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St Kilda Beach, Melbourne
Photograph: Josie Withers

Melbourne tourist attractions and places to visit that don't suck

You don't have to be a tourist to enjoy these popular Melbourne experiences

Written by
Rebecca Russo
,
Nicola Dowse
,
Cassidy Knowlton
&
Adena Maier
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When you live in a city, you tend to avoid the popular tourist traps and attractions in favour of things that are off the beaten path like hidden bars or secret gardens. And while a lot of tourist attractions are simply money sinks, many of them are popular with visitors for a reason. 

That's why we've rounded up 27 experiences that we think are actually worth your while and showcase the best that Melbourne has to offer. 

For more inspo, work on your bucket list with 100 things to do in Melbourne before you die, or munch your way through the city with the 50 best restaurants in Melbourne.

Best Melbourne tourist attractions

  • Things to do
  • Southbank

You’ve had lunch by the river, now try lunch on the river. GoBoat is an electric boat hire service currently running in Melbourne that makes it super easy to have picnics at sea (well, a river in this case). GoBoat’s five-metre-long boats seat up to eight people and don’t need a boating licence to operate. The best part? They come equipped with a built-in wooden picnic table in the middle of the boat.

 

See the city from above at Melbourne Skydeck
  • Things to do
  • Southbank

If you think you've got a head for heights, the Melbourne Skydeck will seriously test you. The Edge is a glass box that extends three metres out from the 88th floor of Eureka Tower, and as you walk out, things get a bit freaky with cracking glass sound effects designed just to scare you senseless. The sound effects are fake, but seeing the city from the highest public vantage point in the Southern Hemisphere is an awesome and essential experience.

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  • Museums
  • Melbourne

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 Australia or a panel talk, you’re almost guaranteed to find something to pique your interest. Events still run despite the Metro Tunnel works, so don't be put off by that huge construction site on the corner of Flinders Street and St Kilda Road.

  • Things to do
  • Melbourne

The Royal Botanic Gardens is the place to escape the madness of the CBD without actually leaving it. It's on the edge of the city, and more than 8,500 plant species call this place home. There lush lawns and glittering lakes that are perfect for revitalising the mind and soul with a quick stroll, or for lingering longer with a weekend picnic. Tours, walks, workshops and talks are on offer to teach you more of the intricacies of the gardens, while the Aboriginal Heritage Walk takes you on a journey into the rich history of the Kulin nation.

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  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours
  • Docklands

Kayak Melbourne specialises in guided kayak tours that take you along the Yarra River between Victoria Harbour and Melbourne Park. You can choose to soak up the sunshine with the afternoon City Sights Kayak Tour, or you can explore our waterways by night with the Moonlight Kayak Tours. The nighttime tours include an on-water dining experience, and you'll be able to get some Instagram-worthy shots of the Melbourne skyline as the sun goes down. 

  • Attractions
  • Libraries
  • Melbourne

The State Library of Victoria is a cultural landmark that houses an incredible amount of books, as well as several exhibitions and galleries with a lot of history. The library was established in 1856 and is a grand presence on Swanston Street with interior spaces to match. The La Trobe Reading Room is a six-storey-high domed room that is magnificent to look at. Along with books and artworks, the State Library houses thousands of heritage items, maps, manuscripts and newspapers. Digital material is also available for readers to access. And the best part? All of this is free. 

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  • Things to do
  • Tarrawarra

It’s amazing how quickly suburban Melbourne gives away to the lush, rolling green hills of the Yarra Valley. It’s one of Victoria’s premier food and wine destinations and just over an hour from the Melbourne CBD. The valley is awash with wineries offering tours, cellar doors and gourmet dining experiences: here are the 11 best wineries in the Yarra Valley. Even those looking for more ‘child-friendly’ attractions won’t leave disappointed. You can keep the kids (little and big) quiet with a trip to the heavenly Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery.

  • Shopping
  • Melbourne

Every great city has a great market, and the open-air Queen Victoria Market does Melbourne proud. The place is rammed full of veteran stallholders who are passionate about fresh produce and more than happy to talk you through their wares. The fresh produce, meat and a variety of dairy and small goods mean it's a working place that's popular with locals, but the market has become a must-visit for tourists, too. Cafés fight for space around the outside and heave with brunchers every weekend. Closing hours vary depending on the day, so make sure you check before visiting. And be sure to get a hot jam doughnut before you leave.

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St Kilda is defined by two main strips, Fitzroy Street and Acland Street, with the famous St Kilda Esplanade providing a pleasant link between the two. While Fitzroy Street is all retail shops, gyms and fancy restaurants, Acland is a haven for cake lovers. The cake shops and bakeries lining the street have been making Melbourne a sweeter place since 1934, and are still serving up Eastern European classics thick and fast: make sure you try the plain cheesecake from Europa Cake Shop, the vanilla slice at Le Bon Continental Cake Shop and the chocolate Kugelhaumpf at Monarch.

  • Museums
  • Melbourne

This historical building is a monument to the bad old days of capital punishment, with most people visiting here to see the somewhat gruesome armour and death mask of notorious Aussie outlaw Ned Kelly. But there's plenty else to see and do in this fascinating, creepy old place. Explore the gaol, experience a modern-day arrest procedure and stand in the dock of the Old Magistrate's Court. The gaol first opened in 1845, which means it's one of the oldest buildings in Melbourne. Unsurprisingly, a building this old, where 133 people were hung, has its fair share of ghost stories - and the Old Melbourne Gaol regularly hosts tours.

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Explore the historic Abbotsford Convent
  • Museums
  • Abbotsford

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.

