14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Melbourne
Affectionately called "Marvellous Melbourne" during the gold rush of the 1850s, the name is still used today for Australia's second largest city. Located on the banks of the Yarra River, near the entrance to Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne is a modern metropolis steeped in history. European settlement started in 1935, however the discovery of gold in 1851 saw a population boom with many prospectors settling in Melbourne. With vast wealth generated from the nearby goldfields, majestic buildings were constructed throughout the city. Many of these buildings still stand today, and Melbourne is regarded as having more examples of Victorian architecture than any other city in Australia.
Melbourne is a "city for all seasons". From wandering the hidden laneways and grand tree-lined streets to the acres of city gardens and parklands surrounding the CBD, Melbourne is vibrant, elegant, and multicultural.
See also: Where to Stay in Melbourne
1 Federation Square
When Federation Square opened in 2002 to commemorate 100 years of federation, it divided Melburnians. There were those who loved it and those who hated it. Either way, it has become an integral part of the city and a great place for tourists to start their sightseeing. The ultra-modern design of open and closed spaces juxtaposes the surrounding Victorian architectural buildings. Hosting more than 2,000 events annually, tourists will always find entertainment in the central outdoor performance space and intimate indoor venues. Federation Square also houses the Ian Potter Gallery dedicated to Australian art and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. More commonly called "Fed Square", it is also the largest free Wi-Fi site in Australia.
Location: Corner Swanston and Flinders Streets, Melbourne
2 Royal Botanic Gardens
One of the top tourist attractions in the heart of green parkland extending south of the Yarra River, a short distance from the CBD, is the Royal Botanic Gardens. Established in 1846, the Royal Botanic Gardens is rated as one of the finest of their kind in the world. Covering an area of 40 hectares and with more than 50,000 plants, including many rare species, the gardens are visited by 1.5 million people annually. The Ian Potter Foundation Children's Garden is designed to encourage the next generation of gardeners and the Aboriginal Heritage Walk is a popular tour that looks into the rich heritage of indigenous Australians. In summer, live theater is a highlight of the gardens, and a moonlight cinema is set up under the stars.
Location: Birdwood Ave, South Yarra
3 Melbourne Cricket Ground
With a capacity of 100,000 and a history dating back to 1853, the MCG is considered one of the world's greatest stadiums. As the main stadium for the 1956 Olympic Games, the 2006 Commonwealth Games, birthplace of Test Cricket, and the home of Australian Rules Football, 'the G' is woven into the fabric of Melbourne, the sporting capital of Australia. Daily 75-minute tours take visitors for a trip down a memory lane of great moments in sporting history and incorporate the Australian Gallery of Sport and the Olympic Museum. Visitors can also catch a game of cricket in summer or football during winter. Directly opposite the MCG is Melbourne Park, the home of the Australian Open tennis tournament, held every January. Visitors can even hire a tennis court. The venue also doubles as a function center, and many concerts are held there during the year.
Address: Brunton Ave, East Melbourne
4 Southbank and Arts Centre Melbourne
Located on the banks of the Yarra River, a short stroll from Flinders Street Station, this area is a culturally rich attraction for visitors. Southbank promenade is filled with indoor/outdoor cafés, restaurants, and live entertainment. An excellent arts and crafts market is held every Sunday, and the area is also home to many festivals held throughout the year. Easily recognizable by its spire, the Arts Centre incorporates a range of theaters and spaces including the State Theatre, Playhouse, Fairfax Theatre, and Hamer Hall, the premier performance space for the revered Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
Address: St. Kilda Road, Melbourne
5 National Gallery of Victoria
The oldest public art gallery in Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria holds more than 68,000 works of art in two city locations. The international collection is housed in the St. Kilda Road building, originally opened in 1968 and extensively renovated in 2003. The building is renowned for The Great Hall where visitors are encouraged to lay on the floor and gaze at the colorful stained glass ceiling. The extensive Australian collection is held in the Ian Potter Gallery in Federation Square, featuring the history of Australian art from Aboriginal through to the Heidelberg School, and contemporary mixed media. One of the highlights is the large triptych format, The Pioneer by Frederick McCubbin.
Address: St. Kilda Road, Melbourne and Federation Square
6 Eureka Tower
Named in recognition of The Eureka Stockade, the 1854 rebellion of prospectors in the Victorian goldfields, the tower stands 91 stories above ground. The skyscraper's gold crown and gold-plated windows add to the golden era theme and literally sparkle when the sun catches the top of the building. Skydeck, on the 88th floor, is the highest public view in any building in the southern hemisphere. Adding to the experience is The Edge, a glass cube that slides out three meters from the building for vertigo-free visitors.
