15 things to do in Melbourne – our 5 day itinerary

Full disclosure: though I thought I’d love Melbourne, my takeaway impression was lukewarm at best.

I don’t like to be too quick to judge a city, but I also want to be candid here on the blog when somewhere just doesn’t quite live up to expectations. But while I can’t recommend it unreservedly (and I think 5 days is too long for most people), there are definitely some gems that are well worth seeking out. So here’s our 5 day itinerary, in the hopes that it might help you plan your own trip to Melbourne! My favourites are highlighted with a ★.

Day 1

I’m Free Tour

Things to do in Melbourne - Tour - Graffiti

After enjoying the Sydney version, we naturally chose to once again orientate ourselves with an I’m Free tour. The tour was fine but I found it far less compelling this time around – perhaps because the surroundings and the history under the spotlight just weren’t as appealing to me as the equivalent in Sydney.

State Library of Victoria

Things to do in Melbourne - State Library of Victoria

Things to do in Melbourne - Ned Kelly's Armour

I adore libraries, so the State Library in Melbourne was a natural fit. The main draw for me was the La Trobe Reading Room, which can admired from varying heights as you climb the stairs at the back. I also enjoyed the Changing Face of Victoria exhibition on level 5 (Ned Kelly’s armour, on display here, is iconic to say the least).

City Circle Tram

Things to do in Melbourne - City Circle Tram

The City Circle tram is completely free to ride and the service runs every 12 minutes or so between set hours, depending on the day. We rode the whole loop, taking the opportunity to sit back, relax and take in the different parts of the city alongside some useful commentary. Of course, this can also double as a practical way to get from A to B!

We visited Curry Vault for dinner and were really pleased with the food and service. We still gush about the mozzarella and mashed potato naan to this day!

Day 2

Fitzroy

Things to do in Melbourne - Fitzroy

Fitzroy is a “hipster” area of Melbourne (or so I gather), with wall murals and some interesting shop fronts – a little like Camden in London. The streets have a run-down quality, which may be part of its charm for some but which I found kind of unpleasant. I ate here briefly but my experience was mixed: I had a lovely lunch from Radhey, but also a really disappointing breakfast at a spot I won’t mention. You win some you lose some, I guess!

Degraves St

Things to do in Melbourne - Degraves St
Things to do in Melbourne - Laneway

One of the things Melbourne is most famous for is its laneways. I have to admit, I’m not sure I got the appeal. I’m all for quaint or unusual narrow streets lined with independent shops or cafés, but Degraves St – just off Flinders Street and connecting through to Flinders Lane, with the pretty Majorca Building at the end – seemed a little too much on the dark and dingy side for me. I much preferred the historic Block Arcade, below.

Block Arcade

Things to do in Melbourne - Block Arcade
Things to do in Melbourne - Block Arcade (Hopetoun Tea Rooms)

The Block Arcade is a heritage shopping arcade on Collins Street, just a short walk from Degraves Street. The ornate architecture, pretty mosaic tiling and the confection-filled façade of the Hopetoun Tea Rooms all blend to create an elegant and decadent impression.

(Sadly the Hopetoun cakes we tried didn’t taste anywhere near as good as they looked. Nor as good as you’d expect from the line out the door!)

Day 3

★ Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI)

Things to do in Melbourne - Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI)

For anyone interested in film, TV, video games and other media, ACMI is a must-visit Melbourne destination! We were particularly keen to see the paid temporary exhibition on Scorsese (featuring scripts, costumes, photographs and other items from his oeuvre), but I liked it so much I actually returned the next day to see the permanent exhibition – a stroll through the timeline of media from the first moving images to the age of the Internet.

Cooks’ Cottage

Things to do in Melbourne - Cooks' Cottage

Ben and I feel an affinity with Captain Cook (leaving the North East of England to explore the Antipodes etc.). He seemed like such a significant figure in New Zealand and Australia that we imagined the best way to explain where we were from would be to say “the same area as Captain Cook”. Fun fact: everyone we’ve tried that on has responded with a blank look!

But I digress. Cooks’ Cottage, built by his parents, has followed a similar journey – travelling from its home in Great Ayton all the way to Australia in the 1930s, where it was reconstructed brick by brick. It’s now labelled the “oldest building in Australia”, though I find that a slightly misleading description! We decided against paying to go inside, but it was nice to see a fragment of the familiar in an unexpected location.

