The city that has been voted the world’s most liveable – multiple times – is also one of the best to visit, as it offers a diverse range of attractions. A giant observation wheel, a sacred sports ground, museums, historical prisons and the oldest building in Australia are just some of the 30 must-see attractions in Melbourne.
At 297m (975ft) tall, Eureka Tower was, until recently, the tallest building in Melbourne and is currently the third-highest in Australia. After being launched to the 88th floor via a 38-second elevator ride, visitors can take in the 360-degree view on the Eureka Skydeck. Thrill-seekers can also step out onto The Edge – a 3m glass cube that suspends the bravest souls 300m above ground.
Established by the Melbourne Cricket Club in 1853, the MCG, or “the G” as it’s known to locals, is the home of Australian sport and considered a hallowed ground for AFL fans. With a seating capacity of 100,024, the MCG is the largest sporting facility in the southern hemisphere, and every year it hosts the AFL Grand Final. The MCG also houses the Australian Sports Museum, which celebrates Australian sport.
Victoria’s most notorious criminals, including bushranger Ned Kelly and Jack the Ripper suspect Frederick Bailey Deeming, were among those imprisoned and executed at the Old Melbourne Gaol. Today, the complex operates as a museum with memorabilia, with Victorian death masks and Kelly’s gang weapons on display. Visitors can also take ghostly night tours through the building – which is said to be haunted.
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When you’re done exploring the Melbourne Museum, take a stroll through the World Heritage-listed Carlton Gardens, which are also home to the Royal Exhibition Building and IMAX cinema. Especially beautiful in autumn and spring, the historic gardens are a prime example of Victorian landscape design, with fountains, lakes, lawns and tree-lined paths, along with the best children’s playgrounds in the CBD.
Prominently positioned opposite Federation Square and diagonally across from Flinders Street Station, St Paul’s Cathedral was consecrated in 1891 and built on the site where the first Christian service in Melbourne took place in 1836. Designed by William Butterfield, the gothic-style Anglican cathedral was visited by Pope John Paul II on 28 November 1986.
Situated in the Fitzroy Gardens, Cooks’ Cottage is the oldest building in Australia and once belonged to the parents of explorer Captain James Cook, the man who discovered the southeast coast of Australia. Deconstructed and shipped over from England, the cottage was reassembled brick by brick in 1934. These days, the building allows visitors to step back into the 18th century and connect with the history of Captain James Cook.
Home to a collection of more than 73,000 works of art, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is the oldest and most visited art gallery in Australia. See masters such as Cézanne, Picasso and Rembrandt, as well as celebrated Australian pieces such as Tom Roberts’ Shearing the Rams. NGV also holds exhibitions such as Melbourne Winter Masterpieces and events including NGV Friday Nights.
Obscured by Melbourne’s urban jungle, The Botanic Gardens are a 38-ha (94-acre) sanctuary comprising of 10,000 native and exotic plant species selected for their value, rarity, and diversity. Among the plants, there are sweeping lawns and peaceful lakes, as well as two cafes to rest in after gallivanting around the vegetation.
Since opening in 2002, Federation Square has become the heart and soul of Melbourne. The multi-use piazza features three public spaces, including a big screen, an array of restaurants and bars and theatre and event spaces; as well as ACMI, the Ian Potter Centre and the SBS Television and Radio Headquarters.
As the largest open-air market in the southern hemisphere, the Queen Victoria Markets have a lot to offer shoppers. Wander through the historic sheds and discover fresh produce, hot doughnuts, souvenirs, homeware and much more. QVM also hosts Wednesday-night markets, where the landmark sheds come alive with food stalls and live music.
Stretching along the Yarra River, you’ll find an assortment of restaurants, hotels and bars, as well as Southgate, Crown Casino and Entertainment Complex, Melbourne Exhibition Centre and the Sunday Market. Take a stroll or a boat ride, enjoy views of Melbourne’s skyline and see the remarkable Gas Brigades, which send fireballs into the sky every night.
Famous for being Australia’s oldest public library and one of the world’s first free public libraries, the State Library of Victoria has a collection of over 2 million books. While there are several reading rooms, the most magnificent is the octagonal La Trobe Reading Room. The library also holds the diaries of Melbourne founders John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner, and the original armour worn by Ned Kelly.
