The Top Things to Do on Your Melbourne Holidays
Welcome to Melbourne! If you are a first-time visitor, you’d probably have the following questions in your mind: What are the iconic places in Melbourne to visit? What are some Melbourne must-eats? And what are the best Melbourne attractions at night?
Officially, Melbourne may no longer be the “world’s most liveable city,” but for many locals and travellers, no other city comes close. After all, Melbourne is Australia’s cultural and foodie capital, and it’s also known as one of the best coffee cities in the world. What more could a traveller ask for?
If you’re on your maiden Melbourne holidays and need travel suggestions, read on for our insider recommendations, brought to you by the team at PARKROYAL Melbourne Airport. These include:
For guests at PARKROYAL Melbourne Airport, being adjacent to the Melbourne Airport is great for hassle-free stopovers, but that’s not all. You can also take a 15-minute drive to the Sunbury Wine Region, where vineyards have been winning awards since the 1850s. This charming rural area is known for its farm-to-table restaurants and world-class cellar doors, making it the perfect destination for a day trip or a weekend escape.
If you have more time (and hopefully you do!), the famed Melbourne city centre—a wellspring of cosy cafés, cultural institutions, and lush parklands—is just 20 minutes away.
Use our guide to find out exactly how liveable Melbourne is, and we guarantee that you’ll fall in love with this city too!
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The Best Melbourne Places of Interest
Don’t skip out on Melbourne’s best attractions, which are conveniently located in the heart of the city centre.
1. Begin Your Day at the Royal Botanic Gardens
Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens is the city’s oasis of calm, featuring a picturesque collection of over 8.500 plant species from around the world. Little wonder then that to locals, the Royal Botanic Gardens is no mere park, but a healing space for quiet solitude or joyous camaraderie.
To explore the Gardens, you can download the official map to plan your visit, or look for walking routes recommended by park regulars. A more comfortable option is to book a ride on the Garden Explorer—this buggy tour led by an expert guide takes about 30 minutes to complete a full loop of the park. For booking details (as well as information on other visitor activities), refer to the park’s What’s On page.
2. Be Entranced by Art at the National Gallery of Victoria
Founded in 1861, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is the largest and most visited art institution in Australia. The NGV’s 70,000 artworks span thousands of years—from the cave scrawls of ancient civilisations to contemporary art installations—and cover a wide spectrum of disciplines and inspirations.
To fully appreciate the NGV’s collection, you should visit both its locations. Visitors typically head to the NGV International in the Southbank arts precinct, which houses the gallery’s treasured masterpieces from Europe, America, Asia, and Oceania. However, the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square is worth seeing as well. Home to the NGV’s stunning Australian art, you’ll get to feast your eyes on indigenous (as well as non-indigenous) artworks from the colonial period to the present day. Both locations run daily guided tours for free.
3. Uncover Historic Victoria at the Melbourne Museum
What was life in Victoria like, beginning 600 million years ago? The popular Melbourne Museum takes you way back in time as you piece together the story of Victoria with the help of engaging and dazzling displays. Kids in particular will relish coming face to face with an animatronic Qantassaurus—a small dinosaur that lived in Victoria some 120 million years ago!
This is truly a museum for curious explorers of all ages. First-timers and regulars alike will be delighted with the tall trees and wondrous wildlife in the Forest Gallery, the impressive collection of fossils and specimens (including skulls of giant megafauna, early whales, and marsupials) in the Science and Life Gallery, and artefacts that reveal the ingenuity and tenacity of Australia’s indigenous people at the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre.
4. Eat, Shop, and Play at the Queen Victoria Market
Open for business since 1878, Queen Victoria Market is a beloved Melbourne institution featuring over 700 traders, most of whom run family businesses. It’s the city’s best shopping spot if you love fresh food, clothes, jewellery, handcrafted goods, and souvenirs—and who doesn’t?
Even the locals have made a tradition out of visiting QVC or Queen Vic Market, as it’s affectionately known. There is a palpable sense of community here, not just between the stall owners, but also the regulars, who have connected with one another over numerous visits, or through the generations.
For a quick introduction to the market’s food and beverage section, book a foodie tour to gain insider tips on the tastiest treats. To get around easily, bookmark the market’s interactive map for reference.
Looking for things to do in Melbourne after dark? The Queen Victoria Night Market runs on Wednesday nights during the summer season (November to March). Featuring delicious ethnic foods and specialty stalls, as well as “live” entertainment, there’s no better place for an evening of good vibes and fun.
