Sightseeing in Melbourne
The NGV comprises two venues – the NGV International and NGV Australia – and you could easily spend a day in each. The permanent collection at the international includes a Rembrandt, a Bonnard and a Tiepolo – plus a much-loved water-wall at the entrance. Over at Fed Square the Ian Potter Centre houses art from Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, from the colonial to the contemporary.
If there’s anywhere you can escape the madness of the CBD without actually leaving it, the Royal Botanic Gardens is the place. Located on the city’s fringe, this expansive garden is home to a cool 8,500 plant species, glittering lakes and lush lawns perfect for a little midday pick-me-up or a weekend picnic. Workshops, tours, walks and talks showcase the intricacies of the gardens, and the Aboriginal Heritage Walk takes you on a journey into the history of the Kulin nation.
A soothing recorded voice guides you through your half-hour ride over Docklands on the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel. From 40 storeys up you'll see major Melbourne landmarks, from the Yarra River to Flinders Street Station and the Botanic Gardens. Once you snap a few selfies, bask in watching the city at its most silent and serene. The best time to visit? It’s party central here every night when the Star’s rave-tastic coloured lights swing into action.
The open-air Queen Victoria Market is packed with veteran stallholders who are passionate about fresh produce (and are happy to tell you about it). It's popular with locals as their go-to for fresh produce, meat and a variety of dairy and smallgoods, but it has also become a must visit for tourists. Cafés line the outskirts and heave with brunchers every weekend. Be mindful of the market's opening hours before visiting (it's closed Monday and Wednesday) and be sure to get a hot jam doughnut before you leave.
A glorious, sprawling space filled with themed displays, interactive areas, Imax cinemas, postmodern art and no end of surprises, Melbourne Museum rewards first-time visitors and repeat patrons equally. For recent initiates, the sheer scope of the permanent galleries (including one just for children) can be intimidating, but for those who aren't intent on digesting it all on one visit, the greatest treasures – including Phar Lap’s preserved body and a fascinating exploration of the history of mental health treatment in Australia – can be taken in over several visits.
Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Melbourne anymore. This inner-city oasis – which happens to be Australia’s oldest zoo – is home to hundreds of creatures great and small, all of which are living in beautiful, stimulating environments. Watch penguins and seals slipping through blue water in the Wild Sea exhibit, then head to the sprawling Orang-utan Sanctuary, where a family of intelligent orang-utans swing from tree to tree. Leave plenty of time for the Trail of the Elephants, an immersive South East Asian village and garden where you’ll learn much about our long-nosed relatives.
Melbourne’s central community hub is, shall we say, divisive – its geometric design isn’t loved by all. But architecture aside, it’s always buzzing with events, screenings, talks, performances and activities. Whether it’s a weekend craft market, an exhibition at NGV's Ian Potter Centre or a fun interactive experience at ACMI, you’re almost guaranteed to find something to pique your interest.
Hear that? That’s the sound of glass cracking as you stand in a glass box (known as the Edge) that extends three metres out of the 88th floor of Eureka Tower. Luckily, the sound effects are fake – but the experience of seeing the city from the highest public vantage point in the Southern Hemisphere is truly mind-blowing. You can choose to brave the Edge for an extra $12, or stay safely on the Skydeck for $20. Either way, you won’t get a better view of the Melbourne anywhere else.
It doesn’t get much more Melbourne than cheering on your favourite team at the ‘G, piping hot meat pie in one hand, cold beer in the other. But AFL isn’t the only thing that’ll get your blood pumping at the Melbourne Cricket Ground; as the name implies, cricket is the go during summer, and the fascinating National Sports Museum is open throughout the year. You can even take a tour of the place to hear all about its rich history.
Ah, Flinders Street Station – its dome so iconically Melbourne it’s featured on a million tourist brochures. One of the busiest train stations in Melbourne, Flinders Street is located right in the city centre and often acts as a point of reference for locals ("meet you at the steps!" is often heard around town). If you ever hear of one of the ultra-rare tours of the station's disused ballroom (the only regulars these days are pigeons), jump on it – the room is still spectacular.
Melbourne’s central library was established way back in 1854, making it one of the first free public libraries in the world, though the name of the building is a little misleading. The grande dame of Swanston Street is a library, but it offers more than just books. You’ll also find a shrine to Australian art, with paintings, prints, sculpture drawings, ceramics and photography. Oh, and you can polish your chess skills for free, too.
Opposite Federation Square and joining Flinders Lane with Flinders Street, the cobblestoned Hosier Lane is arguably the central point of the city's street art scene. Spend a long while checking out every little bit of this overflowing art cluster – a creative mark has been left on almost anything with a surface, and sometimes it's the smaller, easily overlooked pieces that really astound. Find more of Melbourne's best street art.
Wind your way throughout the world’s aquatic ecosystems, from tropical reefs through to arctic waters. Gasp at the aquarium’s huge saltie, coo at the gentoo and king penguins, and be mesmerised by luminous jellyfish and sea dragons. You can even book out parts of the aquarium for parties or weddings. Pro tip: spend some serious time in the shark tunnel – if there aren’t hordes of schoolchildren around, lie on your back and watch the majestic prehistoric giants drifting overhead.
You can feel the weight of the past as soon as you step into the grounds and look up to the gothic spires of the Abbotsford Convent. The complex began as a convent in the late 1800s and was also a commercial laundry, orphanage and aged care facility. These days, it’s a hub for artists, makers, community radio broadcasters and teachers – as well as a beautiful place to explore. Check out the work of local artists in the galleries, then roam the green hills and gardens and have a vegetarian feast at Lentil as Anything; the restaurant run by volunteers, and you pay what you feel the meal is worth.
No childhood is complete without a walk through that famous giant mouth. From the moment you walk through you're exposed to a world full of carnival flair, from attractions that send you sky-high to historical carousel rides. Be sure to check out the Scenic Railway Roller Coaster, a large wooden coaster that projects its passengers, at high speed, around the outside of the entire park. This world-famous roller coaster will not only provide you with heart-stopping dips and turns, but also the most stunning views of Port Phillip Bay St Kilda has to offer.
Here's everything you need to know before visiting Melbourne, including transport tips, neighbourhood guides and hotel info.