10 Must See Sights in Melbourne and Surrounds
A city of culture, coffee, colour and contrasts, Melbourne is widely regarded as one of the best all-round cities not only in Australia, but on the global stage. As a frequent contender for the title of "World's Most Liveable City", it's an urban metropolis that still retains something of a small-town feel, with an emphasis on the artistic, quality dining and plenty of historic architecture to explore.
In this article, we break down what are the top 10 "Must-Do" experiences and sights to visit while in Melbourne to help you get the most out of your visit to this diverse and lively capital city. We attempt to cover attractions and sights catering for a broad range of tastes, however regardless of your interests, all of these items are worth a visit during your time in Victoria's capital.
Melbourne Cricket Ground
You'd be hard pressed to find an Australian who doesn't have at least one fond sporting memory of an event that was held during their lifetime at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (or MCG as it is more popularly known). Having been host to such amazing sporting events as the 1956 Olympic Games, the first ever cricket Test match, the 2006 Commonwealth Games, the 1992 World Cup and countless VFL and AFL Grand Finals, the MCG is a historic and permanent fixture in Australian sports (as well as the scene of numerous blockbuster music and celebrity performances).
Melbourne has one of the proudest sporting cultures of any Australian city, and the MCG is a true reflection of that fact, being a venue that is huge but still manages to maintain a feeling of friendly intimacy. Numerous tours are available that allow interested parties to go behind the scenes of the venue, sit in the coach's box, visit the change rooms and media centres, and more for the quintessential MCG experience. The stadium also contains the National Sports Museum, a facility which includes some of the most priceless pieces of memorabilia in Aussie sporting history.
"You'd be hard pressed to find an Australian who doesn't have at least one fond sporting memory of an event that was held during their lifetime at the iconic MCG."
The MCG isn't only strictly for sporting nuts however; the sheer degree of significancethe stadium has for Australian culture will have an impact on the non-sports-fan as well. The venue also has multiple facilities inside that serve food and drinks including cafes, bars and restaurants for added convenience.
Location: Yarra Park, Jolimont, Melbourne, Victoria 8002
Shrine of Remembrance
Victoria's largest war memorial and perhaps Melbourne's most recognised landmark, the Shrine of Remembrance stands as a lasting tribute to our country's fallen soldiers and various other servicemen who sacrificed their lives during the First and Second World Wars to help ensure our freedom.
Holding over 120 ceremonies and commemorative services throughout the year, the Shrine is also one of the most active venues for paying tribute to our heroes and is also situated in a great vantage point that offers beautiful views of Melbourne city itself as well as the bay area, it makes for a must-visit while in the city for both historical and scenic purposes.
An appropriately solemn atmosphere surrounds the shrine (as it should do), and its architectural design mimics that of ancient Greece - a metaphor for a people with which the ANZACs identified themselves during their time deployed in action.
"Victoria's largest war memorial and perhaps Melbourne's most recognised landmark, the Shrine of Remembrance stands as a lasting tribute to our country's fallen soldiers."
Visiting the Shrine of Remembrance can be a deeply moving experience, and one that which young children especially may not find particularly interesting or be able to fully understand - thus it is advisable to ensure they are on their best behaviour throughout. One of the nicest touches which visitors may want to aim to be there for is the daily ceremonial taking down of the flags at 5pm; a solemn yet spine-tingling experience; one that can not be had anywhere else in the proximity of the Melbourne CBD, let alone the large majority of the rest of Australia.
Location: St. Kilda Road, Melbourne, Victoria 3001
National Gallery of Victoria
Those in need of a dose of culture can make the easy trip to the National Art Gallery of Victoria, located in the heart of the Melbourne CBD, for exactly what you need. As Australia's oldest dedicated art gallery that opened way back in 1861, this pristine and beautiful testament to human creativity is one of the pride and joys of Melbourne that is filled with visually impressive art and fantastic exhibitions all-year-round.
Its series of modern, light-filled galleries ensures every piece of artwork and sculpture is illuminated to their fullest effect, and the displays themselves are many and varied, ensuring there is something here for all fans of not only art but culture in general as well.
"This pristine and beautiful testament to human creativity is one of the pride and joys of Melbourne."
The building of the gallery itself is slick and modern, appropriately reflective of the contents inside, with a stunning stained-glass ceiling adorning the top of its main room that adds an extra layer of artistry to what is already a very worthwhile Melbourne attraction.
Regardless of when you visit, there is always something happening at the Gallery, plus most of the exhibitions are FREE so it makes for a great place on those days in Melbourne when the rain happens to be coming down. Melbourne is truly lucky to be the home of one of the best art galleries in the world; if you have even a passing interest in art in general, you will not want to miss the National Art Gallery of Victoria (NGA.)
Location: 180 St. Kilda Road, Melbourne, Victoria 8004, Australia
Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens
A truly impressive feat of the art of landscaping, Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens offers a picturesque setting that extends over a huge, expansive 36 hectares worth of displays that contain over 50,000 plants. Regardless of what season you attend, you will be guaranteed to see a diverse range of plant collections, participate in unique tours, and gain an appreciation as to why it has a reputation as one of the world's finest gardens and is annually listed as one of the most popular tourist attractions in Melbourne.
