The Best Tours and Fun Things to Do in Melbourne
Who needs the “world’s most liveable city” title when you can be the happiest city around? Yes, Melbourne’s done it again, out-smiling the competition this time in a worldwide ranking of the cities that bring cheer.
It’s great news if you’re planning your Melbourne holidays. But to have a truly happy vacation, you’ll have to do some of the work too. According to Jaime Kurtz, author of The Happy Traveler, you can increase your chances of satisfaction and fulfilment while on holiday by:
being sociable, especially with strangers;
finding ways to have a novel experience every day;
making the effort to immerse yourself—and hopefully be awestruck—in your new surroundings.
To do all of the above, why not join a Melbourne tour? And if you’re on the hunt for the best Melbourne day tours, the PARKROYAL Melbourne Airport team has a list of experiences that will make your day.
Below are the top ways to see the city:
1. Begin with a Meaningful Melbourne Walk
Seeking a local Melbourne tour to match your interests and personality? Melbournewalks has over 100 themed walks to choose from, all of which can be customised for individuals, couples, families, and larger groups.
Love all things contemporary? Pick a laneway tour for a crash course on Melburnian architecture, street art, and the best alleyway cafes and shops. (Fun fact: The British surveyor Robert Hoddle, who drew up Melbourne’s street map in the 1800s, opted to exclude lanes as they were not “respectable.” That did little to hinder commercial and social activity from thriving within these lanes, giving rise to the distinctive laneway culture that Melbourne is known for today.)
To learn more about Melbourne’s history, choose a historian-led tour, such as the “Top of Historic Melbourne” walk, which takes you to rooftops and other lofty spots offering a bird’s eye view of heritage Melbourne.
Prefer a story- or personality-driven tour? Try the Madame Brussels Tour—you’ll travel back to the grubby realities of 19th century Melbourne, where a brothel owner (Madame Brussels, real name Caroline Hodges) rose to prominence while incurring the Church’s ire, earning the scathing title “Queen of Evil and Harlotry.” Explore how the poverty-stricken in Melbourne lived during those times, and how women like Madame Brussels forced the city to reckon with its morals and lifestyles.
You could also take the Squizzy Taylor Tour to get acquainted with one of Melbourne’s most notorious gangsters back in the early 1900s. This tour takes you through the Richmond suburb, where you’ll walk in Squizzy’s shoes to reimagine life in Melbourne’s former “struggletown.” Happily, the area today is no longer in dire straits—popular with Vietnamese migrants, Richmond is now better known as “Little Saigon.”
2. Taste Melbourne’s Best Coffees
"There are coffee shops in every corner in Melbourne, but you can bet they are good because if not, they would get out of business real quick," claims Fiona Sweetman, owner of Hidden Secrets Tours.
In a city where most (if not all) cafes purportedly serve good coffee, you’d want to cut to the chase and begin with the best. You can accomplish this with the Hidden Secrets Cafe Culture Walk, where you will visit big names in the business, such as Pelligrini’s. (They’ve claimed to be the first in Melbourne to use an espresso machine, although it’s probably more accurate to call them trendsetters, rather than the absolute first.) Pelligrini’s opened in 1954, and for decades, were considered the top of their game until modern-day preferences took over—you’ll find out what these are on the tour.
Don’t worry if you’re primarily a tea or hot chocolate drinker—the cafe walk can be customised for your preferences, so feel free to join in the fun!
Experienced in handling travellers with physical challenges, Hidden Secrets Tours can also curate an inclusive tour for you or your travel companions, should you require wheelchair-accessible options, or itineraries that suit the visually impaired.
Book a tour with Hidden Secrets
3. Dig Deep into Melbourne’s National Treasure
Bibliophiles: if you’re planning to visit the city’s State Library Victoria (established in 1856, making it the oldest library in Australia), you mustn’t miss the library’s free tour, cheekily known as the “Dome to Catacomb” tour.
According to a guide who conducts these tours, it will reveal one of Melbourne’s great secrets—you will be given access to the entire building, to wander into storage areas, peer down the library’s distinctive domed reading room from the top floor, and wade into the depths of the catacombs, i.e. the library’s old card catalogue room. You will even take a lift that once transported taxidermied elephants, back when the building also housed the Melbourne Museum. During your sojourn, you’ll hear behind-the-scenes stories about the library, and how it’s devoted to keeping the passion for books alive.
4. Pay Tribute to a Melbourne City Landmark
It’s one of the best places for your Melbourne photos, but this building doesn’t just sit pretty—the Parliament House, with its sweeping steps and grand colonnade, is a symbol of strength and power. When the Parliament of Victoria is not in session, the Parliament House attracts hundreds of visitors, many of whom recommend joining one of its free tours.
Most opt for the standard group tour, where you won’t need to book a slot unless you are travelling in a group of six or more. If you can plan ahead, try securing a place on one of their longer specialised tours, such as the architecture tour, the gardens tour, the art tour, or the behind-the-scenes tour.
See if you can spot this while you’re there: in the Legislative Council chamber, look out for the beatific angel sculptures that adorn the walls, particularly one holding a chain. Meant to depict the angel of liberty, the chain was originally broken to represent one’s freedom from shackles. As fate (or God’s will) would have it, the chain was unwittingly pieced together during a spot of maintenance work, and it hasn’t been “fixed” since!
5. Indulge in Melbourne’s Best Food
What are some “must eat” dishes or iconic food places in Melbourne? Local foodies can often be found at St. Kilda, which is one of the city’s most diverse and multicultural neighbourhoods.
To make your food trek easy, join the Melbourne Food Tour by Secret Food Tours, where you’ll get to sample well-loved Australian treats such as the lamington cake—a decadent sponge cake covered in melted chocolate and coconut. (Apparently, there’s a dispute with the New Zealanders over who invented this cake.)
You’ll also enjoy a light meal of Vietnamese dim sum, stop at an Irish pub for bites, and savour a mystery dish. Last but not least, you’ll get the chance to taste three Australian wines—a perfectly hedonistic way to end your gastronomic adventures.
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