The Top 10 Things to do in Melbourne and surrounds
Victoria's capital is full of culture and quirks, with a strong sense of artistry and home to some of the best food, dining and live music in the country.
It's also home to a number of great attractions both natural and man-made, and with plenty of appealing surrounding destinations within easy reach of a day trip too, there's something to keep everyone happy when visiting Melbourne.
But with such a wide variety of experiences on offer in the city and its surrounds, what is the first-time visitor to Melbourne best off doing with their time here? And if you've got multiple days on your itinerary, what opportunities are there for exploration outside the city's boundaries?
From art, to attractions, to architecture and more, here, we look at the top 10 things to do in Melbourne & surrounds.
10 | Eureka Skydeck
Location: 7 Riverside Quay, Southbank, Melbourne
If you're looking to begin your visit to Melbourne by getting an idea of the city's layout - including the location of a number of other landmarks listed on this list - there are few better places to do so than the Eureka Skydeck.
Begin your journey with awe inspiring views from the Southern Hemisphere's highest viewing platform that boasts not only a central location overlooking the city and beyond, but a great starting point for any trip to Melbourne as it will allow you to get your bearings and determine where you'd like to go while also providing some great scenery to boot. For those that dare to take the views a step further, you'll be able to experience Skydeck's 'The Edge' - an activity that will see you taken over the edge in a glass box, with views directly down into the cityscape.
'Begin your journey with awe inspiring views from the Southern Hemisphere's highest viewing platform that boasts not only a central location overlooking the city and beyond, but a great start point for any trip to Melbourne.'
Ticket prices are reasonable and on par with most other major cities"towers', and there is also the option to purchase a 'sun and stars' ticket that provides 2 entries in a single day so that you'll be able to see Melbourne at both day and night - each of which provides a wholly different atmosphere.
We suggest that sunset is the best time of day for a visit, with the colouring of the sky making for a wonderful contrast with the gradual transition from day to night as the city lights turn on one by one. Alternatively, you could begin your journey with another great viewpoint at..
9 | The Shrine of Remembrance
Location: Kings Domain Parkland, St. Kilda Road, Melbourne
This wonderful feat of construction serves as both a fitting tribute to our veterans from wars throughout our history, as well an ideal starting point for your adventures in Melbourne for a variety of reasons. The Shrine of Remembrance's central location serves as a great 'lay of the land' spot from which to get your bearings in the city, it offers visitors great views from the top that provide an overview of Melbourne's Paris-style layout, and it's an impressive piece of architecture in its own right.
Situated on a hill that provides a solid vantage point close to other Melbournian highlights such as the Botanical Gardens and Government House, the Shrine of Remembrance is easily accessible via a short walk from the city's free City Circle Tram service. Thus it - along with Eureka Skydeck - can serve as viable options as Item No. 1 on everyone's Melbourne itinerary. As an added bonus, the Shrine's views come free of charge.
'It offers visitors great views from the top that provide an overview of Melbourne's Paris-style layout, and it's an impressive piece of architecture in its own right.'
Of course, the Shrine itself is worthy of spending some time at observing and contemplating, not only for the views but the solemn beauty of its surrounds. The Shrine is one of the focal points for annual ANZAC ceremonies in Australia and sits amongst some immaculately-kept gardens, while the daily ceremonial taking down of the flags at 5:00pm is well worth attending if you're in the area.
With a facade that mirrors that of ancient Greece and a great lookout accessible for free just by climbing a few flights of stairs, the Shrine of Remembrance is the perfect way to kick off your Melbourne adventure - just remember to remove your hat upon entering (a mandatory sign of respect).
8 | Go Hot Air Ballooning
Location: Flights available over Melbourne CBD and Yarra Valley
Those with a bit of extra coin to spare and who are wanting some unforgettable views will want to take a hot air balloon ride over Melbourne, as it's one of the few cities in the world that allow such an experience directly over its skyline. Take in the beauty of the city as the sun rises and enjoy a bird's eye view of all that you survey amidst the pure calm and serene skies.
