Melbourne is a city that doesn't give all its secrets away in one go. To crack its mysteries, you need a keen eye, a bit of time and a healthy sense of curiosity. To help you out (and to celebrate 50 issues of our magazine) we've decided to share our ultimate bucket list: 50 fun things to do in Melbourne, plus what makes the city great, from the food to the festivals and everything in between. For a deeper look into two of our greatest pastimes – eating and drinking – browse our guides to Melbourne's 50 Best Restaurants and 50 Best Bars.
RECOMMENDED: See the best events happening in Melbourne today
This Art Deco icon is a creative hive that was built in the ’20s. Exploring its ten storeys is an unparalleled shopping adventure: you’ll find boutique retailers, jewellers, art studios and bespoke tailors. Top picks include RetroStar (a small department store for vintage clothes and accessories), Brendan Dwyer (bespoke cobbler), L’uccello (specialist haberdasher) and Mattt (studio and retailer for beautifully designed and crafted handmade satchels). Piece of trivia: this was the last building in town to have lift operators.
Eat Ethiopian food in Footscray
Footscray’s Ethiopian community has made the western suburb the go-to place for your injera and stew fix. Get your crash course in vegetarian-friendly Ethiopian at Addis Abeba (220 Nicholson St), Dinknesh Lucy (227 Barkly St) for a hearty meal that’s kind to the wallet, and Cafe Lalibela (91 Irving St) for the Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
Nine reasons we love Footscray.
It’s not often that you see crowds hanging out at a bookshop at 10pm on a Saturday night, but that’s Readings for you – proof that there’s still a place for great independent bookshops. Their original Carlton outpost took out the top prize at the London Book Fair’s International Excellence Awards earlier this year, and for good reason: aside from its unparalleled range, helpful staff and great atmosphere, the shop has a strong history of community outreach and support for local authors with their literary prizes. Find more bookshops in Melbourne.
Watch the world flutter by at the butterfly room, visit the colourful residents of the aviary and trek through the Trail of the Elephants to visit the close-knit family of big-eared beauties. The Zoo Twilights program of concerts is always a summer highlight; pack a picnic dinner and enjoy a balmy evening listening to some of your favourite local and international acts, backed by a lion’s roar. Go early to secure pole position.
This not-for-profit eatery has become an institution for its delicious vegetarian dishes and its pay-as-you-feel business model, which supports disadvataged members of the community. There are outlets across the city, but by far the most atmospheric is under the spires of the Abbotsford Convent.
The trek up the many rickety, wooden flights of stairs is entirely worth it for the time capsule pool hall at the top. Book one of the full-sized snooker or pool tables for a piddling eight bucks during the day or $16 at night and while away a few hours with your mates. Try the old school milkshakes (no "freakshakes" here, baby).
Public singing can be a daunting prospect, but Charlton’s open-mic karaoke set up is a guaranteed good time. Ease into it with a round of pool or a boogie at the bar next door if you wish, but make sure you belt out a song before the night is over. Prefer rapping over singing? Give Boney's hip-hop karaoke your best shot.
The ballroom above Flinders Street Station is the white whale of any curious Melburnian. A time warp of the city's history, the now-derelict ballroom was last used as a theatrette in the late 1980s, but hasn’t seen a waltz since the 1970s. Generally the only way to see it is during Open House Melbourne in July.
Built in 1927, this tribute to Moorish architecture was saved from dereliction and Christian Revivalists by rock’n’roll. The Forum is now host to something the biggest names in rock (Everyone from Nick Cave to Courtney Barnett have played there over the years), comedy and theatre. Stepping out onto the Forum floor is an exercise in wonder – the ceiling is cerulean blue and dotted with tiny lights to mimic the night sky, while the walls form the façade of a gothic courtyard. Want more of Melbourne's best music venues?
Walk to the top of Ruckers Hill in Northcote...
... and watch the sun set over the city.
