19 of the Best Things to Do In Melbourne (and 7 to Avoid)

Melbourne is a world class city with a huge list of fun activities to engage in. It is best known for being a cultural hub and foodies paradise with museums, galleries, quirky restaurants, and quality coffee on every corner. 

The streets show off a unique blend of old colonial architecture dating back to the 1800s, that has been preserved amongst what is probably the most modern skyline in Australia. 

It is the home of global sporting events like the Australian Grand Prix, Australian Open, and Melbourne Cup. But you don’t have to visit these major events to get the full Melbourne experience. 

We have put this list together so you can create your own must do itinerary for your Melbourne vacation. 

Why Listen to Us? 

I spent two years living in Melbourne for a temporary work assignment and got to play the role of both tourist and local through this time. I got to know the city well and wanted to go beyond the typical list of popular tourist spots in Melbourne. 

The list is split into CBD and non-CBD locations so you can quickly find the activities close to you, and to match the time you have available to venture further out. 

We have also separated out those options that are popular for travelers, but are overrated (in our opinion) so you can save some time and stick to the good stuff! 

Things to do in Melbourne CBD

The beauty of all of these destinations is that you can reach all of them on the tram network for free! 

The free tram zone covers almost all of the CBD and allows for unlimited use of Melbourne’s tram network without having to pay for a ticket. You will never be far from the nearest tram station and this allows you to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.

1. Gas Brigades Fire Show (Crown Casino)

Gas Brigades Fire Show at CrownThe waterfront promenade outside of Crown Casino features a series of big stacks that shoot flames out the top in a choreographed show of fire that takes place on the hour, every hour after sunset.

The first time you see this you may be surprised by just how hot and loud these flamethrowers are. It is a spectacular sight!

If you are in the middle of the promenade you will feel the heat but will not be able to appreciate the dancing flames given just how long this walkway is. 

For the best views head up to the bridge crossing the Yarra River at either Spencer St, or Queens Bridge St.

There are also plenty of great restaurants on the waterfront here and the Casino itself if you wanted to make a whole night of it. 

  • When: Sunset until 1am (depending on the weather)
  • Time Required: 10 minutes
  • Also check out: The Casino and surrounding restaurants. 

2. Chinatown

China TownYes, almost every major city has its own Chinatown. But there are two very good reasons to visit this one. 

The first is Shanghai Village. This is my favorite Chinese Restaurant of all time! 

It is 4-5 floors of very informal dining that often has a line around the block on a Friday night. With BYO alcohol you can bring a couple of bottles of wine and go crazy on what is a very inexpensive menu. 

The fried dumplings and the chicken in szechuan chilli sauce are both amazing! 

If the line is too long check out Empress of China which is just two doors up the road. 

The second reason is the number of cool and unique cocktail bars that are hidden in the surrounding laneways. 

One recommendation is The Croft Institute which seems to be setup in an old hospital. They will serve cocktails with syringes, and you can lay down on a hospital bed if you want to. 

It is strange, but fun. 

  • When: Restaurants open all day, but the area comes to life after dark
  • Time Required: 30 min to 2 hours

3. Hardware Lane

Hardware LaneIf Chinese food isn’t your thing then nearby is a small laneway full of restaurants with tables out in the street that has an equally lively atmosphere. 

There is plenty of choice for the type of cuisine, often there is live music being played, and the lighting also just created a fun outdoor atmosphere to dine in. 

  • When: Restaurants open all day, but the area comes to life after dark
  • Time Required: 30 min to 2 hours

4. Eureka Skydeck 88

Eureka Skydeck 88Whenever I visit a new city I always seek out the best view in town and this is the highest point to get uninterrupted views of Melbourne city and the surrounding areas.

The viewing platform is on the 88th floor and nearly 300m above ground. The views are amazing with my favourite angle being out over Port Phillip Bay to the south. 

You can also head out onto The Egde which is a cube that extends over the side of the building when the bottom suddenly becomes clear and the drop below your feet becomes visible. 

