Things to Do in Melbourne
The Yarra River flows west for more than 240 km (148 miles) from its source in the Yarra Ranges, through rural and suburban Melbourne to the city center and Docklands, where it empties into Port Phillip Bay. Transport and pedestrian bridges cross the river, and you’ll find some of Melbourne’s most popular golf courses and parklands along its length.
Melbourne was established on the banks of the Yarra River in 1835, and it was a vital source of water and transport for the city's settlers. Today the Yarra River flows past the pedestrian Yarra Promenade and Flinders Street Station in the heart of Melbourne.
Rowers stroke past from the nearby Royal Botanic Gardens, and pleasure boats cruise up and down the river. Cycling and walking trails also mirror its path, and there are popular picnic grounds on the suburban fringe at Yarra Bend and Warrandyte.
St Paul's Cathedral stands right in the heart Melbourne, opposite the cultural precinct Federation Square and diagonally across from Flinders Street Station, the city’s central transport hub. A metropolitical and cathedral church, it was built on the site of Melbourne’s first public Christian service that took place in 1835.
Built in sandstone in the Gothic Transitional style, the Cathedral has the second tallest Anglican spire in the world and a magnificent organ that is believed to be the finest surviving work of British organ builder T.C. Lewis.
Visitors are welcome to explore and worship at the Cathedral, and join the daily Evensong and other services. Sights of interest within its walls include the Moorhouse Tower Lantern, the processional doors, the Persian tile and the pentacles or five-pointed star. A range of gifts and religious items are on sale in the Cathedral Shop (10am-3pm) located inside the Cathedral.
Federation Square is Melbourne's focal point and favorite meeting place. Outdoor cafes surround the square, which is dominated by a huge outdoor screen. People flock here to people-watch or catch don't-miss sport or activities on the screen, and it’s the location for Melbourne's most important public events and ceremonies.
Back from the cafes you'll find the Australian art section of the National Gallery of Victoria, known as the Ian Potter Centre – the perfect place to get a sense of Australia’s art history from colonial days to the present day. Other cultural icons at Federation Square include cinema history at ACMI, art galleries and creative outdoor play spaces for kids.
If you didn't know that Melbourne is a sport-loving city, learn all about it at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). A Melbourne landmark, and one of the seven wonders of the sporting world, no visit to Melbourne is complete without witnessing a summertime cricket match or winter game of Australian Rules football at the MCG.
Backstage tours on non-event days take visitors onto the hallowed turf and into the changing rooms of Australia’s largest stadium. A visit to the National Sporting Museum here reveals the MCG’s history as an Olympic Games venue, and particular sports are highlighted in several exhibits, including the alarmingly realistic Shane Warne Hologram. Exhibition spaces display the MCG’s historic collection of sports memorabilia.
The cricket season launches at the MCG with the famous Boxing Day Test match. The most important fixture on the football calendar is held here on the last Saturday in September – the AFL Grand Final.
One of only four giant observation wheels in the world, along with the London Eye, the Singapore Flyer and the Las Vegas High Roller, the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel has some big names to live up to, but with its 360-degree panoramic views reaching as far as the distant Mount Macedon and Dandenong mountain range, there’s no other attraction like it in the city of Melbourne.
Riding in one of the 21 air-conditioned capsules is an experience in itself, reaching heights of up to 400 feet (120 meters or the equivalent of 40 stories) during the 30-minute tour and offering an unbeatable bird’s eye view of the surrounding Docklands and Port Phillip Bay from the floor-to-ceiling glass windows. The most atmospheric time to ride the Melbourne Star is during the evening hours, when the wheel’s specially engineered multi-colored LED-lighting creates a dazzling lightshow over the waterfront.
If early explorers could have had this view it would have made their jobs a lot easier. Situated high above Melbourne’s bustling streets, the Eureka Skydeck 88 is a 360-degree viewing platform towards the top of the Eureka Tower. From this elevated vantage point on the 88th floor, the Victorian countryside literally stretches from the mountains down towards the sea. Gaze east toward the 2,000-foot Mount Dandenong which can be coated with snow in winter, and south to the waters of Port Phillip and beachgoers lounging at St. Kilda. More than simply the view, however, it’s the Eureka Skydeck’s remarkable height that will leave you weak in the knees.
