parklands or immersion in the deep ocean, too, here’s a guide to the treasures of Melbourne.
Melbourne Zoo – Australia’s oldest zoo – is home to more than 320 different native and exotic animal species. In addition to exhibitions and tours all year, there are also special events, such as Christmas parties and theatre performances. The unmissable habitats are the wonderful Trails of Elephants and the Butterfly House. The zoo is committed to fighting extinction and runs research projects and conservation programs in six countries. It’s highly recommended that visitors book online.
Among the tallest buildings in Melbourne, Eureka Tower offers unparalleled views over the entire city from the 88th floor. A 38-second elevator ride delivers visitors to the Eureka Skydeck. For those who dare, ‘The Edge’ is a three-metre (10-foot) glass cube suspended 300m (984ft) above ground, enabling thrillseekers to hover above the whole city. Book online to avoid disappointment.
Since 1853, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) has played host to the city’s beloved AFL games, as well as cricket and major music events. The largest sporting facility in the southern hemisphere, MCG also offers dining options and is home to the National Sports Museum, which explores the history of the venue, its most memorable characters and events. Guided tours depart daily and take 75 minutes.
Located in the post-modern and architecturally unique Federation Square, the ACMI, or Australian Centre for the Moving Image, is “Australia’s only national museum of film, video games, digital culture and art”. In addition to the permanent interactive exhibition Screen Worlds, which explores the evolution of screen culture, there are two exhibition spaces, and the ACMI often hosts exclusive screenings and displays.
Set in the serene and manicured Carlton Gardens, the Melbourne Museum is the largest museum in the southern hemisphere. It houses seasonal exhibitions, as well as year-round displays, and offers visitors the chance to learn about dinosaurs, view indigenous artefacts at the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre, understand the origins of Melbourne city and see the famous racehorse Phar Lap up close. The museum is also home to IMAX Melbourne cinema.
This spectacular Gothic-style Anglican cathedral stands on the site where the first Christian service in Melbourne took place in 1836. It is impossible to miss, rising from street level in front of Flinders Street Station’s main entrance. Designed by 19th-century Gothic Revivalist William Butterfield, the church has since opened its doors to multi-faith practitioners and daily services. It also houses a café.
In Melbourne’s inner north, an easy tram ride or a walk from the central business district (CBD), Cooks’ Cottage is among the oldest buildings in Australia. The cottage, originally owned by Captain James Cook’s parents, was built in the second half of the 18th century and then shipped over from England to Australia and reassembled brick by brick in Melbourne in 1934. The cottage soon became a popular attraction, and today a ticket allows visitors to experience the 18th century, with optional costumes and skilled performers delivering the history of Captain James Cook.
The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is not only the oldest but also the most visited art gallery in Australia. Home to well-known names such as Cézanne, Picasso and Rembrandt, the gallery is also renowned for its stained-glass ceiling. The NGV hosts regular exhibitions, such as Melbourne Winter Masterpieces, and events like NGV on Friday nights, with DJs and performers entertaining late-night visitors and encouraging a playful approach to viewing and appreciating art.
A beloved sanctuary for Melbourne residents and visitors to wander, daydream and discover 8,500 native and imported plant species, the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria is a must-visit for those who have a curiosity for rare and diverse plant life. Though it can get busy on weekends, there’s still tranquillity to be found within its many picturesque lawns, two cafés and around its three lakes. A variety of tours and group activities are also on offer at the gardens.
One of Melbourne’s most historic and popular markets, operating since 1878, Queen Victoria Market is full of goods you’d expect and many you would not. Make time to take a stroll through the historic sheds and discover fresh produce, sushi, souvlaki, customised and vintage clothes, rare vinyl records, homeware and much more. The market also hosts day tours and night markets with varying themes throughout the year.
An unusual and memorable way to see the city from a variety of angles, the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel offers views over 40 kilometres (25 miles) across the city. During the 30-minute rotation, passengers will be able to see the city, Port Phillip Bay, Mount Macedon and Arthurs Seat. The 21 temperature-controlled cabins are perfectly stable so that visitors can walk around inside during the rotation. Tickets purchased online and in advance receive a 25 percent discount.
