The Most Unusual Things To Do in Melbourne

Spend a relax day punting on the Ornamental Lake at the Royal Botanic Gardens
Spend a relax day punting on the Ornamental Lake at the Royal Botanic Gardens | © Rachel Lewis / Getty Images
Photo of Monique La Terra
19 May 2020

A Medieval adventure theme park, a rescue cat cafe and a bar that will transport you to Cold War Germany – these are just a few of the most unusual things to do in Australia’s coastal city of Melbourne.

If you’ve been there and done that, then it’s time to hop off the beaten tourist track and experience Melbourne’s most unusual attractions. From a Cold War-themed bar to crafty cafes and a glimpse into the city’s criminal underworld, you won’t find these attractions on your typical tourist brochure.

Learn about the city’s most notorious criminals at Old Melbourne Gaol

Building
Map View
© David Wall / Alamy Stock Photo

Old Melbourne Gaol was an Australian prison that operated from 1842 to 1929. During this time, 133 people were hanged to death here, including the outlaw Ned Kelly, and the premises held everyone from dangerous criminals to petty thieves and the mentally ill. Today, the building on Russell Street is a museum where visitors can experience what it was like to have lived and died at the prison. The museum hosts theatrical productions and immersive tours that shed light on Melbourne’s criminal underworld.

Take flight in a hot-air balloon over Melbourne

Natural Feature
Map View
Hot air Ballooning over Melbourne
Melbourne is famous for its nightlife scene | © Roberto Seba / Visit Victoria

Do like James Glaisher and Amelia Wren in the 2019 adventure flick Aeronauts, and take a hot-air balloon ride over Melbourne’s cityscape. According to Global Ballooning Australia, there is no other major city in the world where you can do this. Each basket can hold up to 12 passengers, and they’re cushioned for a comfortable ride. Feeling glam? Catch the sunrise flight that includes a champagne breakfast.

Solve puzzles with pals at Escape Room

Amusement Park
Map View

Devised by two psychology PhD students, Escape Room traps you and a small group in a room where together you must unravel cryptic puzzles in an effort to escape. You have 70 minutes to solve the mystery, and with six locations around Melbourne, there are plenty of enigmas to crack. Through the lingual, visual, mathematical, spatial, physical and lateral brainteasers, visitors can investigate unusual activity in a mine in South Melbourne, uncover the truth behind mysterious disappearances at a burlesque club in Oakleigh and discover why an apartment in Flemington was abandoned.

Head back to Cold War Germany at Berlin Bar

Bar, Cocktails, German, $$$
Map View
In a city of many quirky bars, Berlin Bar is one of Melbourne’s most popular. Concealed in a laneway off Chinatown’s Little Bourke Street, visitors must ring the doorbell for entry and, once cleared at the checkpoint, they are transported to Cold War Germany. A boozy history lesson awaits as the bar is split into East and West Berlin with a stark contrast between the bleak and the lavish. Immerse yourself in the ambience of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator as you savour your cocktail.

Discover a world of knights and dragons at Kryal Castle

Amusement Park
Map View
Courtesy of Kryal Castle
Medieval adventure park Kryal Castle transports guests into a mythical age where dragons, knights and wizards roam. After many reincarnations, this “kingdom of myth, magic and fantasy” lowered its drawbridge again in 2013 and has been welcoming visitors to wander through the castle ever since. Enter the Dragon’s Labyrinth, see the horrific Torture Dungeon and Museum, watch as brave knights joust for supremacy and test your strength with the Sword in the Stone. Those keen to stay a little longer can book a room, and there are also dinner and show packages available.

Visit Cooks’ Cottage, Captain James Cook’s family home

Historical Landmark
Map View
Cook's Cottage
© iStock Editorial / Getty Images Plus

Captain James Cook was a renowned British navigator known for his exploratory voyages across the Pacific Ocean. Cooks’ Cottage, located in the Fitzroy Gardens, was brought over from its original home in Yorkshire, England, by Sir Russell Grimwade in 1934. Each brick was individually numbered and shipped to Australia. The strangest part? Cook never even lived here; he had already left home by the time his parents bought the cottage.

Pamper your pooch at DogHouse

Cat and Dog Cafe, Snacks
Map View
© Sherwin Vangunster / Courtesy of DogHouse
Looking for the pawfect day out with your pooch? Then look no further than Johnston Street’s DogHouse. From dogachinos to dog muffins and raw meat, this café puts the pup first. DogHouse features a courtyard with 10 gated booths, making it the ideal place to host a canine birthday or wedding. There is also a select menu for dog owners to feast upon.

De-stress while making some new friends at Cat Cafe

Cat and Dog Cafe, Snacks
Map View
First Australian Cat Cafe Opens In Melbourne
© Scott Barbour / Getty Images

In 2014, Australia’s first cat cafe opened in Melbourne much to the delight of cat people. Offering furry companionship along with a small selection of snacks and beverages, visitors can hang out with the Cat Cafe’s 16 rescue residents, each with their own purr-sonalities. Studies have even shown that interacting with cats has positive effects such as lowering high blood pressure, stress, depression and anxiety. Hourly sessions with Lopez, Waldo, Sherlock and the gang can be booked through the cafe’s website.

See all your favourite characters’ homes on the Neighbours Tour

Museum
Map View

For 32 years, Australians have followed family drama play out on the soap opera Neighbours. With over 7,000 episodes spanning 33 seasons, the show has cemented itself as the longest-running drama series in Australian television history. Set in Ramsay Street, Erinsborough, the show follows neighbouring families who “become good friends”. In reality, Ramsay Street is located in Pin Oak Court, Vermont South, and tours to the famous filming location run daily. You may even encounter a cast member!

Jump aboard the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant

Bar, Restaurant, Australian, Vegetarian, $$$
Map View
© Lonely Planet / Getty Images
The first of their kind, the historical fleet of Colonial Tramcar Restaurants has been a popular culinary experience since 1983. Enjoy the seasonal menu and premium Australian wines as you dine within the opulent burgundy trams, beholding city sights as you roll along. The all-inclusive menu includes three-, four- or five-course meals with vegetarian and gluten-free options.

Enjoy a spot of punting on the Ornamental Lake at the Royal Botanic Gardens

Botanical Garden
Map View
Courtesy of Punting on the Lake | Courtesy of Punting on the Lake
Melbourne’s iconic Royal Botanic Gardens feature in all the guidebooks, but many people aren’t aware that there’s a unique way to see the picturesque grounds. Since 2013, punt tours have guided visitors through the shallow waters of the Ornamental Lake. Gliding around the islands and bays, you’ll be treated to a water-level perspective of the gardens, and you may even see a turtle or two. Each punt seats up to eight people, and tours last 30 minutes.
These recommendations were updated on May 19, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.