Melbourne is a cosmopolitan city of parks, recreation, wildlife and culture. There really is something to suit all tastes and interests. No wonder it has earned itself the reputation as “the world’s most liveable city”.
You could happily fill a whole week in Melbourne, even just staying in the city centre, but we recommend you include some out-of-town day trips to catch the best that Melbourne and Victoria have to offer.
Walk Melbourne’s Inner City
There is plenty to be seen and enjoyed right in the heart of Melbourne. The city’s grid system of streets makes it easy to navigate your way around from popular shopping streets such as Bourke Street Mall and Swanston Street down to Flinders Street.
Here you will find Federation Square, always a hub of activity and home to the Melbourne Visitor Centre and the Ian Potter Museum of Art, as well as many bars and restaurants. In the winter months, you will also find an ice rink.
A popular and unique feature of Melbourne’s CBD is its many laneways, which have become home to famous street art. For a daytime family-friendly glimpse, check out Croft Alley in China Town or Centre Place (between Flinders & Collins Streets).
There are three exceptional wildlife facilities in Melbourne. Each is quite unique so if you can squeeze in all three, you won’t be disappointed! They all full under the umbrella of Zoos Victoria and are part of local and international breeding programs, wildlife conservation and fighting extinction.
First, not far from the city centre in Parkville, you will find the Melbourne Zoo, which is renowned for its breeding programmes. Unique to the Melbourne Zoo is a big focus on insect conservation and you will also find a beautiful butterfly house with an array of worldwide creatures.
Heading to the west of Melbourne you will find Werribee Open Range Zoo – home to many African species. Take a 40-minute “safari” tour across the park with their knowledgeable guides or join in one of the regular keeper talks. They also run night programs during summer and school holidays and a “keeper for the day” program.
Lastly, Healesville Sanctuary nestled in outer northeast Melbourne is absolutely worth the day trip into the hills. As well as capturing the edge of the amazing Yarra Valley, Healesville is where you come to see Australian native species.
They are involved in many rescue and rehabilitation programs and hold several daily talks, live shows and close up encounters. Their animal hospital is a superb hands-on learning experience for kids.
Melbourne City Parks
If there is one thing Melbourne excels at, its green spaces (thanks in part to the regular rain!). Very close to town you will find Birrarung Marr, just beyond Federation Square with a great shaded playground including slides, obstacles and a sandpit.
Next up is Treasury Gardens and Fitzroy Gardens – kids will enjoy the Fairies Tree and Model Tudor Village here, as well as historic Cook Cottage and there’s a great little playground.
The biggest inner city park is the Royal Botanical Gardens. Within the grounds, you will find The Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden, made for exploring and a great interactive introduction for children to the world of plants and botanical life. During warmer weather, pack your togs for splashing at the Meeting Place and even if the weather is not on side, there’s still fun to be had in the wetlands area with the natural pond. Get dirty in the kitchen garden and play hide and seek in the plant tunnels.
Royal Park in Parkville is another great outdoor space close to town. Full of grasslands, a eucalyptus forest, walking trails, bike track and a huge playground. Expect climbing frames, rope courses, slides, swings, water play – and a huge hill for roly-polys! If you are looking for the kids to have a carefree day of running about this is your spot – great combined with a Zoo visit or a trip to nearby Vic Markets (Tram 59).
Eureka Skydeck 88 and Southbank
Do you love getting a bird’s eye view of your cities? Then visit Melbourne’s current tallest building – Eureka Tower. Zoom up on the fastest elevator in the southern hemisphere to the 88th floor and simply enjoy the views or take on “The Edge” – a 3×3 metre cube that sits out above the city 300 metres above the ground – vertigo sufferers need not apply!
Once you are done here take a stroll on the Southbank alongside the Yarra River. There are always interesting instalments to look at along the riverfront and its all stroller friendly. There are wonderful boutique shops where you can pick up great souvenirs (not just tourist tat!), along with many dining options.
You will also find Crown Casino on Southbank. Although primarily a casino (gaming floors are strictly for 18-year-old plus customers) it is a wonderful entertainment complex, perfect for a rainy day escape!