Enter through Mr. Moon’s gaping mouth, and you’ll arrive at a theme park that has been delighting Melbournians since 1912. St Kilda’s Luna Park features the Scenic Railway, which dates back to the park’s opening and is the oldest continually operating rollercoaster in the world. Luna Park also offers countless fun rides for the whole family, including the Ghost Train and the Pharaoh’s Curse.
Brimming with character, the narrow laneways, and arcades in Melbourne feature al fresco dining, boutiques and welcoming cafes. Explore the oldest surviving arcade in Australia, the Royal Arcade, and the heritage-listed Block Arcade, as well as the charming Centre Place and Degraves Street.
Modelled after London Zoo, Melbourne Zoo is Australia’s oldest zoo and is located only 4km (2.5mi) from the city centre. The menagerie is home to over 320 different animal species, both native and exotic. Among the best exhibits are the magnificent Trails of Elephants and the Tropical Butterfly House. Today, the zoo is dedicated to the conservation of animals.
Built to honour the Victorians who served during World War I, the Shrine of Remembrance has since become a memorial to all Australians who have served in war. Open daily, the Shrine is a place for solitude and reverence, with exhibitions such as Galleries of Remembrance offering a glimpse into the Australian military service.
Geared towards curious young minds, Scienceworks offers immersive presentations and exhibitions that seek to explain the mysteries of the universe. Opened in 1992, the purpose-built museum features a planetarium, the Tesla Coil Lightning Room, a historical pumping station and Sportsworks, which looks at the science behind movement.
Melbourne is famous for its trams, so no trip to the city would be complete without riding the City Circle Tram. This free service allows passengers to travel through the city on the historic burgundy W-class tram, hopping on and off as they wish. The entire journey takes an hour to complete and passes many places of interest around the city.
While St Kilda might be Melbourne’s more famous beach – with its historic pier and resident fairy penguins –Brighton Beach is arguably even more spectacular, with brightly coloured beach huts and great views over the city skyline. Easily accessed by train from the CBD, make sure you leave some time to explore. The streets here are also home to some cool cafes and magnificent heritage buildings, all with that signature Melbourne bohemian vibe.
Established during the Victorian gold rush in the 1850s, Melbourne’s Chinatown is both the oldest in the southern hemisphere and the oldest continually inhabited Chinese settlement in the Western world. An architectural and cultural gem, Chinatown is so much more than just the place to go for Chinese and Asian food in the city – there is also the Chinese Museum, the famous Chinese New Year festivities and the Asian Food Festival, shopping, cocktail bars and street art.
One of Melbourne’s most famous attractions – other than its coffee – is its street art. With one of the largest open-air art exhibitions in the world, Melbourne’s art scene is vibrant, multicultural and continually changing. Take a wander around the streets and laneways and enjoy a free, self-guided tour of one of Melbourne’s alternative treasures, or join a street art tour run by street artists to see the best of the best.
Just under an hour from Melbourne, the Dandenong Ranges are the perfect natural escape from the city. With excellent hiking trails, secret gardens, picturesque viewpoints over the city and even an old steam train – Puffing Billy – visiting the Dandenong Ranges feels like entering another world. Don’t miss the Burrinja Cultural Centre, a community-based arts hub with an impressive collection of indigenous and oceanic art, an Indigenous cultural garden and multiple gallery spaces.
Dating back to 1863, the Abbotsford Convent is one of Melbourne’s most interesting places. Now a vibrant and arty community of galleries, cafes and studios, playing host to various markets and festivals, the site was previously a meeting point for the Kulin nation, before spending over a century as a catholic convent and home for wayward girls. One of the most interesting ways to explore the site is by following the Indigenous Sound Trail, a self-guided walking tour created by Wurundjeri Elders, musicians and artists. You can also follow the Social History Tour, or join one of the guided tours to learn more.
Walking or cycling Melbourne’s Capital City Trail is one of the best ways to get out and explore the city. This 29.6km (18.4mi) loop encompasses the most famous landmarks in the city, as well as passing by an array of lesser-known attractions. Although you can pick up the trail anywhere along the loop, Culture Trip recommends kicking things off at Southbank and following the Yarra River, before joining the Old Inner Circle Railway and heading back for a well-deserved drink – or three.
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.
An unusual and memorable way to see the city from a variety of angles, the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel offers views of over 40km (25mi) 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.
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 (3,872,000-pint) 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. Having reopened in following renovations in 2019, the gallery offers daily tours.
Additional reporting by Cassie Wilkins
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