Balloon flights typically depart very early in the morning to take advantage of the calm morning air, so you'll get the added benefit of seeing Melbourne illuminated by the glow of the sunrise which makes for a particularly scenic experience.
'Balloon flights typically depart very early in the morning to take advantage of the calm morning air, so you'll get the added benefit of seeing Melbourne illuminated by the glow of the sunrise which makes for a particularly scenic experience.'
From high above, you'll be able to see many of the major landmarks and city highlights of Melbourne from a vantage point few others get to experience - regional attractions such as the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), Rod Laver Arena, Flemington Raceway, Albert Park Racetrack and much more take on an entirely different life when viewed from on high.
Balloon flights are also offered from destinations outside Melbourne that provide an alternative view if cityscapes aren't your thing; the Yarra Valley is especially popular, as the beautiful greenery and rolling vineyards below make for an entirely different spectacle. Alternatively, if your time's limited, a helicopter flight over Melbourne is the perfect choice for those wanting an aerial view of the city without the desire for the early morning wakeup call that a ballooning experience requires.
7 | See St. Paul's Cathedral / Flinders St Station
Location: Flinders and Swanson Streets, Melbourne CBD
Despite its modern and cosmopolitan reputation, Melbourne is home to numerous examples of impressive older architecture - two of the most impressive of which lie within short walking distance of one another.
Perhaps the most prominent and impressive of these is St. Paul's Cathedral. A truly stunning building constructed in typical Gothic style, the cathedral sits just across the road from Melbourne's historic Flinder's Street Station, and the two combine to make for a small 'hub' district that feels a world away from Australia's second-largest city despite being located right in its heart.
'Despite its modern and cosmopolitan reputation, Melbourne is home to numerous examples of impressive older architecture - two of the most impressive of which lie within short walking distance of one another.'
St. Paul's Cathedral is just as impressive inside as out; the interior boasts impressive craftsmanship as a lot of passion and work obviously went into its construction; from the wooden pews to the carvings on the walls and stained glass which emanates an array of colours from on high, the interior is both an impressive and tranquil place. One does not have to be a particularly religious or spiritual person to appreciate their time here, as the church serves as a pleasant and peaceful haven from the traffic and general city noise taking place just outside, and it's the ideal spot to duck in and enjoy on either a hot and steamy or rainy Melbourne day.
Flinder's Street Station, meanwhile, is just across the road and a respectable piece of architecture itself - the station serves as a great central hub that accurately reflects the atmosphere of Melbourne in general: slightly alternative, a strong cultural influence and a functional work of art. Flinder's Street Station is surrounded by various shops, coffees, and cafes while also serving as a gateway to the various other parts of Melbourne and its outlying suburbs, and if you're a fan of coffee there are plenty of spots both within and around to sample a cup of Melbourne's most famous brew.
6 | The Dandenong Ranges
Location: Approx. 1 hours' drive east of Melbourne CBD
Those looking for a dose of nature while getting out of the city for a day or two can look inland and head towards the lush reaches of the greater Melbourne region's Dandenong Ranges, an area that's both scenic and provides several unique activities of its own.
The majestic mountain range is famed for its towering Mountain Ash trees and features a blend of wonderful scenery, spots to get fantastic local food, charming little villages and small stores offering various hand-crafted goods. Options for exploring the ranges are numerous; ride on Australia's most notable narrow gauge railway through the breathtaking Blue Dandenong Ranges, visit the area by coach, join a smaller tour for the full Dandenong Ranges experience, or have the best of both worlds with a combined city and Dandenong Ranges tour.
'The majestic mountain range is famed for its towering Mountain Ash trees and features a blend of wonderful scenery, spots to get fantastic local food, charming little villages and small stores offering various hand-crafted goods.'
