When Is the Best Time
Welcome to our ‘Definitive Melbourne Guide’! Everything you need to know before visiting: When is the best time to visit and which are the 15 outstanding and unique activities in Melbourne for you? All written by a Melbourne local with insider tips. Jump directly to the 15 THINGS TO DO, in case you’d like to skip our season guide.
Now, our unique season/monthly guide. As one of the world’s great cities, Melbourne has plenty going on all year round, so there’s not really a bad time to visit the city. That said, there might be a few things to consider depending on when you’re visiting – so before we dive into the ’15 Amazing Things to Do’ here’s our guide to the seasons in Melbourne with tips for each month as well as weather details.
The best time to visit Melbourne is between September and May. In the shoulder seasons (September – November, March – May) the weather is pleasant and the crowds are moderate. The summer months from December to February offer great weather with more tourist crowds.
Summer (December – January – February)
- Pros: Warm, sunny weather that’s perfect for the beach or the many summer festivals
- Cons: It can get HOT, and also busy
For many people, a visit to Australia is synonymous with enjoying the sun, surf and sand – so it’s no wonder that summer is peak tourist season in Melbourne. With blissfully warm temperatures and many great events, summer is a fantastic time to visit the city and especially enjoy attractions like St Kilda beach and the bustling nightlife. Summer is also cricket season, so it’s the perfect time to check out the world-famous Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Autumn (March – April – May)
- Pros: The climate is usually very pleasant, and there are lots of great festivals
- Cons: It can get a little colder the closer you get to winter
Fall can be a lovely time to visit Melbourne, when the climate is not too hot but not too cold, averaging around a maximum temperature of about 20 degrees. Plus, there are several exciting events that happen in autumn, such as the Melbourne Grand Prix and Melbourne Fashion Week, which both happen in March. The Botanic Gardens are also beautiful, as many trees turn to golden autumnal hues.
Autumn can still see some extreme weather events, where it be late heat waves or early cold snaps, so you may need to pack a wider variety of clothes to be ready for whatever the weather brings.
Winter (June – July – August)
- Pros: The quietest time to visit Melbourne, the city has a very cosy feel
- Cons: There isn’t that much rain in winter, but it’s cooler and sometimes foggy, which is not exactly beach weather
Winter is the quietest time for tourism in Melbourne, which means that there are fewer queues and more opportunities to truly live like a Melbournian. Plus, although it is winter, the city certainly doesn’t entirely hibernate! There are still lots of fun things to do, including lots of all-weather activities such as the Australian Centre for the Moving Image or the SEALife Aquarium.
Of course, winter does mean the weather can be a bit gloomy, so make sure to pack a warm coat to keep you toasty warm since the average winter low temperature is 6 – 7 degrees. That said, the climate is rarely too cold in Melbourne and rain spells don’t tend to last, so even outdoor activities such as visiting St Kilda can be great fun in winter.
Spring (September – October – November)
Coop’s Shot Tower in spring by Bernard Spragg
- Pros: The weather in Spring is glorious, yet the crowds aren’t quite as overwhelming.
- Cons: There aren’t many!
Spring is a wonderful season in Melbourne, where the weather is starting to warm up and so too is the social calendar. There are many great festivals, such as the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, and of course, the usual attractions such as catching a gig at the Tote or swinging by the Astor Theatre are great fun in the springtime. A particular highlight is a visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens while all of the flowers are in bloom.
Although temperatures are usually pretty warm, with an average high in the low to mid-twenties, spring can still see late wintery weather, so we recommend chucking a coat in your bag, just in case!
Hotels in Melbourne You’ll Love (Weekly Deals)
There are many excellent hotels in Melbourne for every budget. Tip: Check the deals below regularly. Even better: Click ‘See all deals’ and compare prices. Always bookmark the results/links! Hotel Tip of the month: Quest Grand Hotel Melbourne | This is our top tip if you want to stay in the real heart of Melbourne.
15 Unique Things and Photography Opps in Melbourne
This is our list of things you should do when you’re in Melbourne. Compiled and written by a local! Including the best spots for photographers! With many detailed tips from a local! Check back regularly as we’ll add more tips and activities.
1. View Amazing Street Art at Hosier Lane
- Cost: Free
- Open: 24/7
- Crowds: It can get very busy, especially on the weekends. You might need to wait to take photographs.
- Website: Visit Victoria – Hosier Lane
- Tour: Lanes and Arcades Tour or Lanes and Arcades with Lunch (you’ll love this one!)
Melbourne is famous for its many narrow laneways, as well as its gritty street art scene. As a result, the city has a spattering of bright laneways with walls covered in murals, quotes and more. Much of the graffiti is political, and some are just for fun, but there’s no denying it makes for a great sight and an even better backdrop for photos!
- Tip: Be sure to keep an eye out for wedding parties who use the laneways as a backdrop for photos, and give them right of way!
- Tip: If going on a street art tour, don’t be afraid to snap pictures of any street art you see before the tour – the knowledgeable tour guides can probably identify it and tell you more about it.