Given the near-constant rotation of fabulous special exhibitions at the NGV, you’d be forgiven for neglecting the equally impressive (free!) permanent collection. Next time you visit, make sure you spend a good few minutes with Dosso Dossi’s portrait of Lucrezia Borgia, Duchess of Ferrara (1519-1530). It’s one of the only known portrait of the illegitimate daughter of Pope Alexander VI, which makes it, as NGV curator Laurie Benson explains, “a unique record of one of the most famous women in history”.
ACMI is many things: a cinema, an exhibition space, a boutique shop and a museum. You can literally spend all day here – especially when there's a blockbuster exhibition on (the most recent was Scorsese). At any time of the year, make sure you take in some quality cinema in one of ACMI’s two state-of-the-art theatres. Then, play some cutting-edge video games (or even Mario Kart) in the Games Lab and exit through the gift shop for some great film-related shopping.
Read our interview with ACMI CEO Katrina Sedgwick about the centre's brand new co-working space.
At the bottom of a suburban street in leafy Warrandyte, you’ll find one of the most pristine swimming spots in Melbourne. Here, the Yarra yawns out to a wide, calm pool, flanked by untamed bush and riverbanks large enough to set up camp for the day. When the weather’s warm, you’ll share the clear waters with families, sunbathing couples and ducks. More of our favourite places to swim in Melbourne.
The State Library of Victoria is full of little surprises. Settle in with a good book in the many cosy nooks, or work on your chess technique at the Chess Reading Room. Director of Library Services and Experience Justine Hyde says, “The La Trobe (domed) Reading Room… [is among] the best spaces in Melbourne. I walk through it every day and still get awed by it. Not only because of the grand architecture but also because of the inspirational people who have worked in it in the past and those who continue to today. It is home to many great minds.”
The Sacred Heart mission supplies over 400 meals daily to people experiencing disadvantage and homelessness. They also connect people with essential services, including housing, medical, psychiatric and even veterinary. Pull a shift in the kitchen with mates or work colleagues and earn some good karma helping this St Kilda institution care for the community. See more great places to volunteer in Melbourne.
Drink a cocktail at a hidden bar
At tiny CBD cocktail joint Bar Americano, swing back one of Matt Bax’s ever changing classics-driven cocktails that are short on ingredients yet deeply complex. You’ll pay a premium for a drink in this laneway cupboard, but you’ll come out a changed person. And if you can find the door, order the fanciest espresso cocktail in Melbourne at Eau De Vie. The Espresso Zabaione is impressive with either vodka, tequila or rum and comes with a vanilla mousse on top that the bartender blast chills with liquid nitrogen upon serving. See who won the 2016 Bar Awards.
Splurge on a degustation
Melbourne is home to some seriously boundary-pushing degustation meals. One of them is at Ides by former Attica sous chef Peter Gunn, which offers a six-course meal to only 36 diners per night. You won’t get the menu until the end; it's all about mystery and discovery. If you’re after a marathon meal, Lûmé's 15-course degustation will stun you with dramatic plating and challenging ingredients like cow’s udder and cured emu. You’d also be wise to pay attention to Nora, which offers among the most affordable, intriguing degustations around. Keep up to date with the newest restaurant openings.
You’re way into the Comedy Festival, so why restrict the LOLs to three weeks every year? Seeing stand-up in its natural habitat – regular comedy nights – is wild, unpredictable and lots of fun. Big-name comics try out new stuff at the European Bier Café every Thursday night, young artists get their break at Comedy at the Wilde every Tuesday and shit gets wonderfully weird at the monthly PoPoMoCo (Post-post Modern Comedy) night at Hares and Hyenas.
See a show at one of Melbourne’s smaller theatres
Don’t have the dollars to catch a mainstage show? You’re in luck, because venturing into small-to-medium sized venues like Arts House, Red Stitch, La Mama or Fortyfivedownstairs will reward you with cutting-edge, locally made theatre for at least half the cost. Check out the latest theatre previews and reviews.
