Things to Do in Melbourne
Technically, over 5,000 miles separate Melbourne from the Chinese city of Shanghai. When standing on the corner of Swanston Street, however, in Melbourne’s CBD, and looking west down Little Bourke Street past rows of Chinese shops, it’s easy to forget you’re still in Australia—rather than Shanghai itself. With the lone exception of San Francisco, Melbourne’s Chinatown is the oldest of its kind in the entire Western world. Established in 1851 by laborers in Victoria’s gold rush, Melbourne’s Chinatown has thrived as the center of the city’s Chinese community. Walking beneath the towering red arch that marks the Chinatown entrance, the smell of dumplings and Sichuan cuisine seems to waft, lift, and rise above each narrow alleyway entrance. While once notorious for its opium and brothels, modern Chinatown is known for its food and colorful, cultural cuisine.
The State Library of Victoria is an iconic Melbourne landmark and an important community resource. On sunny days, the lawns outside the library are strewn with students and inner-city folk taking a breather from the bustling city streets and catching some rays.
Dominating an entire city block on the corner of Swanston and La Trobe Streets, the library is worth exploring for its heritage architecture alone, which includes tiled floors, grand marble staircases, stained glass and bluestone walls. Free-guided tours are available that take you to the library’s spectacular domed-ceilinged and Redmond Barry Reading Rooms as well as the permanent and temporary exhibitions that are held in one of the library’s three galleries.
Melbourne Museum provides a great experience for adults and children alike. A series of permanent exhibitions relating to the culture, history and the environment of Melbourne and Victoria are housed in several galleries including a lush Forest Gallery, an Aboriginal gallery and a Children’s area.
Exhibitions include Science and Life, Melbourne Story, Evolution, Mind and Body, and many more. Get to see bones and displays of Australia’s mega fauna (giant animals), experience the Dinosaur Walk, Bugs Alive!, Amazing Animals and The Human Body. Temporary exhibitions run about twice a year and cover a variety of themes. Visiting from March to July 2013 are hidden treasures from Afghanistan temporarily donated by the National Museum in Kabul. The Museum also houses a good café, an IMAX center and – the museum’s most popular object – a taxidermy original of Australia’s most famous racehorse, Phar Lap.
Southgate is a large shopping, eating and entertainment complex on the banks of the Yarra River. Occupying a central position opposite Flinders Street Station and next to the Victorian Arts Centre and Hamer Hall, Southgate offers an opportunity for visitors to dine in a riverside restaurant or cafe with views of the CBD across the river.
Catering to all types of budgets and tastes, the complex has a large food hall on the ground floor and more refined dining on the upper levels. Shops include a variety of boutique fashion stores as well as gift shops, bookstores and speciality shops. Open from 7am until late and located adjacent to the city’s major arts precinct, Southgate is the ideal place to stop for a pre- or post-theatre dinner or drink.
In the heritage-listed Fitzroy Gardens sits a historic building that is one of the most significant in Australia. Built in 1755 in England before being shipped to Australia in 1934, that building is Cooks’ Cottage – built by the parents of one Captain James Cook, the man who claimed Australia for the empire.
Today, after having being carefully dismantled, thoroughly labelled and shipped halfway around the world to be reconstructed, Cooks’ Cottage serves as a museum to the exploits of Captain Cook. Modern interpretations of his adventures are displayed alongside antiques in a very English cottage and garden. As Captain Cook’s Childhood home, Cooks’ Cottage is a step back in time. The building has been carefully restored and great emphasis is put on the experience of visiting the cottage, including the 18th-century costumes worn by the staff. Entry to the cottage includes a self-guided tour and comprehensive fact sheet available in many languages.
Australia’s second largest city, Melbourne is also its cultural capital, with a plethora of museums, galleries and theaters, as well as expansive parklands and attractive Victorian-era buildings. Home to the Australian Open tennis tournament and the Melbourne Cup horse race, the city is also a jumping off point to visit the Great Ocean Road or the penguin colonies on Phillip Island.
With a bold profile of gleaming triangular panels in a unique bioframe roof, it’s no surprise that Melbourne’s AAMI Park has quickly become an iconic sporting stadium.
Located only one kilometre from the city centre, between the sweeping Yarra River and the internationally-loved MCG, AAMI Park is Melbourne’s premier medium-sized soccer, rugby union and rugby league venue. AAMI Park’s star teams include the National Rugby League's Melbourne Storm, Melbourne’s Super Rugby team, the Melbourne Rebels, and soccer’s A-League teams, the Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Heart. The stadium has a capacity of more than 30,000 spectators and boasts a popular roof design that offers seating cover and a notable lack of pillars and walls obstructing the view. Recognizing the unique value of this Melbourne attraction, in 2012 AAMI Park was awarded the World’s Most Iconic and Culturally Significant Stadium by the Stadium World Congress.
