Tourist attractions that don't suck
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.
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.
There's much more to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) than meets the eye. It's home to Australia's largest moving image collection and the great fun, genuinely fascinating Screen Worlds permanent exhibition. But this place also houses cinemas, blockbuster exhibitions, talks, events and a shop. In fact, ACMI has been the location for some of Melbourne's most popular exhibitions and shows over the last ten years or so, including pop-culture favourites like Wallace & Gromit and Friends, David Bowie Is and DreamWorks Animation: The Exhibition.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Make no mistake: this bar has been instrumental in making Melbourne the nation’s live music capital. Not too much has changed about this rough-and-ready dive bar in its 17 years; you’ll find it down AC/DC Lane, its soft red glow illuminating the graffiti. Bands play pretty much every night here, and vary from up-and-coming local acts to major players from Australia and beyond.
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.
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.
Craving a bit of down time? Drive down to the Mornington Peninsula and soak your cares away in the soothing thermal pools of the Peninsula Hot Springs. Spend time in cave pools, get massages and chill out on day beds – you’ve earned it.
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.
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.
If you think you've got a head for heights, the Eureka 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 the seeing the city from the highest public vantage point in the Southern Hemisphere is an awesome and essential experience. Braving the Edge will cost you an extra $12, or you can stay safely on the Skydeck for $20. Either way, this is the best view of Melbourne you can get.