Read some locally made magazines
Melbourne’s status as a UNESCO City of Literature starts from the ground up. We punch way above our weight in down here, producing the likes of world-renowned literary journals The Lifted Brow and Kill Your Darlings, and short story mag The Canary Press – all of which feature great local writers. For some truly out-of-the-box reads, go underground (literally) to Sticky Institute and take a chance on a zine or two.
This Art Deco gem has been an operational cinema since 1936. Watching anything at the Astor is a treat, but none more so than John Landis’ classic 1980 movie. Expect nun costumes, suits and dark glasses and BYO bread – any mention of toast prompts patrons to hurl white bread across the cinema.
Standing in the Melbourne Museum’s taxidermy room is like inhabiting every single David Attenborough doco at once. A leopard keeps a close eye on a toucan; a panda munches on some bamboo; Sam the Koala (made famous during the 2009 bushfires) enjoys a second life in his new home. Museum staff see their Wild exhibit as a way to educate the public as to the plight of rare and endangered animals.
‘Best burger in Melbourne’ is a big call, but we reckon that this mom-and-pop joint in Caulfield gets pretty damn close. If you manage to steal a seat from the savvy locals who come early, order the signature Minor burger (with everything) and do yourself a favour by saving room for their housemade soft serves. More of Melbourne's best burgers.
Trust Lisa Valmorbida to make some of the best gelati in Melbourne – she did graduate from a gelato university in Italy, after all. Ask for a scoop of the Baci or banana milk gelato on brioche (the Italian way) and don’t skip on the Nutella on tap.
Get a different view of Melbourne from Naked in the Sky in the heart of Fitzroy. The rooftop bar is a great location for some sky-high action: order a cocktail and some Basque country-style bar snacks (we like the charcuterie board), and enjoy sprawling sights of the CBD and Melbourne’s north. More of Melbourne's best rooftop bars.
When money is burning a hole in your pocket but high street shops aren’t doing it for you, head straight to Lost and Found – the vintage emporium of any op shop lover's dream. Over the years it’s supplied us with everything from rolls of gingham fabric to a ’60s set of hot rollers in a lurid pink enamel case.
Have you suddenly been transported to a Georgian-era English manor? Nope, you’re in East Melbourne, in the house-museum of William Johnston, a 20th century antique dealer. A tour through the house is a dreamlike experience, and you won’t find a more breathtaking collection of beautiful objects in, dare we say, the country.
Next time you’re stocking up on your groceries at the Queen Vic Market (which opened in 1878), make sure you visit Michael Caiafa. His is the corner stall in the deli section packed with freshly baked bread from artisanal bakeries, chocolate you’d be hard-pressed to find in a supermarket, and of course, his famous house-made peanut butter. “My mum and dad started this place 40 years ago,” says Caiafa. “I’ve been working here since I was 11!” In the decades he’s spent here, Caiafa has seen food trends come and go (right now, it’s all about sustainable ingredients) as well as generations of families. “You see their kids growing up, people getting sick, splitting up… I see it all.”
Tuck into cheap dumplings at Chinatown
You haven’t fully experienced Melbourne’s culinary landscape until you’ve scoffed down platefuls of dumplings from the cheap eats heaven that is Shanghai Village Dumpling (112 Little Bourke St, Melbourne 3000). Always remember to BYO booze to go with your fried dumplings, and don’t go past the wontons in chilli oil. If you’re after some late night fuel, don’t go past Supper Inn for a 1am dumpling and congee fix. Shout out to Shandong Mama for their luscious boiled mackerel dumplings and the party-in-your-mouth prawn, black fungus and chives number. Have you visited the city's best Chinese restaurants?
No one knows Italian cuisine like Rosa Mitchell of Rosa’s Kitchen. Her home-style pasta dishes change seasonally for maximum flavour punch, but we have a soft spot for the eggplant ragu penne and the squid ink tagliatelle. Try these delicious pasta dishes in Melbourne.
