Often rated as the most livable city in the world, Melbourne offers world class dining, nightlife and entertainment. Many travelers choose to focus their time on Sydney, the Outback and the Great Barrier Reef. But Melbourne’s iconic laneways, cafes, events and street art are enough to make even the most stubborn traveler change their mind.
The top attractions in Melbourne, from galleries to markets and nature, are enjoyed by locals and visitors alike, so you’ll never feel like you’re stuck in a tourist trap.
Thinking about exploring the Australia’s second largest city? Read on for our guide on the best things to do in Melbourne.
Peruse the Queen Victoria Market
Whether its locals grabbing their fresh fruit and veg for the week or travelers exploring the stalls and listening to vendors shout “1kg of apples, $4!”, there’s something special about the Vic Market. The rows of sheds are hallowed ground for Melbournians, a place that could have turned into a tourist trap but remains a crown jewel.
You can find anything here, from delightful cheese and quince paste to a stuffed kangaroo. On a lovely spring day, the atmosphere at the market is pulsating, which is an experience itself. But no trip is complete without grabbing a half-dozen donuts from the American Doughnut Kitchen!
The Queen Vic Market hosts a number of night markets throughout the year, none bigger than the Night Market. Come for cheap eats and the chance to dance through the sheds on a silent disco tour.
Whether it’s pure snobbery or simply high standards and honoring the Italian ways, Melbourne knows their coffee. Some may be OK with simple drip coffee, but no real Melbournian can start their day without something a little more extravagant. A flat white? A latte? Take your pick.
There are a dearth of coffee chains in the city, Starbucks has failed to flourish. In its way are a myriad of independent cafes. None stick around long if they cannot make a coffee to local standards. So wherever you are, grab yourself a latte, poured into a clear glass cup, sit back and relax. To enjoy a local coffee and do a little sightseeing, hit up Degraves Street in Melbourne’s downtown.
Flinders Street and Federation Square
“Meet me on the steps”, no, this isn’t Gossip Girl. It’s where Melbournians gather. Outside of the city’s iconic Flinders Street train station, crowds gather, hug and shake hands before shuffling off to their activities around Melbourne. But for first timers to the city, take time to admire the beautiful station, which opened in 1854.
Once the busiest railway station in the world, modern day Flinders Street has to settle for being the busiest in the southern hemisphere. With stunning Victorian architecture and iconic clock face, it’s arguably the most recognizable sight in Melbourne.
Across from the station is the infamous Fed Square. The building’s design may cause nausea, but it’s nevertheless a great place to hang for a while and people watch. Enjoy views of the Yarra River and Birrarung Marr.
Catch a Game at the ‘G
Whether you know of Aussie Rules Football or once heard someone say it’s a “blend of Rugby and mugging somebody”, you can’t understand Melbourne without going to the MCG and watching an AFL game. Locals are sports mad and that passion begins with their favorite footy team.
On any given Friday, Saturday or Sunday between April and September, some of Melbourne’s nine professional teams will run out onto the hallowed turf. The huge stadium has to be seen to be believed. In the good old days, 120.000 people could cram in, and today the stadium can hold up to 100,000 people. Making the ‘G the 11th biggest stadium in the world.
Roam the Royal Botanic Gardens
Across from the mighty MCG and within walking distance from downtown is the beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens. The urban oasis is an immediate break from the hustle and bustle of city life from the second you walk through the gates.
The gardens has many open spaces for picnics, yard games or to simply read on a park bench. The several picturesque lakes offer Punting Boat tours, reminiscent of life in Venice. There are also a few quaint cafes and restaurants. You’ll also find a hoard of locals walking “The Tan”, a 2.4 mile (3.8km) track around the gardens.
The Melbourne Museum
A great way to learn about Melbourne’s long history and the surrounding nature is to visit the Melbourne Museum. Here you can explore, in depth, the Aboriginal communities that lived along the Yarra River for thousands of years. The Bunjilaka Aboriginal Culture Center elaborates on their heritage, customs and art. Sit in the Deep Listening space to hear stories from the time of Creation to today.
The Melbourne Museum also has permanent and rotating exhibitions that show life in the city, from the Gold Rush Era through the 20th century. While the kids will be entertained in the children’s section.
Walk the Block Arcade
Melbourne has several famed laneways, which we elaborated on below, but an extension of this is the city’s arcades. Allowing you to cut through buildings, the arcade lanes are shopping havens themselves and none are as prominent as the Block Arcade.
Like a scene from Harry Potter or Olde England, the Block Arcade features 19th century-style architecture and beautiful post beams. The grandeur is immediately obvious as you wander in. A simple stroll through will be enough for some, but there are many high-end stores in the arcade. Be sure to stop by Haigh’s for some fancy chocolate!