Address: 7 Riverside Quay, Southbank
7 Arcades and Laneways
Wandering the labyrinth of lane and alleyways around Flinders, Collins, and Bourke Streets is elegant, interesting, and quirky Melbourne at its best. The jewel in the crown is the magnificent Block Arcade in Collins Street. With its mosaic floor, period details, and unique shops, this is the place where late 19th-century gentry promenaded, coining the phrase, "doing the block". It's worth queuing for a morning or afternoon tea at the Hopetoun Tearooms. This Melbourne icon dates back to 1892 and is the only original shop still in the arcade today. The opulent Royal Arcade is Melbourne's oldest arcade and Flinders and Degraves Lanes are also well worth exploring. Several companies run guided walking tours of the lanes and alleyways.
8 Melbourne Museum and Royal Exhibition Building
A short tram ride from the CBD, the Melbourne Museum is surrounded by beautiful gardens and parkland. This modern purpose-built museum houses a diverse collection depicting society and cultures. Highlights include the Aboriginal Centre, Bunjilaka, the children's museum, and The Blue Box a cube protruding off the side of the building. The gallery is a series of hands-on activities designed to stimulate and engage children. Adjacent to the Melbourne Museum is the elaborate Royal Exhibition Building. Built in 1880 to host Melbourne's International Exhibition, the building also held the first Commonwealth Parliament of Australia in 1901. Regular tours are available and the building is still used for exhibitions and special events.
Address: 11 Nicholson Street, Carlton
9 Melbourne Zoo
Although the 22 hectares of Melbourne Zoo dates back to 1862, the 320 species of animals have the best of modern facilities in state-of-the-art enclosures. The award-winning Trail of the Elephants is an insight into the lives of the resident Asian elephants in a traditional village-garden setting. Another highlight is the Orang-utan Sanctuary where the animals live in their treetop home. With many wild encounters including "roar and snore", twilight music concerts, and behind-the-scene tours of some enclosures, Melbourne Zoo offers visitors many innovative experiences.
Address: Elliott Ave, Parkville
10 Captain Cook's Cottage
Captain Cook's Cottage was brought to Melbourne from Captain James Cook's native home in Yorkshire, England and erected in Fitzroy Gardens. The quaint cottage is an insight into the life and times of Cook's seafaring adventures and exploration of Australia and other parts of the world. Also in the beautiful Fitzroy Gardens is the magnificent Spanish-mission style conservatory that is always filled with a vibrant floral display.
Address: Wellington Parade, East Melbourne
11 Yarra River Cruise
A river boat cruise is not only the perfect way to see the sights, it's also an insight into the history of the Yarra River. Many cruise companies can be found along Southbank and take in places such as Birrarung Marr, originally called "Birrarung" meaning "river of mists and shadows", a parkland celebrating the Aboriginal ties with the Yarra River. Another popular cruise goes across to historic Williamstown where visitors can spend time exploring this quaint seaside port.
12 Shrine of Remembrance
Sitting majestically in Kings Domain gardens, the Shrine was built after the First World War to commemorate Victorians involved in the Great War, either abroad or at home. Today, it serves as a poignant reminder for all servicemen and women and is the central focus for ceremonies on ANZAC Day, held on 25 April, and Remembrance Day, held on 11 November each year. Guided or self-guided tours are available daily, and lighting on the building is particularly beautiful at night.
Address: Birdwood Ave, Melbourne
Docklands is Melbourne's newest precinct. With the highest concentration of green-star rated buildings in the southern hemisphere, the waterfront satellite village is filled with cafés, restaurants, and parklands. The view from the giant observation wheel, The Melbourne Star is spectacular, and the area also houses Etihad Stadium and the Icehouse, a world-class ice sports venue. There is also an art and vintage market held along the waterfront every Sunday.
Address: Harbour Esplanade, Docklands
14 Queen Victoria Market
A popular place with locals and tourists, this historic icon has been at the center of fresh produce shopping since 1878. In addition to the magnificent food halls, market stalls sell everything from clothing, art, and toys to that hard-to-find unique souvenir, five days a week. Tours are available, and special events such as night markets, music concerts, and other functions are often held during summer.
