13 best things to do in Melbourne

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  • Post last modified:June 24, 2024
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You’ll likely fall for the narrow laneways, verdant parks and world-class museums. Yet it’s when you add the backyard attractions, like wobbly penguins and rocky apostles, that Melbourne really shines. Our advice is simple: Tick off as many of these highly eclectic and somewhat scattered experiences as possible.

1. Gather under the clocks at Flinders Street Station

“See you under the clocks” or “See you on the steps” — so have Melburnians said for generations. The iconic meeting point is the 1910 front entrance of Flinders Street Station, where a row of clocks show departure times under an imposing copper dome and nowadays retired ballroom. Pause for a moment to see the city go by with its busy daily life, getting a first picture for the camera roll.

Nine historic clocks showing departure times under the main arch at the entrance of Flinders Street Station
Meet up at historic Flinders Street Station.

2. Lose yourself in Melbourne’s maze of laneways

A maze of narrow lanes and arcades add a cosy Harry Potter-like vibe to Melbourne CBD. No other Australian city has such a rich laneway lifestyle, which involves admiring street art, eating, drinking, shopping or, as pleasant, just roaming aimlessly.

Where to start? For a superb sample, check out the vivid murals along Hosier Lane; smell the aromas spilling out from the hall-in-the-wall eateries in Centre Place; and be dazzled by the Block Arcade, with fancy mosaic floors, glass ceilings and boutiques.

People roaming through a narrow Melbourne laneway lined by atmospheric places to eat and drink
Discover Melbourne’s funky laneway culture.

3. Relax by the lake in the Royal Botanic Gardens

Reserve the word “colourful” for collections like this. Spanning 38 hectares, the Royal Botanic Gardens contains over 8,500 plant species beautifully manicured and presented with an array of themed sections.

Dominating the landscape, the Ornamental Lake can be relished in multiple ways. Circumnavigate it by foot, stopping for the most eye-catching flora; admire the setting with a coffee in hand at the lake-side Terrace cafe; or, during the season, hop aboard a wooden punt.

An equally impressive perspective awaits at the park’s highest spot, Guilfoyle’s Volcano (think landscaping, not lava). Take your time to survey its adaptive succulent plants and absorb the views of the surrounding gardens and looming skyline.

Colourful flowerbed at the historic Gardens House in the Royal Botanic Gardens on a sunny summer day
Recharge in the Royal Botanic Gardens.

4. Indulge your senses at Queen Victoria Market

A Melbourne institution, the Queen Victoria Market has been a bustling marketplace since 1878. Expect a whirlwind of sensory stimulation as you delve into heritage-listed halls and stalls brimming with fresh produce and gourmet foods, as well as clothing, accessories and souvenirs. If the idea of over 600 vendors feels overwhelming, join a Queen Vic foodie tour with delicious tastings included.

5. Get a majestic history lesson at the Shrine of Remembrance

Perched next to the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Shrine of Remembrance commemorates the sacrifices of Australians in war and for peace. Enter to pay your respects and learn; the chamber beneath the shrine tells engaging wartime stories with the help of 800-plus historical artefacts.

The eye-popping classical architecture, inspired by the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, alone motivates a visit. So do the sweeping vistas of Melbourne from the rooftop terrace.

Couple supporting each other outside the eye-catching, classical-style Shrine of Remembrance
Step into the stately Shrine of Remembrance.

6. Delight in an old-time Mornington Peninsula beach escape

Imagine the kind of beach getaway your parents used to take you on during your childhood summers. Think golden sand, gentle waves, ice cream, vivid bathing boxes, piers with fishermen, casual eateries and (overpriced) vintage rides. This is exactly what the Mornington Peninsula, an hour’s drive from Melbourne, still is all about. Plus, pristine national parks, acclaimed wineries and rejuvenating hot springs ensure enjoyment for all ages.

Three wooden beachside shacks in pink, pistachio and light blue on the Mornington Peninsula
Hit the dunes on the Mornington Peninsula.

7. Feel the inspiration flowing at the National Gallery of Victoria

Inspiration abounds in Australia’s oldest and most visited art museum, welcoming visitors with a crowd-pleasing water wall (be sure to run your hands through it). Move on to find international art of the highest order — Monet, Picasso and Rembrandt are just a few of the stars.

