17 Things to Do in Melbourne, Australia for First-Timers

17 Best Things to Do in Melbourne for First-Timers

There’s more to do here than just being in close proximity to kangaroos and koalas.

Australia is a dream destination for many because of its scenic natural landmarks, koalas, and kangaroos. But in Melbourne, it’s more than just greenery and cute animals. From a settlement along the Yarra River, it has evolved into a famous coastal city in Victoria. Nowadays, there are countless fun things to do in Melbourne; it is full of unique sights and sounds, from centuries-old attractions to aesthetic trams. The life of the city is encapsulated in street art lanes and busking performances — an added layer of culture that you’ll have to experience for yourself! 

If it’s your first visit, it could be quite overwhelming to decide where to begin your adventure. Hence, we’ve come up with a list of the best things to do in Melbourne — including free activities, sightseeing spots, and other nearby places. 

Also read: 14 Stylish Airbnbs in Melbourne That’ll Make You Want to Move There

Free things to do in Melbourne CBD

1. Stroll around museums

Part of what makes Melbourne a city teeming with arts and culture is the various museums that you can find there. Enjoy some quiet time admiring beautifully crafted works. What’s more, you don’t have to pay a cent at most of these! Below are the unskippable museums in and near Melbourne’s Central Business District (CBD) that are worth a visit.

National Gallery of Victoria

Being the oldest art museum in Australia from 1861, the National Gallery of Victoria is a massive building surrounded by fountains. What’s inside will amaze you more — over 76,000 international works of art, ranging from paintings to engravings, and even furniture! One of the museum’s well-known works is Pablo Picasso’s The Weeping Woman, which was actually stolen from the gallery in 1986 and recovered after two weeks.

A prominent feature within this museum is the stained glass ceiling by Leonard French in The Great Hall. It is the largest in the world and is best enjoyed by lying on the purple carpeted floor to gaze at the glistening coloured tiles. (But of course, don’t lie down when there’s a crowd!)

The extension of the National Gallery of Victoria is The Ian Potter Centre, located across the Yarra River from the main building. This centre houses purely Australian works. Get a glimpse into Australian history by seeing the Aboriginal artefacts and paintings.

Australian Centre for the Moving Image

Museums aren’t all about paintings and sculptures. The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) is a unique museum that showcases the history of screen culture, encompassing films, television shows, and even video games! 

The Story of the Moving Image is an interactive experience that takes you through the evolution of film, from simple frames to full-length movies. You can even try your hand at being a foley artist in the Foley Room! There, you can press various buttons to recreate sounds — like footsteps and birds squawking — to match the scene on the screen. 

2. Read a book at the State Library Victoria

State Library Victoria, things to do melbourne

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Imagine reading peacefully, surrounded by gorgeous architecture. Going to the State Library Victoria is one of the things to do in Melbourne CBD. Established in 1854, this is one of the oldest libraries in Australia and one of the pioneers behind the concept of free libraries.

The most Insta-worthy place in the building would definitely be the La Trobe Reading Room: an octagonal dome surrounded by rows of polished wooden tables with glass lamps and chairs. Get your best shot from a few floors up, where you get the full view of this structure.

With over two million books to choose from, you can spend some time browsing; just take note that you can’t borrow these as this has traditionally been a reference library. But, visiting this library is still one of the best free things to do in Melbourne for photo-taking enthusiasts and bookworms.

3. Explore the city’s top historical landmarks

The city is famed for its heritage buildings which make for great Melbourne tourist attractions, even if you are just admiring their beauty from afar. These are some of the best free things to do in Melbourne, where you can stare in awe at these relics. Read on for the iconic ones you won’t want to miss.

Flinders Street Station

flinders street station, melbourne tourist attractions

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Flinders Street Station is probably one of the most popular landmarks in Melbourne, recognisable by its French Renaissance-inspired dome roofs and clock tower. Interestingly, this design was decided upon through a competition in 1900. You’ve got to thank the first-prize winners, J.W. Fawcett and H.P. C Ashworth, for coming up with this masterpiece. 

It is a functioning metro train station until now. But even if you aren’t travelling, you can snap some charming photos of the station’s gorgeous facade from across the street. That’s where you can get the best angle!

St. Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne

Modelled after older European cathedrals, St. Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne is a well-known tourist attraction, as well as a place of worship for Anglicans. Its beautiful Gothic Revival exterior and sandstone walls attract many visitors. The wall spires (pointed roofs) that were added later make the building even more eye-catching. 

Inside, there are rows of pews and stained glass windows in nearly every corner. You can take a stroll through and even attend a service while you are there. Located just across from Flinders Street Station, it’s definitely among the best things to do in Melbourne CBD. 

Shrine of Remembrance

Shrine of Remembrance, places to visit in melbourne

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Shrine of Remembrance is a war memorial that honours the people of Victoria who served in World War I. You can get here by taking a serene stroll through a garden with rows of pruned trees and vast lawns. The architecture is simply remarkable; expect a long flight of stairs up to the entrance marked by pillars and intricately carved sculptures. At a glance, you can see similarities to the Parthenon in Athens, which was the source of inspiration for this. 

Inside is the sanctuary containing the Stone of Remembrance which symbolises a gravestone. Gaze at the impeccable symmetry of the layers of the pyramid-shaped roof. You can catch the last post service, a memorial ceremony, at the northern forecourt every Sunday at 4.45pm. The procession involves shrine guards marching in front of The Eternal Flame and reciting an ode.

4. Hitch a ride on the City Circle Tram

city circle tram, things to do in melbourne cbd

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It may be fascinating to watch the City Circle Tram move around the city, considering Melbourne is the only Australian city with trams. Did you know you can hop on and off for free in the CBD area? Get around to your sightseeing spots easily while experiencing the whimsical feeling of being in a quaint vehicle that runs on a pulley system.

There is also an audio tour of the places to visit in Melbourne, which makes this ride even more of a must-try. If you want to board the trams outside of the CBD area, you’ll need a Myki card: a reloadable transport card which can be used for buses and metro trains, too.

5. See street performances

While you are getting to your next destination, you may come across some live performances, such as busking and talent shows. In a city with a thriving arts culture, there’s lots of room for budding talents. Bourke Street and Southbank Promenade are some shopping and dining districts where you can find performers. 

On weekends, Federation Square has crowds gathered along the steps to watch performances, such as acrobats and musicians — just outside ACMI! You may even be serenaded by performers outside Flinders Street Station. If there’s a crowd on the street, chances are you can catch some live street performances.

6. Admire street art in Melbourne’s CBD

Looking for artsy murals to pose with? There are lots of street art along the lanes within the CBD area. Taking root from the idea of graffiti on walls, artists began a movement in the ’80s to populate street walls with artworks that showcase their personal styles, political beliefs, and struggles as artists. These street art lanes are now revered as some of the best Melbourne tourist attractions. Here’s a selection of popular street art lanes to beautify your Instagram feed:

Keith Haring Mural

If you want to get a glimpse into history, the Keith Haring Mural that pioneered street art in Melbourne is something you shouldn’t miss. Keith Haring was an American artist who contributed to the street art boom in Melbourne when he painted his signature outlined dancing characters on the walls in 1984. This mural in Melbourne is just one of 31 Keith Haring murals worldwide. 

AC/DC Lane

The AC/DC Lane pays homage to the iconic Australian rock band. You can find 3D-looking murals of the AC/DC members, as well as other striking coloured walls that express the artistic flair of each work. The lane got its name in 2004 from the Melbourne City Council, who wished to honour the band. Artists continue to add new works here from time to time, giving the lane a new lease of life each time.

Hosier lane

hosier lane, street art

Image credit: James Garman

Hosier Lane is where you can find graffiti and street art existing in harmony. Honoured as a Street Art Gallery since 1998, the lane is where artists can express themselves, filling up the walls with artistic freedom. This is also a pinnacle part of the tourist scene, being opposite Federation Square and a short walk from Flinders Street.

Best things to do in Melbourne for sightseeing

7. Get a panoramic view of the city at Melbourne Skydeck

Dare to look down at the city through glass windows at Melbourne Skydeck? This nearly 300-metre-high building will give you that thrill. Being one of the highest observation towers in the region, you can get a fantastic view of the Yarra River, surrounded by skyscrapers that look like toy blocks from the height you are at. 

