Things to see & do in Melbourne

Melbourne is made up of precincts, all distinct in style. They include Fitzroy, the oldest suburb, with a thriving street art scene; St Kilda, a retro seafront area with an independent edge, and Collins Street in the CBD (central business district), home to luxury shops and exclusive cocktail bars. The planned street grid and transport system makes it simple to get around whilst the laneways in the downtown city centre are a warren of tiny alleys and arcades full of pop-up shops, independent galleries, cafes and bars. “Melbourne has a huge amount to offer culturally,” says Brett Neagle from our expert tour partner Auswalk. “There's the Australian Open tennis, Aus open golf, the Boxing day cricket at the MCG etc etc. Football matches between suburbs can draw crowds of over 90,000 people, so we're sporting mad which I feel is a good thing. There's plenty of other cultural activities: the theatre, live music, exhibitions going on all the time as well.”

This is a multicultural city with a suitably varied international dining scene. The Greek and Vietnamese communities of Richmond are full of family-run restaurants, while in hip Brunswick, Lebanese and Mediterranean cafes line the roads. Then there’s Little Italy in Carlton, Chinatown in the CBD and Ethiopian cuisine in Footscray, among many others. There are also chefs making use of native ingredients used by Indigenous Australians for hundreds of thousands of years.

Head out of town and the wilderness is right on your doorstep – within a few kilometres you'll find yourself immersed in countryside. Visit the winelands of the Yarra Valley, the quaint seaside towns of the Mornington Peninsula or the wildlife haven of Phillip Island.

Melbourne’s Aboriginal heritage

Known as the Kulin Nation to its traditional owners, the Boon Wurrung and Woiwurrung (Wurundjeri) peoples, Melbourne has a rich Indigenous culture, yet this Aboriginal heritage remains an afterthought for many tourists. This is a shame because for travellers looking for alternatives to overcrowded destinations, Victoria’s unique Aboriginal experiences could fit right in. Take the time to learn and explore and you’ll gain a deeper understanding of cultures that dates back hundreds of thousands of years, and through your interest you’ll be helping to preserve them.
A good place to start is the Aboriginal Heritage Walk at the Royal Botanic Gardens. Led by Indigenous guides, who are full of stories and anecdotes, you’ll learn more about the history of the Kulin Nation, discover traditional uses for plants and animals and witness a smoking ceremony (burning native plants to produce smoke – thought to have cleansing properties and the ability to ward off evil spirits).

Indigenous art features prominently at the Ian Potter Centre, an offshoot of the National Gallery of Victoria. Here you’ll find one of the biggest collections of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in the world, including works by Emily Kngwarreye and Uta Uta Tjangala.

Melbourne Museum’s Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre chronicles Indigenous history through a series of immersive exhibitions, and serves as a community space for Indigenous people to meet, share their cultural heritage and perform sacred or creative rituals. It represents a uniquely Aboriginal perspective, opening the doors of the culture to non-Indigenous people whilst retaining a sense of place and empowerment.

The Koorie Heritage Trust is an Indigenous not-for-profit cultural centre celebrating Australia’s South Eastern Indigenous people and is home to Victoria’s only dedicated public collection of Koorie art and artefacts.

For a taste of upmarket bush tucker in slick surroundings Charcoal Lana is a social enterprise restaurant that provides hospitality training and support to young, vulnerable Indigenous Australians. The menu champions native ingredients such as warrigal greens, Lemon Myrtle, pepper leaf and emu.

Our top Victoria Holiday

Great Ocean Walk self guided tour, Australia

Great Ocean Walk self guided tour, Australia

The full Great Ocean walk pack free self guided.

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Melbourne highlights

St Kilda

Laid-back St Kilda on the seafront is a popular playground for Melbournites in the summer months – a mix of old world, often eccentric architecture, colourful buildings and pretty shop fronts. Visit the retro Luna Park, try watersports such as kitesurfing or walk along the promenade with an ice cream. Then head to Ackland street for cakes and pastries in its famous bakeries.

Degraves Street

Melbournites are seriously into their coffee and Degraves Street is one of the city's favourite spots to sample a cold drip or grab a nuclear-strength espresso on the go – as well as being an excellent spot for people watching.

Melbourne Cricket Ground

Watching local teams battle it out at world-famous cricket ground “the G”, preferably with a cold beer in hand, is a quintessential Melbourne experience, whether you want to demystify the rules of Aussie Rules or watch England play for the Ashes. When you're done, the on-site National Sports Museum documents more than two centuries of Australian sporting history.

Melbourne Museum

This rambling, cavernous space provides a broad overview of Victoria’s history and culture. There’s everything from an Imax cinema to a taxidermy room, to a children’s art gallery and an open-air forest atrium. Melbourne Museum brings a new discovery every time you visit. It’s also home to the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre.

Chinatown

Set along Little Bourke Street and its surrounding streets, this is the oldest Chinatown in the southern hemisphere, dating back to the 1850s and the gold rush era. Of course, it’s the best place in town for Chinese food, but it’s also a top choice for karaoke.

Royal Botanic Gardens

The lush lawns and gardens of the Royal Botanic Gardens are perfect if you want peace and quiet without actually leaving the city. There’s plenty of space for strolls and picnics, or, for something more active, there are tours and workshops. These include the Aboriginal Heritage Walk, which delves into the history and culture of the Kulin Nation.

Queen Victoria Market

Queen Victoria Market is one of Melbourne's historic landmarks and one of the oldest markets in town, trading since 1878. It’s rammed full of veteran stallholders who are passionate about fresh produce and more than happy to talk you through their wares – which could be anything from fresh cheeses and handmade clothes to rare vinyl records and organic vegetables. Wednesday nights in the summer play host to the Suzuki Night Market, evenings of live entertainment, late shopping, food festivals and bar and winery tastings.

Getting around

Between the cars, trains, trams and buses, Melbourne has just about the best public transport system in Australia, for which there’s a contactless smartcard ticketing system called Myki.

The train network connects with bus and tram stations and is an ideal way to get out to the suburbs and outlying districts, with all trains beginning and ending their journeys at Flinders Station.

The City Circle tram gets you around central Melbourne, is free to use and even has a running commentary on all the city's most famous spots.

Ferries also operate from Southbank to outlying Williamstown, making a pleasant journey along the Yarra River with excellent views of the city, on door-to-door circular routes.

Melbourne International Airport sits 22km northwest of the city centre. Skybus runs 24 hours, connecting the airport with Southern Cross Station.

Festivals & events

Melbourne's calendar is punctuated by some of the greatest cultural and sporting events in the southern hemisphere. People here are fanatical about sport in particular – there are even public holidays on the day of the Melbourne Cup horse race and the Friday before the AFL Grand Final. Other than the aforementioned sporting extravaganzas, cricket, tennis and Formula 1 all draw massive crowds, while the food, jazz and fashion festivals in winter and music festivals across the summer months mean there's always something happening on the Melbourne cultural scene.
Written by Nana Luckham
Photo credits: [Page banner: Ray Reyes / Visit Victoria] [Intro: Alison Mayfield / Visit Victoria] [Melbourne’s Aboriginal heritage: Artra Sartracom / Visit Victoria] [St Kilda: Josie Withers /Visit Victoria] [Royal Botanic Gardens: Wpcpey] [Festivals and Events: Australian Football League / Visit Victoria]
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