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An aerial shot of the twelve apostles along the Great Ocean Road
Photograph: Roberto Seba

25 Melbourne tourist attractions that don’t suck

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

By Nicola Dowse, Rebecca Russo and Cassidy Knowlton

Don't let the tourists have all the fun. These attractions showcase the best of Melbourne, from the sandy shores of St Kilda to the shelves of the State Library. Plus if you're not heading away over summer, checking out our city's tourist attractions is a good way to have a fun staycation.

For more inspiration in Melbourne, work out your bucket list with 101 things to do in Melbourne before you die, or munch your way through the city with the 50 best restaurants in Melbourne. Of course, Melbourne is famous across the world for its street art; here's our list of the best places to find it.

Tourist attractions that don't suck

Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne

Wander round the Royal Botanic Gardens

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.

NGV International 2015 Federation Court courtesy National Gallery of Victoria photographer credit Charlotte Ambrose
Photographer: Charlotte Ambrose

Imbibe some culture at National Gallery of Victoria

Art Southbank

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

Fitzroy wall mural
Photograph: Rene Cunningham

Go retro on Brunswick Street

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, youll be confronted by everything from trency bike shops and cool hairdressers, second-hand bookshops and hometown fashion heroes such as Gorman, Búl, Kloke and Alpha 60. It's the vintage clothes stores, though, that Brunswick is most celebreated for. Pre-loved clothing specialists like Hunter Gatherer, Vintage Sole and Yesteryear Vintage Clothing 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. 

Michael Caiafa at Queen Vic Market
Photograph: Graham Denholm

Get up early for the Queen Victoria Markets

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 means 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. The market's opens at 6am Monday-Saturday, but 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.

St Kilda Beach, Melbourne
Photograph: Josie Withers

Hit the seaside at St Kilda

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.

State Library of Victoria
Photograph: Roberto Seba

Take a break at the State Library

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. Beautiful artworks depicting Victoria’s history are exhibited in the Cowen Gallery for visitors to peruse. North and south rotundas and the Keith Murdoch gallery also hold exhibitions and artworks. The library offers everything needed for a productive work day – free wifi, printing services and plenty of seating options (our pick is the aforementioned La Trobe Reading Room). 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 all of this is free. You can also find people lounging on the lawns in front of the library on a pleasant day. Mr Tulk café and Guild café are close by too to fuel the visitors with delicious treats while the Readings bookshop located inside the library gives them plenty to spend their money on.

Royal Exhibition Building in Autumn
Photograph: Robert Seba

Wander around the Royal Exhibition Building

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. Tours are held most days at 2pm, or you can snap the façade any time (try getting a pic from in front of the fountain of from in between the many tree-lined pathways nearby). 

A shot of the rooftop at Rooftop Bar showing people sitting at t
Photograph: Graham Denholm

Check out all six floors of Curtin House

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.

Jungle Boy manager Serena O'Callaghan with her signature cocktail
Photograph: Graham Denholm

Hunt out Melbourne's hidden bars

Fact: Melbourne does hidden bars like no other city. And yes, sorry to all the Melburnians reading this, but we're aboutto reveal some of our underground drinking secrets. We've got a laboratory-themed bar located down a tiny laneway (Croft Institute), one behind a fridge door (Jungle Boy) and a bookshelf (Loch and Key), a secret rooftop bar above a Chinese restaurant (Goldilocks) and a closet of a bar that barely fits ten people (Bar Americano). 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.

Chinatown Zac Damiani

Let your hair down in Chinatown

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, it's hard to know which one to choose. Located along Little Bourke Street and it's surrounding lanes and streets, we recommend dumplings at Shanghai Village, mains at Supper Inn, and the desserts at Secret Kitchen.

Yarra Trail bikes

Ride along the Yarra Trail

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.

Melbourne Gaol
Photograph: Time Out

Throw yourself in the cells at the Old Melbourne Gaol

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 it's fair share of ghost stories - and the Old Melbourne Gaol regularly hosts one-hour tours.

Melbourne Museum entrance at night showing glass facade
Photograph: John Gollings

Expand your mind at Melbourne Museum

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.

Great Ocean Road

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’s 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.

Little fairy penguins walk ashore at night at Phillip Island, Victoria

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 isalnd 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.

Drinking wine amongst vineyards at Stones of the Yarra Valley

Wine and dine in the Yarra Valley

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.

Melbourne zoo seal and trainer
Photograph: Chris Phutully

Meet the animals at Melbourne Zoo

Museums Parkville

Australia’s oldest zoo is an inner-cty 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 Orang-utan Sanctuary, where a family of intelligent orang-utans swing from tree to tree. And don't miss the Trail of the Elephants; an immersive South-East Asian village and garden where you can learn about and see the gentle giants up close.

Aussie Brewery Tours

Get tasting on an Aussie Brewery Tour

Bars Breweries

These days, locally made beers and ciders are hugely popular - but how much do you really know about how your favourite brew is made? This highly popular brewery tour company can help give you all the answers on one of their trips to the breweries of the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, and the inner city. The passionate guides will introduce you to brewers, teach you about the difference between a lager and a stout, and take you behind the scenes of the entire brewing process.

Food at Heartattack and Vine
Photograph: Graham Denholm

Take in the sights and shops of Lygon Street

There are so many things to love about Carlton’s famous strip, which has long been Melbourne’s Little Italy. Gone are the irritating restaurant touters; these days it's all about top-notch bars and eateries like Heartattack and Vine and Milk the Cow, pizza at DOC or Tiamo, and tasty charcuterie and cheese for later at French deli La Parisienne Pâtés. Culture-lovers flock to Cinema Nova, the huge Readings Bookstore and independent theatre La Mama.

The Corner Hotel
Photograph: Paul Philipson

Rock out at a live gig

Melbourne is not only Australias 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 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

The Abbotsford Convent

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 and have a vegetarian feast at Lentil as Anything; the restaurant run by volunteers where you pay what you feel the meal is worth.

Federation Square
Photograph: Visit Victoria / Robert Blackburn

Catch an event at Federation Square

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 cnstruction site on the corner of Flinders Street and St Kilda Road.

Campbell Arcade
Photograph: Pat Mil

Head underground in Campbell Arcade

Did you know Melbourne has a hidden subway system? Sure, it's not as prolific as London's, but many a Melburnian has unknowingly wandered into Flinders Street Station's Campbell Arcade and wondered what kind of bizarro underground world they've stumbled into. This subterranean secret dates back to 1956 and functions as part-thoroughfare and part-shopping precinct, home to a record shop, jewellery and women's clothing stores, a unisex hairdresser and a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop. With its salmon-pink tiled walls, black granite columns and Art Deco signage that has remained largely unchanged since the '50s, you'll feel as though you've time-warped back to the good old days.

Cricket at the MCG
Photograph: Emily Godfrey

Watch the footy at the MCG

Sport and fitness East Melbourne

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.

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