  • Art
  • Galleries
  • Southbank

The National Gallery of Victoria is made up of two venues - the NGV International and NGV Australia. Both are impressive spaces, filled with world-class art, so you could easily while away an entire day at each. The International's permanent collections include 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 era to the current day.

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Melbourne’s famed alternative side is in full force in Fitzroy, the city-centre hub of all things hip and kooky. Wandering up Brunswick Street, Fitzroy’s main strip, you'll be confronted by everything from trendy bike shops and cool hairdressers, to second-hand bookshops and hometown fashion heroes such as Gorman, BúlKloke and Alpha 60. It's the vintage clothes stores, though, that Brunswick is most celebrated for. Pre-loved clothing specialists like Hunter Gatherer and Vintage Sole are just a few of the spots to head for that new leather bag, pair of vintage slacks or ripper denim jacket from the '80s you've been after forever. 

  • Things to do
  • Carlton

The Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens is one of the world's oldest remaining exhibition pavilions (and was the first building in Australia to be named on the UNESCO Heritage List). Aside from having a fascinating history, the REB is drop-dead gorgeous inside and out. Swing by to snap the façade any time (try getting a pic from in front of the fountain or from in between the many tree-lined pathways nearby). 

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  • Things to do
  • Melbourne

If you do one thing in Melbourne, we recommend hitting the extremely Melbourne Curtin House on Swanston Street. This six-storey vertical lane houses some of Melbourne's most interesting tenants. There's Metropolis specialist bookshop, Human Salon the hairdresser, bar/restaurants Cookie and Mesa Verde, high fashion mavens Dot Comme, the swanky bar and band room at the Toff in Town, and Melbourne's crowning glory Rooftop Bar right at the top. Visitors can practically get the full Melbourne experience without setting foot outside the building.

Fact: Melbourne does hidden bars like no other city. And yes, sorry to all the Melburnians reading this, but we're about to reveal some of our underground drinking secrets. We've got one behind a fridge door (Jungle Boy) and a bookshelf (Loch and Key), a secret rooftop bar above a Chinese restaurant (Goldilocks) and in a basement at the end of an alley (Beneath Driver Lane). Sure, it might feel more like a scavenger hunt than a night out hunting these places out but,  for a drink with a difference, it's definitely worth it.

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  • Things to do
  • Melbourne

Melbourne's Chinatown district was first established back in the 1850s during the Victorian gold rush era, making it the longest continuous Chinese settlement in the western world. As such, it's also the oldest Chinatown in the southern hemisphere. This vibrant quarter of town is lined with karaoke bars, duty-free stores and so many fantastic little restaurants, that it's hard to know which one to choose. Located along Little Bourke Street and its surrounding lanes and streets, we recommend dumplings at Shanghai Village, mains at Supper Inn, and desserts at Secret Kitchen

  • Things to do
  • Port Melbourne

Itching for a new adventure? Saddle up and explore the city on two wheels. We recommend the easy-ish ride along the Yarra Trail. Starting in Eltham, this trail is a pretty satisfying 22-kilometre ride towards Fairfield that follows the flow of the Yarra. It’s flat most of the way with loads of leafy corridors to pass through. Closer to the city the trail is sealed and your necessary pit stops include the Heide Museum of Modern Art and the colonial-era Fairfield Boathouse for some scones.

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  • Museums
  • Carlton

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.

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Go on a road trip on the Great Ocean Road

Head southwest from Geelong and you’ll soon see it: the faded log arch announcing your arrival at the Great Ocean Road. Sandwiched between dense coastal eucalypt forests and the ocean, the road is one of the most spectacular drives in Australia. Technically the road starts just outside of Torquay but the best ocean vistas happen between Airey’s Inlet and Apollo Bay, where you’ll drive right along the precipice of the coastal cliffs. There are regular opportunities to stop at beaches and koala sightings are not uncommon. Travel off-season to avoid crowds – the road is just as great in the cooler months.

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Go penguin spotting at Phillip Island
  • Things to do
  • Wimbledon Heights

A two-and-a-half-hour trip from Melbourne is Phillip Island: a chunk of coastal heaven famed for its penguins and seals. The craggy shoreline is broken up by numerous beaches perfect for swimming, surfing and seal watching: there are more seals living on the island than humans. However, giving the seals a run for their money in the cute stakes are Phillip Island’s Little Penguins. Every night, like clockwork, you can watch the tiny penguins come ashore at Summerland beach and march like little, feathery soldiers into their sandy burrows.

  • Museums
  • Parkville

Australia’s oldest zoo is an inner-city oasis that's home to hundreds of creatures great and small, housed in lovingly cared for, stimulating environments. Watch seals and penguins gliding through blue water in the Wild Sea exhibit, then head to the sprawling Orangutan Sanctuary, where a family of intelligent orang-utans swing from tree to tree. And don't miss the Trail of the Elephants; an immersive Southeast Asian village and garden where you can learn about and see the gentle giants up close.

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  • Art
  • Galleries
  • South Wharf

The Lume is a cutting-edge digital gallery and immersive art space created by Melbourne's Grande Experiences permanently located within the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition CentreInstead of looking at paintings on walls or sculptures on plinths, art is projected onto the walls to make you feel like you've stepped inside the paintings themselves. The popular digital gallery's current exhibition is titled Connection, and features First Peoples art and culture.

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27. Rock out at a live gig

Melbourne is not only Australia's live music capital, it's also the best city in the world for live music with 553 live music venues in 2018 (that's one for every 9,500 Melburnians). Cherry Bar has now reopened in Boney's old location and there are plenty of other haunts to check out. The Tote, the Gaso and the Corner Hotel are some of the best live music pubs, while the Toff in Town is great for a boogie. We even have a healthy population of slick jazz clubs

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