Even the elevators to reach the platform are an adventure unto themselves, and the 40 seconds to cover 88 stories make them the fastest in the Southern Hemisphere. Once you’ve taken a lap of the 88th floor, step outside onto the open-air terrace to feel the wind rushing through your hair from nearly 1,000 feet off the ground.
Fill up at Melbourne's marketplace, the historic, fun and friendly Queen Victoria Market! Operating since 1878, Queen Victoria Market is the finest place in town to shop for fresh fruit and veg, gourmet meats and cheeses, condiments, seafood – you name it, and you’ll find it.
Melbourne is a city that loves food, and Queen Victoria Market is where gourmets, chefs, office workers, families and just about everyone who eats come to do their shopping. The atmosphere is particularly busy and vibrant on Saturday mornings, especially if a feast like Christmas or Easter is just around the corner.
On Wednesday evenings in summer, a Night Market with food and entertainment lights up the marketplace. A souvenir and trash and treasure market operates on Sundays, with children's rides and outdoor cafes.
Appreciate Melbourne’s best street art and graffiti in Hosier Lane, one of the city’s ‘hidden’ laneways. Once forgotten but now very much on the Melbourne cultural map, Hosier Lane is a small cut through between Flinders Street and Flinders Lane, filled with regularly changing graffiti and a series of light boxes that exhibit the work of up and coming contemporary artists.
Jutting out from the center of Hosier is Rutledge Lane; walk past the (graffitied) garbage bins until you hit the Until Never gallery, which displays work by emerging Australian artists (open Wed-Sat). Hang out in Misty Bar or enjoy excellent tapas in the compact but excellent Spanish bar, Movida Next Door (Cnr Flinders St & Hosier Ln). If you want to eat at the more spacious and original Movida (1 Hosier Ln), you’ll need to book at least two months in advance.
The lovely landscaped grounds of Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens spread for almost 100 acres south of the city center, providing Melbourne with the much-appreciated foliage of more than 50,000 plants.
The gardens were established in 1846, and over the years they've become recognised as one of the finest examples of Victorian-era landscaping in the world. The mix of native and introduced species provides inspiration for would-be gardeners, and the manicured lawns are a popular spot for picnics and parties.
You'll find tranquil ornamental lakes dotted with waterbirds, a herbarium and an observatory, plus conservatories and glasshouses filled with exotic blooms. Follow winding pathways past fern gullies and eucalyptus, or join Melbourne's joggers running rings around The Tan, the gardens' running track.
The striking Edwardian facade of Flinders Street Station is one of Melbourne's two transport hubs; the other is the far more modern Southern Cross Station at the other end of the city. Australia's oldest station, the current building with its copper dome, red and yellow tower, arched windows and famous clocks opened back in 1910, though there's been a station here since 1854.
The busiest station in the Southern Hemisphere, the station is packed at peak hours, but quieter for a wander through at other times. Stained glass features in the atrium, and all manner of takeaway stalls offer quick snacks for passers-by and travelers alike.
For an interesting art and shopping stroll, follow the historic underpass that takes you under Flinders Street to Melbourne's funkiest cafe enclave at Degraves Street. Along the way you'll pass local boutiques and a changing parade of street art in one of the city's most unusual gallery art spaces.
More Things to Do in Melbourne
Stark and solemn, the Shrine of Remembrance is Melbourne’s memorial for all Australians who fought in a war. The Shrine was originally built to remember those who fought in World War One and is now open to the public for commemoration and education about all Australian victims of war. Permanent exhibitions show metals awarded to soldiers and records of service men and women. Temporary exhibitions and free daily tours at 11am and 2pm also allow visitors a chance to expand their understanding of Australia’s involvement in international conflicts. The unique shrine is easily recognised by the two identical porticoes supported by eight Doric columns and topped with a pyramidal roof inspired by an ancient Mausoleum. The result of combining the Athenian and Turkish architectural designs in a bold white structure is nothing short of stunning.
The Block Arcade is a heritage-shopping arcade that was built in the late 1800s. Restored to its original glory, the arcade still features its original mosaic tiled flooring, glass canopied ceiling and wrought iron and carved stone finishes.
In conjunction with Melbourne’s Royal Arcade, The Block Arcade forms part of the city’s Golden Mile heritage walk that cuts through the center of the CBD and offers a unique shopping experience.