★ Shrine of Remembrance

Things to do in Melbourne - Shrine of Remembrance

I had envisioned the Shrine of Remembrance as a monument first and foremost, a building on an immense scale (it was modelled after the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus) to stand tribute to those who died in the world wars. It is a monument of course, but the superb set of war exhibitions in the crypt elevate it to so much more. Through poignant artifacts, written accounts and multimedia (documentary-style videos, photography and sound recordings/music), I felt a renewed sense of engagement with this period in history. We stayed until closing time perusing the exhibits and I came back a few days later to make sure I’d seen everything I wanted to! All free, too.

Day 4

★ National Gallery of Victoria

Things to do in Melbourne - National Gallery of Victoria (NGV)

I took a volunteer guided tour around to get my bearings before exploring the NGV alone, which I’d recommend. I found the layout of the galleries very atmospheric and well-tailored to the items that were on display, whether through a sense of scale, lighting or background music. If you’re a fellow lover of museums and galleries, the eclectic collection here makes for a very enjoyable way to while away a couple of hours.

St Patrick’s Cathedral

Things to do in Melbourne - St Patricks Cathedral

Even as a devout atheist I have a big appreciation for religious art and architecture. St Patrick’s Cathedral didn’t hold my attention for long, but its interior did look enchanting bathed in the golden light that streamed through the stained glass.

Old Treasury Building

Things to do in Melbourne - Old Treasury Building

Sadly I felt the Old Treasury Building was a missed opportunity. Perhaps I’m being too demanding – the museum is free, after all. There were some interesting objects and room displays (the gold display piqued my interest and I felt I got a good introduction to the history of the gold rush in Victoria). But many of the video exhibits/text panels were so slow/wordy that I found my attention wandering a little too often for my liking…

Day 5

Melbourne Museum

Things to do in Melbourne - Melbourne Museum

Continuing a bit of a theme here, we took a free tour to get ourselves acquainted with what the museum had to offer. Melbourne Museum covers a lot of ground and we found the galleries and exhibitions consistently high quality. Highlights for me included the Mind and Body gallery (for the insights into mental illness and the Ames Room), Science and Life (the bugs in particular!) and the Melbourne Gallery (including exhibits from domestic and public life through the ages and design work from some talented local students).

Royal Exhibition Building

Things to do in Melbourne - Royal Exhibition Building

I have mixed feelings about the Royal Exhibition Building. Its design and decor are pleasant and its scale impressive, so I was grateful to take a glimpse inside and learn more about its history and development (entry is by guided tour, booked from the Melbourne Museum). But it’s also stark and empty; unachieved potential hangs heavy in the air (I believe it’s used as an exam hall these days). Devoid of the grandeur and opulence it needs to measure up to its size, it felt like a skeleton in need of fleshing out and bringing to life.

St Kilda

Things to do in Melbourne - St Kilda Penguin Colony

We headed to St Kilda to see the Penguin Colony, taking a tram all the way to the Esplanade. We were a little confused by the lack of signage but by chance managed to muddle our way to the end of the pier, where the colony is. We visited at around 6.30-7pm and it was manned by ‘Penguin Guides’ with red light torches. They showed us where the penguins were and answered questions. When we returned after dinner (Sister of Soul – awesome veggie restaurant!) there were no guides anymore, but still people milling around looking for penguins.

There’s also a Luna Park here. I’m quite fond of the kitsch of fairgrounds, so we enjoyed wandering around and taking photos here too.


Over to you

Have you visited Melbourne? Did you enjoy it? Most people have such positive things to say about the city, I’m wondering what I missed!

P.S. my top things to do in Sydney!

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The Painted Globe - Things to do in Melbourne - 5 day itinerary

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40 thoughts on “15 things to do in Melbourne – our 5 day itinerary

    1. Lorna Post author

      Ooh thanks, Lolo! Great to meet a fellow library lover. So glad to see Admont Abbey in your post, that’s top of my “libraries I must see before I die” list! And I’m totally kicking myself that I didn’t stop by the Austrian National Library when I was last in Vienna. Good excuse to return, though. 🙂

      Reply
  1. Sammie @ The Annoyed Thyroid

    Oh I love Melbourne. Admittedly, I haven’t been to lots of places on your list, but I just love the vibe. Laneway stroll, checking out the street art, riding the trams, the Melbourne Museum and of course, the awesome food and bar scene are some of my favourites. Oh and when the timing is right, a game of Aussie Rules football at the MCG is a must! It’s tons of fun even if live sport really isn’t your bag. I’m a Sydney sider, I can’t wait to see what you have to say about my home town!