The most famous of all of Melbourne’s street art lanes is Hosier Lane, probably the most popular street art spot in the city. It’s not unusual to see works by famous street artists, or even wedding parties getting their photos taken in front of the colourful, art-covered walls. Hosier Lane is opposite Federation Square and, being a public street, is open all day every day. The graffiti there is ever-changing, so don’t be surprised if the pieces you like only last for a day or two! With pieces so beautiful, it’s sad to imagine them being painted over – although knowing they’ve been recorded in countless Instagram posts is certainly comforting. If Hosier Lane graffiti piques your interest in street art, you’re spoiled for choice elsewhere in Melbourne. The city is practically brimming with brilliant street art, including some pieces from world-famous artists such as Merda and Adnate. Its popularity has led to there being many different street-art themed tours of Melbourne. However, our pick of the lot is the creatively named Melbourne Street Art Tours. This is the only tour in the city which is led by true street artists, and the fee that you pay goes back to supporting the artists who decorate the laneways. No one knows more about the art and the messages behind it than the artists themselves!
Of course, a tour is not strictly necessary, and half the fun is just meandering around the city and spotting murals in unexpected places. No matter if you’re a street art aficionado or simply appreciate the colour and pizazz it brings to the city, you’re bound to love the works in Melbourne.
2. Go Back in Time at the Melbourne Museum
- Cost: Adults $15 (concession/children free), extra cost for some exhibits. Buy tickets online ahead of time to avoid the queues.
- Open: 10 am – 5 pm every day, except Christmas Day and Good Friday. Check the website for current exhibits.
- Crowds: The museum is usually at its quietest in the late afternoon mid-week. It can be busy on the weekends and during school holidays.
- Website: Melbourne Museum
The City of Melbourne has several great museums, however perhaps the most famous is the simply named Melbourne Museum which features a seemingly endless collection of historical artefacts as well as interactive exhibits and displays. Throughout the year the museum also plays host to many traveling exhibits, meaning there is always something new to see and discover.
- Tip: Pre-book tickets online to save time and money!
- Tip: The museum is very large, so a walking tour can be a great way to get orientated. Check the board near the museum entrance for the next tour time.
- Tip: You can buy a combined ticket with the museum and IMAX to save money on both attractions.
The Melbourne Museum features many permanent exhibits, including a World War 2 exhibit that gives a moving insight into life during this difficult time, and a dazzling array of taxidermy animals in the natural history section. Another fascinating exhibit is about the human mind, providing information about the workings of the mind, and the history of psychiatry. Many of the exhibits are interactive and immersive, making it an enjoyable day out for everyone, including families with young children. The most famous and popular exhibit of all is that of Phar Lap, an Australian racehorse who captured the hearts of the Australian people in the 1920s. Bought at a dirt-cheap price due to being seen to have no promise, the chestnut thoroughbred would go on to become Australia’s greatest race horse and bring joy to people during the Great Depression. Expect long line-ups for this particular exhibit, especially during the school holidays.
3. Soak up the Atmosphere at the Melbourne Cricket Ground
- Cost: Tickets to tour the stadium are $25 for an adult, $21 for concession card holders and $14 for children. Sporting event tickets vary, but AFL tickets start from $25 for an adult.
- Open: Guided tours between 10.00am and 3.00pm every day, and the Sports Museum is open from 10.00am to 5.00pm.
- Crowds: The stadium has a capacity of over 100,000, so it is very busy on game day! Touring on non-game days is quieter.
- Website: Melbourne Cricket Ground
- Best Tour: MCG Behind the Scenes Tour
Australia is a proud sporting nation, and there’s no more famous stadium in the nation than the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Holding up to 100,000 passionate sports fans, it is the home of Australian rules football but has hosted a wide range of events from papal visits to mega-concerts. There are daily stadium tours, or attending an event there is likely to be an unforgettable experience.
The stadium was built in 1853 as the home of the Melbourne Cricket Club, and it remains one of the most famous and beloved cricket pitches in the world. However, the stadium is perhaps even more famous amongst fans of Australian Rules Football (AFL), with the stadium hosting the grand final every year.
- Tip: If you’re attending a game, bring your own food as the options are available are pretty limited, and very expensive.
- Tip: If attending in summer, try to get a seat in the Southern Stand, which is the most protected from the sun.
- Tip: Take public transport on game day, as it gets extremely busy and parking can be a nightmare!
Attending AFL games at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) is surprisingly affordable, with general admission tickets starting from $25 for adults with concessions available. It’s a true Aussie experience to attend a match, with bonus points if you indulge in a beer and pie while you watch. For non-Aussies, the rules might seem a bit strange, but it’s all about the atmosphere! The season runs between April and September each year and tickets must be purchased through Ticketek. If there are no games on, never fear! The stadium is open for guided tours, which depart regularly between 10am and 3pm every day. On the tour you will learn about the history of the stadium and the noteworthy events it has been host to, such as the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and the 1986 Papal visit. You’ll also get behind-the-scenes access to areas such as the locker and changing rooms.
The MCG is also home to the National Sports Museum, which boasts an impressive collection of sporting memorabilia across sporting codes and events. The Museum is not just a collection of memorabilia though, as it also features a number of interactive exhibits which are great fun for the whole family and allow you to see how your sporting skill measures up against Australia’s best athletes.