Head onto the Edge, a glass cube protruding out of the tower, for a hair-raising experience of staring at tiny buildings beneath your feet. After that, reward yourself with some drinks at Bar 88 within the observation deck, where you can sip some wine while further enjoying the view.

8. Relax on the Yarra River Cruise

yarra river cruise, melbourne sightseeing

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Fancy sightseeing while having a meal onboard the Yarra River Cruise? This is one of the best things to do in Melbourne for tourists. The whooping 242-kilometre Yarra River flows through a large part of Victoria and was also a vital life source for the Wurundjeri Aboriginal people. Now, with its clean waterways, you can embark on a cruise for a chill ride down the river, where you can also opt for meals with a cocktail or two. 

Other cool activities in Melbourne to add to your itinerary

9. Have a gastronomic adventure at Queen Victoria Market

queen victoria market food, vegetables, American Donut Kitchen

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Queen Victoria Market is a wonderland for foodies. There, you can indulge in the sights and senses of fresh produce and pastries. For starters, get hot jam doughnuts from American Donut Kitchen, which serves these oozing fried delights from a vintage food truck. Then, you can get your coffee fix at Market Lane Coffee. Top it up with some delicious breakfast selections from M&G Caiafa, where you can order a croissant or brownie to go with your coffee.

Apart from these snacks, you can find an array of fresh fish, cheese, fruits, and vegetables that come from locally and from Europe. Even if you don’t have time to whip up a meal during your trip, walking down the lanes to see all that the market has to offer makes for some fun things to do in Melbourne.

While the market normally closes by late afternoon, it is bustling with life on Wednesday nights during the winter season (while the rest of the world is experiencing summer) as a night market. Bask in the neon lights as you go from stall to stall finding piping hot street food like flamed skewers, fish and chips, as well as churros. There are also crafts and clothes for sale, while exciting performances like hula hoop dances go on in the market.  

10. Shop till you drop at Melbourne Central

In between sightseeing activities in Melbourne, you can pop by Melbourne Central for some unrestrained retail therapy. This is one of the most popular malls in the CBD with over 300 retail outlets and F&B options; you can splurge on Australian fashion brands like Benjamin Barker and familiar international stores like Nike. 

coop's shot tower, melbourne central

Image credit: Daniel Pelaez Duque

The mall also features impressive architectural works, such as the Giant Pocket Watch and Coop’s Shot Tower. The latter is a 50-metre-tall remnant of the 19th century that was thankfully saved from demolition. The see-through glass of the cone-shaped roof draws attention to the tower’s height and appeal. Checking this out is certainly among the best things to do indoors in Melbourne for both heritage explorers and shopaholics. 

11. Catch a sporting event at AAMI Park

Would you like to experience Australian sports culture? There’s no better way than by watching a game — something you can do at AAMI Park. Also known as the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, this is where you can cheer on the city’s professional teams, such as Melbourne City FC for football, and the Melbourne Storm and Melbourne Rebels for rugby.

Note: The FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 will also be held here for a few weeks from 21 Jul – 8 Aug 2023: another reason why you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to see a game here.

Things to do outside of Melbourne but are a must for day trips

12. Pose with colourful boxes at Brighton Beach

brighton beach, bathing boxes, fun things to do in melbourne

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The suburb of Brighton is a go-to among locals and tourists alike, especially on sunny days. It is especially famous for Brighton Beach, which you might have seen while scrolling to find aesthetic outdoor backgrounds. There, you’ll find the vibrant Brighton Bathing Boxes. These 82 hut-like structures with customised colours and patterns were built over a century ago as people were conservative about changing into swimwear in public. 

Unfortunately, unlike its name, you cannot bathe in these huts without water or electricity supply. However, locals can buy and use these for storage or to relax; just no renting them out to others or staying the night there. Apart from getting photos with the picturesque bathing boxes, you can enjoy the pristine sand and take a dip in the turquoise waters. You’ll find it to be one of the best places to visit in the Melbourne suburbs if you are looking for a perfect photograph with colours that pop.

Also read: 9 Best Beaches Near Melbourne For Unlimited Sand, Sun, and Sea

13. Ride one of the world’s oldest wooden coasters in Luna Park Melbourne

Another popular Melbourne suburb is St Kilda, which is home to Luna Park Melbourne. As you enter through Mr Moon’s mouth to get into this theme park, you’ll find all sorts of rides and sights. Opened in 1912, The Great Scenic Railway rollercoaster is the park’s centre of attention, as this century-old wooden coaster has dips and twists which plunge you forward at 60 kilometres per hour: an amazing feat for a 20th-century wooden rollercoaster.

