As the cultural capital of Australia, it’s no surprise to discover that Melbourne plays host to a huge number of festivals and fairs each year.
Home to one of the highest densities of commercial art galleries in the world, complemented by a thriving theatre and music scene that welcomes globally renowned productions and performers, the coastal city in the southeastern Australian state of Victoria positively pulsates with energy all year round. If you’re planning a trip to Melbourne, we’ve picked out 12 great festivals and fairs to look out for.
Melbourne International Jazz Festival
Some of the world’s most revered Jazz artists and thousands of fans come together annually in Melbourne to celebrate the leading modern Jazz masters and sonic innovators. Taking place in concert halls, arts venues, jazz clubs and throughout the streets of the city, the festival features a wide range of newly-commissioned works, world premieres and other festival exclusives, all designed to promote the history of Jazz while looking ahead to its future. The event also places a strong focus on providing a platform for emerging contemporary Australian Jazz artists.
Venues across Melbourne / December
Arriba Melbourne Mexican Festival
Free to enter, this colourful event in the heart of Melbourne features authentic Mexican cuisine, folklore, dance, music, face-painting, handicrafts, and bright costumes. The programme includes performances by a range of artists, live music and DJs, with highlights including mariachis shows – a genre of regional Mexican music that dates back to the 18th-century. For sustenance, more than 25 Mexican and Latino-American food and drinks vendors are on hand serving up traditional delicacies and dishes such as salsa, guacamole, enchiladas, tacos, burritos and fajitas – not to mention five different types of Margaritas.
Tom’s Block, Linlithgow Avenue / December
St Kilda Festival
Every year the streets of St Kilda, a bustling seaside suburb of Melbourne, are given over to some of Australia’s most gifted musical artists and performers. Set against the spectacular natural beauty of the St Kilda coastline, the town’s roads are entirely closed off to traffic, with multiple stages erected for the occasion, which has been a mainstay for over four decades. As well as live shows, there are also workshops, carnival rides, dance contests, buskers, and a whole lot more.
Venues across St. Kilda / February
Melbourne Music Week
Helping kick off the festive period each year, Melbourne Music Week is a 10-day celebration of live music that takes place across the city’s indoor venues as well as spilling out onto its streets and laneways. The jam-packed programme features more than 300 artists spanning multiple music genres, with both well-known and up-and-coming acts coming to showcase their talents. As well as music shows, the festival also features a roller disco, film screenings, audio-visual displays and more.
Max Watt’s, 125 Swanston Street / December
Melbourne Whisky Week
Spanning over 40 events at bars, restaurants and other entertainment venues throughout the city, Melbourne Whisky Week offers a chance for producers to showcase a diverse range of traditional and new-world spirits and whiskies. As well as the chance to sample some of the many whiskies on display, visitors will also get to hear the homegrown stories of distillers, learn about their practices and methods, and discover the ingredients that go into their produce.
Venues across Melbourne / November-December
Melbourne International Comedy Festival
Melbourne has long been considered one of the comedy capitals of the world and each year the city plays host to an internationally acclaimed comedy festival. Providing a platform for both established and emerging performers, stars from radio stage and screen, together with huge crowds of comedy lovers, descend here for the event, which includes a hugely diverse range of mirth-filled entertainment, including family-friendly performances, trail-blazing solo shows, and late night showcases.
Venues across Melbourne / March-April
Italian Film Festival
Throughout the year, individual editions of the Italian Film Festival take place across the country – with one of the biggest and best saved for Melbourne, whose melting pot population includes a large Italian community dating back to the 19th-century Victorian Gold Rush. The festival sees a number of the city’s cinemas host screenings of the best contemporary Italian films as well as classic gems of Italian cinema that honour the nation’s rich filmmaking traditions.
Cinemas across Melbourne / November-December
Melbourne Queer Film Festival
The oldest and largest queer film festival in Australia and one of the oldest queer film festivals in the world, each year it screens over 150 films with GLBTI/queer themes from all around the globe. The festival is held across three premier Melbourne venues, including the state-of-the-art Australian Centre for the Moving Image, with this particular venue’s world-class facilities enabling new digital media such as web-casting and live internet conferences with overseas filmmakers, as well as exhibitions of art from new-media queer artists.
Cinemas across Melbourne / March
National Sustainable Living Festival
With environmental issues a prominent fixture on the public agenda right now, this festival certainly chimes with the prevailing zeitgeist. Australia’s largest and longest-running sustainability-themed event, it aims to inspire and provide solutions to the challenges our world faces around sustainable living and climate change. For one full month, thought-leaders line up to offer talks, presentations, workshops and interactive discussion forums that explore these hot topics, helping to inform and guide the choices that we will all need to make over the coming years and decades.
Venues across Melbourne / February
Share the Spirit Festival
An important cultural gathering for the local and regional community, this popular annual festival is a heart-felt celebration of the survival of Australia’s First Nations people, with live music and art from the Aboriginal arts community. The festival showcases the diverse styles of music created by Indigenous artists, from Folk and Rock to Blues, Soul, Funk and Hip Hop. There are also craft & cultural workshops, kids activities, and art market stalls to keep visitors entertained.
The Treasury Gardens, 2-18 Spring Street / January
Melbourne’s celebration of queer culture grows bigger and brasher each and every year and this raucous summer festival epitomises the city’s commitment to promoting and championing LGBT issues. Drag superstars, cult cabaret artists and gender-bending performance artists take over the sun-kissed city, with local queer communities and creatives taking centre stage. Highlights include visual art shows and performances, parties, film screenings, live music, and more.
Venues across Melbourne / January-February
The First NYD
One of the more recent additions to Melbourne’s busy festival calendar, this New Year’s Day outdoors event features a smorgasbord of electronic music acts performing across multiple stages at the famous Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Notable names to appear in the festival’s early years include The Presets, MIA, Banoffee, Action Bronson and Bloody Mary. Alongside the pumping tunes, punters can also avail themselves of numerous food and drink offerings around the arena.
Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Kings Domain Gardens, Linlithgow Avenue / January