15 Cool Things to Do in Melbourne – Victoria in 3 Days
Melbourne is known as an epicenter of modern art, fascinating architecture, alluring coffee shops and multiethnic culture. Nowhere else in Victoria and Australia can you find as many cultural things to see, do and taste, concentrated within a radius of just a few kilometres, as here in Melbourne.
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 03 MAR 2020
Melbourne in Victoria is the multifaceted metropolis seething with top-class art and loads of cultural things to do. It is easy to be captivated by the innovative architecture at the Docklands and Melbourne’s narrow laneways flanked by striking street art murals. There are many gems to discover in the Victorian city: world-class museums, refreshing markets, prime restaurants and quirky bars with live music. The city is also known to host great sports events and features a number of well-known sports arenas, as well as the Flemington Racecourse for horse racing.
Based on our experience we suggest a 3-day itinerary with things to do and explore in Melbourne and beyond – including a day trip to the southern coastal Victoria featuring the renowned Great Ocean Road.
DAY 1: 15 Cool Things to Do in Melbourne – Victoria
1. City Circle Tram
You will start out your sightseeing with a tram tour around Melbourne CBD. The old Circle Line no. 35 is with its iconic W-Class trams a free and convenient way to see some of the main attractions in the city. You can decide whether you want to take the tourist tram clockwise or anticlockwise since it operates in both directions during most of the day. With the opportunity to hop on and off, it is excellent to use to see for instance the Docklands, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Parliament House, the State Library of Victoria and many more sites. It takes approximately 60 minutes to complete the loop, and then you obviously will have to add the time you spend ‘hopping off’. Actually, it is very popular – on an annual basis 3 million passengers use this tram service!
On this morning ride we suggest that you for instance hop off to explore the following sites:
2. The Docklands
You will get off just in front of the Docklands Stadium, also known as the Marvel Stadium after its sponsorship. This is a combined sports and entertainment stadium from year 2000.
Right on the other side of the street you will find yourself facing the Docklands and all the fascinating architecture surrounding the place.
After the gold rush period in the mid-1800s there was a pronounced need for development of Melbourne’s old port, and the West Melbourne Swamp was chosen as an optimal strategic location for this. This implied that the course of the Yarra River necessarily had to be widened here. The Docklands then developed at this location from the 1880s onwards as Melbourne’s industrial dockland site with an extensive network of wharfs as well as an efficient rail infrastructure.
Towards the end of the 1900s Victoria Dock comprised transport companies and shipping agents, as well as a number of cool and wool stores. The Dock handled up to 90% of all the imports!
However, this didn’t last, and the area needed redevelopment! In 1997 the authorities invited development bids – and it eventually resulted in transformations – changing the character of the area into what it is today.
One of the remarkable things you will spot here is the famous and striking Cow Up a Tree sculpture by John Kelly. Although absurd, it combines the elements of Australian floods with the camouflaged Dobell’s Cows. The sculpture has previously been exhibited on a famous Parisian boulevard among other places!
You will see that the Docklands is no less than an amazing urban open-air gallery! Walk along the iconic Central Pier featuring fascinating views of inspiring, modern architecture across the Docklands!
3. Flinders Street Station
Jump on the tram again and continue to Flinders Street Station, designed by James Fawcett. The iconic station from 1909 (Federation/Edwardian Period 1902 – 1918) is a landmark and icon of Melbourne – located just opposite St Paul’s Cathedral. It features an art nouveau style building with a dome, a tower and clocks, as well as an arched entrance.
Walk around and inside it to get all the details – and pay in particular attention to the clocks!
Flinders Street Station was the first urban railway station in Australia – and notably the world’s busiest passenger station in the 1920s.
4. Immigration Museum
Before lunch you may also want to include a visit to the Immigration Museum – just opposite Flinders Street Station/Queens Bridge Station.
