17 Ideas for What to Do in Melbourne for Your First Visit!

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Melbourne is a quirky and vibrant city known for its music, art, and cultural scene. As the capital of Victoria and the gateway to Great Ocean Road, you can bet that some most iconic attractions in Southeastern Australia reside here in Melbourne.

For anyone who has never visited the city before, it can be hard figuring out what to do in Melbourne. It has some world-class museums and galleries, and unrivaled entertainment, as well as being home to a massive foodie and sports culture.

With so much to see and do, it’s not easy putting together an itinerary for Melbourne. 

So to help you out, we interviewed Steve Davidson who has lived in Melbourne for almost 12 years. As a local, he knows all the top things to do in Melbourne and has even shared with us his favorite hidden gems.

If you’re visiting Melbourne for the first time and don’t know where to start, keep reading for Steve’s suggestions for the best places to eat, sleep, drink, shop, and explore.

Flinders Street Station, Melbourne, Australia
Flinders Street Train Station

What is Melbourne well known for?

Hosier Lane - Things to do in Melbourne, Australia
Hosier Lane

There really is something for everyone in Melbourne, no matter what your budget or tastes are. Melbourne is known for being one of the most livable cities in the world, with a vibrant music, arts, and theatre scene.

Compared to other cities in Australia, it’s known for being really easy to get around; especially on the Melbourne tramway system. The streets are very easy to navigate.

It’s also famous for its abundance of shopping and dining experiences that are like no other city in Australia.

Shopping strips like Chapel and Fitzroy Streets and Sydney and Bridge Roads have attracted many visitors to the city wanting to part ways with their dollars.

What to Do in Melbourne

If you’re looking for things to do in Melbourne, then below are Steve’s top suggestions for attractions and places to visit.

1. Visit St Kilda Pier at Dusk

woman looking at Sunset on St Kilda Beach with silhouette sailboats
Sunset on St Kilda Beach, Melbourne

A personal favourite thing to do in Melbourne is to visit St Kilda Pier at dusk, when the fairy penguins come in and bring smiles to everyone who sees them. The little penguins are so cute!

Why go to Phillip Island for the penguin parade when there is a free one right in the city?

I also like St Kilda for the outdoor dining and bars, many with bay views.

2. Shop Until You Drop

restaurants and buildings on the yarra river
Yarra River Melbourne

It’s not secret that Melbourne is a great destination for shopping fans to part ways with their coin. There are all kinds of shopping in the city, from vintage thrift stores, to boutique stores, to high-end luxury.

For shopping, I love the city laneways, especially between Flinders, Elizabeth, Bourke and Swanston Streets. Little Collins Street is also very good for relieving you of some of your cash.

The city center is actually pretty good for shopping.

Brunswick is a great area if you want to experience a bit of the Middle East, with small markets, and affordable restaurants with delicious food.

I like Fitzroy for the cafes and restaurants, not to mention all of the boutique shops, many catering for a hip crowd. Richmond and Prahran are also alright areas to shop, but a little more expensive than the others. They are quite popular with the locals though.

3. Marvel at the Views from Eureka Tower

city buildings next to a river
Overlooking Southbank and Eureka Tower

Eureka Tower is a must see for anyone looking for things to do in Melbourne. It offers stunning views from the highest observation deck in the southern hemisphere, at 297 metres/88 floors.

There is no better place to see the magnitude of the city and all its incredible beauty.

4. See An AFL Game at Melbourne Cricket Ground

Dusk view of Melbourne's famous skyline and Melbourne Cricket Ground stadium in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Dusk view of Melbourne’s famous skyline and Melbourne Cricket Ground stadium in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

If you’re here during the AFL (Australian Football League) season, you must check out a game. The atmosphere in the massive MCG is unlike anything else in this country.

If you’re not able to catch a game, then be sure to visit the stadium on a behind the scenes tour. The grounds are not just a sporting venue, but also a museum.

You can visit the famous MCC Long Room, the players’ changing rooms and the cricketers’ viewing room. Visitors can also see the Ron Casey Media Centre.

Head over to the Cricket Victoria Bill Lawry Centre and Australian Sports Museum to learn more about Australia’s sporting history.

5. Get Into Melbourne’s Delicious Foodie Scene

plate of dahl and nan bread
Little Creatures Fitzroy

Melburnians love food and drink, so it would be wrong to visit without trying some of the best restaurants and places to eat in the city. For budget, I would recommend any beer garden on a Sunday afternoon offering a free BBQ – these are quite widespread over the summer months.

Lucky Coq (Chapel Street, Prahran) offers very cheap pizzas, and I am a huge fan.

Don Dons on Swanston Street, near Melbourne Central, offers very affordable and tasty Japanese fare – and lightning fast service.

For stylish eats, I’d recommend Eureka 89 and Vue De Monde – mainly because I love a good view from high above the city.

For stylish yet casual, I’d recommend anywhere on Little Collins Street from Swanston Street, up to Spring Street. Terra Rosa is a personal favourite of mine along this strip.