4. Shop ‘Til You Drop at the Queen Victoria Market
- Cost: Free
- Open: Open every day except Mondays and Wednesdays. Opening times vary (see the table below)
- Crowds: It can be crowded on the weekends but is usually quieter mid-week. Early morning is the best time to dodge the crowds.
- Website: Queen Victoria Market
- Great Tour: Queen Victoria Market Ultimate Foodie Tour
Built in 1878, the Queen Victoria Markets are a Melbourne institution. Featuring a fresh produce section as well as a great selection of goods including clothing, souvenirs and bric-a-brac, there’s more than enough to spend a few hours exploring here. The market is in the centre of Melbourne, surrounded by Peel, Franklin, Victoria and Elizabeth Streets. The easiest way to get there is to catch the tram, which stops just outside and is free to travel on. In keeping with Melbourne’s reputation as a bike-friendly city, there is free parking for bikes at the market.
The fresh produce section is popular amongst local Melbournians, who purchase fruit, vegetables, dairy and more from stallholders. It’s a great place to pick up some local ingredients to cook a tasty homemade meal. If you don’t plan on cooking during your visit to Melbourne, it’s still worth having a look around and doing some people watching. The upper level, by contrast, is a dazzling array of stalls selling things from children’s toys to second-hand books. There are also many stalls devoted to ‘Australiana’ souvenirs, including ugg boots and other goodies. If you are looking for a place to pick up souvenirs – whether cheap and cheerful or higher quality – the Queen Victoria Market is a great place to go.
- Tip: The best time to go is either early in the morning (to beat the crowds) or late in the afternoon (to get the best discounts).
- Tip: Bring cash to the market – there are ATMs on-site however, the lines can be incredibly long.
- Tip: Don’t buy items from the first stall you see, as prices vary and you can also haggle to get a bigger discount.
It couldn’t be a Melbourne attraction without a nice café nearby, and there are several good ones on the outer edges of the Queen Victoria market. The cafes are very popular with visitors to the market and brunch-loving Melbournians. There are also several food trucks, the most popular of all being the American donut truck – the hot jam donut is an absolute must, although you may have to brave a long line-up if you go around lunch time.
In recent years the Melbourne council has invested a lot of money into jazzing up the Market, and there is currently a lot going on. In the summer and winter months, there is extended night trading where Queen Victoria Market opens on Wednesdays from 5 pm – 9 pm, with food trucks, buskers and some different stallholders including up and coming young clothing designers.
5. Get the Creative Juices Flowing at the Abbotsford Convent
- Cost: FREE to enter, tours are $15 per adult or $12.50 for concession.
- Open: 7.30am – 10pm every day
- Crowds: It can get busy for events and market days. However, there is usually ample space for all.
- Website: Abbotsford Convent
Melbourne is an effortlessly cool city that a strong emphasis on supporting the arts and up-and-coming performers. One of the most interesting places to experience the arts in Melbourne is at the Abbotsford Convent, a former Catholic convent which has been reinvented as a varied and exciting creative space with a strong community feel. Situated about 4km away from the Melbourne city centre, the Abbotsford Convent was founded in 1863 to provide shelter for disadvantaged people including orphans, elderly people, and unwed mothers. At its busiest, more than 1,000 people lived in Abbotsford Convent. Sadly, like many such institutes, conditions were reported to be draconian and difficult up until its closure in 1975.
- Tip: Check the website ahead of time to see if there are any special events such as market days or workshops happening.
- Tip: The Collingwood Children’s Farm is right next door, so it is easy to combine for a kid-friendly day out.
Thankfully, the Convent has benefited from a total rejuvenation, and today it is a fantastic creative space with galleries and performing arts centres where Melbourne’s many creatives can offer their crafts to the masses. There are also frequent workshops where even the total art novice can learn new skills in a fun and supportive environment. Another beloved feature of the Abbotsford Convent is the vegan café Lentil as Anything – its name a play on the name of a famous Australian rock band. Keeping in with the community spirit and collective approach of the Convent, the café operates on a ‘pay what you can afford’ basis, allowing visitors to name their price for tasty vegan fare.
The site is also home to many other events which are held throughout the year, including numerous markets (including a farmers’ market, book market, and clothing markets), an outdoor cinema, and various other festivals. While today Abbotsford Convent is totally different than it was back in the grim 19th and 20th century, much of the original building remains, and visitors are invited to take a tour conducted by one of the many volunteers devoted to preserving the building’s history. The tours run every Sunday at 2 pm, however, it is worth keeping an eye on the Convent’s website as they do run additional themed tours fairly frequently.
6. Enjoy Nature at the Royal Botanic Gardens
- Cost: Free – some events/tours do charge
- Open: 7:30 am to sunset, every day
- Crowds: Although it is popular, there is enough green space for everyone!
- Wheelchair accessibility
- Website: Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne
- Tour: Melbourne Highlights and Punt in the Botanic Gardens
As the second-most populous city in Australia, there’s no denying that Melbourne can get overwhelming. It is an expansive concrete jungle that is abuzz 24/7, so it is not unusual to find yourself craving a little bit of peace after a while. Luckily, there is a calming green oasis right in the middle of the city, in the form of the Royal Botanic Gardens. The gardens stretch over two different sites (one in Cranbourne and one in Melbourne), with the Melbourne Gardens covering more than 38 hectares. Since it began in 1846, the Garden has been an extremely popular place with locals and visitors alike, and each year more than one million people stop by the gardens to enjoy the plant life and serenity.