You'll likely want to go to the Dandenongs outside winter, as it gets cold enough for snow during the coolest parts of the year, and it's during the greener times of year the flora truly comes to life. During these seasons, it's highly recommended to join a wildlife coach tour to discover the Blue Dandenong Ranges, Yarra Valley and visit Healesville Sanctuary, or upgrade to include the Puffing Billy railway.
An overall pleasant getaway that puts the focus on nature that the kids are also likely to enjoy, the Dandenong Ranges are a great place to unwind and in which you'll want to spend multiple days if you want to get the most out of their offerings without rushing.
5 | The Queen Victoria Market
Location: Corner of Victoria Street and Elizabeth Street, Melbourne
Those with a need for knick-knacks will be in their element with a visit to Melbourne's Queen Victoria Markets, a bustling outdoor hub with an item, souvenir or meal to suit pretty much every taste. This is the Queen of all markets and the vibrant, exciting mix of cultures and ethnicities of Melbourne can be discovered here, with a variety of foods and souvenirs from all corners of the Earth on offer.
The markets also serve as a great place for breakfast or lunch, and you'll likely be able to grab yourself a meal from some far-reaching country for an entirely reasonable price that makes for a nice change of pace from the typical 'dine-in cafe' experience that is most popular in Melbourne.
'This is the Queen of all markets and the vibrant, exciting mix of cultures, cuisines and ethnicities of Melbourne can be discovered here.'
You don't have to be a visitor to the city to enjoy the markets, either; local Melbournians love the market as its a great place to pick up fresh fruit and groceries which you can stock up on if you are planning to stay in the city for several days. The only downside is that, due to its popularity, you'll have to be comfortable fighting crowds - if you can put up with this minor quibble, the markets make for an essential visit while in Melbourne.
The Queen Victoria Markets operate on the Corner of Elizabeth and Victoria Streets, on Tuesday and Thursday (6am-2pm), Friday (6am-4pm), Saturday (6am-3pm), Sunday (9am-4pm) each week.
4 | Experience the Great Ocean Road
Location: Starts approx. 1 hour, 15 minutes' drive to the south west of Melbourne at Torquay
Often acclaimed as the most stunning drive in Australia - and one of the best in the world - no trip to Melbourne that lasts a decent amount of time would be complete without setting foot (or wheel?) on The Great Ocean Road, one of Australia's most scenic vantage points.
Stretching over an expanse of 243km along the Victorian Coast, the sheer array of vistas and views on offer with a trip along the Great Ocean Road is staggering - enough that it's been voted as one of Australia's Top 10 Destinations to Experience 2013 as well as having one of Australia's Top 10 Sunsets in our national polls by the Aussie public.
'Often acclaimed as the most stunning drive in Australia - and one of the best in the world - no trip to Melbourne that lasts a decent amount of time would be complete without setting foot (or wheel?) on The Great Ocean Road.'
For those who are road savvy, the best option is often to rent a car, allowing you to take your time to explore the area, stopping at your leisure. If you're wanting to take the hassle out of the trip or ensure you don't miss any essential highlights, a coach tour is perfect for first timers or perhaps a small group tour is preferred. Regardless of your choice of transport options, you'll undoubtedly want to stop and take some photographs of the iconic Twelve Apostles rock formation - one of the most impressive geological highlights outside of Ayers Rock / Uluru that Australia has to offer.
There's a reason why this stretch of coastline is one of the most photographed parts of the country; the combined marine-and-rock-formation aspect is rare in Australia, and the numerous stops and viewing points along the way assure that those with a camera will come away with at least a few impressive mementos of their time exploring this natural Victorian treasure.
3 | Travel to Phillip Island
Location: Just under 2 hours' drive south of Melbourne
One of the most popular natural destinations that's reachable within a reasonable distance outside Melbourne, Phillip Island is especially famous for one reason: its penguins. With a trip to Phillip Island, you'll be able to watch thousands of Little Penguins make their way to shore every night at the home of the world's largest Little Penguin colony, an occurrence which is known as the 'Penguin Parade'.
