Teeming with green spaces, tree-lined boulevards, and vibrant cultural venues, Melbourne is regularly voted one of the world’s most liveable cities – and for tourists is packed with incredible things to see and do.
Melbourne’s array of open public spaces avoids the sense of claustrophobia common in many urban centres. Yet it’s not just space that sets Melbourne apart, but its eclectic mix of attractions, from prestigious boutiques, grand hotels and historic theatres to world-class restaurants and some of the best music and comedy in the world. Most visitors have travelled from afar and tend to spend at least a week or two here, but even a trip of that length would only let you enjoy a fraction of what the city has to offer. It makes the imperative to plan your stay even greater, and below you’ll find our top tips for how to do so.
Marvel at a stunning World Heritage-listed building
Built for the great international exhibitions of 1880 and 1888 in Melbourne, the Royal Exhibition Building is simply magnificent inside and out. One of the city’s most distinctive landmarks, the prestigious building plays host to daily tours of its meticulously-restored interior, with guides recounting the story of its triumphant arrival, unappreciated middle age, and rebirth as the first World Heritage-listed building in Australia. The surrounding Carlton Gardens complex in which it the building is located are also well worth exploring for their immaculately landscaped gardens, charming fountains and prolific flora.
9 Nicholson Street, Carlton
Discover Melbourne’s vibrants arts scene
If you spend any length of time in Melbourne, you’ll soon notice the abundance of colourful street art across the city. Sometimes such gritty urban depictions can be a sign of disaffection, but in Melbourne it simply reflects a vibrant and creative subculture. Melbourne Street Art Tours provide an immersive introduction to the city’s street art scene. During the tours, which are run by genuine street artists, you’ll learn about the technical skills behind their work, including spray painting, stencil art and paste-ups, as well as delving into the meaning behind the art. As a bonus, every tour ends at the renowned Blender Studios, where you’ll be shown around and get to meet practising artists.
Or if you prefer your art experience all in one place, RMIT Gallery is a public art gallery presenting an engaging and thought-provoking program of contemporary exhibitions featuring emerging and established artists and curators. It is committed to showcasing RMIT research outcomes and cultural stories, presenting exhibitions and events that are relevant to the student population and experience. Opening back in 1977, with an inaugural exhibition of 40 works by John Brack, RMIT Gallery is located in Storey Hall, one of the University’s most iconic buildings, with a reputation as a major architectural site of the city. Throughout its long colourful history, the building has been a part of the life of Melbourne – from social and political protest to its current role as a significant contributor to the city’s arts and exhibiting calendar.
Storey Hall, RMIT University Melbourne City Campus, 344 Swanston Street / Tues-Fri 11am-5pm Sat 12.30pm-5pm Closed Sun-Mon
Take a look around a tranquil botanic garden
A short walk from central Melbourne, the 38-acre Royal Botanic Gardens are an oasis of calm, peace and verdant greenery that serve as the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of the city. A popular spot for local walkers and joggers, the breathtaking landscapes at these beautifully maintained gardens are home to more than 8,500 plant species, along with trees, garden beds, lakes and lawns. Other notable features include an Australian Rainforest Walk, California Garden, Grey Garden and Herb Garden.
Peruse a famous open-air market
After opening in the late 19th century, the Queen Victoria Markets quickly became a busy commercial hub as well as a popular meeting point for residents of the city. Set within a delightful example of Victorian architecture, the markets are home to some of Melbourne’s tastiest produce stalls and delicatessens, selling excellent cheeses, olives, smoked meats and plenty more. You’ll also find numerous arts and crafts items made by local artisans, providing the perfect chance to pick up gifts and souvenirs for friends and family back home.
Queen Street / Tues, Thurs & Fri 6am-3pm Sat 6am-4pm Sun 9am-4pm Closed Mon & Weds
Visit a fascinating museum
Housed within the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Australian Sports Museum celebrates Australia’s rich sporting history through the largest sporting collection in the country. The achievements of Australian sportsmen and women at all levels are showcased within interactive exhibitions, which represent all sports played in Australia, including cricket, Australian football, swimming, basketball, soccer, cycling, tennis, Summer and Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, rugby, and more. A popular highlight is the Game On! interactive gallery, where visitors of all ages can join in with a range of activities including kicking for goal, cycling, archery, shooting a netball, and beating the goalie.