Melbourne features a diverse and multicultural population – it is actually among the 10 cities in the world with the largest immigrant population. Nearly 40% of the population was not born in Australia! Right since the indigenous Australians populated the place, people have more or less continuously immigrated to the city from a wide range of countries. Starting with the colonists, the city has received immigrants from large parts of the world: English, Chinese, Irish, Italian, Indian, Greek …
Melbourne is definitely still a most popular city in Australia, and the city is these years expanding at an insanely high growth rate. Its present population counts nearly 5 million inhabitants, and it is forecasted to be Australia’s largest city in about 10 years’ time!
The residents in Melbourne today come from about 200 countries and territories, and there is a pronounced diversity of languages and faiths (more than 200 languages and more than 100 religious faiths).
If you want to get some more insight into the diverse cultural backgrounds, a visit to the Immigration Museum is really obvious. It tells from a personal point of view the story of some of the people and cultures that have immigrated to Victoria and influenced Melbourne – contributing to the diversity of the city today.
5. Bourke Street Mall
Explore the popular Bourke Street Mall to get a taste of one of Melbourne’s best shopping areas. It is a vibrant precinct with a multitude of intriguing boutiques, department stores, cafés and eateries.
Look a bit around – the Bourke Street Mall is also a cherished place for street performers!
You may for instance pass through the Centreway Arcade between Flinders Lane and Collins Street – a real gem! Since it is definitely lunch time by now, you can look for a favourable lunch option here or in the neighbouring laneways! Don’t deprive yourself of trying a cup of premier coffee in one of Melbourne’s quirky cafés – which the city is world-renowned for.
6. National Gallery
You will spend the afternoon in the outstanding National Gallery of Victoria just on the other side of the Yarra River on St Kilda Road. The entry to the permanent collection is free!
Dating back to 1968, the gallery building is one of the real iconic buildings in Melbourne with remarkable water art already at the entrance. A Water Trail has been established to show how water plays a role in life, in history and across cultures. Water conservation is important, and when it rains, water is collected on the roof of the building. The Waterwall, recycling cascading water down the glass, at the museum entrance marks the beginning of the Water Trail.
The National Gallery features one of the most impressive collections in the southern hemisphere. With its 75,000 works of art, it is absolutely unique in Australia and houses comprehensive exhibitions within indigenous, Oceanic, American, Asian and other international art. Contemporary art, design and architecture are all showcased inside the monumental gallery buildings. There is A LOT to see here – so allow at least a couple of hours if you are an art lover!
7. Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria
After the museum visit you will walk over to the Royal Botanic Gardens, founded in 1846 on the Yarra River southern bank. Today, it is a garden featuring more than 8,500 plant species from countries all over the world. With 30 living plant collections, climate zones all over the world are represented. In the Australian section, you can explore different landscapes like bushland, wetlands, woodlands and heath. This city oasis draws nearly 2 million visitors annually!
The Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria is one of the sites in Melbourne where you can easily chill for a few hours. It offers Free Guided Walks, an Aboriginal Heritage Walk, Garden Explorer bus and so much more. Before coming, check out the website for the current activities!
A diverse native wildlife adds to the botanical experience. In summer you may be lucky to experience an outdoor performance as well!
Melbourne is also Australia’s sports-loving city. Next to the Botanic Gardens on the other side of Yarra River you will find Melbourne Park, home to Australian open tennis, Melbourne Arena, the National Tennis Centre, as well as Melbourne Cricket Ground.
In the evening you will find yourself back in the bustling Melbourne CBD where you will look for a tempting dinner place!
DAY 2: 15 Cool Things to Do in Melbourne – Victoria
8. Queen Victoria Market
You will start your day at the old, traditional Queen Victoria Market from 1878. Check the website for closing days, opening hours and special events like night markets, festivals etc. It is in general open five days a week: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The Victoria Market in Melbourne, the Vic Market or Queen Vic has existed for more than 140 years and is today the epitome and landmark of Melbourne. With its 600 small businesses the Melbourne Victoria Market is full of long-established traditions and refreshing things to try, eat and do.