Beautifully maintained, the gardens also offer plenty of shaded areas under which visitors can simply relax and soak in the peaceful atmosphere while gazing upon the lovely, natural surrounds - all while situated in the heart of the Melbourne CBD.
"Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens offer a picturesque setting that extends over a huge, expansive 36 hectares worth of displays that contain over 50,000 plants."
With plenty of walking tracks spread throughout, the layout of the Botanic Gardens ensures that the wide variety of panoramas can be easily taken in while enjoying either a leisurely stroll or a brisk jog through its myriad pathways. With so many gorgeous areas in the grounds of the park to both explore and study, it would take multiple days to see it all, which makes multiple visits possible - they even offer outdoor movie screenings in the gardens doing the summertime, which can make for a magical viewing experience under the starry, balmy summer skies.
For more information on the outdoor cinema experience in the Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens, check out their website at www.moonlightcinema.com.au for listings. Whether you go for the entire day, a couple of hours, or a quick half-hour stroll, no matter how long you spend here, you're sure to leave in an improved mood!
Location: Birdwood Ave, South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria 3141
One of the best wildlife facilities in Australia is within easy reach of the majority of accommodation in the Melbourne CBD - Melbourne Zoo. Standing as a world-class facility that is the result of both a huge amount of love and a large investment of money, Melbourne Zoo is spread out over a large distance so that the animals inside are provided with ample space in which to feel comfortable and move about, and is divided up into various "regions" of animals reflecting their worldwide location. Visiting the Zoo offers an opportunity to get back in touch with the many wonders of nature while being located only 4km from the Melbourne city centre.
Set within a comfortable and scenic botanic garden setting, the zoo provides a relaxing atmosphere with a variety of landscapes, from the Victorian-era formality of the main drive to the lush jungles of the Asian and African rainforest areas. With numerous animals of all kinds to see, you will most likely need to dedicate a full day at Melbourne Zoo in order to see everything - some of the most widely-acclaimed highlights of which include the elephant enclosure, meerkats, and of course many of the typical Aussie favourites such as kangaroos, koalas, echidnas and more.
"The zoo is spread out over a large area so that the animals inside are provided with ample space in which to feel comfortable and move about."
As the Zoo is extremely popular, the venue can often get quite crowded, especially on weekends and during school holidays (during which children can enter for free), so getting there early or choosing regular weekdays to visit is generally a good idea.
Location: Elliot Ave, Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria 3052
City Circle Tram
Operating within the Central Business District (CBD) of Melbourne, this FREE City Circle Tram service is one of the most convenient ways to see the city's highlights and travel from one point to the next. With such essential Melbourne-area attractions accessible along its route as the Melbourne Aquarium, Old Melbourne Gaol, Federation Square, the Immigration Museum and more, easy access is provided for visitors to the city who may not have their own transport available.
The tram itself retains an old, vintage-style look that adds to the charm of the experience and the authenticity of the ride, while running in both directions at intervals of around ever 12 minutes between the hours of 10am and 6pm Sunday - Wednesday with extended hours available of 10am - 9pm from Thursday - Saturday.
"The FREE City Circle Tram service is one of the most convenient ways to see the city's highlights and travel from one point to the next."
The tram serves as a great way for gaining a sense of orientation on your first day in the city, as it not only helps you get your bearings but also comes stocked with information on what there is to see and do in Melbourne on board, allowing you to have a look at various maps, pamphlets and other documents that will help you get a feel for what the city has to offer visitors.
Audio commentary is also provided along the way for tourists that helps pointing out key buildings and history while travelling from one destination to the next. The City Circle Tram is a great, efficient way to get around the city, at the best possible price - free!
Location: Melbourne CBD, Melbourne, Victoria
Travel to the Dandenong Ranges
One of the Melbourne/Victoria region's true hidden gems, the under-appreciated Dandenong Ranges should be a staple on every visitor to Victoria's itinerary - a spectacular range featuring a blend of lush Aussie rainforest, lovely walking tracks, and plenty of nearby small towns full of quaint shops make a visit there a charming, must-do experience.
A mere 30 - 45 minute drive from Melbourne itself is all it takes to get to the ranges, and the Dandenongs are a great way to get out of the city and spend a day out immersed in nature with friends or family. There are multiple things to do while in the Dandenongs including a huge range of walks that will give you a close-up view of giant Mountain Ash forests, waterfalls, picnic grounds and secret historical areas that remain hidden out in the bush with lookouts that provide panoramic views back out to Melbourne and all the countryside in between.
"It's a spectacular range featuring a blend of lush Aussie rainforest, lovely walking tracks, and plenty of nearby small towns full of quaint shops."
