18 Top Attractions & Things to Do in Melbourne
Multicultural Melbourne frequently tops the list of the world's most livable cities. Visit this vibrant city at the head of Port Phillip Bay, and you'll see why. Australia's second largest metropolis exudes an unmistakably European feel. Grand Victorian buildings recall the city's Gold Rush riches, and tree-lined promenades and a tangle of hidden laneways make exploring the city especially rewarding.
Culture is a big draw. Artlovers can get their fix at Melbourne's impressive museums and galleries. And foodies will also find plenty to love. Famous Aussie chefs flaunt their talents here, whipping up creative concoctions from around the world - you can feast on everything from Greek, Italian, and Indian cuisine to Spanish and Vietnamese.
But perhaps Melbourne's biggest claim to fame is sports. The famous Melbourne Cup horse race, held on the first Tuesday in November, brings the entire nation to a standstill. And Australian Rules football ("footy") elicits an almost religious reverence. If you're a sports lover, try to catch a game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground while you're here. Tennis fans flock to the Australian Open in early February, and Formula One followers eagerly anticipate the Australian Grand Prix.
You'll never run out of things to do in Melbourne. Explore the city's diverse galleries, cafés, and shops; stroll through lush gardens; cruise along the Yarra River; or hop aboard a heritage tram to discover Melbourne's magic.
Melbourne also boasts a busy arts calendar. Highlights include the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (March to April), and if you're looking for things to do in Melbourne in August, scoop up some tickets to the Melbourne International Film Festival. Seeking a little slice of nature? Rewarding day trip adventures lie a short drive from the city buzz.
Before you head out on your sightseeing tour, find the best places to visit in the city with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Melbourne.
See also: Where to Stay in Melbourne
1. Relax at the Royal Botanic Gardens
Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens are among the finest of their kind in the world. Established in 1846, the gardens encompass two locations: Melbourne and Cranbourne.
The Melbourne gardens lie in the heart of green parkland extending south of the Yarra River, about two kilometers from the CBD. Covering an area of 38 hectares, they are home to more than 10,000 plant species from around the globe, including many rare specimens.
Highlights include the Ian Potter Foundation Children's Garden, designed to encourage the next generation of gardeners, and the Fern Gully Health and Wellbeing Garden, a tranquil spot to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. The Aboriginal Heritage Walk explores 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. Rolling lawns, lakes, large trees, and abundant birdlife make this a beautiful spot to linger and enjoy a picnic or a traditional high tea at The Terrace café.
No matter what time of year you visit these beautiful gardens, this is one of the best free things to do in Melbourne.
Address: Birdwood Ave, South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria
Official site: http://www.rbg.vic.gov.au/
2. Find Inspiration at the National Gallery of Victoria
Melbourne is famous for its culture, and the National Gallery of Victoria is the jewel in the crown. It's not only the oldest public art gallery in Australia, it's also the most visited. Here, you can admire more than 70,000 works of European, Asian, Oceanic, and American art in two city locations.
The international collection is housed in the St. Kilda Road building, originally opened in 1968. The building is renowned for The Great Hall, where visitors are encouraged to lie 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 works through to the Heidelberg School, and contemporary mixed media. One of the highlights is the large triptych format, The Pioneer by Frederick McCubbin.
There's always something new to see at the National Gallery of Victoria. It presents more than 40 exhibitions a year, as well as special events, children's programs, tours, and performances. Best of all, entry to the permanent exhibitions is free.
Address: St. Kilda Road, Melbourne, Victoria
Official site: http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/
3. Check Out 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, "Fed Square" has become an integral part of the city, a popular meeting place, and a great spot for tourists to start their sightseeing.
You can't miss Fed Square. It's located opposite Flinders Street Station, a major public transport hub. The building's ultra-modern design of open and closed spaces stands in striking contrast to the surrounding Victorian architecture.
Live entertainment lures locals and tourists here. With more than 2,000 events annually, you can always find a performance or festival to enjoy in the central outdoor performance space and intimate indoor venues. And you'll find plenty of cafés and restaurants here, too.
Museums and galleries are another highlight of visiting Federation Square. The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia is dedicated to Australian art. The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) hosts fascinating interactive exhibits on screen culture (film, TV, videos, and art); and the Koorie Heritage Trust, displays art, photographs, and artifacts from the Koorie Aboriginal people, who hail from parts of Victoria and New South Wales. Best of all, entry to these museums is free.
Fed Square is also one of the largest free Wi-Fi sites in Australia.