Visit the National Gallery of Victoria
The oldest art museum in Australia, the NGV, is the highlight of Melbourne’s diverse arts scene. On the Yarra River’s Southbank, the National Gallery of Victoria houses over 70,000 works and is high on the list of best things to do in Melbourne.
Since opening in 1861, the gallery has presented several world-class exhibitions from touring artists. From Ai Wei Wei to a partnership with New York’s MoMA. Permanent exhibits focus on local Australian art from the colonial and convict eras to Aboriginal art from around the country.
Visitors will also have the chance to take part in classes and lectures or attend concerts and independent films.
Explore Street Art
Melbourne embracing street art and pop-up graffiti helped channel the city’s bursting creativity in a positive way. Over the years, the city’s iconic laneways have been filled with art. Much of which continually changes, seemingly covering the news and events better than the presenters themselves.
You can access many of the best graffiti alleys on foot from Flinders Street Station. These include Hosier Lane, Duckboard Place and AC/DC Lane. Although you can wander down these streets and take all the selfies you can, why not enjoy an artist’s perspective? Take a tour through the Melbourne’s street art scene before ending at an artist studio for a drink or two.
BYOB and Dumplings in Chinatown
Eating out in Melbourne is always a fun adventure. International cuisine is well covered, whether it be Thai, Ethiopian, Italian or a fusion of everything. Many restaurants allow guests to bring their own booze, which not only adds to the fun but cuts down on the bill. But what if I told you that you can drink and eat on the cheap without sacrificing flavor?
Melbourne’s bustling Chinatown is a maze of activity on any night of the week. Dumpling houses pack with residents, with chefs slinging dirt cheap but delicious dumplings in insane numbers. Wine is inexpensive here, so grab a bottle and take your pick of the dozens of restaurants. Our choice? Shanghai Village. The double-story restaurant is essentially a mess hall. With service so quick, don’t worry about the line out the door.
One of the best things to do in Melbourne with kids is to pay a visit to Scienceworks. The array of interactive exhibits is sure to get the young ones thinking about how things work. It may even prove to be an educational experience for the older folk!
There’s enough to keep your family busy for an entire afternoon. Permanent exhibits include the Planetarium and the Lightning Room. This popular experience allows guests to get up close and personal with 10ft (3m) lightning bolts that produce over 2 million volts of electricity!
The Melbourne Gaol
Melbourne, and indeed Australia, has an interesting past. The Old Melbourne Gaol tells the stories of Melbourne’s very own Wild West. The Gaol operated for over 80 years, beginning in 1842. Over 130 of the country’s most infamous outlaws were executed on site. None were more famous than the much-celebrated Ned Kelly.
When America had pioneers and gunslingers, Australia had bushrangers. Ned Kelly, leader of the Kelly Gang, ran amok in a thick armor made of iron. After constantly evading arrest, he met his end right here at the Melbourne Gaol. Explore the story of Ned, including his jail cell, along with ‘death masks’ created from executed criminals.
For a guided experience of the Melbourne Gaol, take a look at the tours on GetYourGuide.
Ride the Puffing Billy
Melbourne’s much-loved Puffing Billy is an old time steam train from the year 1900. The steam train roams through the beautiful Dandenong Ranges just out of the city center. The train’s early years were spent serving the local community, delivering anything from livestock to timber.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of volunteers, you can step back in time and experience a ride on a classic train while admiring the stunning scenery. The open carriages allow you the feel the wind pass by while you stick your head out the side. Enjoy food on board or grab a picnic and sit under the trees. Later, explore the museum to learn more about the famous Puffing Billy.
Dine on Lygon
Melbourne’s version of Little Italy is a gorgeous, shady street full of cafes and restaurants. The original buildings came to be in the late 19th century, but the influx of Italian migrants transformed the suburb of Carlton and Lygon Street into what we see today. Not only introducing locals to delicious eats, they played a huge role in Melbourne’s love of espresso coffee.
Today you can walk down the street in the afternoon and enjoy the community atmosphere, just a brief trip from downtown. In the evening, take your pick of world class restaurants, although the best ones will require a reservation.
Drive the Great Ocean Road
As one of the top tourist destinations, not just for Melbournians, but for all of Australia, the Great Ocean Road is an epic experience. You could consider the road a tourist trap, but the good thing about road trips is that it’s easy to avoid the crowds. Beginning at the coastal town of Lorne, grab yourself a salty, delicious potato cake, put the car in drive and begin.
The amazing coastline is as beautiful as it is rugged, having caused the demise of several ships throughout history. The roaring ocean continues to erode the coastline, creating dramatic cliffs and winding turns. Feel the ocean breeze, stop for a surf or continue on until you reach the 12 Apostles.
See the State Library of Victoria
As much an attraction as a library itself, the State Library of Victoria is an impeccable piece of architecture. However, it’s the inside that really captures the hearts of all who visit.