There are also restaurants on the 89th floor if you want a dining experience in the sky. 

  • When: 12pm – 10pm
  • Time Required: 1 – 2 hours depending on the line 
  • Also check out: Melbourne Star Observation Wheel

5. Flinders St Railway Station

Flinders St Station at NightIn my opinion this building captures everything about Victorian architecture in one go and is synonymous with a city that is actually very modern.

I would also recommend that you visit the site twice! 

During the day you will be able to admire the architecture, and at night time they turn on these bright green lights that give the building a totally different look. 

  • When: Anytime
  • Time Required: Allow 1-2 hours to just walk the streets and check out the best buildings in the area. 
  • Also check out: Parliament House, St Paul‘s Cathedral, Manchester Unity Building, the Forum.

6. Royal Melbourne Hotel

Royal Melbourne HotelStop in for a beer in this former 19th century police station turned modern day pub. 

The original facade of the building is in pretty good shape considering the age, and the renovations completed inside give a very comfortable dining/drinking experience while retaining some of the old features that remind you of a very colorful past.

The row of old cell doors especially are rather confronting. 

  • When: 11am until late.
  • Time Required: 60-90 minutes for lunch/dinner and a couple of drinks.
  • Also check out: The Colonial Hotel on King St

7. Niska: Robotic Ice-Cream Bar in Federation Square

Niska Robotic Ice Cream BarAnd just nearby is federation square. I would have placed this destination into the list of meh places below that are popular but don’t actually have that much going for them. 

There is always some kind of event or display and it is a lively area, but nothing I have ever seen that would make it a must visit. 

But I have recently discovered the robotic ice-cream shop that is tucked into the back corner of the square. 

This is worth a visit just for the novelty of it. 

The look on the face of the robot while he happily scooped up your selection had me laughing. 

Be warned though, it is overpriced. 

  • When: 11am – 8pm
  • Time Required: 10 minutes

8. Melbourne Museum

Phar Lap at Melbourne MuseumThis museum has very broad appeal. 

Being a huge fan of horse racing I was drawn here to see the taxidermy of the mighty Phar Lap. A horse that raced back in the time of the great depression and was a national hero through what was a difficult period. He is a legend of Australian sport. 

The dinosaur exhibits are also impressive and are a sure hit with kids.

  • When: 11am until late.
  • Time Required: 60-90 minutes for lunch/dinner and a couple of drinks.
  • Also check out: The Colonial Hotel on King St

9. Street Art

Melbourne Street ArtThe CBD is scattered with narrow laneways that look a bit trashy from a distance. But venture into these dark corners and you will find street art gems that add to the character of the city. 

This forms part of an ever changing CBD landscape. What you see on one visit may have completely changed by the time you return. 

As you walk the streets and explore the city take some detours down any laneway that catches your eye. You never know what you will find. 

  • When: Anytime
  • Time Required: 2-4 hours
  • Also check out: You will find similar art outside of the city limits on buildings and down laneways. 

10. Victoria Markets

Queen Victoria MarketThis is the best known and biggest market in the Melbourne area. Whether it is the best is up for debate but you will have a fun time in there anyway. 

The farmers bring in their best produce to sell to us city folk and the quality is outstanding. 

I am not much of a shopper, but I loved going to these markets to sample the different food on offer. The choices are endless and you will rarely be disappointed. 

You can also jump on an organised foodie tour if you are interested in a broader experience. 

  • When: Hours vary so check here before visiting. 
  • Time Required: 30 min – 2 hours
  • Also check out: South Melbourne Markets just outside the CBD (and find the famous dumplings).

11. Big Name Theatre Shows

Princess Theatre Harry PotterThere are three theatres is where you will find the big name shows. 

We caught Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Princess Theatre (just before COVID hit!). It sits right on the edge of China Town and was the perfect spot for a four hour marathon show with a quick dinner at Shanghai Village in between. 

Not all shows will go for as long and the time commitment less of an imposition. 