There's plenty of other things to do on Phillip Island, as well: be sure to visit the nearby Koala Conservation Centre which will let you see dozens of these cute Aussie icons up close, and check out the geographical highlights offered by Churchill Island (home to a throwback working farm environment that reflects Victoria's heritage) and The Nobbies (a stunning stretch of headland featuring a range of scenery-rich wooden boardwalks).
'With a trip to Phillip Island, you'll be able to watch thousands of Little Penguins make their way to shore every night at the home of the world's largest Little Penguin colony, an occurrence which is known as the 'Penguin Parade'.'
For entry into all Phillip Island attractions, choose the 3 Park Pass, or combine with your choice of Melbourne attractions with the Melbourne 5 in 1 Pack. Get unlimited entry into Melbourne's best attractions - including those on Phillip Island - for 2, 3 or 7 days with a See Melbourne & Beyond Attraction Pass.
If you require transport, driving is an option (takes roughly 2 hours from Melbourne), or you can combine a city tour with a coach trip out to Phillip Island, or take a designated Phillip Island tour. If smaller group tours are your preferred option, there are Phillip Island and Penguin day tours available. Animal lovers will love the Penguin Skybox upgrade that provides a higher and clearer vantage point of the cute creatures making their way up the beach. Plus, it's something that kids will love!
2 | See the Wildlife at a Zoo or Aquarium
Location: Melbourne Aquarium - King Street, riverside in the Melbourne CBD; Melbourne Zoo - 4km to the north of the city CBD; Healesville Sanctuary - approx. 1 hour drive east of the Melbourne CBD; Werribee Open Range Zoo - roughly 30 minutes' drive to the south-west of the city CBD
Melbourne benefits more than most capital cities by offering an array of high-level wildlife attractions of various kinds, covering all the best local Aussie animals as well as exotic species from abroad. The city and its surrounds is rich in both zoos and aquariums, both of which are generally quite reasonably priced and provide a great destination to take the kids or to spend some time if the notoriously unreliable Melbourne weather turns sour.
All ends of the wildlife spectrum are covered between the attractions, and each attraction provides its own emphasis on the animal showcase offering: Melbourne Zoo is large and has the most diversity, Healesville Sanctuary is ideal for those wanting to encounter Australian natives, Werribee is an open display of African-style savannah, and SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium has all the underwater goodness you might expect.
'Melbourne benefits more than most capital cities by offering an array of high-level wildlife attractions of various kinds, covering all the best local Aussie animals as well as exotic species from abroad.'
Details on each of these wildlife options include:
Visit the award winning Melbourne Aquarium to discover the Antarctic penguins, the weird and wonderful sea life and be amazed by the 2.2 million litre Oceanarium. For those after something a little closer-up, try the shark dive xtreme experience, with options for both veteran divers and first-timers alike that will see you coming face-to-face with these marvellous ocean predators.
Melbourne Zoo offers more than 320 species including our favourite gorillas, elephants, lions, meerkats and orang-utans - all only 4km from the city centre. Don't miss the Meet the Keeper presentations! For a more intimate experience, upgrade and meet the elephants up close!
The bushland setting of the city's outskirts serves as the perfect locale for Healesville Sanctuary, a facility filled with Australia's most recognisable and unique wildlife including koalas, kangaroos, emus and dingoes.
Just 30 minutes from the city centre sits the spectacular and far-reaching Werribee Open Range Zoo, which features 225 hectares of open savannah with the best of African wildlife. A refreshing change from the animals-in-cages motif of most other zoological facilities.
Which one of these zoos is best? It depends on your personal tastes, as each of these have their own plusses and minuses including distance from city centre, price and facilities, however no matter which you choose, all are highly regarded and provide a solid day of wildlife viewing and interaction. Visit our Melbourne zoos section by clicking below to book tickets for each of these online.