The State Library Victoria – Australia’s oldest public library, established in 1854 – has evolved into a drawcard for students, historians, writers, artists and international visitors due to its phenomenal collection of more than 2 million books, high-ceilinged design and on-site café. While the library has several reading rooms, the largest and most popular is the La Trobe Reading Room. The State Library Victoria also displays the original armour worn by Ned Kelly and is also home to fabulous artworks and exhibitions with free guided tours available, too.
Located in the beating heart of St Kilda, Melbourne’s most eclectic bayside suburb, this vintage theme park has been entertaining Melburnians since 1912. The Ghost Train, The Great Scenic Railway, Pharaoh’s Curse and Red Baron rides are in operation every weekend, Victorian school holidays and public holidays (except Christmas Day).
The Shrine of Remembrance commemorates Victorians who served during World War I, though it now recognises all Australians who have served in wars. This heritage-listed shrine is a place for reflection and reverence. There are also curated exhibitions, such as the Galleries of Remembrance, offering an insight into the Australian military service. Guided tours are offered daily, with tickets available online.
Melbourne’s signature narrow laneways and arcades feature quirky bars, al fresco dining, cafés no bigger than a wardrobe and street art that exemplifies the world’s best talent. The Royal Arcade and the heritage-listed Block Arcade are some of the classic destinations for history buffs. Be sure to look up since there are often bars, cafés, galleries and boutiques above street level. A four-hour arcades and laneways tour includes lunch and helps visitors discover these unique architectural landmarks.
Though the particular vintage models, which run on the City Circle route, are no longer that common, Melbourne is known for its classic trams. The tram system in the city dates back to 1885, and some of the wooden models date back to the early 1900s. All trams within the CBD and Docklands are free, and the historic burgundy W-class trams allow passengers to hop on and off as they wish. If you opt to stay onboard for the entire route from Flinders Station to Spencer Station, it takes an hour and stops at multiple city destinations worthy of exploration.
Billed as a ‘contemporary village’, the Abbotsford Convent is home to artists, social organisations, eateries and bars, galleries and scenic parklands. Located 4km (2.5mi) from Melbourne’s CBD, the original convent building and surrounding grounds were saved and transformed into a multi-discipline arts centre by the Abbotsford Convent Foundation in 2004. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the 11 buildings while listening to the memorable soundscapes recorded by Wurundjeri artist Mandy Nicholson, Yorta Yorta Dja Dja Wurrung musician Dr Lou Bennett AM and the voices of other artists and musicians telling the history of the Convent’s Traditional Owners. Entry is free.
Opened in 1864, Albert Park and Lake is only 3km (2mi) from Melbourne’s CBD. It’s a popular spot for walking dogs, jogging the Albert Park track, cycling, rowing and sailing. The park is also the location of the Australian Grand Prix circuit. Beyond the lake, where swans glide alongside ducks and other waterbirds, there’s plenty of picnic space with barbecues available. It also has a golf range, gymnasium and easy access to the shopping districts of St Kilda and Albert Park.
Giant stingrays, sharks of all shapes and sizes, penguins and a rainbow array of marine life are all housed at SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium. The 2.2-million-litre (581,179-gallon) Oceanarium provides an invaluable insight into Australia’s ocean life. Set aside at least two hours to explore the entirety of the aquarium located within Melbourne’s CBD. The venue is wheelchair accessible and easy to access via the free City Circle Tram or from Flinders Street Station. Tours for an interactive ocean experience are on offer daily.
This interactive art experience in The District Docklands is not your typical gallery. Here, visitors can touch, interact and play with the art. Take a selfie with angel wings, or fool your friends into thinking you’re standing in front of the Taj Mahal. There are more than 100 paintings across 11 gallery zones. The ticket price includes unlimited time, and staff are on hand to provide guidance. Reopening in November 2019, the gallery offers daily tours.