  • When: Afternoon or Evening (book ahead!)
  • Time Required: Allow 2 hours if watching a show
  • Locations to check out: Princess Theatre, Her Majesty’s Theatre, and the State Theatre

12. Melbourne Sea Life Aquarium 

SEA Aquarium PenguinsThere are two attractions here that set Melbourne Aquarium apart from what you will find in other major cities; the penguins and the saltwater crocodile. 

The penguins live in a massive icy habitat that features viewing windows both above and below the water level underneath specially built arctic terrain.. And there are a lot of very active penguins!!

The crocodile is just massive and a must see!

Elsewhere you will find all the things you would expect from a major aquarium.

  • When: 10am – 5.30pm
  • Time Required: 2 – 3 hours
  • Also check out: Melbourne Zoo

13. State Library

Victoria State LibraryWhy would I visit a library on vacation? Well there is only one reason really. 

The La Trobe Reading Room is a grand piece of architecture and a must visit! 

A hub and spoke formation of desks coming out from the centre of the room is surrounded by multiple levels of balconies and book cases. 

This leads up to a large glassy dome that allows natural light into this vast space. 

It also has books…

  • When: 10am – 6pm
  • Time Required: 15 – 60 minutes (more if you want to do some reading)

14. Fitzroy Gardens

Fitzroy GardensThere are plenty of nice green spaces in and around the Melbourne CBD and you can go to any that are convenient to your location. 

I wouldn’t visit any of them as an activity or landmark, but if you want to sit somewhere nice while you have lunch or a coffee then Fitzroy Gardens is as nice as any of them. 

If you feel like a walk you will find pathways flanked by big leafy trees and open green spaces surrounding them. 

There are ponds, mini waterfalls, and a cottage that was built by the parents of Captain Cook (who discovered Australia back in the 18th century) in the 1750’s over in England. I have no idea why it was moved to it’s current location but it certainly adds character to the park

  • When: Anytime
  • Time Required: 10 min – 2 hours
  • Also check out: Flagstaff Gardens, and Carlton Gardens

Things to do Outside of Melbourne CBD

1. HM Prison Pentridge

Pentridge Prison MelbourneAn infamous Australian Jail that was built back in 1851. 

While most of it is now a housing development there are some of the old sections that are completely intact and open for tourists… and wine storage. The thick walls are good insulation apparently. 

The perimeter fence and main gate is also still in place and is an imposing sight. 

We went on one of the night time ghost tours. Some of the highlights (if you can call them that) was a cell previously occupied by a devil worshipping serial killer, the gallows with the hangman’s noose at the door, and the very public showers and toilet in the yard. 

All giving a window into just how awful conditions in the jail were for over 150+ years of operation. 

Read about our Ghost Tour experience here

  • When: Evenings on Fri, Sat & Sun
  • Time Required: 90 minutes
  • Also check out: Old Melbourne Gaol (now a museum that is easier to access 10am – 6pm daily)

2. MCG

MCG on Boxing DayJust a magnificent sporting ground and it is worth taking the stadium tour if you are into that kind of thing. 

I would recommend you try and catch an event here, but if you are coming from overseas then a game of cricket or AFL (if you have even heard of it) probably doesn’t interest you. 

However, this near 170 year old ground does have history worthy of international significance. It hosted both the 1956 olympics, and 2006 Commonwealth Games, and a mass from Pope John Paul II back in 1986.

  • When: 10am – 3pm
  • Time Required: 90 minutes
  • Also check out: Marvel Stadium in Docklands

3. Check out the Horse Racing

Flemington RacecourseThe Melbourne Cup is a world famous event that takes place on the first Tuesday in November every year. If you can time your visit for this you will not be disappointed. 

But there is high class racing on almost every Saturday all year round. But check out the Autumn (Fall) and Spring Carnivals to really get that Australian racing atmosphere. 

It is glamorous and formal, but social and fun! Any of the major tracks will deliver a good experience at carnival time so no need to be too picky. 

If you are after something more casual then check out Friday night racing at Mooney Valley in the summertime. 

No need to dress up for this one and you get good racing, music in between races, food trucks and a great atmosphere. 