- Tip: Although there are a couple of cafes, the gardens are perfect for bringing your own picnic lunch.
- Tip: You can access the park from all sides. Parking available on St. Kilda Road close to the Shrine of Remembrance.
- Tip: Climb to the top of the Shrine of Remembrance and enjoy the fantastic view over Melbourne City.
The Royal Botanic Gardens are undoubtedly home to a dazzling variety of indigenous Australian plant species, as well as introduced varieties. In total, there are more than 10,000 species growing in the gardens. Not only do they make a beautiful sight, but a visit to the Botanic Gardens is also quite the learning experience, with plaques denoting all the different varieties.
One unique feature of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne is that it is home to the State Botanical Collection, an exhibit which has over 1.5 million preserved plants, fungi and algae. It is the most complete and comprehensive botanical library in the entire country. Given that the Gardens are so large, we advise having a look at the website and choosing out an interpretive trail to help you make the most of your visit. There are also guided tours, such as the Aboriginal Heritage Walk which departs at 11 am every day and goes for 1.5 hours. Note that there is an additional charge for this walk ($35 for adults, $12 for kids).
Nearly every child who grew up in Melbourne will have visited the Royal Botanic Gardens during their schooling, as it places a particular focus on educating and entertaining children. The Ian Potter Children’s Garden features over 5,000 square meters of plants and educational signage aimed especially at children. During the school holidays, there are often special activities and events for families. While the Garden’s main attractions are the flora around the place, it also has two different cafés so you can enjoy a coffee while overlooking the beautiful plant life, or have a meal at lunchtime. There is also a gift shop where you can purchase souvenir s or just do some window shopping.
7. Get the Adrenaline Pumping at Luna Park
- Cost: Tickets are $2 without rides, or $49.95 (adult)/ $39.95 (child) with unlimited rides. Single ride tickets are also available.
- Open: 11 am – 6.00 pm on weekends, school holidays and public holidays (except Christmas). Official Opening Times
- Crowds: It can get very busy, especially during the school holidays, public holidays and on sunny weekends. Go mid-week if possible to dodge the crowds and in the morning or early evening to avoid waiting lines.
- Website: Luna Park Melbourne
Once upon a time, Luna Park operated amusement parks all over the world, with locations in other Australian cities including Sydney and Adelaide, as well as other international cities from Cairo to Berlin. Over time, however, most have closed down – but not the iconic Luna Park in Melbourne. Luna Park Melbourne was built in 1912, making it the oldest amusement park in the country. Since then, it has operated almost continuously for more than 100 years, thrilling generations of visitors of all ages. Some of the attractions, such as the Ghost Train, have been around for decades, with the Carousel having been built in 1913 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. It features 68 hand-painted horses, each with its own distinctive looks.
- Tip: Leave your valuables at home (as much as possible) as you’ll need to leave your handbag to go on rides.
- Tip: On some rides, parents can ride for free with children under three years old, so there’s no need to buy an extra adult ticket.
- Tip: Purchase your ticket ahead of time to get a discount and use of the express queue.
While the Park has kept much of the charm of yesteryear, it has been fully modernized and has many impressive modern rides to thrill even the pickiest adrenaline junkie! Super thrill rides include the Pharaoh’s Curse and the Enterprise, both designed to add a heavy dash of excitement to your visit to Melbourne. For those who like their fun a little more tranquil, there are also many slower-paced rides which are suitable for people of all ages, including small children. The beautiful Carousel is a favorite, especially for the little ones, whereas older kids and their families can enjoy the water-based Twin Dragon.
Entry into Luna Park without rides is just $2, so it is fun just to go and soak up the fun, carnival-like atmosphere. There are many different food stalls, as well as skill games where you can give it your best shot to win carnival prizes! Tickets to the rides can also be purchased individually for about $10 each, so if there are only one or two rides you wish to try, this can be more cost-effective than the unlimited ticket.
There are also several cafes and eateries inside the Park, so it is very easy to spend an entire day enjoying Luna Park Melbourne. Not only are the rides and amusements world-class, but there is the added charm of imagining what the Park must have been like over a hundred years ago.
8. Under the Sea at SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium
- Cost: Adults $33.60, children from $22.50
- Open: Monday – Friday: 10:30 am – 5:30 pm; Weekends, school holidays and public holidays: 9:30 am – 6 pm.
- Crowds: It can get very busy on weekends and during school holidays. Tips to dodge the crowds: Be there very early, go mid-week or avoid school holidays. An alternative to being early: Arrive in the afternoon when most visitors start to leave. An alternative to save time; buy your entrance ticket in advance and skip the line. Click on the Sea Life picture above for your ticket.
- Website: SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium
- Tickets: Melbourne Sea Life Entrance Tickets (we recommend buying online in advance. It’s hassle-free!)
Both the young and the young at heart are bound to love discovering what lives under the sea at Melbourne Aquarium. The SEA LIFE aquarium is great fun for all ages, and also has an emphasis on promoting conservation and sustainability, on helping guests leave with a greater appreciation of marine animals. The Aquarium is set out over four levels and features 14 different themed zones for visitors to enjoy. These include areas such as the Bay of Rays which features different stingrays, the Coral Atoll with its bright and unique tropical fish, and the Sea Horse Pier.
