Melbourne doesn’t always make the cut on the international visitor’s itinerary, often overlooked in favour of the bright lights of Sydney, the white, sandy beaches of Queensland or the mystery of the Outback. But head further south and you’ll discover the many things to do in Melbourne.
Cool cafes, art galleries, amazing dining and drinking, a vibrant music scene – all of this gives Melbourne its nickname as the “culture capital of Australia”.
If you’ve read my Melbourne bucket list (which has 101 fun things to do in Melbourne), you’ll know that there’s enough to keep you busy here for a few days, a week or even a month. With so much to do, it’s often overwhelming to figure out where to begin.
So, to make it easier for first-time visitors to Melbourne, here are my thoughts on where you should focus your attention in my wonderful city. I’ve got the top 10 things that every visitor must do, plus recommendations for other Melbourne activities to consider.
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Tips for visiting Melbourne
First up, some tips for visiting Melbourne.
- You don’t need to rent a car. Unless you’re planning to take a couple of day trips or you’re staying way out in the ‘burbs, public transport will be your best bet for getting around the city to see all the best places to visit in Melbourne.
- Come prepared for all types of weather. The four-seasons-in-one-day adage is true in this city. Bring a raincoat, a brolly (umbrella) and sunscreen when you visit Melbourne.
- Melbourne can be visited year-round, although I personally think the city really shines in summer and spring. You can check out my guide to the best time to visit Melbourne so you can plan accordingly.
- Pick your accommodation carefully. I’ve broken down the best Melbourne neighbourhoods in my guide to where to stay in Melbourne.
- Just wander! Melbourne doesn’t have some of the big shiny tourist attractions that other capital cities do, so the best way to see it is to just wander and find things that take your fancy.
Map of Melbourne things to do
To help you plan your itinerary, here are all the Melbourne attractions I’ve listed in this article plotted out on a map. If you want a paper map, pick up a free copy from the visitor centre at Federation Square or in the Bourke St Mall.
Top 10 things to do in Melbourne
With so much to do in Melbourne, here are my top 10 recommendations for the absolute must-dos when you visit. Whenever anyone visits me and asks me where to go in Melbourne, these are the things I always suggest.
1. Get lost in laneways and arcades
Melbourne’s city centre is well-ordered and the grid system makes it easy to get around.
But it’s worth getting lost in Melbourne’s laneways which twist and turn and are home to a secret world of restaurants, bars, cafes, art galleries and boutique clothing stores. You can easily while away several hours wandering, watching and eating.
As well as interesting laneways, we have beautiful arcades that date back to the late 1800s. Royal Arcade is the oldest in Melbourne and its high, domed ceilings are worth a look. On the hour, you can watch and hear Gog and Magog (statues of two mythical giants) strike the chimes.
The Block Arcade is also worth a stroll to admire the ornate floors. Stop for afternoon tea at the Hopetoun Tea Rooms – or just salivate at the window. If you can’t get a seat, make do with bag of the delicious chocolate frogs from Haighs.
If you don’t want to get lost in the laneways, then this 4-hour tour will help you navigate the best ones.
2. Go hunting for street art
It’s in Melbourne’s laneways that you’ll also stumble upon some very cool Melbourne street art plastered over the walls. Some of the world’s most famous street artists have marked Melbourne’s laneways with their work.
And even if you’ve wandered Melbourne’s laneways before and think you’ve been there, done that, you haven’t. The walls change regularly as artists paint over existing pieces, creating new things to see in Melbourne on an almost weekly basis.
The best places to see Melbourne street art? Hosier Lane, Caledonian Lane, ACDC Lane, Degraves Street and Union Lane.
Warning: Hosier Lane is always crowded, and particularly so on weekends when hordes of people come through to snap photos of what’s now considered one of the most popular Melbourne tourist attractions. Visit early, or head out of the central business district (CBD) to check out the street art in Fitzroy where there are fewer people.
You can also take a street art tour. One of the best Melbourne tours is a walking street art tour with an actual street artist. You can book it online here, or try this tour in the CBD or this one in Fitzroy.
3. Eat your way around the world
There aren’t just hundreds of things to see in Melbourne, there are hundreds of places to eat. And eating should play a big role in any Melbourne itinerary. Melbourne is renowned for its food scene, and in this city you can find pretty much any cuisine you’re after.
From gourmet pub food, to Thai and Vietnamese, to Ethiopian, to American barbecue, to Greek, to Pakistani, to homestyle cooking and everything else in between – you name it, we have it.
We’ve also got something for everyone’s budget, from cheap eats to cover-your-eyes-when-you-sign-the-credit-card-bill fine dining.