Address: Corner of Swanston and Flinders Streets, Melbourne, Victoria
Official site: http://www.fedsquare.com/
4. Wander through Melbourne's Arcades and Laneways
Wandering the labyrinth of lanes and alleyways is one of the most popular things to do in Melbourne. Head to the the area around Flinders, Collins, and Bourke Streets to see elegant, interesting, and quirky Melbourne at its best.
For high-end shopping, one of the most popular places to visit in Melbourne is the magnificent Block Arcade in Collins Street. With its mosaic floor, period details, and boutique shops, this is the place where late 19th-century gentry promenaded, coining the phrase, "doing the block." You'll find everything here from Haigh's Chocolates and vintage jewelry to designer fashion, gifts, and cafés. It's also worth lining up 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.
Cozy cafés beckon from the tangle of backstreets. Save time to order a coffee, pull up a chair, and people-watch for a while - it's a favorite Melbourne pastime.
The opulent Royal Arcade is Melbourne's oldest arcade, and Flinders and Degraves Lanes are also well worth exploring. Want to make sure you hit all the hot spots? Several companies run sightseeing walking tours of the lanes and alleyways.
5. Get a Culture Fix at Southbank & South Wharf
Need a culture fix? Head to Southbank. Located on the banks of the Yarra River, a short stroll from Flinders Street Station, this scenic precinct is packed with shops, cafés, and cultural attractions. It's a wonderful place for a stroll along the river at any time of year.
Looking for things to do in Melbourne at night? You'll find some of the city's best nightlife here - especially in the South Wharf area, where heritage sheds are converted into lively entertainment venues. It's an evocative space after dark, when the city lights ignite and reflect off the river.
Southbank also hosts enticing alfresco cafés, restaurants, and live entertainment, and the many festivals held here throughout the year amp up the vibe.
If shopping is high on your list of things to do, you'll find an excellent arts and crafts market here every Sunday. Plus you can splurge at chic designer boutiques or grab a bargain at DFO South Wharf, factory outlet stores.
Feel like catching a show? The Malthouse Theatre presents everything from musical theater, dance, drama, and comedy to contemporary opera and cabaret. Or catch a performance by the Melbourne Theatre Company at Southbank Theatre. Southbank is also home to Arts Centre Melbourne, the city's major performance venue.
While you're here, keep a lookout for the public art, like The Travellers steel sculptures along Sandridge Bridge and the Queen Bee gracing the side of the landmark Eureka Tower.
Looking for things to do in Southbank with kids? Climb aboard Polly Woodside in South Wharf, one of the country's last surviving 19th-century tall ships.
6. Catch a Game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Visit the National Sports Museum
Melbourne is the sporting capital of Australia, so it's no surprise that a sports stadium numbers among the city's top tourist attractions. With a capacity of 100,000 and a history dating back to 1853, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) is considered one of the world's greatest stadiums. It's also the largest and oldest sports venue in Australia.
As the main stadium for the 1956 Olympic Games and 2006 Commonwealth Games, the birthplace of Test Cricket, and the home of Australian Rules Football, "the 'G" is woven into the fabric of Melbourne.
Daily tours take visitors for a trip down a memory lane of great moments in sporting history and incorporate the National Sports Museum, including the Australian Gallery of Sport and Olympic Museum. You can also catch a game of cricket in summer, or football during winter.
Directly opposite the MCG is Melbourne Park, home of the Australian Open tennis tournament, held every January. You can hire a tennis court, and many concerts are held here during the year.
Address: Brunton Ave, East Melbourne, Victoria
Official site: http://www.mcg.org.au/
7. Enjoy the Views from the Skydeck at Eureka Tower
Wondering where to find a great view over the city? Head to the 91-story Eureka Tower in the heart of Southbank. This striking skyscraper was named in recognition of The Eureka Stockade, the 1854 rebellion of prospectors in the Victorian goldfields. Adding to the Gold Rush theme, the building's gold crown and gold-plated windows literally sparkle when the sun catches the top of the building.
Skydeck, on the 88th floor, affords the highest public view in any building in the Southern Hemisphere. For even more thrills, head out onto The Edge, a glass cube that slides out three meters from the building for vertigo-free visitors.
Insider's Tip: Arrive at sunset to see spectacular views over the city during the day and night, when the lights twinkle as the sun slips slowly beneath the horizon.
Address: 7 Riverside Quay, Southbank, Melbourne, Victoria
Official site: http://www.eurekaskydeck.com.au/
8. Attend a Performance at Arts Centre Melbourne
Arts Centre Melbourne is the city's leading arts and culture venue. Easily recognizable by its spire, it sits on the banks of the Yarra River, near South Bank, and is a wonderful place to attend a performance of theater, dance, music, comedy, and more.