Lying on the carpet in the Great Hall might be what you’ll remember the most, though. It’s a rite of passage for Melburnians and, definitely, the best way to appreciate the kaleidoscope of colours in the stained-glass ceiling masterfully designed by Leonard French.

8. Appreciate Aussie art at the Ian Potter Centre

The National Gallery of Victoria showcases its Australian artworks at The Ian Potter Centre in lively Federation Square (a 10-minute walk from the international collection). Inspect paintings, sculptures, photographs, prints, drawings, decorative arts and fashion spanning from the colonial period to the present day. Spread across three airy levels, clashing indigenous and non-indigenous art offer powerful, sometimes provoking contrasts that invite reflection.

People relaxing on artsy Federation Square in the heart of Melbourne
Federation Square (Ian Potter Centre at the far end).

9. Be captivated by the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island

One of nature’s finest shows occurs every evening on Phillip Island, a 2-hour drive from Melbourne CBD. From platforms on Summerlands Beach, marvel at the smallest of all penguins, aptly named little penguins, carefully peeking up through the waves before parading across the dunes to their burrows.

Upon reaching their settlement, often after weeks at sea, the penguins are eager to catch up with neighbours, partners and chicks. Thanks to efficient boardwalks, visitors can study their social activity up close — seeing, hearing and even smelling them — and get some appreciated shelter from the notoriously chilly Bass Strait wind.

Strayaguide's Marie and other visitors eagerly waiting for the nightly Penguin Parade on the beachfront platform
Await the enchanting Penguin Parade.

10. Experience a mind-bending collision of time and place in Fitzroy Gardens

As you spot Cook’s Cottage hidden among lush greenery, it’s easy to believe you’ve slipped back into the 18th century — the year 1755 to be more precise. That’s when the parents of Captain James Cook erected the cottage in Yorkshire, England. Under a swaying British flag, adding to the surrealism, pay the entry fee to step inside and see the antiques of the interior and, of course, learn the fascinating details about how and why it got all the way to Melbourne.

Other draws in beautiful Fitzroy Gardens include the elm-flanked trails, picnic-friendly lawns, flower-filled Conservatory, miniature Tudor Village and carved Fairies Tree (stump).

Fitzroy Garden's red-brick Captain Cook's Cottage with illuminated windows in the evening
Uncover Cook’s Cottage in Fitzroy Gardens.

11. Learn a thing (or three) at the Melbourne Museum

Nature, culture and history seamlessly come together at the Melbourne Museum, with a myriad of exhibitions catering to all ages.

Go for a walk among enormous dinosaur skeletons and study tiny bugs in the Science and Life Gallery; feel like you’re deep into nature in the Forest Gallery, complete with living birds and reptiles; and immerse yourself in stories ranging from creation to 21st century at the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Center.

It will all help you gain insights about what it means to be Victorian.

12. Hear “game, set and match” at the Australian Open

Sports-loving Melbourne knows how to throw a tournament everyone can enjoy. Each January, the Australian Open, one of four tennis grand slams, blends world-class athleticism with buzzing off-the-court entertainment into one great party.

A popular choice to soak up the vibe, the Ground Pass allows access to the cheerful precinct, dotted with eateries and bars, plus courts with first-come, first-served seating. If you want to see the best of the best in full action, snatch tickets for the storied centre court, Rod Laver Arena.

Strayaguide's Axel in front of Rod Laver Arena at the Australian Open in Melbourne
Axel enjoying the Australian Open.

13. Stand speechless on the Great Ocean Road

Road tripping doesn’t get any better than the Great Ocean Road, some 240 km of asphalt running between Torquay and Allansford. Prepare for everything from majestic wave-battered cliffs and empty beaches to native wildlife, like kangaroos and koalas, and quaint towns.

If one spot were to represent the Great Ocean Road, it would be the Twelve Apostles. While you admire these legendary limestone stacks, shaped by erosion over millions of years and magnificently protruding from the constant swell, be amused by the fact that only seven remain — and that there, actually, despite the catchy name, never were twelve.

Waves battering the Victoria coast along the Great Ocean Road
Be wowed by the Great Ocean Road.

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