You’ll also enjoy a whimsical experience on rides like the Carousel and the Moon Balloons: a Ferris wheel with hot-air balloon carriages. On the other end of the spectrum are the intense spinning rides, such as the Power Surge: a star-shaped structure that tilts and turns you in all directions. There’s also the Enterprise: a mind-blowing, rotating experience that will make you feel like you are being hurled to the moon and back. Visiting Luna Park is definitely one of the fun things to do in Melbourne not just for kids, but also for rollercoaster-obsessed grown-ups.

Also read: A Guide to the Best Theme Parks Around the World Worth Travelling For

14. Get close to Australian wildlife at Moonlit Sanctuary

While Melbourne may not be all about cute Australian wildlife, you wouldn’t want to pass up on the opportunity to see them while you are there. A 50-minute drive from Melbourne’s CBD will get you to Moonlit Sanctuary in Pearcedale, where you can hang out with these Aussie creatures, such as koalas and free-roaming kangaroos. 

Snap a photo with the koalas while they are sitting comfortably on branches and chewing up leaves. You can definitely cuddle them for the photo, too — but just be careful of their claws! There are also over 70 species of native animals that you can interact with and learn more about by attending a lineup of talks and shows at various time slots. 

15. Take a ride through nature on Puffing Billy

Ever wanted to stick your legs out of an open-air train? Get up onto Puffing Billy: the world’s oldest traditional steam train that is still running even after two centuries. Feel the breeze and fill your vision with views of lush greenery along the Dandenong Ranges. You can dangle your limbs out of the carriage sills as it is safe enough to not worry about falling out. Just take note that this experience is not for children under the age of four. 

You can find the boarding place at Belgrave Station, which is an hour away via the metro train from Melbourne’s CBD.

16. Watch the penguin parade on Phillip Island

One of the best places to catch a whole group of waddling fairy penguins would be on Phillip Island. Just about an hour and a half from Melbourne, this paradise is home to the largest population of little penguins. An average adult fairy penguin can grow up to only 35cm — even smaller than a human newborn! They start to appear around the coast at sunset, hopping around and flapping their tiny flippers — a sight that will give you an instant serotonin boost. 

If you haven’t had enough of these endearing penguins, head to the Antarctic Journey at Nobbies Centre: an interactive museum that tells you all about penguins through a series of projected screens and activity zones. 

You can get to Phillip Island from Melbourne by car or bus. Alternatively, you can go to Stony Point Jetty and board the Western Port Ferry.

17. Experience a road trip on Great Ocean Road

great ocean road, twelve apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, beach, shore

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Take a break from the skyscrapers and concrete to see nature’s wonders on the Great Ocean Road. This 240-kilometre road along the southeastern coast of Australia is a national heritage site that was built as a memorial for the people who fought in World War I. The road starts in the town of Torquay, which is about an hour and a half by car from Melbourne.

A must-visit landmark along the road is Twelve Apostles: a shore consisting of limestone structures of around 50 metres each, though erosion has reduced its numbers from the said 12 to eight. Further down, you can find Loch Ard Gorge: a breathtaking beach enclaved by beautifully eroded cliffs. These two landmarks are part of the Shipwreck Coast, where many shipwrecks were known to have occurred in the past. There are many other landmarks you can explore along the road, so the best way is to rent a car to enjoy a scenic ride or join day tours if you don’t want to drive.

Also read: 22 Souvenirs to Buy from Australia for Your Loved Ones Back Home

For ease of travelling, you can plan your itinerary around the heritage visits in Melbourne CBD, before moving on to the nature attractions on the outskirts and beyond Melbourne. Don’t forget to have a taste of Vegemite (Vege-mate, get it?) while you are there because, after all, Melbourne is the birthplace of this famous umami-flavoured spread. Have fun in the Land Down Under!

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About Author

Jessie Lee

Jessie is a writer and an avid dreamer. She enjoys quiet time pondering over new ideas and stories. If she isn't dreaming about her next travel destination, she's probably engrossed in anime and K-dramas.