Perhaps the most famous and beloved exhibitions, however, are those that allow visitors to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s aquatic life. The Rockpool allows visitors to touch different species including, sea stars and shark eggs. There is also the Penguin Playground, where you can have a front-row seat to the cute and quirky penguins.
- Tip: Check out the brochures at your hotel or tourist information stand as they usually include a 20% off voucher!
- Tip: Arrive early to miss the crowds as well as waiting lines, and also have the opportunity to see the crocodiles being fed. Try to be there about 10-20 minutes before opening time.
- Tip: If you drive, park at the parking garage at 474 Flinders Street and ask the staff to validate your ticket for a big discount.
If you prefer your sea life to be of the frightening variety, check out the viewing levels over the mighty Pinjarra – one of the largest saltwater crocodiles in Australia. While it is perfectly safe, one look at their massive teeth and prehistoric skin is likely to get your heart racing! The SEA LIFE Aquarium is committed to being informative as well as entertaining, so there are plenty of opportunities to learn more about sea animals and how to protect our oceans and seas. The exhibits have informative signs, and there is also a 4D show which is suitable for all ages.
In addition to just visiting the aquarium, there are also several additional activities that Sea Life offers at an extra cost. These include the Shark Dive Xtreme – which, as the name suggests, sees you dive with some of the aquarium’s resident sharks – and the behind-the-scenes ‘Penguin Passport’ tour. The Aquarium also hosts various events throughout the year, so it is worth checking out the website to see what is happening during your visit. For example, the aquarium has semi-regular ‘SEA LIFE Nights’ where you can mingle with cocktails and canapes against the backdrop of the beautiful aquarium. No matter whether you go for an event or just to spend a couple of hours meandering amongst the exhibits, Sea Life is great fun for all ages.
9. Off to the Pictures at the Astor Theatre
- Cost: Tickets are $17.50 every day except Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday when they are $14.
- Open: On hour before the first showing of the day – check the website for times.
- Crowds: Events are ticketed, so buy online to avoid missing out
- Website: Astor Theatre Melbourne
Having been a place of public entertainment since 1913, the historic Astor Theatre is one of the world’s last remaining single-screen movie theatres. It is a well-loved icon of Melbourne and has managed to survive many ‘near-death’ experiences, most recently when it was saved from closure in 2015 by a public outpouring of support.
The theatre is devoted to screening a wide range of movies and documentaries, including classic Hollywood films and indie flicks that do not have releases elsewhere in Australia. There is something for almost everyone, so be sure to check their website for the timetable of what is coming up. Most shows are in English, but there are also some foreign films with subtitles. It also has frequent events, such as 24-hour movie marathons where guests are invited to bring their sleeping bags. Some of the most popular themes include Harry Potter marathons and screenings of the Lord of the Rings franchise.
- Tip: Keep an eye out for Duke, the resident theatre cat who can sometimes be spotted wandering around!
- Tip: Buying something from the snack bar is an absolute must, so no need to bring any extra snacks.
- Tip: The seats can be a bit hard, so if you’re going for more than one film you might want to bring something to sit on (such as a scarf!)
Inside, the Astor retains much of its 1930s glamour so you will really feel like you’re ‘off to the pictures’ like in days gone by, sitting on the original seats and all. With the beautiful original features, it is not hard to see why the Astor has been loved by so many locals and visitors to Melbourne, for generations. Despite its age, the theatre does have updated audio visual capabilities meaning the quality of the screening of films is excellent.
The Theatre also features a café with a small selection of snacks and meals, as well as the classic snack bar where you can purchase homemade popcorn for the quintessential movie experience. Be sure to leave some extra time before the show to pick up your snacks, but also to find parking. Located in the middle of Melbourne on the corner of Chapel Street and Dandenong Road, space can be limited. In good news, however, it means that there are many good options nearby for a drink or a delicious meal after enjoying a picture at the beloved Astor.
10. Catch a Show at an Independent Theatre like La Mama
- Cost: Ticket prices vary but are generally in the region of $20 per ticket.
- Open: Varies depending on the shows – check online
- Crowds: Events are ticketed, so buy online to avoid missing out
- Website: La Mama Theatre
It is no secret that Melbourne is the premiere arts and culture city in all of Australia. It is filled with creative types, with many would-be actors, writers and artists moving from all over the country to reside in Melbourne. This means that the city offers an incredible variety of different artistic shows and events, including some of the country’s best theatre and performing arts. While the city boasts many massive theatres such as the Melbourne Theatre Company, it is the smaller, independent venues that really exemplify the indie arts scene. While, truthfully, the quality of the shows can be a little hit-and-miss, they are nearly always thought-provoking – and you might just be watching the next international superstar.
- Tip: The theatre is easily accessible by public transport, which also means you can enjoy a drink without worry.
- Tip: If you’d prefer not to buy tickets online, you can book by phone between 10.30 am – 5.30 pm on weekdays.