Melbourne Cricket Ground, Brunton Avenue / Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
Among Melbourne’s melting pot population is a large community of people of Chinese origin. Created to research, preserve and present Chinese culture and Australian history, the Museum of Chinese Australian History offers a range of exhibitions and heritage tours that tell the story of the past, culture and values of this vast demographic in an informative and engaging way. As well as the exhibits on display, there’s also a contemporary art space and three floors available for functions and other events. Museum highlights include the Millennium Dragon, said to be the largest Chinese processional dragon in the world.
22 Cohen Place / Mon-Sun 10am-4pm
Melbourne prides itself on its rich diversity and throughout the 20th century the city has seen large waves of immigration that have served to enrich its culture. The often heart-breaking stories of people who fled war, persecution and treacherous sea conditions to reach Australia’s most southern mainland city are all contained within the Immigration Museum, which introduces visitors to the country’s changing identity and social makeup through a series of regular exhibits.
400 Flinders Street / Mon-Sun 10a-5pm
Attend a fun-packed festival
Australia’s only literary festival dedicated to showcasing First Nations writers and stories, Blak & Bright First Nations Literary Festival received widespread acclaim after its inaugural edition back in 2016. Today the four-day festival has grown to incorporate 27 events featuring 67 exciting First Nations storytellers. The 2022 festival’s theme is “Blak Words Live”, with everything from poetry to plays, to intimate Elders’ stories, to picture books for children. Blak & Bright brings together the world’s oldest storytelling traditions in bold and innovative ways. Most events are free, and booking is essential. More info at: www.blakandbright.com.au or @blakandbright
Venues across Melbourne CBD / March each year
Australia’s most beloved music festival, St Kilda Festival, attracts some of the nation’s best musicians each year to the vibrant Melbourne suburb. Presented by City of Port Phillip, notable musical names to appear include Daryl Braithwaite, Gordi, Barkaa, Baker Boy, Kee’ahn, KYE, and The Lazy Eyes, with more than 50 additional acts. As well as live Australian music, the festival’s diverse program also features dance performances, workshops, sports demonstrations, community group activities, food and market stalls and roving entertainment.
Venues across St Kilda / February each year
Walk in the shadows of Melbourne’s villainous past
The once-feared Old Melbourne Gaol has held everyone from petty criminals and the mentally ill to Australia’s most infamous citizen, Ned Kelly. Built in 1842, the gaol holds the key to the city’s criminal history from colonisation through to WWII. Converted into a museum in 1972, the (supposedly haunted) bluestone building allows for visitors to examine the grizzly details of its inmates as well as the stories of the 133 people who were hanged at its gallows. However, more than a mere testament to Melbourne’s criminal past, the site also provides an alternative take on the broader history of the city.
377 Russell Street / Weds-Sun 10am-5pm
Immerse yourselves in science
A planetarium and a mini-metropolis called Nitty Gritty Super City that demonstrates how a city works are just some of the highlights at the hugely popular Scienceworks museum in the Melbourne suburb of Spotswood. The venue is designed to foster an interest in science in people of all ages through a huge assortment of exhibits, workshops and events. One of the most acclaimed exhibit takes place in the planetarium where an innovative Lightning Room hosts live shows that include a gigantic Tesla Coil that can generate over two-million volts of electricity to produce three-metre long lightning bolts.
2 Booker Street, Spotswood / Mon-Sun 9am-4.30pm
Spot penguins off of St Kilda pier
St Kilda has a colourful past, and is today a haven for artists and musicians thanks to its carefree bohemianism. Among the many fun things to see and do here is to go penguin-spotting, with a colony of more than 1,000 of these cute flightless birds living in the breakwater – the rocky outcrop at the end of St Kilda Pier. Visitors are able to view them from the boardwalk, and while photos are permitted, snappers are requested to turn their flashes off to avoid scaring the flippered locals.