Want to experience the best food in Melbourne but don’t have much time? Then check out this 3-hour food tour!

6. Visit a Local Tavern or Bar

schooner of beer on table with views of the Yarra river at Riverland Pub, Melbourne,
Riverland Pub

Melbourne is also well known for its bars and pubs, so if you’re looking for things to do in Melbourne at night, then be sure to hit the bars!

In the city, you’ve got many places to get a cool, refreshing cocktail such as The Workshop, Rooftop Bar, Cookie and many others. These are some trendy and hip places to drink in the evening.

There are also many along the river in Southbank – walk along and pick one – they are all great, though if you like cocktails, Left Bank (next to Freshwater Place) has the best espresso martinis I’ve ever had…

For pubs, my personal favorites are along Sydney Road – The Penny Black, The Retreat Hotel and the Cornish Arms Hotel.

7. Take a Day Trip Along the Great Ocean Road

Twelve Apostles along the Great Ocean Road in Australia
Twelve Apostles

The Great Ocean Road is one of the main reasons why people visit Melbourne. This 250 km scenic drive starts just one hour outside of Melbourne in Torquay, and continues on to Warrnambool.

Along the way, you’ll pass incredible vistas, scenic viewpoints, impressive rock formations such as the iconic Twelve Apostles, Gibson Steps and London Arch (London Bridge).

The drive is so scenic, that even though it can be completed in about 9 hours from one side to the other, many people choose to take the drive over a couple of days so they can stop and see all the amazing attractions along the way.

8. Explore Melbourne’s Gardens and Parks

row of trees in carlton gardens
Carlton Gardens in Melbourne

Despite being a big city, Melbourne is pretty green. There are many parks and gardens where you can escape the high-rise buildings and experience being in nature.

Pack a picnic and head off to the Royal Botanic Gardens or Carlton Gardens.

The Royal Botanic Gardens actually covers two sites in Melbourne and Cranbourne. The Melbourne Gardens were founded in 1846 and connect to the south side of the Yarra Valley It spans 38 hectares and offers a quiet place to relax among the trees, garden beds, lakes, and rivers.

Carlton Gardens is a World Heritage Site that sits on the northeastern edge of the Melbourne CBD. It’s most popular for its picnic and BBQ area, and even has its own wildlife such as the brushtail possum.

9. Check out the Markets in Melbourne

people milling about the Queen Victoria Markets, Melbourne
Melbourne’s Queen Victoria night market

The Queen Victoria Markets despite its reputation, does not really offer anything for the average tourist, in my opinion (other than to say you’ve been there). I do my meat and fruit shopping there though, so it may be handy if you’re staying in a serviced apartment and wanting to save a lot of money on the essentials.

Rose Street Markets, in Fitzroy, are known as The Artist’s Market. It is small compared to other markets, but I really like the range of clothing, accessories and art available there. They also sell some pretty nice coffee!

As above, there are many shopping areas to choose from – this really is the shopping capital of Australia, with something for everyone.

There are also other markets at St Kilda on a Sunday, as well as the ones at the Arts Centre. Chadstone in the suburbs is worth a visit if you like massive shopping centres. It may be a little tricky to get to via public transport though.

10. Go to A Festival in Melbourne

people listening to  musician on the stage at Federation Square
Federation Square

There are heaps of festivals in Melbourne. The Comedy Festival runs through April and is fantastic for seeing world famous (and up and coming) comedians live.

The Moomba Festival (on the Labour Day long weekend in March) offers a carnival experience right in the city, with a highlight for me being the annual parade down Swanston Street, and the Birdman Rally. The latter just has to be seen to be believed.

Spring Horse Racing Carnival in early November is what I consider to be the unofficial start of summer, with a whole week of horse racing at Flemington, the highlight being the Melbourne Cup. I highly recommend everyone to go and experience this once in their lives.

We also have the Grand Prix and the Australian Tennis Open…there is something big on pretty much all year round.

11. Take a Day Trip to Daylesford

table with views of vineyards
Marysville Victoria

Daylesford to the north is a beautiful country town, just over an hours drive away. There is great food and the Sunday markets are also worth the trip, along with the nearby Chocolate Mill.

This is an excellent place to visit any time of the year, though it is generally a little colder than Melbourne most of the time.

12. Enjoy a Sunday Session

Definitely any of the suburban bars and pubs mentioned above are great to visit on Sundays, but I personally love The Penny Black because they also offer a Sunday roast for those wishing to enjoy a nice, traditional Sunday meal.

I’ve never been disappointed with the food, drink, or atmosphere there on a Sunday. And, it’s good all year round, with outdoor heating and protection from the elements in winter.

I also like checking out the bars along Chapel Street – many offer discounted meals with each drinks purchase. The people are relaxed and happy on a Sunday. I’ve only good things to say about my Sunday sessions.

13. Dance the Night Away at Bimbo Deluxe

Bimbo Deluxe was a place where I had many great nights – with an outdoor beer garden on the rooftop, dance floor, dining area and plenty of comfy couches.