There are several highly regarded independent theatre companies in Melbourne however our pick of the lot is inviting La Mama. The theatre actually has two spaces, with a seating capacity of just 45 and 90 people each. These venues are intimate ways to get to know the theatre scene in Melbourne. Both of the venues feel warm and inviting, not just because of their humble audience size but because of additional features including a courtyard, free coffee on arrival (this is Melbourne), and a beautiful old fireplace to make you feel cosy, even if it is cold outside. All in all, it’s a great place to visit whether you’re a theatre buff or just interesting in seeing something different. It is proudly unpretentious and welcoming to everyone.
The productions themselves vary in topic and budget, so it’s a bit of a lottery what might be on while you are visiting. The theatre describes itself as providing ‘a low financial risk/high artistic risk framework’, so you can expect to do some out of the box thinking when catching a play at the theatre. The Theatre does boast very impressive alumni, including world-famous Australian actress and double Oscar winner Cate Blanchett. So, if you want to get the true Melbourne performing arts experience, look no further than the lovable La Mama. If La Mama’s programming is not to your tastes, you could also try alternatives such as the Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre.
11. Be Inspired by the Moving Image at ACMI
- Cost: Permanent exhibits are free, some costs for temporary exhibits/workshops
- Open: 10am – 5pm every day
- Crowds: Generally there’s space to breathe, although it gets busy during the school holidays
- Website: ACMI Museum
Given Melbourne’s reputation as somewhat of a mecca for creative types, it’s no wonder that so many stars of the big and small screen credit at least some of their success to the city of Melbourne. However, art is for everyone in Melbourne – and one of the best places to learn from the best and then try it for yourself is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). The official description reads: ACMI is Australia’s national museum of film, TV, videogames, digital culture and art.
A unique offering worldwide, ACMI is located in bustling Federation Square, meaning it is visited by tens of thousands of locals and Melbournians every year. Inside, the centre promotes the moving image in all different forms – TV, cinema, indie films and online productions all have a place. It’s hard to put your finger on what ACMI is, exactly – it is part museum, part lecture space, and part theatre. Its program consists of an incredibly diverse array of events and exhibitions, from theatre performances to panels to creative workshops.
- Tip: ACMI is a great option for an uncharacteristic rainy day in Melbourne.
- Tip: Leave at least 2 hours to see all of the free exhibits, and longer if you’re planning to see a particular exhibit.
- Tip: Although entry is free, there is a collections box to help maintain the Centre.
The centre aims to inspire and educate those who visit, teaching visitors about the history of film, especially in Australia. However, it also hopes to inspire novices, including young people, into the fun and creative world of the moving image. For this reason, many of the exhibits are very hands-on, and there’s a great program for kids – especially in the school holidays. Some of the most interesting exhibits allow visitors to try their hand at creating their own short film – bound to be a unique souvenir of your trip to Melbourne!
Other more traditional exhibits include the permanent exhibition tracing the history of the moving image both world-wide and in Australia. This exhibit is free and features many clips and excerpts from famous Australian television and film. Throughout the year, ACMI holds various events and temporary exhibits, so it is well worth keeping an eye on their website for interesting things that are scheduled while you are in Melbourne. From avant-garde workshops that might push people out of their comfort zones to screenings of cult classic movies, you never know what you might stumble into!
ACMI also features a café featuring delicious coffee and a range of light meals in case you want to make a day out of your visit, or are feeling peckish. There is also a bar that is open to the public and for events and has a great view overlooking Federation Square.
12. Take a Boat Trip down the Yarra
- Cost: Row boats are $37 for the first hour and $7 thereafter, canoes and kayaks similarly priced. The full price list is available on the website.
- Open: From 9am – 5pm on weekdays, and 8am – 6pm on weekends. Walking along the river itself: 24h
- Crowds: It is a fairly quiet place, no need to book – just enjoy the peace.
- Website: Melbourne Fairfield Park Boathouse
- Alternative Tour: Yarra River Cruise & City Highlights & Tramcar Restaurant (incl. Botanic Gardens, see above. Great tour which was the best experience for us)
Yarra River is a Melbourne icon. Get your heart pumping and some fresh air in your lungs at the Fairfield Boathouse & Tea Gardens, a park/restaurant that has a quaint historical feel. Featuring (as the name suggests) a tea garden and a space to rent kayaks, canoes or rowboats, this is a different way to enjoy Melbourne. Located about seven kilometres away from downtown Melbourne in the suburb of Fairfield, the Boathouse is like a little piece of English history set amongst the decidedly Aussie landscape. It was set up in 1908 by John St Clair, as a camping and refreshment area. More than 110 years later, it’s still going strong!
- Tip: Row towards the bridge until you come across a friendly colony of fruit bats!
- Tip: If you’re on a budget, bring your own packed lunch and enjoy it at one of the many picnic spots.
- Tip: Besides renting a boat: Walk along Yarra River during sunset after your boat tour. In case you chose the full day river cruise, take a walk the next day. It’s just beautiful in the evening, especially for stunning sunset snapshots.
- Tip: Visit Yarra River for a walk also once in the morning to benefit from its beauty and to take some memorable photos.