Arts Centre Melbourne incorporates a range of state-of-the-art theaters and spaces. These include the State Theatre, home to The Australian Ballet and Opera Australia; the 884-seat Playhouse; the more intimate Fairfax Studio; and Hamer Hall, the premier performance space for the revered Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. A short stroll away, you can attend an outdoor concert at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in the Kings Domain Gardens.
Planning a pre-show dinner? Café Vic serves up seasonal contemporary cuisine, as well as snacks throughout the day.
While you're here, stop by the Australian Music Vault. The free exhibition here tells the story of Australian contemporary music.
Address: St. Kilda Road, Melbourne, Victoria
Official site: http://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/
9. Explore the 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, as well as science and the environment.
Highlights include Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre; the Phar Lap exhibit, about Australia's greatest racehorse; and the Children's Gallery, a series of hands-on activities designed to stimulate and engage youngsters. You can also stroll through a vibrant forest, and immerse yourself in a world of life-size dinosaurs.
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, Victoria
Official site: http://museumvictoria.com.au/melbournemuseum/
10. Take a City Circle Tram Tour
Want to do some city sightseeing the Melbourne way? Hop aboard the City Circle Tram. Melbourne is famous for its trams, and the City Circle Tram is a free and easy way of seeing the top sights in the CBD and Docklands.
Accompanied by a commentary, the hop-on, hop-off heritage tram passes many of the grand historic buildings, including Parliament House, the Old Treasury Building, Princess Theatre, and the Windsor Hotel. Plus you can hop off at major attractions like Federation Square. The trams run every 12 minutes and take about 50 minutes to complete the entire loop.
You can hop on the tram at any stop along the City Circle route, seven days a week, except Christmas Day and Good Friday.
11. Meet the Animals at Melbourne Zoo
From big cats to butterflies, animal lovers will have plenty to enjoy at the 22-hectare Melbourne Zoo. Although the zoo dates back to 1862, the 250-plus species of animals have the best of modern facilities in state-of-the-art enclosures, about five minutes from the Melbourne CBD.
You'll find animals from all over the planet here. 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. And you can wander down a bush track to meet your favorite Aussie animals, including kangaroos, koalas, and emus.
With many wild encounters, including "roar and snore," twilight music concerts, and behind-the-scene tours of some enclosures, Melbourne Zoo offers animal-lovers a fun-packed experience.
Zoos Victoria operates two other zoos: Healesville Sanctuary and Werribee Open Range Zoo, and all run important conservation programs, including breeding and recovery work for endangered species.
Address: Elliott Ave, Parkville, Victoria
Official site: http://www.zoo.org.au/melbourne
12. Captain Cook's Cottage, Fitzroy Gardens
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, which is always filled with a vibrant floral display. Children will love the tiny Tudor village and Fairy Tree.
After strolling around the gardens, head to hipster-packed Fitzroy for some of Melbourne's best vegan food, as well as vintage shopping and vibrant street art.
Address: Wellington Parade, East Melbourne, Victoria
13. Cruise the Yarra River
A river boat cruise is not only a relaxing 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 it's a fun way to get your bearings before you set out to explore the city on foot.
While you're gliding down the river, keep an eye out for Birrarung Marr, originally called "Birrarung," meaning "river of mists and shadows," a waterfront parkland celebrating Aboriginal ties with the Yarra River.
If you're short on time, the one-hour River Gardens Melbourne Sightseeing Cruise gives you a relaxing tour past top city sights, like the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne Cricket Ground, and National Tennis Centre.
14. Pay Your Respects at the 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 of the sacrifices made by Australian service men and women. It's also the central focus for ceremonies on ANZAC Day, held on 25 April, and Remembrance Day, held on 11 November each year.
In the Galleries of Remembrance under the shrine you can explore photographs, artifacts, and artwork related to Australians at war and peacekeeping operations.
Guided or self-guided tours are available daily, and lighting on the building is particularly beautiful at night. From the balcony, you can enjoy beautiful views over the 13 hectares of surrounding parkland and the city beyond.
If you happen to be visiting Melbourne on a Sunday, you can attend a Last Post Service here at 4:45pm with bugle calls and a wreath-laying at the Eternal Flame.
Address: Birdwood Ave, Melbourne, Victoria
Official site: http://www.shrine.org.au/Home
15. Soak Up the Scene at Docklands
Docklands is Melbourne's newest waterfront entertainment precinct. With the highest concentration of green-star rated buildings in the Southern Hemisphere, the satellite village is filled with cafés, restaurants, tourist attractions, and parklands. It's one of the most popular Melbourne attractions at night.
