15 things to do in Melbourne – our 5 day itinerary

Jan 2019:
The more I think about it, the more I think Melbourne has a lot in common with Wellington, my adopted home and one of the coolest cities I know…

What they lack in external beauty and impressiveness, they make up for with buckets of character – a laid back atmosphere, stellar cultural institutions and a dash of quirkiness.

Why am I sharing this? Because in the original version of this post I got a bit negative about Melbourne. And that doesn’t do justice to my memory of the city at all. I just had some high (probably unrealistic) expectations, and I found that reality didn’t match up in a few areas. And I originally wrote this article in that mindset.

But, as is so often the case, my experience was a balance, including plenty of areas where my expectations were totally exceeded. (The exhibitions at ACMI and the Shrine of Remembrance were world class, and I relished time spent people watching in Federation Square, meandering around the NGV or encountering little blue penguins in St Kilda.)

So without further ado, here’s how we spent five days in 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. While it wasn’t quite on a par with our experience in Sydney, it was still a great way to get our bearings on foot, check out some street art and pick up some interesting tidbits about the city.

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. Feeling tired after a day spent on our feet, 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. So good!

Day 2

Fitzroy

Things to do in Melbourne - Fitzroy

I think it’s fair to call Fitzroy a “hipster” area of Melbourne. With its colourful wall murals, crumbling aesthetic and some interesting shop fronts I’d liken it to somewhere like Camden in London.

While I liked wandering around this area and admiring/photographing the grunginess, the one thing I was most interested in was the food – I’d heard great things. Sadly, my experience was mixed. I had a really poor breakfast experience at a spot I won’t mention, but luckily I was able to follow this up with a lovely vegetarian lunch at Radhey, which I can definitely recommend.

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’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 – didn’t manage to capture my imagination in the way I expected. I found it a little on the dingy side.

To be fair, though, I didn’t give it much of a chance to impress. I only lingered for a short while and didn’t go inside any shops or cafés, preferring to head onwards to 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.

I browsed around a commercial gallery inside the arcade and joined the long line of people waiting to get a taste of something sugary from Hopetoun Tea Rooms. I actually found the cheesecake we had disappointing. Perhaps I just chose the wrong thing? Or maybe it was one of those situations where I expected too much based on appearances.

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

I feel a certain affinity with Captain Cook after leaving the North East of England to explore the Antipodes.

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”(!) While we decided against paying to go inside, I thought the exterior was pretty charming and it was wonderful 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 a lot of love and appreciation for religious art and architecture.

I found St Patrick’s Cathedral a very pleasant place to wander and admire, both inside and out. Its interior looked so magical bathed in the golden light streaming through the stained glass.

Old Treasury Building

Things to do in Melbourne - Old Treasury Building

This is a free museum, so I don’t want to be too harsh. Let’s just say that the Old Treasury Building wasn’t for me.

There were some interesting objects and room displays – the gold display, in particular, 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 or verbose that I found my attention drifting more than once.

Day 5

Melbourne Museum

Things to do in Melbourne - Melbourne Museum

The Melbourne Museum was more my kind of place! We took another free tour to get ourselves acquainted with what the museum had to offer, which I was grateful for. The museum is large and covers a lot of ground, but we found the galleries and exhibitions consistently high quality.

Highlights for me included:

  • Mind and Body – for the insights into mental illness and the Ames Room, always a hit!
  • Science and Life – the bugs in particular
  • 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

The Royal Exhibition Building is such an interesting place. I was so impressed by its size and grand exterior – set in the lovely green surroundings of Carlton Gardens – that I knew I had to see the inside too if at all possible. I was delighted to find guided tours available, which we booked in person at the Melbourne Museum.

I’m so glad I got to glimpse inside and learn more about its history and development, but ultimately I found the emptiness of the space loomed very large, and left it feeling like a shell of what it could be. While the building does host exams and special events throughout the year, it seems like a such a missed opportunity to leave it so bare for large swathes of time.

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 bewildered 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, answered questions and ensured that visitors were considerate of the penguins and the area.

We grabbed dinner from Sister of Soul – amazing vegetarian restaurant! – and then took the opportunity to visit the St Kilda Luna Park. I love the kitsch of fairgrounds, so we rounded out the evening with a leisurely stroll around the park under the glowing lights of the rides and displays.


Over to you

Have you visited Melbourne? I’d love to hear your experiences and recommendations in the comments.

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

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42 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
  13. Sandi

    I live in melbourne so there are some spots that I think you have missed which would have made your trip more enjoyable.
    – NGV national gallery of victoria (there are some cool installations and exhibits going on)
    – south bank is just around the corner which is a riverside restaurant extravaganza, the crown casino is on this stretch as well, go to eureka skyjack 88 which is like a little glass box that comes off the building giving you amazing views, makes for pretty pictures. Southbank and NGV can be a day spent from morning to night
    – the royal botanic garden, yarra river and shrine of rememberance are across the NGV and makes for a great walk also
    – Lygon st (some great boutique shops, that alley feel, some of the best restaurants)
    – Visit brunetti on lygon st which has some great pastries and sweets, take them to go and then walk to carlton gardens which is where the royal exhibition building and IMAX and the museum are, have a mini picnic near the fountain and people watch and then finish off at the museum and maybe a movie afterwards as well)
    – go to st kilda, and as part of it you have to spend some time at luna park, you can spend the morning checking out the shops and restaurants, even stroll along the beach but luna park at night is great and fun
    – North fitzroy is great too, you can have a picnic at edinburgh gardens and get some snacks from Piedimonte’s Supermarket & Liquor, North Fitzroy, and then even some good books at Already Read Bookshop which is around the corner from the supermarket
    – go to the MCG for some live sport, there is bound to be something in the sports precinct

    All in all there is so much to do, I think you just had some bad luck with some boring places haha. Melbourne is all about the good coffee, food, and chill vibes all around

    Reply
    1. Lorna Post author

      I really appreciate you taking the time to include your recommendations, Sandi! I definitely didn’t find Melbourne boring, or at least the large majority of places I visited. There were many places/activities I very much enjoyed (the NGV, Shrine of Remembrance and St Kilda among them).

      What I tried to convey above was that as a city it didn’t live up to my expectations, which were set very high from other articles I’d read. I was only there five days, though, and I suspect Melbourne is the kind of place where it takes longer to soak up the lifestyle and what makes it special.

      Reply

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