The place has a long and interesting history. Already in 1837 the site was Melbourne’s first official cemetery, established by the early settlers. In 1846 it was then turned into an official hay and corn market replacing the centrally located hay market at the location where St Paul’s Cathedral stands today. Later, it housed the fruit and vegetable market – and the livestock market, as well as other things. Since 1867 it has exclusively been a reserved market place – and Queen Vic was established!
Fresh produce, meat & fish, fruits & vegetables, foodie tours, sustainability and organic products, local crafts, design, flowers and gifts are just some of the keywords that today characterise the quaint market. It is a true delight to wander around and explore the subtleties of the things offered – there are really loads to see and do at the old Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne!
In 2015 the Victoria Market had as one of the new things a number of worm farms installed to help reduce the food waste and contribute to sustainability in Melbourne – do check it out while on the Market!
9. State Library Victoria
As a curiosity you should just pass by the State Library Victoria from 1854 – thus being one of the oldest buildings in the city. It is both Australia’s oldest public library and one of the first free public libraries in the world.
When the State Library first opened, it was thought to be the people’s university! It was also a heritage location, storing items of cultural and historical importance. The library has continuously expanded throughout the years, enlarging the site with new architecture and exhibitions.
For your visit, you may want to check out the library map to locate the octagonal room the Quad, the Ian Potter Queen’s Hall and the Dome, as well as the Redmond Barry Reading Room.
10. Street art
Now continue your walk – it is time to find the famous street art scene in Melbourne CBD.
Check out the narrow lanes between Victoria Street and Flinders Street for some whimsical street art. Work your way down from the State Library / Victoria Market. Guildford Lane, Drewery Lane, Union Lane, Caledonian Lane, Rutledge Lane, Hosier Lane, AC/DC Lane, Duckboard Place, Strachan Lane and Croft Alley are just some of the famous laneways where you can catch a glimpse of the spectacular graffiti-like street art that Melbourne CBD is so renowned for.
To do street art is with the permission of the building owners legal in this part of Victoria, and Melbourne has hosted a number of street art festivals and other similar things over the years – which has increased the extent of the mural decoration in the city’s laneways. It has literally become mainstream here. Often the art has also been combined with activism of some kind.
Today it is really one of Melbourne’s most cherished open-air galleries with a ton of street art tours taking visitors through the famous alleys and laneways. It is a heaven of urban art created by unconventional and talented mural artists!
You are definitely getting hungry, so why not taking a stroll over to Melbourne’s Chinatown around the eastern end of Little Bourke Street – and try a Chinese lunch?
The Chinatown was notably founded during the Victorian gold rush in the 1850s. It has a unique history since it is the longest Chinese settlement in western countries, and it is the oldest Chinatown in the Southern Hemisphere! In 1854 the first Chinese immigrants moved into Little Bourke Street. The Chinese worked as storekeepers, importers, in the production and restaurant industry and as wholesale fruit and vegetable traders. In 1859 8.5% of the population were Chinese immigrants, corresponding to 45,000 people.
12. Old Melbourne Gaol
A few streets north of Chinatown there is another iconic Melbourne building. It is the Old Melbourne Gaol. Check out visitor information on the website.
Its penal history goes back to 1842 when two Aboriginal Tasmanians were brutally hanged here.
The first cellblock was opened in 1845. Along with the gold rush from 1851 onwards, overcrowding became a problem, since the population increased from 23,000 to over 90,000. A second, better ventilated cellblock with more amenities was then built, and in 1864 a third one followed which separated male and female prisoners.
One of the legends related to Old Melbourne Gaol was the bushranger Ned Kelly who was hanged here in 1880. He was accused of being a bank robber, a horse thief and a murderer. After later being digged up at the Gaol Cemetery, his skull was presumably kept at the Gaol for many years, before it was stolen in 1978. It appeared again in 2009. At this time there was though, through DNA tests, evidence that the skull was in fact not Ned Kelly’s skull! Anyway, Kelly is still in the Australians’ consciousness. With time he has even got a legendary hero status in Australia!