1 | Explore the city's Laneways
Location: Various locations, Melbourne CBD & surrounds
Note: Click the following link for a detailed breakdown of some recommended Melbourne Itineraries for stays of 2, 3, 4 and 5 days, or here for our comprehensive guide to Melbourne in One Day.
Melbourne the city itself is, undisputedly, the main attraction, and whether by bike, by bus or by foot, exploring the city is an absolute must. Filled with quirky alley ways, hidden shops, art galleries and indie theatres, it certainly earns its reputation as Australia's culture capital - Melbourne simply wouldn't be Melbourne without its laneways, thus simply exploring the city serves as viable entertainment in itself.
Dining is also an obvious focus that Melbournians take pride in, and there are entire dedicated streets and laneways to offering all manner of quality fare - while coffee is its most famous product, the mix of international cultures in Melbourne means that the likes of Greek, Italian, Chinese, and various other cuisines all have standout restaurants offering great dishes here.
'Filled with quirky alley ways, hidden shops, art galleries and indie theatres, it certainly earns its reputation as Australia's culture capital - Melbourne simply wouldn't be Melbourne without its laneways, thus simply exploring the city serves as an attraction in itself.'
Some of the top spots and quirks of the city you'll want to witness include:
Melbourne's artistic side is perhaps one of its most impressive features, and it shows throughout all parts of the city - particularly its streets. A walk through Melbourne means you can stroll through beautiful lanes and arcades that add to the charm either on your own or discover Melbourne's hidden secrets with a walking tour hosted by a passionate local. Take in a tour of wine tastings and food at top restaurants, view the local art, take a vintage shopping outing, discover the various architectural highlights, or take the ever-essential coffee and cafe culture walk that will allow you to sample what many believe is some of the best coffee in Australia. Feel free to indulge, you can always walk it off!
While Melbourne's public transportation is some of the best of the country, cycling the city is also a popular way to get around. Get pedalling on a bike and make your way from point to point while getting a dose of fresh air and fitness, or join in a bike tour to explore Melbourne's grooviest streets, parks, shops, cafes, hidden laneways and multicultural neighbourhoods.
Do something a little different and see the sights of Melbourne from an antique Victorian horse drawn carriage - particularly if you're celebrating a special occasion. The site of these carriages drawn by their massive Clydesdale horses are a frequent - and impressive - site throughout the city, escorting couples and other like-minded travellers past the city's various highlights at a relaxed pace.
Melbourne's shopping is also a point of pride that has become famous enough to put it on the worldwide map, and if a bargain puts a smile on your dial, there are a huge range of shopping opportunities - from small boutiques to bustling markets - to satisfy any shopoholic's needs. Most will want to start out with experiencing massive shopping centre Chadstone on the city's outskirts, which boasts more than 400 stores in total, or take stroll down the Bourke Street Mall for a more boutique-style sampling of retail therapy. Alternatively, head out on a shopping tour complete with a cafe lunch and a glass of bubbles. This will let you uncover the best discount outlets and hidden warehouses that Melbourne has to offer - without needing to be a local to find them.
Melbourne's strong sporting culture means that those who love their athletics will be spoiled for choice for places to see and things to do. There are plenty of famous venues in the city - such as the MCG, 2006 Commonwealth Games Village, Albert Part, Flemington Raceway, Rod Laver Arena, National Sports Museum and more - each of which offers something slightly different yet all are rich in sporting history. Go behind the scenes at Melbourne's world class sporting venues with a sports tour if you'd like to get an insider's perspective!
If you're pressed for time or simply wanting to explore the best highlights with an optimised itinerary and without having to stress over navigating your way around, a city tour may instead do the trick. For the comfort of a coach, book in on a sightseeing tour of Melbourne that ensures no sights are missed and just kick back, relax and enjoy the scenery.
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