When visiting Melbourne’s Old Treasury building, travelers are left to decide for themselves which fact is more spectacular: That this striking example of Renaissance Revival architecture was designed by a prodigious 19 year old, or that the entire building was expressly built as a vault for housing gold. Constructed in 1858 in response to Australia’s Gold Rush, the Old Treasury building has vault walls that are over three feet thick, in addition to dozens of office buildings that even today are filled by members of Melbourne’s local government. In addition to the imposing building itself, which was built in the Italian “palazzo” style that was popular in the 19th century, visitors will find rotating exhibitions on the building and Melbourne’s past, from those depicting the flow of gold from the mines to the vault and wealthy elite, to a panorama of the cityscape from 1862.
All things fishy swim inside the Melbourne Aquarium, right beside the Yarra River in central Melbourne. The focus is on creatures from the Southern Ocean. Penguins are a particular highlight, along with other Antarctic creatures. Those who dare swim with the sharks, while more gentle creatures swim in the coral atoll, rock pools, mangroves and billabongs.
Creatures from around Australia swim in the River to the Reef exhibit, while Weird and Wonderful highlights nature’s variety – from Nemo clownfish to scuttling crabs and UV-lit transparent sea jellies. Another star attraction is the creepy Oceanarium, with its viewing fishbowl filled with gray nurse sharks, stingrays and turtles.
More Things to Do in Melbourne
The National Gallery of Victoria houses one of Australia's most impressive collections of international art. Known as the NGV, it's Australia's oldest and largest art gallery, with origins stretching back to 1861. Recently revamped, the gallery has a permanent collection and hosts blockbuster touring exhibits.
The NGV's collection of European art runs from early Renaissance masterpieces to works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Picasso and beyond. You’ll also find furniture, artifacts, textiles, ceramics, lithographs, etchings, photography and fashion. Architecturally, the building is famous for its stained-glass ceiling, and the glass walls running with water in the foyer.
The NGV's collection is split into two locations – the international collection is held in NGV International on St Kilda Road, while the gallery's collection of Australian art is held in Federation Square at the Ian Potter Centre, also known as NGV Australia.
With its 30,000 square meters of open space and a bold approach to modern architecture fused with green design, the Melbourne Convention and Exhibit Center is an engineering marvel. Nearly everyone who visits these enormous buildings is here for a large convention, as the exhibition center is the largest of its kind in the entire southern hemisphere. At the center’s famous Plenary hall, public shows such as ballets and theater are also open to the public. The room can accommodate up to 5,500 people, or can also be divided into three different rooms of approximately 1,500 people. Aside from the shows and conventions themselves, the buildings are lauded for their innovative advances in modern green design, and it’s the world’s only venue to ever receive a 6 star Green Star environmental rating.
Melbourne Town Hall is one of several grand heritage buildings that were built during Melbourne’s Gold Rush era in the second half of the 19th century. Standing in its present form since 1870 (with the exception of the portico, which was added in 1887), Melbourne Town Hall has been hosting concerts, festivals and civic events since its inception.
Most Melbourne residents and visitors to the city are familiar with the Town Hall due to its hosting of the Melbourne Comedy Festival each year in April but historically the venue has played host to even bigger ‘celebrities’ including the Queen of England (1954) and The Beatles (1964). The Grand Organ is the pride of the Town Hall and in 2005 a museum was opened to detail its history and importance to the City of Melbourne. Melbourne Town Hall is on the corner of Swanston Street and Collins Street in Melbourne’s CBD.
Since opening in 1977, the Arts Centre Melbourne has established itself as the epicenter of the city’s performing arts scene. With the building’s dramatic spire, the complex has become a cultural landmark within the Southbank arts and culture precinct.
Hamer Hall is the main concert hall, while the Theatres Building contains several performance spaces underneath the Arts Centre’s iconic spire. Each is linked by a number of landscaped walkways. The complex also comprises dedicated gallery spaces, including Gallery 1 (formally the George Adams Gallery) and the St. Kilda Road Foyer Gallery. The Arts Centre hosts a diverse mix of local and international performances throughout the year, as well as offering guided tours, exhibitions, and an onsite restaurant and cafe. There’s also a Sunday market held each week from 10am to 4pm, which sees local artists fill the Arts Centre Lawn with unique, handmade crafts and foodstuffs.
Bold, brash and open 24 hours, Crown Casino is the beating heart of Melbourne's Southbank entertainment complex. The crown-emblazoned tower is a Melbourne landmark, and the casino is just one piece in a massive jigsaw of leisure, arts and recreation facilities on Southbank known as the Crown Entertainment Complex.
Dominating the bustling Southbank promenade, the casino welcomes visitors with dramatic jets of fire, water features and brilliant laser shows. In the casino, games include blackjack, poker and roulette, along with poker machines and VIP gaming rooms. The glossy shopping mall leading to the gaming tables features the biggest names in fashion, from Prada to Louis Vuitton. You'll also find upmarket hotels, ballrooms, concert venues, cinemas, nightclubs, games arcades, food courts, bars and some of Melbourne's finest restaurants, including Nobu, Rockpool and Bistro Guillaume.
Melbourne is a large, vibrant city with hundreds of things to do, but none of its attractions are quite as spectacular as historic Princess Theater. Built in 1857 and remodeled in 1886, the theater has hosted many of the world’s top musicals, operas, and shows. The theater’s famously exquisite façade is on par with the best in Europe, and the 1,488 seat theater is adorned in chandeliers.