You can read my (constantly updated) recommendations for where to eat in Melbourne.
If you’d like to join a foodie tour of Melbourne, check out this 3-hour walking tour.
4. Grab a pub meal
Speaking of food, there’s nothing more Australian than grabbing a pub meal.
A classic Aussie pub meal is a chicken parmigiana, or a parma. A piece of chicken is flattened and smothered with tomato sauce, sometimes ham and always plenty of cheese. And always served with chips.
Whatever tempts your tastebuds, pubs (or “boozers”) are where the locals hang out, so they’re the best places to visit to appreciate Melburnian local life.
The best boozers can be found outside of the CBD, especially in the inner suburbs of Fitzroy and Collingwood. Here, the pubs are unpretentious and usually have a reputation for great food. My personal faves are the Union Club Hotel, the Napier, the Standard or the Rose. I’m also a huge fan of the food at the Marquis of Lorne – try the potato cakes.
For something a bit fancier, the Builders Arms Hotel is under the helm of celebrity chef Andrew McConnell – but you’ll still find classic comfort meals.
5. Check out the bar scene
If a pub’s not really your scene, don’t worry. Melbourne is awash with cocktail bars and rooftop bars, and you’ll have plenty of choices when deciding where to go out in Melbourne.
6. Go neighbourhood-hopping
A lot of Melbourne’s best things to do can be found in the CBD. But the CBD is also busy and it’s not where most Melburnians live.
On your visit to Melbourne, make some time to get out of the CBD and explore one or more of Melbourne’s neighbourhoods.
Smith Street in Collingwood, High Street in Northcote, Lygon Street (the Brunswick East end), Sydney Road in Brunswick, Swan Street in Richmond, Fitzroy Street in St Kilda, and Carlisle Street in Balaclava are all great spots to grab a bite, go shopping and people-watch.
7. See a band at an iconic music venue
Sticky carpet included.
8. Learn about Indigenous culture
Australia is home to the oldest living culture on the planet, and you don’t even need to leave the city to learn more about Indigenous Australia.
One of the best Melbourne tours to take is the Aboriginal Heritage Walk at the Royal Botanic Gardens. The tour starts with a traditional welcoming ceremony. Then, over 90 minutes, you’ll spend time with an Indigenous guide learning about traditional uses of trees and plants for medicine, food and tools.
It’s also a chance to learn more about First Nations’ connection to the land, and have a yarn about culture, history and modern-day challenges facing Aboriginal people in Australia. In my opinion, this is a tour that international visitors and Australians alike should take.
The Koorie Heritage Trust also runs an hour-long tour around Federation Square and along Birrarung Marr. This organisation works toward bridging the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and raising awareness and appreciation of Aboriginal culture.
At the Melbourne Museum, check out the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre. There are permanent exhibitions as well as temporary exhibits that showcase the vibrant Indigenous culture.
9. Visit a museum
You could easily spend days in Melbourne exploring just the museums.
In addition to the Melbourne Museum (which has extensive exhibits about the city’s history and is one of the best things to do in Melbourne with kids), check out the following:
- NGV International – Melbourne’s signature museum, the National Gallery of Victoria is free, although special exhibits have an entrance fee
- Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia – The sister museum to the NGV International, this is where you’ll find Australian art
- Immigration Museum – Explore the history of Australian immigration in the former Customs House building
- Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) – This is one of the top Melbourne attractions, you can spend the day watching TV here!
10. Grab a coffee
Melbourne is renowned for its coffee. You can easily get into an animated conversation in this city about the right way to drink coffee, where to drink coffee and where to buy your beans. So, while you’re in Melbourne, try some.
Confession: I don’t drink coffee. Never have, never will (and that doesn’t make me less of a Melburnian).
In any case, I asked around for some recommendations for the best coffee shops in Melbourne, and the responses consistently came back as Proud Mary’s, Brother Baba Budan, Seven Seeds and St Ali. They’re just a handful of the best places to visit in Melbourne to get good coffee – there are dozens more. This walking tour covers cafes and culture in the city.
More Melbourne attractions
So, once you’ve checked out my recs for the top 10 things to do in Melbourne, here are more ideas to fill a few more days.
11. Ride a tram
I felt a bit silly including this here, because trams are a common mode of transport for Melburnians. So it might seem funny to include this as something you must do when you visit Melbourne.
BUT, if you’re from a city that doesn’t have trams (and that’s most cities around the world…), then riding a tram is a pretty novel thing to do and something you must do in Melbourne.
While our trams aren’t as historic as the ones in, say, San Francisco, they’re often the easiest way to get around the city. You can check out a tram map online or download the Public Transport Victoria app. You’ll need a Myki card to ride a tram, except in the free tram zone, which covers the CBD and some inner parts of the city.