The Arts Precinct
Keep heading along Southbank and turn on to St Kilda Road to explore the Arts Precinct. Art Centre Melbourne with its iconic spire has a specialised kids program which includes musical performances through to hands-on and interactive workshops – click here to see if there is something lined up for your visit.
Right next door you will find the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). One of Australia’s oldest art museums they have a big line up of workshops and events aimed at the younger audience. Check out their kids’ timetable before you visit – you will find painting and drawing workshops for different age groups and lots of events over weekends and Victorian school holidays.
The MCG and sporting events
Let’s make it clear, the “G” isn’t just a sports ground in Melbourne, its an institution! Many world-famous events have been woven into Melbourne’s history at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), and the Melbourne Sports Museum is arguably one of the best of its kind in the world. Little sports lovers in your family will get a thrill out of a behind-the-scenes tour and seeing the history of The Ashes explained, along with over 100 years worth of sporting memorabilia.
If you happen to be in Melbourne from late March to September, catching a game of Aussie Rules football (AFL) is a must, though you may need someone to explain the rules! Motorsports lovers should pencil in late March to see the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park, and tennis fans should come for the Australian Open in January.
Despite the fickle weather, Melbourne does have some iconic beaches along Port Phillip Bay, that are wonderful and calm for family swimming.
Some of the more popular Melbourne beaches include St Kilda, Elwood, Williamstown and Altona Beach. Our personal favourite has to be Brighton Beach with its colourful private bathing boxes that line the shore.
For much of the year these beaches are peaceful, mostly full of joggers and dog walkers, but wait until there’s a sunny day – they burst to life!
If you want some bigger waves, head down to the Mornington Peninsular to the eastern side of Melbourne, or to the west head beyond Geelong to the beaches of Torquay through to Anglesea and the start of the Great Ocean Road.
Luna Park St Kilda
Located next to popular St Kilda Beach, visiting Luna Park in St Kilda is a great day out that’s passed through the generations. Luna Park may not be on the grand scale of theme parks in other countries, but it is iconically Melbourne’s own with a real beachside carnival atmosphere and a heritage feel.
It is open weekends, school holidays and public holidays (except Christmas). Note that unlike most theme parks, entry is free but you pay for your ride tickets.
While you’re in the area, there are loads of little cafes and galleries to check out, as well as the popular St Kilda Beach and its iconic pier where you will always find fisherman trying their luck.
Phillip Island is located just under two hours south-east of Melbourne and is one of Australia’s premier eco-tourism destinations.
Best known for its variety of wildlife experiences, there’s also fun to be had enjoying the beaches and dramatic coastline, or visiting A Maze’N Things, the chocolate factory, the Antarctic Journey exhibition, as well as several seasonal festivals.
The island is probably most well known though for the nightly Penguin Parade where you can see the resident Little Penguins return from the ocean to their sandy burrows. Also not to be missed is the Koala Conservation Centre with its bushland walk where you can see these wonderful furry creatures in their natural habitats.
There are several companies that offer penguin only sightseeing tours through to full day experiences on Phillip Island that we recommend, see a few of these below:
Alternatively, it might be well worth hiring a car and making a 2-day trip to Phillip Island as there really is a lot to see and do. You may find a one day or evening tour rushed with kids.
The Great Ocean Road
Another hugely popular attraction not far from Melbourne is to drive the Great Ocean Road and see the famous 12 apostles rock formations (thanks to Mother Nature only 8 are still standing today!).
A day trip will also give you the opportunity to spot koalas in the wild at Kennett River and see the stunning picturesque coastal towns of Lorne and Apollo Bay. Take a walk through a rainforest boardwalk in amongst some of Australia’s tallest trees and walk Gibson Steps to see the beautiful sandy beaches.
This day trip is a perfect introduction in a beautiful action-packed day. It is a long day but well worth it, especially if you won’t otherwise get to see any of the Australian countryside on your trip Down Under. Better yet, make a road trip of it.
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