Start off with a cup of Devonshire tea and some scones (which can be bought in bulk) from the teahouse – you might even want to wrap up a few in a napkin to take with you on the boat ride. The teahouse also has other light meals and drinks to enjoy either before or after your boating adventure. The real fun, however, are the boats! There is a variety of options available for everyone from the boating enthusiast to the total novice who just wants to enjoy a casual cruise down Yarra River. There are kayaks and canoes; however, perhaps the biggest favourites are the replica vintage Thames rowboats which were popular for ‘a day out boating’ in England in the 19th Century.
Considering its close location to the Melbourne city centre, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’d be city views that surround you as you row down Yarra River – by contrast; the landscape is made up of natural scrubland that has a real Australiana feel. If you’re lucky, you may even see a kangaroo hopping around near the riverbanks. In addition to the boating, there are various scenic walks around the premises and a friendly and inviting picnic/barbecue area where you can eat a packed lunch or even cook your own on one of the public barbecues (a true Australian icon!)
13. Catch a Live Show at the Tote
- Cost: Shows are often free, so you just need to pay for the beer.
- Open: Wednesday to Sunday, from 4 pm to 1 am on Wednesday, from 4 pm – 3 am on Thursday – Saturday, and 4 pm – 11 pm on Sunday.
- Crowds: Quieter during the week, it can get rowdy on the weekends or for big gigs.
- Website: The Tote Hotel
Melbourne has been the starting place for many Australian bands for decades, thanks in part to the city’s once-bustling live music scene. Over the years, it is the small bars and fancy cocktails that have become the flavour of the month; however, there are still several opportunities to catch a live gig in the city.
One of the very best is at the Tote Hotel, an iconic Melbourne landmark that has been the stage for Australian bands and musicians of varying genres (and levels of talent) since the 1980s. Back then, the venue was rock and rock only, however nowadays they have expanded their repertoire and its not altogether unusual to find other acts such as folk and even electronica. More than just a pub, Tote Hotel is somewhat of a cultural hub and even served as home base for the protests against Melbourne’s 2010 lockout laws (which threatened to close down the city’s nightlife early). Needless to say, the lockout was exceptionally short-lived, and loud music returned with a vengeance to the Tote.
- Tip: Keep an eye on the chalkboard out the front to see who is playing on any given night.
- Tip: If you’re trying to stick to a budget, go for the local beer ‘Carlton’ but steer away from imported brands which are pricey.
The pub itself is a throwback to the Hotels of old, with somewhat sticky floors and a gritty, rustic interior. Stepping inside, you can certainly imagine a swathe of rockers drinking Scotch and Coke at the bar before a gig. It has various drinks on tap and is also a great place just to go for a beverage. There’s also a menu of simple ‘pub grub’ that is a very affordable meal best washed down with a local Australian beer between performances. Of course, it is the live music that is its big drawcard and its on almost every night at the Tote. You can check the website or Facebook page for the latest shows, or just take a chance and show up to check out the large and famous blackboard out the front that lists all the bands performing. You never know, you might just catch the next big thing – or just have some awesome memories from your time at Melbourne’s most famous live music venue.
14. Visit the Savannah at the Werribee Open Range Zoo
- Cost: Adults $36, children $18 (free on weekends and holidays). Extras start from $80pp.
- Open: 9 am – 5 pm all year, except 25 – 31 December, when it is 8 am – 5 pm.
- Crowds: Can get pretty busy on weekends and during school holidays, but the place is huge, so there’s room for everyone. But still, if you visit on weekends or school holidays/public holidays, dodge possible crowds by being there at 9 a.m.
- Website: Werribee Open Range Zoo
- Tickets: Werribee Open Range Zoo Ticket (hassle-free online ticket)
Australia might be well-known for its indigenous creatures like the koala or kangaroo, but to see something different, head thirty minutes away from Melbourne and feel like you’ve stepped onto the plains of the African savannah at the Werribee Open Range Zoo. Set over 225 hectares of the wild and natural environment, forget small enclosures and concrete jungles, here the animals roam wildly. Most of the animals at the park are African in origin – including lions, giraffes, meerkats and rhinoceroses.
- Tip: If catching the safari bus, choose a seat in the middle of the bus for the best views and to avoid any engine noise.
- Tip: The Werribee River Trail has an open picnic area which is quiet and away from the crowds – plus, you might be visited by some friendly kangaroos!
- Tip: If you don’t want to shell out for the pricey extras, drop by for a free keeper talk which is held at multiple times every day and give you lots of behind the scenes information.
The park can be explored either from a jeep safari vehicle (included in the cost of your ticket) or on foot – don’t worry, while the park may feel like the wild plains of Africa, it is very safe. On the jeep tour, you will hear interesting commentary from the resident ranger, while the walking tour is well sign posted and informative. Just wandering around the zoo is great fun, however, it also offers several extra experiences for those who can’t get enough of the wild creatures at Werribee. Some of these include getting up close and patting an elegant serval (a medium-size cat, somewhere between a leopard and your beloved housecat), or feeding the giraffes. One of the most interesting experiences is to get up close with the incredible gorillas and hear about their behaviour and their similarities to us, all by the zoo’s resident gorilla expert. It’s a fascinating, informative and unforgettable experience.