The City Circle Tram network is free all the time and the perfect transport for Melbourne sightseeing. These heritage trams pass all the major Melbourne attractions with bonus commentary, so they’re also a good way to orient yourself with the city.
12. Check out Federation Square
I still remember thinking how ugly Federation Square was when it was built. It was definitely considered an eyesore by most Melburnians, but it’s now a beloved piece of the city.
Fed Square is a great hub for visitors and one of Melbourne’s points of interest. It’s close to Flinders Street Station, the city’s main train station (also worth a gander for its architecture), and there’s a Melbourne tourism visitor information centre there so you can grab a map and chat to the friendly staff.
Fed Square is also stuffed with museums, restaurants and bars, and on most weekends there’s a concert or event here, so you can rest your weary feet while being entertained. During major sporting events like the Australian Open, seats are set up so you can watch the matches on the huge TV screen.
13. View the grandeur of the State Library
During the Victorian gold rush of the 1850s and 1860s, a lot of money poured into Melbourne, which resulted in extraordinary investment in architecture.
One of the most beautiful buildings in Melbourne is our State Library. It’s just undergone a huge renovation, and it’s definitely worth your time to pop in here for a look.
Check out the photogenic La Trobe Reading Room and recently reopened Queen’s Hall. You can also view Ned Kelly’s armour in the Victoria Gallery, and Australian art in the Cowan Gallery. Or just take some time out in one of the best places to go in Melbourne for some peace and quiet.
If you’d like to learn more about the library, there are free daily tours.
14. Taste craft beer
The craft beer scene in Melbourne has blown up in the past few years, and there are several breweries that you can visit.
A bit harder to reach but worth the Uber ride is Moon Dog World in Preston. It’s got an indoor pond (not a pool – although I can only imagine how many drunk people will fall in there) which reminds me a bit of a tiki bar.
Many of the beers from these breweries are also served on tap at the pubs I mentioned earlier.
15. Get on a bike
Melbourne is slowly creating the infrastructure for bike riders, on its way to becoming the Copenhagen of Australia. Well, not quite – we still have a long way to go.
We used to have a bike share system but unfortunately that was scrapped a few years ago. Instead, you can hire a bike from a private rental company like Rentabike. Take your bike for a spin around the streets of Melbourne’s city centre and suburbs, or get out of the city on a bike path such as the Yarra Trail.
16. Watch a game of footy
Australians are sports-mad, and the sport of choice for Melbourne is footy, aka Aussie Rules.
It’s a game that rarely makes sense to outsiders, but to put it simply, it involves 36 very fit men in short shorts chasing an oval-shaped ball up and down a large field, with the aim of getting that ball through some white poles at each end.
I’m clearly no expert, nor a big fan, but there’s nothing quite like being in the roaring crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). You can’t help but get caught up in the excitement.
The footy season starts in March each year and ends in late September with the Grand Final (aka the Granny!).
17. Shop at a market
A great way to remember your Melbourne trip is by taking something home with you. Beyond the retail centres and boutique shops, there are several markets around the city that sell great souvenirs. One tip: avoid the touristy souvenir shops along Swanston Street. All the stuff here is mostly mass produced and you’ll find many selling fake Indigenous artworks and crafts.
The Queen Victoria Market is Melbourne’s most famous market, and it’s here that you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables, deli items and artisan goods. Focus your efforts on the cute shops in String Bean Alley.
You can also tour the Queen Vic Market every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday on their Ultimate Foodie Tour. This is a great tour to learn more about the market and its vendors and, most importantly, eat your way through the best stores.
On the weekend, vendors at the Rose St Artists’ Market in Fitzroy sell handcrafted jewellery, handbags, clothing and homewares.
If you time your trip right, you might also catch the Heide Market, which is a collaboration with the Rose St Artists’ Market. You can then explore the Heide Museum of Modern Art while you’re there.
18. See a movie outdoors
In summer, Melburnians come out in their droves and, like most Aussies, there’s no place we’d rather be than outdoors.
If you visit Melbourne in summer, you have to catch a flick at the Rooftop Cinema, the Moonlight Cinema or the Openair Cinemas. They all play a range of classic movies and new releases, and there’s always something to please everyone. You can book a bean bag or picnic basket, and buy snacks and drinks.
19. Pack a picnic for the Royal Botanic Gardens
Once you’ve seen a movie in the Royal Botanic Gardens, come back here during the day for a picnic. You’ll be able to find a quiet spot in the over 36 hectares of gardens.
As cliché as it is, these gardens really are like a little oasis in the middle of a noisy city. It’s the perfect place to relax on a nice sunny day.