Much loved shops within the arcade include the popular Hopetoun Tea Rooms (Melbourne’s original spot for high tea and still home to the city’s most drool-worthy window display!), Dafel Dolls & Bears toy shop and Haigh’s Chocolates.
You can enter The Block Arcade from its official entrance on Collins Street or via Elizabeth Street (west) or the pedestrian laneway off Little Collins Street.
Visiting Melbourne Shopping Center is a trip that can literally take days. Even if you spent only 10 minutes in each of the 300 shops, it would still take over 50 hours before the shopping was through. Granted—while it’s impractical to visit every shop—there’s still the time it takes to visit the sights within the center. Take, for example, historic Shot Tower—a bullet making facility from 1889 that’s housed within the shops. To protect the original structure from crumbling, an enormous, 20-story, cone made of glass protects the entire tower—a feat of architectural engineering that’s the largest of its kind in the world. While exploring the maze of eateries and shops, be sure to keep an eye on the time as it approaches the top of the hour. Every hour, on the hour, the famously oversized Marionette Watch sounds a version of “Waltzing Matilda,” an old bush ballad that’s considered the unofficial national anthem of Australia.
Impressively stoic, with bold white columns commanding attention, Parliament House of Victoria is one of Melbourne’s most recognisable landmarks. The great steps that lead to the entrance only hint at the opulence behind the impressive façade. Built in 1856, Parliament House of Victoria is the largest public Australian structure to be built in 19th Century.
Visitor experiences in Parliament will depend heavily on whether Parliament is sitting. When Parliament is not sitting, the chambers, halls and eateries are open to the public. Visitors can take a 90 minute tour through the esteemed halls and chambers.
After touring, visitors may relax with a traditional High Tea of finger sandwiches, scones with cream and jam, and assorted pastries at either The Parliament or The Corridor. During sitting weeks, visitors can only view live debates and decisions from the public galleries.
Fitzroy Gardens is one of several gardens established during the nineteenth century with a mind to creating and preserving green spaces within the city.
Hugging the eastern side of the CBD, Fitzroy Gardens is seen as the finest garden in the city’s large collection of green spaces, which include Flagstaff, Treasury, Carlton, Alexandra Gardens and the Kings Domain. Dominated by sweeping avenues of English Elms, and full of deciduous and native Australian trees, Fitzroy Gardens looks particularly beautiful in autumn (April to June). Points of interest within the gardens include Captain Cooks Cottage (transported from England in 1934), a fairy tree, a model Tudor village and a conservatory that exhibits stunning floral displays throughout the year.
Located on the city’s eastern fringe and surrounded by gardens, St Patrick’s Cathedral is a striking feature on Melbourne’s skyline.
Built in the Gothic Revival style of the early 14th century, the Cathedral layout is based on a Latin cross, with a nave and transepts, a sanctuary with seven chapels, and sacristies. Famed ecclesiastical architect William Wardell designed the cathedral as well as many of the brass items and mosaics that can be seen today including the sanctuary lamps, a Paschal candle stand and the eagle lectern. St Patrick’s excellent acoustics and original pipe organ make it popular with musicians and choral groups and a cathedral choir has existed here since 1939.
Visitors are welcome to explore the cathedral and attend the daily mass, which is accompanied by organ and cantor on Sunday’s at 9.30am, 11am and 6.30pm.
Animals from Australia and around the world have called the Melbourne Zoo home since 1862, making it Australia's oldest zoo. Surrounded by landscaped gardens, the zoo is a popular location for picnics and evening concerts during the summer.
Star attractions at Melbourne Zoo include the colorful inhabitants of the Butterfly House, families of gorillas at play in the Gorilla Rainforest, and native animals like kangaroos, wombats and koalas in the Amazing Australians exhibits. Most famous of all is the Trail of the Elephants, the Asian village home of the zoo's five elephants, including recent addition baby Mali. Orangutans are viewed from elevated boardwalks, and penguins and seals swim in the Wild Sea display. Don’t miss feeding time and Meet the Keeper presentations.
The spectacular pale dome of the Royal Exhibition Building rises proudly above the surrounding Carlton Gardens, announcing the prestige it has earned over more than 130 years.