  • When: Any Saturday (but check programming)
  • Time Required: 11am – 6pm (depending on the season)
  • Venues: Flemington, Caulfield, Mooney Valley, Sandown

4. Melbourne Zoo

Melbourne ZooIt ain’t got nothing on Sydney’s Taronga Zoo but it is still world class. 

There are eight themed sections of the precinct that include Lion Gorge, Gorilla Rainforest, Trail of the Elephants and the Australian Bush. 

The reptile section is always a favorite of mine and while the selection is quite small, they had one of the most impressive display of Taipans I have ever seen. There were at least four in there that were 3-4ft long. 

And they looked menacing!!

The range of animals is impressive and you can easily fill most of the day exploring each corner of the zoo.

The complex is also very flat which makes a big difference to tired legs late in the day!

  • When: 9am – 8pm (depending on season)
  • Time Required: 4 – 6 hours
  • Also check out: Collingwood Children’s Farm

5. Legoland

Lego MelbourneThis is only worth a visit if you have kids with you, and it is overpriced for what it is. But, the lego model of Melbourne that features in the middle of the complex I thought was worth a mention. 

I was fascinated by it… But its not worth the trip on its own. 

You can get cheaper entry when combining with an Aquarium ticket. But again, it’s targeted at kids. 

  • When: 9.30am – 5.30pm
  • Time Required: 1 – 2 hours

Popular Things To Do That We Don’t Recommended

1. Cruise on the Yarra River

Yarra River CruiseThese cruise boats are leaving all day full of people. I am sure you get a nice relaxing ride along the water. 

But the Yarra River is narrow so you don’t get the different perspective claimed by many other blogs that recommend this. It’s the same perspective from a slightly lower point because you are right on the water. 

You still see the same stuff and you can cross to both sides of the river via the numerous bridges if you really want a different perspective

If you like boats and want to relax your feet while taking in the view, yes! But don’t expect to have your mind blown.

2. Melbourne Star Observation Wheel

If you go to the Skydeck then don’t bother with the wheel. You will get a great view of the city from both but the relative height makes this a no contest. 

But, if you are staying in the Docklands part of the city then this may be a more convenient option if you are pressed for time. 

3. Luna Park Melbourne

Luna Park MelbourneThis is an old relic of an amusement park that does have a certain sense of nostalgia to it. But that’s about all it has going for it. 

The rides are ok but nothing special. Same with the St Kilda location. 

If you are staying nearby you may as well check it out. But it is not worth the trip from the CBD. 

4. Visit the Beach

Brighton BeachBrighton Beach is famous for the beach boxes, and St Kilda is also popular amongst locals. But this doesn’t mean that either are worth visiting. 

Locals will then point you towards Altona Beach. But, come on…

To state it plainly, the beaches in Melbourne suck compared to Sydney. So don’t bother. 

5. Botanical Gardens

Melbourne Botanical GardensIt is a nice area, but it is out of the way, very hilly, and not that impressive. 

Other green spaces in the city do not have quite the variety of flowers and plants but are as nice and more convenient. 

But, if you are a horticulture enthusiast check it out. 

6. Riding a Horse & Carriage 

Horse & Carriage MelbourneI am not against the idea of a horse & carriage but there is something about this mode of transport in the middle of a city that I just don’t get. 

But more importantly, what do you really get out of this experience? You are not in the countryside so the clip clop of hooves will be overcome by the noise of cars, trucks and lots of people whizzing around.

7. Shopping

Melbourne ShoppingYes, the shopping in Melbourne is apparently very good and if that’s your thing then you will have a great time.

Start in Bourke St Mall and get lost in the surrounding streets from there. 

But in my biased male opinion, shopping is shopping and you can buy anything you want online from anywhere in the world… So why bother.

Final Word

We are still just scratching the surface for all that Melbourne has to offer and we will always encourage you to venture beyond what is on this list and explore the different corners of the city. 

But this should offer a useful starting point to explore the city from. 

Heading outside of Melbourne? Check out: 

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