When I first walked upon Federation Square I didn’t know what to think.
Is that it? Why is this place so well known? Why is this the centre piece and one of the recommended things to do in Melbourne?
It was just a square. An open square with a bunch of elaborately designed, albeit attractive and interesting, buildings surrounding it. We had arrived during the middle of the day and Fed Square was relatively empty and seemed a little lackluster.
The problem with coming from a stunning city like Sydney is that you tend to gaze at places with these glasses that expect to be wowed by an outside appearance.
The sparkle and shine of a stunning harbour grants you permission to not dig a little deeper.
Melbourne doesn’t have the visual wow factor, so you’re forced to dive deeper into its soul. Once you do that, you find yourself slowly slipping into LOVE.
The complex of buildings at Fed Square forms a rough U-shape around the main open-air square. Occupying roughly a whole urban block, it takes up prime real estate right on the banks of the Yarra River and sits directly opposite Flinders Street Train Station and St Paul’s Cathedral.
It happened one slightly chilly morning. I walked down from our Mantra Apartment at Southbank for a free Tai Chi class at 7:30am.
A small group of people keen on opening up their energy points to the chi gathered at Fed Square. It was a peaceful, relaxing and warm atmosphere.
I was a bit uncoordinated, but didn’t feel like anybody cared. It was about your own Zen experience, not anyone’s perceptions of you.
What an amazing free experience
My attitude towards Federation Square had suddenly shifted.
I was learning that Fed Square is an example of what happens when a city cares about its community. It adds vibrancy and experiences that cause people to be happy and return again and again. And many of it for FREE!
At Fed Square you get free Wi-Fi, free daily health and wellness classes, museums and galleries, rooftop honey bees and gardens, restaurants and bars that have deals, and free sports on the BIG TV screen – we were there during the Australian Tennis Open.
One of the events became our favourite. The I’m-falling-in-love-with-Melbourne sesh was Fed Square Live which celebrates Melbourne’s top acoustic acts in a series of free outdoor concerts on Thursdays through the summer. Oh, and it comes complete with free beach chairs spread out in front of the stage.
Fed Square is buzzing with festivals and fun.
From the live sporting events on the big screen like the AFL Grand Final, Tennis Open and the Formula One Grand Prix, to the quieter moments when people laze around on those beach chairs soaking up the atmosphere, and if Melbourne is playing nice, the sun.
And if you’re lucky, you can stumble upon an entertaining performance from a busker, which kept our kids amused for 30 minutes.
We could sometimes be found in the Transport Hotel. A beer garden which overlooks Fed square and the stage – Sunday $12 carafes of white sangria and jugs of cider is a little hard to ignore.
And Craig kept going back for the happy hour $5 pints of James Boags Draught, accompanied by the perfect beer o’clock dish – nachos!
What else is at Federation Square?
The Melbourne Visitor Centre is located underground with its entrance at the main corner, drop in for some free info.
The Atrium is one of the major public spaces in the precinct populated with galleries, specialty shopping and cool cafes.
ACMI – The Australian Centre for the Moving Image is worth a look, and it’s permanent exhibition Screen Worlds: The Story of Film, Television and Digital Culture is free!
Need to catch up online? Why not grab a seat and a coffee at one of the cafes on the square with your laptop and access the free Wi-Fi. Just don’t expect to get much work done with all the people watching and distractions on the big screen.
Right below Fed Square we also frequented the Riverland Bar & Cafe which is an iconic Melbourne bar located on the banks of the Yarra in the historic Federation Wharf vaults.
On a nice day it’s hard to find a better setting for a beer on the river.
When you’re done with all that, just walk down the stairs to enjoy a stroll along the Yarra River, and for the kids to stop in for a play at Birrarung Marr the free playground, or attend a free art class at Art Play. The girls loved creating Universes outside in the garden.
One other highly recommended place you must see nearby is Hosier Lane, made famous for its sophisticated urban street art (graffiti lined walls). Hosier is literally a 60-second walk away.
Federation Square grows on you the longer you are in the city and the more chances you get to experience the space and the various events.
If we were locals, I know it’s a place we’d frequent often, especially on those special occasions. It’s one of those places that you go from nah, to LOVIN it.
Plan Your Trip to Melbourne, Australia
We’ve been traveling 20 years and have come to rely on a few trusted websites that save us money and time when booking accommodation, flights, and car rental. Below are our preferred partners. If you book through these links, we do receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. It helps us continue to provide inspiring and helpful travel content for free on this site.