Despite its age and grandeur of this World Heritage site, the Royal Exhibition Building remains in magnificent condition and continues to host a busy schedule of events and exhibitions each year. Key events include the Melbourne International Garden and Flower Show every April, the Australasian Quilt Convention, the Australian Antiques and Art Dealers event, the Australian Wedding and Honeymoon Expo and the Love Vintage Clothing Show.
The Royal Exhibition Building has hosted a share of historical moments as well, such as the first Commonwealth Parliament of Australia in 1901, and is now under the management of Museums Victoria. Visitors can attend an exhibition or take a one hour tour of the building and surrounding gardens.
Degraves Street is a short, narrow laneway that runs between Flinders Street and Flinders Lane in the heart of Melbourne.
Though named for two pioneer merchants who moved from Hobart to Melbourne in 1849 – Charles and William Degraves – Degraves Street is more often attributed to William alone, who served as a member of Victoria’s Legislative Council. Degraves Street is one of Melbourne’s more unique arcades. Bluestone cobbles and an otherworld charm are the characteristics of Degraves Street. Tall, old-style buildings frame the street, with shops, bars, cafes and more lining the ground level, and apartments up above. Dining on Degraves Street tends towards Italian. Degraves Espresso is said to be one of the most quintessentially Melbourne café experiences. The Degraves Street underpass was built in the 1950s, connecting Flinders Street Station with Degraves Street. The underpass, much like the street it connects to, is full of character.
Old Melbourne Gaol is a former prison turned museum at the top of Russell St in Melbourne’s CBD. A solid and formidable looking bluestone building, the jail is famous for having housed many of Victoria’s most notorious and infamous criminals, including the bushranger Ned Kelly.
During the Gaol’s operation as a prison between 1845 and 1924, a total of 135 people were hanged here and today’s museum displays the death masks, information and memorabilia that belonged to the prison and its unfortunate inmates.
Rumored to be haunted, the Gaol capitalizes on its reputation by offering night tours and stages a live performance each Saturday relating to the life and death of its most famous inmate, Ned Kelly. The Old Melbourne Gaol also gives visitors the chance to ‘stand in the shoes’ of a prisoner or a judge inside the City Watch House and the Old Magistrates’ Court.
Melbourne’s grandest avenue, Collins Street is known for being a hub for prestigious boutiques and designer stores, theaters, global bank headquarters, high-end hotels and restaurants.
Running for a mile between Elizabeth and King Street, Collins Street is the traditional main street of the city. On a visit, start at the east end, or “Paris end,” so named for its lavish Victorian-era buildings, erected in the 1880s when Melbourne grew recklessly during the Victorian gold rush. Collins Street has long been Melbourne’s center of financial activities. Some of the banks are housed in Victorian gothic builds nicknamed “Cathedrals of Commerce,” while others are in shining glass skyscrapers, some of which are Australia’s tallest, like 101 Collins Street. It’s worth seeing the late 19th century Old Stock Exchange, which looks straight out of Venice, and the ANZ Gothic Bank — all gold leaf ceilings and grand ceilings on the inside.
Melbourne Museum provides a great experience for adults and children alike. A series of permanent exhibitions relating to the culture, history and the environment of Melbourne and Victoria are housed in several galleries including a lush Forest Gallery, an Aboriginal gallery and a Children’s area.
Exhibitions include Science and Life, Melbourne Story, Evolution, Mind and Body, and many more. Get to see bones and displays of Australia’s mega fauna (giant animals), experience the Dinosaur Walk, Bugs Alive!, Amazing Animals and The Human Body. Temporary exhibitions run about twice a year and cover a variety of themes. Visiting from March to July 2013 are hidden treasures from Afghanistan temporarily donated by the National Museum in Kabul. The Museum also houses a good café, an IMAX center and – the museum’s most popular object – a taxidermy original of Australia’s most famous racehorse, Phar Lap.
The State Library of Victoria is an iconic Melbourne landmark and an important community resource. On sunny days, the lawns outside the library are strewn with students and inner-city folk taking a breather from the bustling city streets and catching some rays.
Dominating an entire city block on the corner of Swanston and La Trobe Streets, the library is worth exploring for its heritage architecture alone, which includes tiled floors, grand marble staircases, stained glass and bluestone walls. Free-guided tours are available that take you to the library’s spectacular domed-ceilinged and Redmond Barry Reading Rooms as well as the permanent and temporary exhibitions that are held in one of the library’s three galleries.
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