The enormous library sees over eight million visitors every year, from local university students to those gathering for one of the many events held annually. The gorgeous interior will grab your attention upon entrance. All eyes eventually spot the octagonal rotunda in the middle of the library’s main section, inviting you in.
From there you can capture the grand size of the library, its dark oak wood furniture and immense book-lined walls. Of course, it isn’t just a visual masterpiece. Come here to peruse the shelves and catch up on some reading.
See the Penguins on Phillip Island
Only a straightforward two hour drive exists between Melbourne and one of Victoria’s best attractions. At the end of Phillip Island, is a penguin parade which occurs nightly. This natural phenomena see sometimes thousands of penguins return home to their shelters on the shoreline.
You can enjoy the spectacular sight from the comfort of the rafters placed above the sand. From there, an expert narrator will guide you through the experience. The first penguin bobbing up from the ocean will give you chills as the adorable creature waddles home.
Phillip Island also has a large seal colony which you can spot from Nobbies Centre on the island’s western point. Do it all with this wildlife and penguin parade tour!
Have fun at Luna Park
Melbourne’s classic theme park, which opened in 1912, is home to a variety of fun activities for young and old. If you’re wondering what to do in Melbourne with kids, then here’s your answer.
Through the iconic entrance, you’ll find the pirate ship, giant drop, arcade and carnival games along with bumper cars and kids’ rides. The all-you-can-ride pass is inexpensive and provides great bang-for-buck.
Luna Park is home to the world’s oldest continuously operating rollercoaster. The ride may not reach the exploits of modern coasters seen at Disney World, yet the classic wooden ride has some butterfly-inducing drops and brilliant views of the city.
Grab a drink on the Yarra
Melbourne’s Yarra River may be murky and very much not for swimming, but the dining on the Yarra is one of the best things to do in Melbourne. The city has a famed hospitality scene which has taken over this part of town, an area that was once rundown.
When dining out or enjoying a drink on the Yarra, you have two choices, the north or south side. Southbank is home to some of the best restaurants in the city. With spectacular views at night when the skyscrapers are lit up, this is the perfect spot for date night. Every hour on the hour, mini-towers along the bank spurt fire towards the heavens. The simple yet spectacular sight is the perfect way to end your evening.
If you’re looking for a place to enjoy a pint during the day, then head to the other side. Right next to Flinders Street is the renowned Arbory. Set right on the river, the bar and eatery is always happening.
Ride the City Circle Tram
There are many exceptional free things to do in Melbourne, but perhaps the best of them is the City Circle Tram. Also known as the W-class Tram, this free form of public transport travels in a square shape around the city. Hop on and off as many times as you like until you complete the full route.
The City Circle Tram hits up many attractions on this list, including Federation Square and the Melbourne Gaol. But the ride itself is an experience. Sit back in an old Melbourne tram and listen to the commentary that elaborates on the sites you pass, offering a fascinating insight into local history.
See the Beach Boxes at Brighton Beach
The popular Brighton Beach is one of the most exclusive suburbs in Melbourne. Beyond the beachfront mansions are another sort-after piece of real estate: beach boxes. You may be confused at this point, but the famous boxes (essentially tiny garages) line this beach and others.
What began as changing rooms for ladies over 100 years ago has grown into a must-have. Today they store beach gear, shade and BBQs, perfect for a day at the beach. Those that own one have made sure to break out the paint and be creative. The colorful beach boxes are one of the most Insta-worthy spots in the city.
Once you’ve snapped your photos, stroll along the Brighton Coastal Walk for more views or jump into Port Phillip Bay for a refreshing swim.
Visit the Immigration Museum
One of the top museums in Melbourne is the Immigration Museum. Modern day Australia is a diverse community, with people hailing from all around the world. Found within the historic Old Customs House, this museum tells the tales of many generations of immigrants who left behind their lives to begin anew Down Under.
The many fascinating stories of newcomers make for interesting reading. While the many displays will help visitors understand both the journey to Australia and the difficulties faced once they arrived, from the Gold Rush era into the 20th century.
A top exhibit within the Immigration Museum is the Customs Gallery. The gallery explores Old Customs House, which was both a focus point for immigration along with trade in the 1800s.
Explore the Yarra Valley
Barossa Valley may be Australia’s premium wine-making region, but less than an hour out of Melbourne is one that’s just as picturesque. The mesmerizing rolling green hills alit with vineyards and farmsteads is the perfect escape from the bustle of downtown.
But far from just being easy on the eyes, Yarra Valley produces some amazing wines and ciders. The many estates open their door on a daily basis, welcoming guests and allowing them to try new and vintage creations.
Many of the top estates in the region have an expansive menu, allowing you to indulge not just a perfect pinot noir but to eat among the amazing scenery.
See the best of the Yarra Valley all the while sampling delicious wines and tasty treats on this 8-hour guided tour.