5. Get Spooked at the Old Melbourne Gaol
Melbourne’s symbol of law and order from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, the Old Melbourne Gaol was where dangerous criminals were held alongside petty offenders, the homeless, and the mentally ill. It was also the site of 133 hangings, including the execution of Ned Kelly—Australia’s most notorious gang leader.
Today, you can visit the Old Melbourne Gaol to find out what life was like for the men and women who lived and died here. While the attraction is open during the day, it is the night tours that are the highlight—test your mettle with the ghost tour, the hangman’s tour, or the watch house tour, where you can experience firsthand what it was like to be in a cell block inhabited by hardened criminals.
Top Local Experiences in Melbourne
Want to explore Melbourne like a local? Ditch the tourist traps for meaningful experiences that will help you to understand Melbourne’s history and culture.
6. Visit Eclectic Neighbourhoods
Interested in checking out Melbourne’s hipster neighbourhoods, such as Fitzroy, Collingwood, and Carlton? If you think street art is the sole attraction here, think again.
To see a different side to these neighbourhoods, join the socially responsible tour operator Wayward Wanders on their “Alternative Tour.” With the help of an expert guide, you’ll learn how these precincts were shaped by indigenous traditions, colonisation, modern-day protest culture, and gentrification.
You’ll also find that these neighbourhoods are still in a state of transition, with ongoing projects, such as urban gardens and social enterprises, that bring hope for the future. But rest assured it’s not all seriousness on this tour. Your guide will share local tips (best nightlife, food, and shopping spots) to ensure that you’ll have maximum fun too!
7. Uncover Melbourne’s Hidden Gems
Sure, there’s plenty of great food, coffee, and other noteworthy experiences in Melbourne, but only if you know where to look. This is where a local guide comes in handy!
Hidden Secrets Tours runs off-the-beaten-track cafe, foodie, laneway, and bar tours for visitors who don’t have a local friend to show them around. It’s your chance to meet creative and passionate individuals who exemplify the Melburnian spirit, while supporting a local tour outfit that firmly believes in sustainability and social responsibility.
Book a tour with Hidden Secrets Tours
8. Celebrate Diversity and Community through Food
If you believe food is the way to a traveller’s heart, consider joining a cooking class at Free to Feed. This social enterprise helps those seeking asylum in Melbourne to find work while building kinship in their new city.
Under the Free to Feed’s programme, new immigrants host cooking classes to proudly showcase their culinary traditions—doing so gives them confidence, as well as a voice to share their personal stories.
Currently, Free To Feed hosts cooking classes dedicated to the culinary traditions of Iraq, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and other West and South Asian countries. Classes are open to everyone, from foodies to first-time cooks. However, slots fill up quickly, so remember to book early!
Book a cooking class with Free to Feed
Where to Eat and Drink in Melbourne
A case of too many palate-pleasing choices in Melbourne, and too little time? We’ve narrowed down the gastronomic options for you.
9. Enjoy the Best Brunch in the Melbourne CBD
You can’t go wrong with brunch at Axil Coffee Roasters—the brunch here is exceptional, says Delicious Australia, and the coffee impeccable (i.e. locally roasted, high quality, and ethical), according to TimeOut. There are several outlets, but the flagship cafe is located at Hawthorne.
10. Experience Australian Fine Dining at Attica
Dining out at Attica will cost you—in March 2020, prices will increase to AU$310/USD215 per head—but it’s worth every penny if you’re looking for an award-winning meal. What can you expect from a meal at Attica? Imagine an upmarket Australian bush tucker experience that embraces overlooked Australian ingredients and cuisines. In other words, think kangaroo, seafood, and wild fruits and nuts, matched with some of the finest wines from Australia and beyond.
11. Knock Back Classic Cocktails at The Everleigh
It’s the Cocktail Bar of the Year, according to the 2019 Australian Bar Awards. A night out at The Everleigh promises to be a memorable Melbourne experience. After entering through an American diner, walking down a dimly lit hallway and climbing a few stairs, you will be whisked back in time to a bar reminiscent of the golden era, dedicated to classic cocktails and service.
12. Get Cozy at the Union Electric
Want to try the finest cocktails, craft beers, and exquisite delicacies from exotic lands? Head to Union Electric, Australia’s Bar of the Year and a comfortable, intimate space totally devoid of airs—only the drinks matter here, and they’re top-notch.