Yes, really. Back in 2014, Johnny Di Francesco’s Margherita triumphed at the World Pizza Championships in Italy. The secret is the cooking technique; the pizze are cooked at 400 degrees for 90, which renders the base lightly charred yet pliable, and preserves the flavours of the sweet tomato sugar and chunks of buffalo mozzarella. More pizzas guaranteed to make you happy.
First, head to Luna Park (Australia’s oldest amusement park) and hit the original rides still in operation, including the Scenic Railway, which opened in 1912, and the merry-go-round, built in 1913. Next, take in the sunset while you stroll down Jacka Boulevard to St Kilda’s breakwater for a peek at a healthy-sized colony of Little Penguins. The black-and-white cuties are there all year round, but the best viewing is in summer after sunset. Just remember: don’t climb on the rocks (that’s where they lay eggs and rear young), don’t use flash on your camera and don’t feed or touch them.
We can quibble about who should take out the title for best rock’n’roll band, but rock dogs worldwide are in agreement when it comes to rock’n’roll bars, Cherry rules. If you haven’t been to a gig and ended up at Cherry to party hard (quite possibly with the band), seen a band like the Drunk Mums go the full nut onstage, or danced until the wee hours on a Thursday while Vince Peach spins Northern Soul, you’ve seriously missed out. James “the Hound Dog” Young, who’s been a partner of Cherry venture since the start back in late ’99, pegs the cultural significance of Cherry Bar thus: “On paper it’s a simple proposition – we’re a late night, live music, rock’n’roll venue that has live music seven nights a week, every week of the year – but it’s more than that. Every decision I make I put it through the funnel of ‘am I being real, is this rock’n’roll’? Long term, our strength is that we have a rock’n’roll backbone and everyone knows it.”
Market Lane owners Fleur Studd and Jason Scheltus are so focused on getting coffees right that it’s all they make in their five city locations. Barista Junko Takeda describes how even she was surprised at “how coffee culture here is such massive part of people’s daily lives” when she moved from South Australia. “At Market Lane, it’s important to us that customers can choose their coffee and how it's made. This way, our customers really engage with the coffee and learn about the flavour profiles.” Takeda has also noticed the change in drinking habits of Melbourne’s coffee drinkers. “[As we only serve organic, unhomogenised, full cream milk], we’ve been suggesting filter coffee for lactose-free coffee drinkers. You’d be surprised at how sweet and full of flavoured filter coffees can be! [As a result] I’ve noticed that the number of filter coffee drinkers is getting much bigger year after year.”
The trail running alongside the Merri Creek in Melbourne’s north offers some quiet reprieve from the city, and you can easily walk, run or cycle along the trail. From the serene Abbotsford Convent, the flat 7.5 kilometre trail to CERES Community Environment Park (Roberts St & Stewart St, Brunswick East 3057) takes 30 minutes on a bike. On your way, stop by the Merri Creek Labyrinth – the mini-Stonehenge installation was created by the community and features a Wishing Tree, on which visitors are invited to tie a secret wish.
Drink your favourite craft beer from the source
Melbourne has a long and proud history of brewing top-notch beer, and now more than ever. The craft beer boom has seen micro-breweries pop up all over the city. Pay a visit to the convention-defying rascals at Abbotsford’s Moon Dog on a Sunday and pair one of their experimental brews with a pizza straight out of their oven or spend a Wednesday night at Mountain Goat Brewery, where they run free behind-the-scenes tours at 6.30pm.
Once you’ve completed your encounter with contemporary Australian artists inside the gallery, head out to Heide's green sculpture park, tip your hat to the corrugated iron cows and find a spot near the riverbank. In this blissful pastoral setting, you can almost sense the presence of members of the famous ‘Heide circle’, among them Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker and Joy Hester.