Perhaps more famous than the building itself—and even some of its shows—is the legend of Frederick Federici, the friendly ghost who’s inhabited the theater since his death in 1888. In a curious end to a theater performance, Federici died of a heart attack while descending through a stage door, and frequent sightings of the actor’s ghost continue up to this day. Aside from the legends and legendary shows, the Princess Theater also hosts the Federici Bistro, where visitors can enjoy both dinner and a show for the best date night in town.
Ever since Australia’s independence—and even well before it—sport has been integral in helping Australia define its identity and culture. Here at the National Sports Museum inside the Melbourne Cricket Grounds, learn about some of Australia’s heroes in rugby, football, or boxing, and hear how sports have constantly inspired Australians to strive for their best. Read the stories of Australian Olympians and participate in interactive games, and brush up on history of Australian Rules Football, cricket, horse racing, and tennis. The Australian Sports Hall of Fame is housed inside the museum, as are the Australian Football Hall of Fame and Cricket Hall of Fame. A popular highlight is the Shane Warne hologram, where one of Australia’s legendary cricketers is seemingly brought to life, and the wealth of exhibits and informative displays make the National Sports Museum a “must-visit” spot for sports fans when visiting Melbourne.
Just north of Melbourne’s CBD, is Lygon Street, the main street in the city’s old Italian quarter. Still referred to by some as ‘little Italy’, Lygon Street was once the epicenter of Melbourne’s café culture and more than part way responsible for the city’s enduring caffeine obsession. Victorian terraces still line the street and several Italian restaurants continue to beckon passers-by to eat and drink at their street-side tables.
As you walk along Lygon Street you get a sense of its diversity: Italian-influenced restaurants, cafes, cake shops and gelati bars still dominate the scene but you will also discover a whole swathe of mainstream and boutique clothing stores, one of Melbourne’s best independent bookstores (Readings Books & Music); La Mama Theatre and Cinema Nova, Melbourne’s largest and most treasured arthouse cinema.
Launched in Belfast in 1885 at a time when sailing for commercial shipping was starting to come to an end, the three-masted Polly Woodside would go on to sail nearly a million miles across all corners of the globe. She rounded Cape Horn 16 different times, and carried everything from nitrate to wheat across the seven seas. During World War II, she served in New Guinea as a supply ship before returning back to Australia, with her owners eventually choosing to scuttle the ship in the early 1960s. Thankfully, a group of local maritime enthusiasts saw the historic and educational value in preserving the crumbling ship, and worked out a deal where it was sold to the National Trust for only a single cent. When visiting the Polly Woodside today, which has been masterfully and expertly restored, visitors will walk the wooden decks and go below in the holds—experiencing life as it would have been while sailing out on the seas.
The City Circle tram is a free tram service that runs in a circular route around Melbourne’s central business district and past many of the city’s major attractions. Easily spotted thanks to its burgundy, green and gold exterior, the tram is one of the few remaining heritage trams in operation in the city. Passengers can jump on and off at any of the clearly marked stops to explore the city and gain easy access to central transport hubs. The service runs in both directions approximately every twelve minutes between 10am and 6pm Sunday to Wednesday and until 9pm on the other days and free commentary is provided relating to the sights along the route. Places of interest on the route include: Parliament House; the Royal Exhibition Building; The State Library of Victoria; Flagstaff Gardens; Docklands; Melbourne Aquarium, the Immigration Museum, Flinders Street Station, St Paul’s Cathedral, Federation Square and Treasury Gardens.
Take a tour through the rich cultural heritage of Melbourne and Victoria at the Immigration Museum in Flinders Street. Fittingly located in the beautifully restored Old Customs House in the heart of Melbourne, the Immigration Museum offers unblinking stories about Victorian people, the places they have travelled from, and multicultural customs they have contributed to Australian life.
This is a museum that connects with the essence of Melbourne identity, not only offering a walk back through time, but also exploring how immigrants interact with modern society. Learn about the lives of the first settlers in the early 1800s, how Australia built its population, the prominent wave of Greek immigration that now characterizes so much of Melbourne, and the journeys that mark the life of an immigrant. A mix of permanent and temporary exhibitions, such as the popular photographic display, ‘Leaving Dublin’, keeps the Immigration Museum fresh and relevant to current life.
Docklands Stadium is better known by the name of its current sponsor – Etihad. Formerly known as Colonial Stadium and then Telstra Dome, Etihad Stadium is a sports and entertainment venue in the Docklands area of Melbourne.
Easily accessible by tram from the CBD or a short walk from Southern Cross train station, the Stadium is the modern cousin of Melbourne’s famed MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) and was built to act as the new main venue for Australian Rules Football (AFL). The first stadium in Australia to feature movable seating, it also has a retractable roof and a grass covered, oval-shaped playing surface of 19,053 square metres (205,080 sq. ft.). While the stadium is most commonly visited for AFL, rugby, and soccer games the largest number of attendees to visit on one single night was during a Robbie Williams Close Encounters Tour in 2006, which recorded a total of 64,619 visitors.
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