This one is for the younger people who like to dance to music other than what’s on the radio. Bimbo Deluxe revamped and rebarnded itself after a fire in 2018. It’s now known as Kewpie Bar and is just as popular!

If you like hip-hop, another great club is Bond Lounge. There are also many great options in St Kilda, the city, Fitzroy and along Chapel Street. There truly is something for everyone.

14. Visit the Museums and Galleries

Melbourne is a cultural city with a lot of world-class museums and galleries. Some of the most popular museums to check out are the Melbourne Museum and Royal Exhibition Building, the National Gallery of Victoria, and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

Get cultural and learn about Australian history and see some of the most impressive artwork in the city.

If you enjoy modern art, consider taking a street art tour.

15. Take the Kids to the Zoos

giraffes sitting in a row
Giraffes at Werribee Zoo in Melbourne

If you’re looking for things to do in Melbourne with kids and they love wildlife, there are some fantastic zoos they will love.

The Werribee Open Range Zoo offers a safari-like adventure. It is home to several African animals such as giraffes, zebras, and rhinos. Because these animals need a lot of space to roam, the park offers them just that, and visitors get the wild safari adventure.

Another popular zoo is Melbourne Zoo, which is the primary zoo in Melbourne. It’s located within Royal Park in Parkville, and is considered a world-leading zoo.

Melbourne Zoo actually owns Werribee Open Range Zoo, as well as Kyabram Fauna Park, and Healesville Sanctuary.

16. Watch the Sunset Over the Shrine of Remembrance

stairs leading up the the white stone building of the shrine of remembrance
Shrine of remembrance the world war I & II memorial in Melbourne, Australia

The Shrine of Remembrance is one of the most important monuments in Melbourne. The shrine was unveiled in 1934 as a memorial to those who have been lost in the first World War.

It is located in the Kings Domain Gardens shortly after the war ended, and is widely visited each year on 25th of April for Anzac Day, and on Remembrance Day on the 11th of November.

The monument looks beautiful and peaceful at sunset, which is the best time for reflection.

17. Catch a Show at Arts Centre Melbourne

If you love watching musicals and performing arts, then be sure to visit the Arts Centre, Melbourne, the best venue in the city to watch a play or musical.

The Arts Centre is an arcade of performing arts venues. The State Theatre is the most popular theatre, and has over 2,000 seats. Here you can see some of the biggest names, acts, and performances in the city.

Unlike most theatres, the State Theatre is underground and has one of the largest stages in the world.

Getting To and Around Melbourne

yellow building o Flinders Street Station, Melbourne, Australia
Flinders Street Station

The city is laid out on a very easy-to-navigate grid. The public transport system will get you to anywhere you may need to go, despite the odd cancellation.

The most common way to get around is by the tram network, which runs through the entire city. There’s even a free tram service, known as The City Circle Tram, which is a zero-fare service just for tourists – it connects to all the major attractions in Melbourne such as the parliament house, old treasury building, and Docklands waterfront.

If you don’t use the tram, there is a bus and metro network, which uses the same ticket as the tram.

If you’re heading to St Kilda, get the 96 tram – it runs express along an old train line, and will save you quite a bit of time.

Getting to CBD from the Airport

The Sky-Bus offers a regular shuttle service 24/7 direct to Southern Cross Station in the city. They also offer a hotel drop off and pick up service – ask for details at the counter.

A taxi to the city costs around $50-$60, depending on what time of day you’re travelling. I am generally very happy to stick with the Sky-Bus, unless I have returned from a long day at work interstate.

Best Time of Year to Visit Melbourne

view of Elwood Beach,
Elwood Beach

Autumn (march – May) to early winter (June – July) is the best time to visit Melbourne. The weather is at its sunniest at this time of year, and there is generally a lack of weather extremes that occasionally hit in summer and winter.

Having said that, the weather is nowhere near as bad as other Australians would have you believe. Melbourne has a reputation for being a rainy city, but it’s usually a light rain or drizzle, so don’t let that put you off.

I love this city all year round.

Before You Go

Ariel view of Melbourne city skyline
Melbourne

So there you have it, those are the top things to do in Melbourne. As you can see there’s a lot to see and explore.

Before you go, I have a few words of advice from Steve; definitely check out the city’s laneways for some shopping bargains, along with Smith Street, Collingwood for some decent factory outlets.

Avoid the DFO outlets and Docklands’ Harbour Town. In my observation, the items on “sale” there are more expensive than the major city department stores, although the rare occasional bargain may be found.

And don’t forget to get yourself a map. There are several “City Ambassadors” – wearing their distinctive red outfits, on many of the main intersections in the city.

The locals are also only too happy to recommend things to do in Melbourne, and give you directions on how to get there. This city is very easy to navigate.

About Steve Davidson: Steve moved down to Melbourne from tropical Queensland almost 12 years ago. He first visited Melbourne in the wintertime (deliberately) to see if it was as miserable as everyone says it is. He ended up falling in love with the city. You can follow Steve on twitter.

More Melbourne Travel Tips

Looking for more inspiration about Melbourne? Check out these other posts:

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