Address: Queen and Victoria Streets, Melbourne
Where to Stay in Melbourne for Sightseeing
For first-time visitors to Melbourne, one of the best places to stay is either the city center or Southbank, with its restaurants, cafés, and lively events calendar. These tourist-friendly areas are close to prime attractions such as Federation Square; the Royal Botanic Gardens; and the labyrinth of laneways and shopping arcades around Flinders, Collins, and Bourke Streets. Here are some highly-rated hotels in these areas:
- Luxury Hotels: Steps away from St. Patrick's Cathedral and Fitzroy Gardens with Cook's Cottage, the plush Park Hyatt is one of the city's best hotels. Shops and restaurants lie a short stroll away, and sports fans can walk to the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Melbourne Park. In Southbank, Crown Towers features spectacular views of the city skyline from its large rooms, as well as a heated indoor pool, fitness center, and two rooftop tennis courts. Also in Southbank, the serviced apartments of Quay West Suites are a favorite with families. For something a little different, St. Jerome's - The Hotel offers a popular glamping experience on the rooftop of Melbourne Central. The luxury tents come with pillow-top beds, air-conditioning, stocked coolers, and tablets with movies.
- Mid-Range Hotels: A couple of blocks from the famous Queen Victoria Market, the Radisson on Flagstaff Gardens has a tram stop on its doorstep and offers great value within walking distance of shops and restaurants. Also steps away from a free tram and a five-minute walk from outlet shopping, Alto Hotel on Bourke is Australia's first carbon neutral hotel. Its modern apartments are a great choice for families. A five-minute walk from Federation Square, the boutique Adelphi Hotel surprises guests with its contemporary style and personal touches.
- Budget Hotels: Near Melbourne Park, the family-run City Centre Budget Hotel offers excellent value, with a rooftop kitchen and plenty of public transport options on its doorstep. Within walking distance of Flinders Street Station, the Ibis Budget Melbourne CBD has basic rooms but a fantastic location. Also in the budget price-range, the Tune Hotel lies two tram stops away from the CBD and only a five-minute walk from the Melbourne Museum, IMAX Theatre, and the Free Tram Zone.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Melbourne
- Sightseeing: Fans of the long-running Neighbours TV soap opera can take a "Neighbours" Tour of Ramsay Street to see filming locations and the original Ramsay Street houses. You also have the opportunity to meet one of the cast members.
- Day Trips: The most popular excursion from Melbourne is to the Great Ocean Road and the site of the famous limestone stacks known as the Twelve Apostles. The Great Ocean Road Small-Group Eco Tour from Melbourne is an easy and fun excursion. This tour offers hotel pickup and drop-off, morning tea, lunch, transport in a 24-passenger vehicle, and park admission fees for stops at Great Otway National Park for wildlife viewing and Port Campbell National Park to see the Twelve Apostles. You can also upgrade this tour to include a scenic helicopter flight. Another popular trip is the Phillip Island Little Penguins Parade Evening Tour. This tour takes you by coach to Phillip Island to see fairy penguins make their way out of the ocean and across the sand to their burrows as they come home for the night. The trip includes hotel pickup and drop-off, transportation, and a stop at the Visitor Center to learn about the penguins.
Other Points of Interest
Trams are a big part of Melbourne's public transport system, and the Circle Tram offers visitors a free and easy way of seeing the CBD. The talking, hop-on-hop-off heritage tram passes many of the grand historic buildings including Parliament House, Old Treasury Building, Princess Theatre, and the Windsor Hotel.
Open to the public, even when parliament is in session, this is one of Melbourne's best kept tourist secrets. Built during the gold rush, the interior of the building is lavishly decorated with gold leaf, chandeliers, and a superb mosaic floor. Informative tours are held six times a day Monday to Friday.
Flinders Street Station
Opposite Federation Square, Flinders Street Station is a Melbourne icon and the hub of the city's suburban public train network. The clocks under the arches at the entrance provide a meeting spot that Melburnians simply refer to as "meet me under the clocks". The grandeur of Australia's oldest and busiest railway station is accentuated even more at night.
Established during the Gold Rush, Chinatown was a business and residential refuge for Chinese prospectors who suffered prejudice from hostile European immigrants. Today, under the brightly decorated marble arches, the area buzzes with restaurants and cafés. Embraced by Melburnians, Chinatown is a popular lunch spot on Sundays when queues for Yum Cha extend out into the street. The Flower Drum is considered one of Australia's best restaurants. Spectacular Chinese New Year festivities are in the main street of Chinatown every year.
Located in the elegant Old Customs House, the Immigration Museum tells real stories of people from all over the world who now call Melbourne home. The permanent collection is interactive and engaging and there is always a special exhibition. A visit to the museum gives visitors a different perspective of early European settlement, as every person arriving had to pass through customs here.