Take a Sunrise Hot-Air Balloon Ride
Speaking of amazing scenery, why not enjoy a memorable sunrise from above? Anyone who has driven through Melbourne on a beautiful cloudless morning would have spotted the many hot-air balloons floating among the heavens. A lot of us have become so accustomed to it that we forget to try it, don’t make the same mistake.
As the sun comes up from the east, see the city light up against the early rays with the river and harbor sparkling. Away from the noise of traffic, have the best seat in the house. Better yet, enjoy a champagne breakfast when it’s all said and done.
Rather float above the Yarra Valley? Trade the city for wineries on this hot-air balloon experience.
Enjoy a Festival
As Sydney was developing tourist hot spots and showing off their amazing beaches, Melbourne was hard at work, becoming Australia’s cultural capital. The city is home to world class festivals and events that cover each month of the calendar. Whether or not you arrive in the summer or winter, there’s bound to be something on.
From the International Comedy Festival, to the Festival of Live Art and the Fringe Festival, we are just scratching the surface. Beyond major events, many local neighborhoods will have smaller festivals that help celebrate community heritage, arts and cuisine, not to mention many delicious food truck festivals.
For an extensive list of what’s on in Melbourne, take a look at What’s On in Melbourne.
Take in the Action at the Australian Open
Australian football isn’t the only sport that takes Melbourne by storm. The annual Australian Open is one of the biggest events on the city’s calendar, with almost a million fans flocking to the two-week event.
In the second half of January, the Australian Open comes with sunshine and hot weather. May opt for the shade in the major stadiums, with the center court matches also providing the best international players.
However, many would argue the best way to experience the Open, especially in the first week, is the purchase a Ground Pass. Although you’ll miss out on the big arenas, you can see many top-line tennis players on the open courts. Pick and choose your matches or kick back on the spacious lawns and enjoy a match on the big screen.
The Melbourne Zoo
Just out of downtown Melbourne, in the city’s beautiful northern neighborhoods, is the Melbourne Zoo. One of the best family activities in Melbourne is to explore the zoo, home to over 300 different species.
The Melbourne Zoo is modeled after London’s equivalent and has been a major attraction since opening in 1862. The many species here can be found in a variety of habitats that represent different parts of the world. Popular exhibits include the Aussie Outback, where you’ll find native kangaroos, emus and koalas.
Far from just a place to see elephants and giraffes, the Melbourne Zoo is focused on education. There are several programs for young and old that aim to cultivate an appreciation for conservation.
GoBoat down the Yarra River
All aboard! Take the helm of your very own boat and enjoy a day on the Yarra River. You can hire your own GoBoat, with no boat license. All you need to bring are your friends and family, some booze and treats.
The 16ft (5m) boat comes with a built-in picnic table and is easy to handle. After a quick tutorial, you’ll be off and racing, venturing through downtown Melbourne without a care in the world.
The Yarra River is a calm stretch of water, allowing for a relaxing experience. Just be sure not to fall into the murky waters. Yarra River is often called the upside-down river.
Hike the Dandenong Ranges
After a few too many slices of brie, venture off into the mountains for a day of hiking. Although out of the city, the Dandenong Ranges are still a part of the greater Melbourne area. Within the ranges, you’ll find a number of hiking trails to suit all abilities and motivation.
The beautiful scenery shows off the Australian bush just a short drive from the city center. Popular trails include the Living Bush Nature Walk (2 miles) and the short Burkes Lookout (0.3 miles) which sits at the peak of Mount Kyeema.
For a thigh-burning challenge, then test yourself on the famous 1000 steps. The aptly named trek should give you an idea of what’s to come. Often taking an hour to complete, your stamina and mental strength will be put to the test as you enjoy nothing but ascent. On the way down, take your time as your legs will be jelly and also to appreciate the lyrebird’s singing.
Other fun attractions in the Dandenong Ranges include the Puffing Billy and the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens.
Grab a View at the Eureka Skydeck
Offering some of the tallest city views in the Southern Hemisphere, the Eureka Skydeck is an unforgettable way to see Melbourne from above. Upon completion, the Eureka Tower became the tallest building in Melbourne (now replaced by Australia 108). The Skydeck is 88 floors and 984ft (300m) above the ground.
This gives visitors epic views of not just the city streets, parks and other skyscrapers, but far beyond towards mountains, farmlands and coasts. The free viewfinders will help you get your bearings and see many of the sights you may have already visited. Step outside onto the Terrace to experience it all from outside.
For those that love to seek thrill, sign up for the Edge Experience. Beginning in a dark space, the box made entirely of glass slowly moves outside of the building until you’re hovering above the ground. The hair-raising experience lasts for 5 minutes, allowing you to see the ground 88 floors beneath you.
Skip the lines by booking your Eureka Skydeck Experience ahead of time.
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