The Palace Hotel in South Melbourne is everything we love about our city’s pub culture: there’s the matchless craft beer list, the inviting fireplace-adjacent tables, the footy memorabilia and a trio of awesome publicans: Jessica, Mark, and Billy the dog. We awarded it our 2016 Pub of the Year – see which pubs took out all the other award categories.
Antons is a shopping institution for the left-of-centre. Drawing inspiration from the golden days of Hollywood, Antons’ Melbourne-made suits are a blessing for everyone who baulks at the idea of being a corporate drone, but needs to look sharp for work. Try on a pair of the high-waisted, wide-legged women’s trousers, a shirt that properly tapers to the female form, pair it with a hand-crafted silk tie and some of Antons’ cufflink curiosities and you’ll leave feeling as glamorous as Marlene Dietrich.
We also like:
Where do you go when you want a Bill Murray colouring in book, post cards of tattooed ladies, a book about the influence of the occult on rock and roll, and a kids’ book about yearning to be a pink, glittery unicorn?
Wunderkammer is a German word meaning cabinet of curiosities and a bang on description for this shop. Slightly creepy and totally fascinating, it’s stocked with scientific instruments, taxidermy, medical ephemera from yesteryear, maps, globes and real skeletons.
Wear a piece of Melbourne fashion
Alpha60 is a local label that epitomises Melbourne’s penchant for comfortable yet stylish gear, with plenty of baggy cuts and dark colours. Designer Alex Cleary, who founded the label with his sister Georgie, says “not only do we have to look stylish in Melbourne – we have be somewhat practical [for the weather]. Want to fit into Melbourne? Just add layers.”
Kuwaii is another defining Melbourne label. Founder Kristy Barber produces all her clothing and footwear locally – and they’re meant to last a lifetime. “The girls of Kuwaii are consumers with a conscience. They care about beautiful things, but they are also very savvy about what they buy. We’re also known for being a colourful brand, which stands against the idea that Melburnians only wear black!”
Soar above the city in a hot air balloon
If you get up early enough on a clear morning, you'll see a handful of hot air balloons floating serenely above the city, greeing the sunrise. Chances are, you dream you'll be up there one day – why not do it now?
Hang with the tourists at Hosier Lane
We know it's not the edgiest thing you can do in Melbourne, but no one can deny that our laneways are home to some of the country's best pieces of street art. If you can't handle all the flashing cameras, then head off the beaten track and track down street art in some of these alternative locations.
Enjoy the serenity of Yarra Bend
You'd hardly notice you're in the city on the Yarra Bend Park, which winds through the heart of Melbourne and out into the eastern suburbs. Take the green, hilly journey from the city into Kew, or even as far as Bulleen, and you won't see a car for hours. Prefer to walk? Check out our top five Melbourne trails.
See all the art at one of Melbourne many festivals
A well-curated arts festival will make a city’s residents experience familiar spaces in new ways. Never is this more evident than with the luminous White Night festival in February, or with the Comedy Festival in April, Melbourne Fringe in September or Melbourne Festival in October. If you normally enjoy catching a show or two, then make this the year that you go deeper; we’re talking parties in the festival hubs, free talks and events and two or three shows in a night (but never four... trust us on that).
Dance until dawn
While our friends up in Sydney fight the good fight against the nightlife-crushing lockouts, Melburnians are dancing until the small hours nearly every night of the week. No self-respecting techno fan hasn’t emerged like a vampire from Revolver on a Monday morning. On a Saturday night, head to Laundry for a sweaty hip-hop party, or get down to some old-school disco at Andee Frost’s legendary ‘House deFrost’ at the Toff in Town. Be sure to check out which Melbourne DJs are playing at Boney and Howler.
See a show by Circus Oz
Circus Oz has been pushing boundaries of circus, running community outreach programs and making political statements with their work since 1978. Seeing their Big Top appear at Birrarung Marr every winter is quintessentially Melbourne – and their shows never disappoint. Their most recent show, TwentySixteen, was directed by another Melbourne marvel: Anni Davey (read our full interview).