Go bushwalking through scenic mountains
Perched on the outskirts of Melbourne, the Dandenong Ranges draw large numbers of walkers, cyclists, hikers, nature-lovers and bird-watchers throughout the year thanks to the superlative native landscape, flora and fauna to be found. Hikes through the ranges vary in difficulty, so you can pick and choose depending on your fitness and energy levels. Of the less arduous, the Sherbrooke Falls Walk is a popular choice, taking you on a meandering 45-minute journey through forests of Mountain Ash and fern, where you’ll be greeted with the sight and sound of the lyrebird and blue-winged parrot if you’re lucky. The walk is particularly spectacular after rainfall, when the Sherbooke Creek cascades over the rocky outcrops.
Take a magical river cruise
Melbourne’s distant past as a 19th-century port town is one of the most interesting aspects of its history, and visitors can learn all about it on a leisurely sightseeing cruise on the Yarra River. During the 1-hour tour, you’ll gain a fresh perspective on Melbourne’s port and Docklands areas, as the live onboard commentary regales you with stories and facts about Melbourne’s early settlement and its evolution from a boomtown to the largest port in the Southern Hemisphere. Along the way you’ll have the chance to take snaps of Melbourne’s skyline and port through your vessel’s panoramic windows from the water.
Spend a day at the zoo
Visitors can marvel at wildlife from around the world at Melbourne Zoo, located just 10 minutes from the city centre. Among the array of exotic animals to reside here are tigers, lions, monkeys, elephants and penguins, plus indigenous Australian species including kangaroos, koalas, wombats and fur seals. Enjoy a leisurely walk through the lush Asian and African rainforests, where tigers roam and monkeys swing from tree to tree, check out a pride of lions, and get up close and personal with the natives in an Australian bush setting.
Elliott Avenue, Parkville / Mon-Sun 9am-5pm
Admire Melbourne from up high
From a 300 metre-high viewing point, Eureka Skydeck allows you to see the city from high above ground. Located near Melbourne’s arts precinct, peering directly down draws the eye on to either the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground or leafy St Kilda Road, but if visitors broader their sightline they can see as far as the Dandenong Ranges, which sit at the city’s edge. For those seeking an adrenaline rush, look no further than Edge – a glass box that protrudes out from the building to create the illusion of being suspended in the air.
7 Riverside Quay, Southbank / Weds-Sun 12pm-10pm Closed Mon-Tues
Embark on a river kayak sunset adventure
Unearth the sights and sounds of Melbourne as dusk falls on the city from the vantage point of a kayak on the Yarra River. Meeting in Victoria Harbor before sunset, you’ll receive a short safety and paddling briefing before setting off to explore the area’s scenic waterways. After tying up to a marina dock, you’ll be served fish and chips in your kayak before continuing upstream towards Melbourne’s lively downtown. As you pass alongside stylish Southbank, you’ll get to witness a dramatic fire-ball display. The tour ends at a boat landing area in the heart of Melbourne. The fibreglass sea kayaks used for the tour are easy-to-operate, with no experience required.
Sample Melbourne’s lively beer-brewing scene
Melbourne has a burgeoning craft beer scene and this small-group craft beer tour invites you to discover it yourself. During the 3-hour guided tour, you’ll traverse the city on foot, stopping along the way at several bars specialising in Australian craft beer and liquor, as well as visiting a microbrewery, and then staying on at the end with your tour group for more beer sampling and socialising if you desire. Stop-offs range from breweries in industrial areas to classic pubs, bowling clubs and record bars – all sharing one thing in common: A passion for beer. The tour is available only for guests 18 and over.
Visit the real-life Ramsay Street
If you were a child of the 1980s or 90s then there’s a high chance that the Aussie soap Neighbours was a regular feature of your daily TV viewing routine. Fans of the show who find themselves in Melbourne – where it is filmed – will be excited to discover that they can take an official Neighbours tour. During the evocative tour you’ll get to walk on the exterior sets of the studio, then hop over to Ramsay Street itself to take photos in front of the mock-houses that line the fictional suburban cul-de-sac. You’ll even get to meet with an actor from the show, past or present, so be sure to bring a camera.