20. Hit the beach
Okay, I need to be clear upfront: Melbourne beaches are nothing like the beaches of Sydney.
Now that I’ve sufficiently lowered your expectations, you should still plan to come and check out the bay area beaches. St Kilda is a good place to start, as it’s easy to access from the city and there are plenty of restaurants, bars and other things to do while you’re here.
Stroll along the palm tree-lined St Kilda Foreshore and end at the St Kilda Pier for epic views of Melbourne. Don’t forget to check out the huge smiling entrance at Luna Park (or go inside to ride the century-old rollercoaster if you dare).
Much further on (it’ll take 1.5 hours to walk) are the picturesque Brighton Bathing Boxes, great for Instagrammers.
21. See little penguins
Most people think of Phillip Island when they hear about penguins, but the good news is that you don’t have to go that far to see these furry little guys.
While you’re in St Kilda, stay until dusk for a special treat: hundreds of little penguins waddling out of the water to nest for the night. There’s a viewing area above the breakwater at the end of the St Kilda Pier.
The spectacle happens every night of the year, and the best viewing time is about 30 minutes after sunset. No flash photography allowed!
22. Visit Chinatown
While our Melbourne Chinatown isn’t huge, it’s somewhere you should visit in Melbourne. It’s right in the city, so you’re likely to pass it at some point.
Plan to be here around lunch so you can gorge on yum cha (dim sum).
The Museum of Chinese Australian History explains the history of how the Chinese came to Australia during the gold rush, as well as some of Australia’s xenophobic embarrassing past (like the White Australia policy).
23. Stroll along the Yarra River
The Yarra River runs through Melbourne and it’s lovely to wander along for a bit of peace and quiet. It’s easily accessible from stairs near Federation Square.
24. Enjoy a festival
With something happening daily in Melbourne, there’s bound to be an event or festival on when you visit Melbourne. But you might want to time your trip so you can be here for a major event.
I’ve got a whole post written about the best time to visit Melbourne, which includes what’s on during each season. But I’ll summarise a few of my favourite events here:
- Australian Open (January) – Even if you’re not a huge tennis fan, you can’t help but get into the spirit during one of the most famous tennis tournaments in the world
- Food and Wine Festival (March) – Melbourne’s top restaurants arrange specially priced lunches and dinners, and there are other events including the longest lunch (which is lunch at a really, really long table)
- International Comedy Festival (March to April) – Comedians from Australia and around the world descend on Melbourne to make you wet your pants with laughter
- Melbourne International Film Festival (August) – Film buffs will love Australia’s leading film festival
- Melbourne Writers Festival (August to September) – Australian and international writers flock to Melbourne to share ideas and stories, and launch new books
Plan a weekend in Melbourne so that you can experience these great events.
25. Take a day trip
If you’ve got more than a few days in Melbourne, then consider taking a day trip out of the city. There are so many amazing places to visit near Melbourne that can be reached by car, public transport or on a tour.
Just an hour from Melbourne is the Yarra Valley, one of Australia’s best wine regions. Here, you can sip on wines, try locally distilled gins, taste craft beer and nibble on cheeses made locally. Stay safe with a designated driver on a day tour. The area is beautiful, and there are several companies that can arrange an early-morning hot air balloon ride so that you can see the sun come up.
More wines can be found around the Mornington Peninsula (this tour includes wines and cheese and chocolate tastings). This area is great for local produce, bushwalks, bike rides and strolls along the beach. It’s also home to the Peninsula Hot Springs.
For a change of scenery, head inland to the Dandenong Ranges and tackle the 1000 Steps hike. There are also beautiful gardens like William Ricketts Sanctuary, which features sculptures of Aboriginal people through the forest, and the magical Alfred Nicholas Gardens. Through the area, you can find lovely little cafes serving food and selling homemade jams, sauces and produce. You’ll need a car to experience this area properly.
While I think you need more than a day to really experience the famous Great Ocean Road, it is possible to drive it in a (long, tiring) day. One of the highlights is the Twelve Apostles, limestone formations that jut out of the ocean. Along the way, you can stop at surf beaches like the famous Bells Beach, visit beachside towns and photograph lighthouses. If you don’t want to do the driving, there are plenty of companies that arrange day tours.
Detailed guides about things to do around Melbourne coming soon! If you need longer than a day away, my guide to the best Airbnbs in Victoria will give you some inspiration.
Hopefully this guide helps you narrow what to do in Melbourne as you make your travel plans!
Have you been to Melbourne? What do you think are the best things to do in Melbourne? Drop your tips in the comments below.
This post was published in January 2011, and updated in March 2019 and July 2020.