In 1909 the City Watch House opened next to the Gaol as a place where criminals were brought before the court whether it was for minor or more severe misdemeanors. It was a place where the Melbourne Police could safely lock up the offenders for a shorter time. Lots of drunkards, criminals and gangsters have spent some time here! The City Watch House was finally closed as late as in 1994.
After visiting Old Melbourne Gaol, you may now opt to squeeze in a visit to the South Melbourne Market (check if it is open today) – or, alternatively, go directly to St Kilda if you would like to spend more time there and do other than viewing the penguins!
Otherwise, if you prefer to go include the South Melbourne Market, take a tram from Melbourne Central Station or Flinders Station to the Market. To continue to St Kilda later, you will just continue by tram from the South Melbourne Market (search on the same website as above to see the connection).
13. South Melbourne Market
The South Melbourne Market was established in 1867 and is Melbourne’s oldest general market. From 1904 the South Melbourne Council took control of the trading place.
Gradually, throughout the years, the market has been modernised, beginning with the installation of electric light in 1924.
One of the threats the market has been exposed to was the fire in 1981 destroying some of the sheds in Coventry Street. Also two bombs exploded in the market the very same year. Nevertheless, the market ‘recovered’ and is today as popular as ever with the modernisation it has undergone during the last years.
It is now an enticing place with everything you can think of within fruits, vegetables, meat, grocery, fashion, flowers, books, events … – and with a great vibe!
Today, you will only have time to get a taste of the market. However, the Mussel Festival, Night Market, cooking classes and tours are all events and activities you can consider if you have more days in Melbourne and happen to be there at the right time! Check out the South Melbourne Market website for more info and for opening hours. In general the Market is open on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
When you are done, hop on the tram again for a very unique experience at St Kilda Pier.
14. St Kilda Pier – penguins
You will definitely want to be here in Melbourne’s beachside suburb by the end of the afternoon – well before dusk. Stunning St Kilda Pier from 1853 is a landmark and the place in Melbourne where you will be able to see small penguins waddling in from the ocean just around sunset. It is exceptional! They spend the night in their nests between the rocks and set out into the ocean again in the morning at sunrise.
The Edwardian St Kilda Pavilion from 1904 at the end of the pier is a wonderful example of Victorian heritage.
To get a glimpse of the penguins, do therefore ensure that you are on the pier before dusk! Check out the sunrise and sunset times in Melbourne. Notice that you are not allowed to use flash when taking photos!
If you have more time at St Kilda, you may also look around on the Esplanade Market with lots of open-air stalls offering all kinds of souvenirs, crafts and gifts.
On a nice, sunny day St Kilda Beach is also a favoured place!
You will easily find a restaurant at St Kilda for dinner – and you may even feel tempted to enter the popular Luna Park afterwards. It is a theme park from 1912 which today has the oldest continuously operating roller coaster in the world.
After completing all today’s activities, you will definitely sleep well tonight!
DAY 3: 15 Cool Things to Do in Melbourne – Victoria
15. Great Ocean Road trip
No visit to Melbourne and Victoria without including a day trip to the Great Ocean Road – with a bunch of things to do along the road.
You will necessarily have to reserve this tour beforehand. Check out the different tour options such that you get the kind of trip you prefer – because there are many options!
If you look around to compare the tours offered by different tour operators, you will probably be able to find an option which includes quite a few stops on the way to the iconic main attraction, the Twelve Apostles. You may with a bit of luck find a tour which both provides you with the opportunity to spot some native wildlife like kangaroos, koalas and platypuses along the way and which passes through small picturesque coastal towns. Other highlights could be the Memorial Arch, the rainforest and the Loch Ard Gorge.
For a more detailed description of what to see along the Great Ocean Road on a day trip, you may read: Exploring The Great Ocean Road Australia – G’day Mate!
You will probably have to get up very early! It will most likely be a long day – but it is totally worth it!
Read more about Australia: Sydney Harbour Bridge, Taronga Zoo, The Rocks… in ONE Day! and 10 Days Itinerary for Queensland in Australia
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