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      So great to hear that perspective, Sammie. On paper, I thought I’d love a lot of those things too! I guess Melbourne and I just didn’t mesh ‘in person’. The comparison with Sydney may well have played a role – I had lower expectations for Sydney but ended up adoring it! Check out my post on my favourite things we got up to over here, if you like. 😀

      Reply
  2. Emma Raphael

    Lots of great tips there. It’s funny when you don’t love a place as much as you expect to isn’t it? I absolutely hated Strasbourg when so many people had told me how wonderfully pretty it was, and how it was a must see! Love your photos, followed you on IG too! 🙂 #wanderfulwednesday

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Aw, thanks Emma! I’ll be sure to go follow you back.

      Yes! Even though I know these things are subjective I end up feeling like perhaps there must be something wrong with me if so many people vouch for a place and I didn’t feel the same. I need to remember that everyone having different tastes is one of the reasons the world is so interesting! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Anisa

    Sorry to hear you were disappointed in Melbourne. I only stayed for a weekend and I had a friend that showed me around so I enjoyed it and plan on going back. We also did part of the Great Ocean Road which was really amazing. I do agree with your assessment, there is much more for tourists to see in Sydney. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      It’s all part and parcel of the travel experience. Visiting places I’m not totally enamoured with only helps throw the places I do enjoy into sharper relief. 🙂 So pleased to hear you enjoyed it, though! Would definitely be interested to see the Great Ocean Road some day, it looks beautiful.

      Reply
  4. Anda

    I didn’t realize Melbourne has so many beautiful places. I’d love to visit it but probably I wouldn’t rush to visit the Old Treasury Building, based on your experience. There are other things in Melbourne that seem more appealing to me. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Yes, I’d say the Old Treasury Building was particularly underwhelming. But as you say, plent of other beautiful spots to check out! 🙂

      Reply
  5. Rob+Ann @TravelLatte(.net)

    We’re in the early stages of planning a trip to Australia, so we appreciate all of the things to do, and the candid evaluation. Cooks Cottage is a must, as we’ve long been fascinated by his explorations of the South Pacific. Eager to see the Shrine of Remembrance and National Gallery as well. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Hope the post comes in useful and that you have an amazing trip to Australia! 😀

      The Shrine of Remembrance is probably the thing that’s stayed with me the most from Melbourne – excellent views of the Melbourne skyline too!

      Reply
  6. Lisa - FlipFlopGlobetrotters.com

    I’ve been to other places in Australia a loooong time ago, and loved them. I didn’t have time to visit Melbourne, but hope one day I can! Although… maybe not after reading your story. Such a shame when your expectations aren’t met. Of course, we travel with a toddler, so we’d most likely not be visiting many of the places on your list. I love museums and libraries, but unless they have kids’ activities I doubt we’d be taking our little one there 😉 #citytripping

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      I hope I haven’t put you off too much, but can appreciate many of my preferred destinations wouldn’t be so suitable for a little one!

      Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      That’s so great, sounds like you’re destined to visit soon! I really enjoy taking trams as a means of public transport. 🙂

      Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Besides St Kilda we didn’t see much of the coast to be honest (perhaps we should have!). I’m all about the culture too – the cathedral was a really beautiful spot. 🙂

      Reply
  7. Katy Clarke

    Oh no! I’m so sad you didn’t fall in love with my beloved home town. You certainly gave it a good go though. If I am honest, it’s a great place to live and take part in all the activities. I think 3 days is plenty for international visitors and I would include a day trip in that time too.

    You’re right the Exhibition building looks weird empty. I’ve never seen it like that! Did you find any of the local galleries in Fitzroy and Collingwood? I can waste a few hours there easily just browsing.

    On my blog I mention that if you find a bad meal in Melbourne, particularly breakfast, you need to let me know immediately so please do.

    I have also never been inside the Treasury Building. Shame on me.