You'll find something here for everyone. Enjoy 360-degree views of Melbourne, the Dandenong Ranges, and Port Phillip Bay from the giant observation wheel, Melbourne Star. Snap some pics at ArtVo, an interactive 3D art gallery; take the Docklands Public Art Walk; or soak up some street art scenes at Blender Studios.
Docklands is also home to Etihad Stadium; the Junior Wonderland amusement park; and the Icehouse, a world-class ice sports venue.
Fancy some retail therapy? An art and vintage market is also held along the waterfront every Sunday, and you can shop 'til you drop at the open-air shopping mall. Dining is also a highlight. You can feast around the world - from Turkish and Vietnamese cuisine to contemporary Australian creations.
Address: Harbour Esplanade, Docklands, Victoria
Official site: http://www.docklandsmelbourne.com.au/
16. Shop at Queen Victoria Market
A popular place with locals and tourists, this historic icon has been at the center of fresh produce shopping since 1878. Farm-fresh goodies are a highlight here, but the market stalls sell everything from clothing, art, and toys to that hard-to-find unique souvenir, five days a week.
Are you a foodie? You can sign up for a two-hour guided walking tour with tastings of some of the market's best treats.
Special events such as night markets, music concerts, and other functions are often held during summer.
Address: Queen and Victoria Streets, Melbourne, Victoria
17. Take a Tour of Parliament House
Parliament House is one of Melbourne's best kept tourist secrets. This is where Australia's first federal parliament met from 1901 through 1927, and the building's grand colonnaded exterior makes a striking landmark on Spring Street.
One of Australia's oldest public buildings, Parliament House was built during the Gold Rush, and its interior is lavishly decorated with gold leaf, chandeliers, and a superb mosaic floor.
Today, you can watch the proceedings of the two Houses in the public galleries on days when parliament is sitting. Free, informative tours are held Monday to Friday on days when parliament is not in session.
Insider's tip: Another fun way to experience this grand building is to book High Tea or a farm-to-fork lunch at Strangers Corridor, the elegant wood-paneled restaurant.
Address: Spring Street, East Melbourne, Victoria
Official site: https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/visit
18. Delve into Melbourne's Past at the Immigration Museum
Want to delve a little deeper into the people who call Melbourne home? The Immigration Museum tells real stories of people who relocated here from all over the world. Every person arriving in Melbourne had to pass through customs here, and their poignant stories help explain the city's diversity today.
The museum is located in the elegant Old Customs House, and its permanent collection is interactive and engaging. Special exhibitions add to the museum's appeal.
A visit here provides a different perspective of early European settlement and its impact on Indigenous communities. If you're looking for things to do in Melbourne on a rainy day, this is a great option.
Address: 400 Flinders Street, Melbourne, Victoria
Official site: https://museumsvictoria.com.au/immigrationmuseum/
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:
- Steps away from St. Patrick's Cathedral and Fitzroy Gardens, the plush Park Hyatt is one of Melbourne's best hotels. Shops and restaurants lie a short stroll away, and sports fans can walk to the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Melbourne Park.
- Exuding elegance and old-world charm, The Langham, Melbourne is a romantic choice in Southbank overlooking the Yarra River. In your spare time, you can swim in the indoor pool topped by a glass roof, dine in the excellent on-site restaurant, and walk to popular shopping and entertainment venues.
- Also in Southbank, the serviced apartments of Quay West Suites are a favorite with families.
- 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.
- 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, Essence Hotel Carlton 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. Rooms are tiny but clean, and the beds are comfy.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Melbourne
- Neighbours Sightseeing Tour: 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.
- Great Ocean Road Day Trip: 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.
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Day Trip Adventures: Need a nature fix? You'll find plenty of inspiring places to visit near Melbourne by car. Day trip destinations include the beautiful Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges and the golden beaches of the Mornington Peninsula. In less than a two-hour drive from Melbourne, you can also delve into the rich Gold Rush history of Ballarat, Bendigo, and the Macedon Ranges, and on the western side of Port Phillip Bay, Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula are the gateway to the Great Ocean Road.
Outdoor Adventures: If you're after some fresh air fun, check out these other places to visit in regional Victoria. Skiers will find some of Australia's top ski resorts within a day's drive of Melbourne, as well as fantastic fishing and some of the country's best hikes. If you need help planning your trip, see our article on Australia's top itineraries.