One of the most acclaimed experiences within the Dandenong Ranges is the iconic "Puffing Billy" steam train ride - Australia's most famous narrow-gauge railway - that winds leisurely and scenically through the mountainside while providing an enchanting, spectacular viewing experience of both the pristine wilderness and the native wildlife that populate the area including kookaburras, bellbirds and more. Other essential highlights that are must-sees in the region to be experienced along the way include the beauty of Sherbrooke Forest and the quaint mountain village of Sassafras, along with the traditional gardens within the Dandenong Ranges National Park.
Location: 1 Hour Outside Melbourne, Victora
Werribee Open Range Zoo
Offering a unique wildlife experience that most other zoological facilities in Australia can not, Werribee Open Range Zoo is easily one of the best in the country and is based around the concept of emulating an authentic African savannah situated in a location just 30 minutes from the heart of Melbourne's city centre. Set within a huge 225 hectares worth of open savannah, the zoo takes special care to create realistic displays and endeavours to contain a huge amount of variety of safari animals.
The option for visitors to walk around the zoo is available, however the inevitable highlight that many rave about is the special "safari tour" (included within the admission price) which takes you on a safari-style bus ride through the habitats of the rhinos, giraffes, zebras, hippos, antelopes and more.
"Werribee is based around the concept of emulating an authentic African savannah situated in a location just 30 minutes from the heart of Melbourne's city centre."
Werribee is a great place to visit not only due to the quality of the facility itself but also because they often offer free entry to children under the age of 16 during the school holidays - a great idea is to check scheduled dates of free entry to confirm before planning your trip. Come face to face with a pride of lions, see playful monkeys and cheetahs having fun in their African-esque homes, and discover the zoo's family of hippos at the new Kubu River Hippos experience - all reflected by the principle of keeping the animals roaming free rather than caged in specific exhibits is what gives it a distinct feel when compared to other zoos in Australia.
If you're in Melbourne and have even a passing interest in animals and wildlife, then Werribee Open Range Zoo is a definite must-do while in the area.
Location: K Road, Melbourne, Victoria 3030 (30 Minutes South of Melbourne CBD)
St. Paul's Cathedral
Standing as a spectacular example of Gothic Revival style architecture, Melbourne's St Paul's Cathedral was constructed back in 1868 as a site of worship for members of the Catholic Archidiocese faith. The cathedral itself is huge and very well-maintained, emitting a feeling of inspiration that can only be truly described upon visiting, and is located in a convenient location close to the main Melbourne shopping districts as well as other landmarks such as Federation Square and Flinder's Street Station (it's right across the road, in fact). Entrance to the cathedral is free, and provides a spiritual, relaxing and visually impressive escape from the hustle and bustle of the city as well as welcome relief from the heat on a hot Summer day.
The building's glorious interior is mesmerising in its beauty, with numerous opportunities for those with a photographic inclination to take some wonderfully picturesque snapshots of the lovingly-crafted wooden pews and pylons and the beautiful stained glass windows that adorn the walls of the cathedral. History permeates from every corner of the church, and the golden-amber light that filters through gives it a feeling of true significance that - religious or not - you will surely be able to feel upon entering.
"Entrance to the cathedral is free, and provides a relaxing and impressive escape from the hustle and bustle of the city as well as welcome relief from the heat on a hot Summer day."
Reachable within walking distance from Melbourne's central railway station, St. Paul's Cathedral is a historic monument with beautiful gardens located in the back of the church that is a definite must-do as there is virtually no way you won't come into close proximity during a wander around the city; the small diversion from your intended path is more than worth it!
Flinders Lane, Melbourne, VIC
As with many other towers located in cities throughout the world, Melbourne's Eureka Skydeck 88 is a great "starting point" for a first-time visit by anyone to Melbourne that offers a quick way to get an idea of your bearings while taking in amazing views of the city and its surrounds from the vantage point of the 88th floor of Eureka Tower.
As the highest viewing platform in the entire southern hemisphere, the distance viewable from the top of the tower encompasses not only a 360 degree panorama of Melbourne and its landmarks such as the MCG, but also the picturesque ranges of the Blue Mountains that stretch out in the distance.
"Eureka Skydeck is a great "starting point" for a first-time visit by anyone to Melbourne that offers a quick way to get an idea of your bearings."
Obviously when attending a viewing facility such as this the degree of impressiveness the on display is almost entirely dependent on the weather, so attempting to plan the trip up the tower in accordance with weather reports is generally a good idea as a rainy or highly overcast days can greatly restrict the distance of visibility.
Many who visit the tower often recommend attending in time to see the transition from sunset to nightfall, as the effect that the lighting has on the scenery of both the sky, the city and the mountains makes for a combination that is not to be missed. While the admission price may seem fairly expensive, there are no other options that provide comparably stunning views to what Eureka Skydeck has to offer visitors.
Location: 7 Riverside Quay, Southbank, Melbourne, Victoria 3006
In addition, if you're looking for even more things to do in Melbourne, be sure to check out our main region page for more tours, attractions, and activities in Melbourne and its surroundings.