    Thanks for joining #FarawayFiles

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      I didn’t realise you were from Melbourne, Katy! I can definitely see how it might be the kind of city you come to appreciate the longer you stay, or if you were to live there, since a lot of people seem to rate the atmosphere really highly. Ah, that breakfast was probably the low point of my visit – it was one of those that looked good, but really didn’t taste great. I have to take some of the blame, though – I chose something I normally wouldn’t go near for breakfast, and I also assumed one of the ingredients was vegetarian when it wasn’t!

      I didn’t visit Collingwood, and I don’t recall seeing any local galleries when I was in Fitzroy. Definitely something to look for next time, if I happen to return. 🙂

      Reply
  8. Addie

    It’s too bad you didn’t enjoy your time in Melbourne to it’s full extent! At least you found a few cool things to do, though – the free city tram sounds like a great way to sit back and see the city.

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Them’s the breaks, as they say. 🙂 I’m glad I got to go, since I’d wanted to visit for a while. And there were definitely individual parts that I thought were great. Just not as many as I’d imagined!

      Reply
  9. Laura

    I’d add Southbank to that area as well. There’s so many areas of Melbourne to visit, you need quite a lot of time. I’m a local and I still discover new places regularly! Thanks for sharing #theweeklypostcard

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      I’d heard such exclusively good things from others too! I honestly thought I’d fall head over heels for Melbourne, which is probably part of the reason I came away feeling disappointed. I really hope you have a difference experience to me, though! 🙂

      Reply
  10. Ali May

    When I read your opening paragraph I felt immediately disheartened, almost defensive about Melbourne – the city that I chose as my home for the past 12 years. But then I read the details and it seems that you covered plenty on your visit, and your impressions weren’t as bad as I had expected. Phew! Sydney definitely has a serious wow factor for international visitors. I lived there for a couple of years in my early 20s, but then I took a 5 day trip to Melbourne and knew that I needed to live there one day. I eventually did! So I’m wondering if it was the people you met in Melbourne that gave you a less than favourable impression? That Exhibition Building is regularly used for events such as the Fashion Festival, the Flower and Garden Show and other exhibitions. It would be very weird to see it totally empty!

    Taking a day trip out to the Yarra Valley, the Great Ocean Road or the Mornington Peninsula would have sealed the deal as a more favourable destination. There is a lot of awesome experiences to be had within 60 mins drive from the CBD. Anyway, thanks for sharing your opinion! #FarawayFiles

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      The visit to Melbourne definitely wasn’t a negative one. Or, at least, not objectively. Only in the sense that it didn’t meet my expectations. I just wanted to candidly share my responses to each place, and to the city as a whole, as I felt it would’ve been inauthentic to talk about it any other way. There are so many people who adore the city, but of course travel is incredibly subjective. I think that diversity of opinion is only a good thing, so long as it’s presented honestly, thoughtfully and without belligerence. (I sincerely hope my post didn’t come across as aggressive or anti-Melbourne.)

      It’s lovely to hear about how you fell in love with it, though, and made it your home. 🙂

      Honestly, the people were a neutral factor. Not especially friendly, but not unfriendly. We were told that the REB was used for various events, which of course was its intended purpose, but I can’t help but feel there’s huge potential to do something with it during interim periods, too…I can appreciate that might be expensive to pull off, though.

      Reply
  11. Erin Gustafson

    I loved Melbourne both times I visited, but I understand when a place doesn’t hit the bullseye the first time. That was Madrid for me, but on second visit – we loved it. I love St. Kilda and Luna Park in Melbourne though! #FarawayFiles

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      That definitely rings true – so many factors can influence your experience of a place. Even something as mundane as bad weather or one bad experience can colour a whole visit, and when you return you find your views completely reversed! 🙂

      Reply
  12. Jonny (daisythebus)

    I like the way that you searched out (mostly free) tours to many of these places. That is something that I hardly ever do, yet always say “I MUST do that next time…”. I also really enjoyed your honesty – sometimes things just don’t live up to expectations, and that’s a perfectly normal feature of travel. Great read – thanks! #FarawayFiles

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      Thanks Jonny! I 100% agree, it’s unrealistic to think travel will match up to your hopes on every occasion. The ups and downs are part of the ride, and what makes travel so compelling.

      Free tours are the best! 🙂

      Reply

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