The Werribee Zoo is great fun for people of all ages, and the young and heart are sure to be delighted by the unique and lovable creatures at the zoo. Kids are also well catered for with various special activities to keep them entertained. There are extra activities on during the weekends and school holidays, and all children under sixteen enter the zoo for free on weekends, public holidays and school holidays. Although it is, of course, the animals who are the star attractions at the zoo, there is also a nice informal café and a gift shop to buy a souvenir of your visit.
15. Sip a Cocktail in an Ultra-Cool Small Bar
- Cost: Free to enter, drink prices vary – expect to pay $20+ for a cocktail.
- Open: From early until late – it depends on the venue (and the night)
- Crowds: Arrive early at the cool spots if you want to be guaranteed entry
- Tour: Melbourne Urban Beery Odyssey Tour by Night
Most Australian cities boast a pretty good small bar scene, largely thanks to Melbourne. Whether Aussies from interstate are ready to accept it or not, it was really Melbourne that started the small bar revolution in Australia, and so there’s no better place to sample a cocktail. A far cry from the days where the city life consisted only of mega-night clubs, today Melbourne’s streets and laneways are an eclectic collection of bars with a capacity somewhere from a couple of dozen to just a couple (such as Le Bar, which seats just 4).
- Tip: Most venues don’t really get busy until 10 pm or later on the weekends, but by then you may have to queue for entry.
- Tip: Melbourne boasts some of the country’s best late-night eateries, so don’t think you’re out of options if your stomach is rumbling in the early hours of the morning!
Many of the bars draw inspiration from European cities, and that is also reflected on the fine cocktails that are crafted at the venues. These bars aren’t the kind of place you enter and ask for a ‘vodka and raspberry’ – instead (if its quiet enough) ask for the bartender’s recommendations and be prepared to be wowed by the depth and breadth of the average Melbourne bartender’s knowledge of Australian and international spirits. No matter what your drink of choice is, you’re bound to find something in Melbourne that delights. With an impressive selection of bars focusing on everything from wine to whiskey to tequila – and absolutely everything in between – even the hardest to please connoisseur will find a drink to enjoy.
While we can’t speak highly enough of the beverages on offer in the many small bars in Melbourne, it is the atmosphere and décor of many of the bars which really add to the experience. All around the city, expect to find (or at least try to find) dozens of hidden bars that are inspired by the Prohibition era’s love of secrecy. There are of course many other themes, from the hospital-esque Croft Institute, African-themed Glamp to the tiki-inspired Jungle Boy.
Everyone in Melbourne seems to have a different recommendation for where the hottest cocktail bar is, so half of the fun is discovering “your” place. Flinders Lane is a particular hotspot if you’re not sure to where to start or check out Time Out’s comprehensive overview of the latest and greatest offerings.
EVEN MORE THINGS TO DO
All of the above 15 activities are from a local and definitely must-do things. We’re sure you’ll love them! However, there is so much more. We added some other exciting activities you should try if you still have some time or an extra day while visiting Melbourne. These are some of our own favorite place to visit in Melbourne. By the way: If you like to cover as many spots as possible in one short tour with amazingly knowledgeable guides, then you’ll love this one: Melbourne 3 Hour Small Group Tour. Another tip for Melbourne visitors who are into wildlife: Yarra Bend – Flying Foxes ( check out our article) or the cute Little Penguins from St Kilda Pier
Flinders Street Railway Station
- Cost: Free
- Open: Always
A must-see and a great photography spot when you’re in the area. Especially, as it’s only a short walk from some must-do things we described above: Melbourne Cricket Ground and Queen Victoria Market. Flinders Street Railway Station is a true Melbourne landmark. An iconic building with beautiful architecture in the heart of the city. Tips: Definitely visit after sunset as the building is lit up at night time. You can take some gorgeous photos with the right camera settings. Try to avoid two things though: It’s extremely busy in the busy in the morning and although the whole place is well maintained, the toilets there are usually not very clean.
Eureka Skydeck 88 Tower
- Cost: $15-22
- Open: 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.
- Tickets: Eureka Skydeck Ticket (full day, incl. glass floor, recommended)
Even with a fear of heights, you’ll love this view, maybe except for the glass floor section. It’s just mind-blowing. You’ll get absolutely gorgeous sights in every direction. The restaurant also has good views and great food. However, you need to book a table in advance, and it’s quite expensive. Tips: Buy a Eureka Skydeck online ticket which includes a full day entrance and the glass floor section (this costs extra when you buy on the spot). That way, you can visit early in the morning to dodge the crowds and come back later when it’s dark. It’s also cheaper to buy online in advance! Take as many photos as possible. Extra tip: Check the views from the toilets as well.
National Gallery of Victoria (NGV)
- Cost: $18 (adults)
- Open: 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. (exhibitions can open at 9 a.m.)
- Website: National Gallery of Victoria
If you’re even remotely into any kind of art, then you must visit the NGV. And not only on a rainy day. Incredibly compelling exhibits, a fantastic atmosphere, great staff and a gorgeous building. The collections include art from artists such as Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso or Vincent Van Gogh. Tips: Visit later in the afternoon, in case you visit mid-week. It’s often too busy with school trips until noon (except during school holidays of course). Visiting on the weekend? Be there first thing in the morning (before gates open). However, the best time to dodge the crowds at the National Gallery of Victoria, in general, would be: Mid-week during school holidays in the morning.