Melbourne is one of the funkiest cities in Australia. From its cool architecture to its robust art scene with hip cafés and music, Melbourne is often considered the culture capital of Australia. Its narrow lanes, covered in world-class street art, hide beautiful cafés and beer gardens. The city and I mix well together (last month’s visit was my fourth), and it’s my favorite spot in the country. There’s so much to see and do in this place that today, I want to share with you some of my favorite things about Melbourne:
Take a street art tour – Hands down the highlight of my visit, I loved the street art tour run by graffiti artists from Blender Studies. It’s pricey at $69 AUD, but the cost of the tour helps support local artists and includes drinks and cheese at the end. I learned so much about the art scene in the city and developed a much deeper appreciation for why Melbourne attracts so many artists from around the world. I can’t recommend this tour enough.
Visit the State Library of Victoria (328 Swanston St) – The State Library of Victoria is a historic institution that sees 8 million visitors a year. Originally built in 1856, the library has grown into an event space that’s a source of pride for city residents. Come here before it opens and you’ll see a queue of people ready to pounce on the open desks. The famous central rotunda with its octagonal shape, original dark wood furniture, and book-lined walls is definitely something not to miss. There are a number of free tours of the library to teach you more about its history and striking architecture.
Moonlight movies in the park – During the summer months, there are nightly movies (most of them major Hollywood features) in the Royal Botanic Gardens. Admission is $19 AUD to the movie, and you can bring food and wine for a little evening picnic. (Bring a jacket too, because it gets cold at night!)
Wander Queen Victoria Market – This outdoor market is a mix of food sellers and knick-knack vendors — think flea market meets food market. During the week, the food hall is the main draw, but the weekend offerings are bigger, as sellers fill up the outdoor vending space. When you’re in the food hall, be sure to get some free wine samples from Swords Wines; the staff is friendly and the wine is cheap (I bought two bottles for some afternoon drinking in the park!).
Take the City Circle tram – More than just a means of free transportation, the City Circle Tram provides “hop-on, hop-off” service between Melbourne’s sightseeing attractions, including Federation Square, the Old Treasury Building, Parliament House, and the Princess Theater. There’s a running recorded commentary as you pass or stop at a place of historical, cultural, or architectural significance.
People watch in Federation Square – Right along the route of the free City Circle train and across the street from Flinders Street Station lies Federation Square. This open square also serves up stellar people-watching. I like to take lunch here and just watch the city go by. Below the square on the river are also a number of restaurants and outdoor bars.
Admire Flinders Street Station – Flinders Street Station is a major landmark and popular meeting place in central Melbourne. Built in the late 19th century, the station features Victorian architecture and large clock faces. It is said to be the busiest suburban railway station in the Southern Hemisphere, and it’s a lovely imposing building to admire.
Visit NGV Australia (180 St Kilda Rd) – Located in Federation Square, this is the home of the National Gallery of Victoria’s Australian art collection. Admission to the permanent collection is free (but fees apply to special exhibitions). It’s one of the best free activities in the city. The collection only takes a couple of hours to see.
Relax in the Royal Botanic Gardens – The Royal Botanic Gardens contains gardens covering 86 acres and features thousands of flowers, shrubs, and trees from across the country and around the world. Hanging out here and wandering around is one of my favorite activities in Melbourne; I usually spend a good half-day walking around, relaxing, and reading! Free guided walks or self-guided audio tours are also available from the main visitors center.
Enjoy the cafés – The café culture in this city is part of its soul. Everyone here loves to have coffee or tea and a snack while doing some work or chatting in some arty café. Don’t miss doing this either. You can take the café tour with Melbourne Coffee Tours or Café Culture Walk to learn more about why Melbournians love their cafés so much and then spend an afternoon with a good book at your new favorite spot. I really enjoy the café 1000 £ Bend in the CBD (central business district).
See the Como House and Gardens – Now over 160 years old, this estate is a mix of classic Italianate architecture and Australian regency, and it is considered the best of the historic houses in the city.
Visit the Immigration Museum (400 Flinders St) – The Immigration Museum is located in the Old Customs House and primarily features relics of Australia’s immigration history. I really enjoyed learning about the people who left their homes to move to Melbourne and, knowing the current political situation, I found it slightly ironic, given that Australia (like the US) has recently become very outspoken about keeping its doors shut.
Party in St. Kilda – Melbourne’s famous nightlife area is home to inexpensive restaurants, bars, and clubs — it’s the place to see and be seen. If you want to find Melbourne’s wild side, this is where it will be. (Base Melbourne is one of my favorite places to go party if you want to hang out with other travelers — and a few locals! Their downstairs bar is popular and has cheap drinks.)
Enjoy the Fitzroy Gardens – Fitzroy Gardens is one of Melbourne’s most historic and beautiful gardens. Created in 1848, this Victorian-era garden is meant to look like the English gardens the early settlers left behind. A free guided walking tour departs from the visitor center every Saturday at 10am.
Get cultural at the Melbourne Museum (11 Nicholson St) – The Melbourne Museum showcases Australian social history, indigenous cultures, science, and the environment. It’s located next to the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens. The highlight of the museum, for me, was the extensive Bunjilaka Aboriginal Culture Center, which highlighted aboriginal culture, art, and history.
Watch the sunset from the beach – Down in St. Kilda, you can head to the beach to watch the sunset. It’s a beautiful, wide beach, but the water is a little too cold for me! However, it faces due west, so you get some stellar sunsets!
Take a wine tour – Wine tours are very popular in this area. The Mornington Peninsula is a famous wine-producing region about 45 minutes from Melbourne and is home to more than 40 wineries. There are a lot of day trips available to the Yarra Valley too (which is where most tours take you). If you don’t have a your own car or don’t feel like spending the night in the area, day trips from Melbourne cost $140-200 AUD.
Day trip to Phillip Island – Located a few hours from the city, Phillip Island is a weekend hot spot for locals looking to enjoy some beach time. The island is renowned for the nightly penguin parade (when thousands of penguins return from the sea to nest), its koala sanctuary, and the huge seal colony that lives offshore. The island can be visited as a day trip, but due to infrequent buses, I would recommend spending at least a night here!
Between all the various day trips and the plethora of activities in the city, you won’t find yourself short on things to do. While this list merely scratches the surface of the adventures Melbourne has to offer, it represents my favorites that capture the city’s laidback, arty, and creative feel.