From quirky neighbourhoods to iconic sporting venues to graffiti-daubed laneways, the Victorian capital is a riot of activity and colour worthy of a city considered by many to be one of the best in the world.
Any exploration of Melbourne really needs to start in the heart of the city, which is considered by many as one of the most liveable in the world. The best way to get your bearings for further exploration is by jumping on a tram, which is actually free to ride within an inner-city grid. While the modern trams are all sleek and air-conditioned, the vintage trams on the circle line around the city are a little more evocative (and also free).
Jump off on Flinders Street and head down Hosier Lane to discover a world of colour. Now, while we don’t encourage writing on walls, there is no denying that Melbourne’s graffiti and street art is a must see, and this laneway is one of the best (Flinders Lane, Degraves Street and AC/DC Lane also hold their own). Impress on the kids that they shouldn’t do this at home and then let them work through the layers of artworks that cover every brick here.
Another thing the city is famous for is its lovely shopping arcades, the grand dame of which is The Royal Arcade on Bourke Street; you’ll love browsing the fashion and giftware boutiques, and the kids will love Koko Black for chocolates.
Federation Square is a parent’s dream come true when it comes to high-density attractions with little walking needed. The first stop should be the newly revamped ACMI, which pays homage to moving images of all kinds. There are interactive displays, regular movie screenings and big-ticket visiting exhibitions. If you can’t score a table at ACMI’s new destination diner HERO, then HERO Grab & Go Kiosk is a good option.
Another great way to entertain the family while they learn something is at the Koorie Heritage Trust, which celebrates the rich cultures and traditions of Victoria and southern NSW’s Koorie peoples and communities. There are exhibitions, events and cultural education programs including the Birrarung Wilam guided walk along the Birrarung, the Wurundjeri name for the Yarra River, visiting art installations, places of cultural significance and hearing the stories of the river.
Flinders Lane is the place to be when it comes to eating out in Melbourne, lined as it is with some of the best eateries in town. It’s fun to walk its length in the early evening to see the hustle and bustle of restaurants coming to life and preparing for the evening ahead. And because there are so many choices, from Mexican to Italian to Japanese, you are sure to hit on something everyone will be happy with. Whatever you choose from, afters is taken care of: try Brunetti for bite-sized Italian sweets and cakes and PIDAPIPO around the corner on Degraves Street for gelato.
Jump a tram and chart a course for Melbourne’s lovely Botanic Gardens, which have their very own kids’ garden for the little ones to explore. The Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden is designed for children to interact with plants and with dirt so you might want to take a change of clothes with you. Another fun thing to do while you’re here is punting between the bays and islands of the Ornamental Lake on a guided boat cruise (available from 10.30am to 5pm daily).
The inner-city suburb of Thornbury (just over half an hour by tram from the CBD) is home to the architecturally stunning and culturally significant Islamic Museum of Australia. There are five permanent galleries exploring Islamic Faith, Islamic Contribution to Civilisation, Islamic Art, Islamic Architecture and Australian Muslim History as well as a roster of visiting exhibitions. Arrive in time for lunch and take a seat at an outdoor table at IMA Café for a sujuk and haloumi wrap before heading inside.
Chinatown Melbourne, located in the heart of the city on Little Bourke Street and its surrounds, is Australia’s oldest Chinatown and is filled with action and colour day and night. You will be spoilt for choice when it comes to where to eat. See what all the fuss is about at the famed Flower Drum (the menu is seriously extensive) on Market Lane or opt for dinner and a show at Hutong Dumpling Bar: the kids can watch as nimble-fingered dumpling masters fill and twist dumplings into shape in the kitchen before digging into the little hot and steaming delicacies.
The kids will love the funky hipster suburb of Fitzroy, which presents like one giant canvas daubed with everything from bug-eyed cats to an iconic (and now heritage-listed) work by the late contemporary artist Keith Haring. You’ll find this mural on Johnston Street, not far from Das T-Shirt Automat, where the kids can pick up the T-shirt they custom designed online from a tiny window. With a serious concentration of cafes here as well, this is a great place to come for breakfast before browsing the shops along Brunswick Street.
It takes less than 20 minutes by train from Flinders Street Station to get to the suburb of Hawthorn in order to visit the Melbourne Tram Museum. But of course you can catch the tram, too. Housed in the heritage-listed Hawthorn Tram Depot, the museum, which is open two Saturdays per month, with a gold coin donation upon entry, traces the history of trams and impact they have had on the city since 1885. The collection includes a number of elegant vintage trams to explore.
Back in the city, hop a tram bound for St Kilda to spend the afternoon riding the dodgem cars at Luna Park, before heading to the St Kilda Pier to watch the sky over Port Phillip Bay turn shades of russet, orange and yellow as the sun sets. Hang around for dinner at one of the many (many) restaurants; head to Acland Street for lots of choice.
Another day, another great inner-city Melbourne suburb to explore; today it is Collingwood, home to a brand of quirky creativity that kids will find compelling. There’s a burger joint housed in an old train carriage that is perched on top of a building (Easey’s), and Japanese-inspired trinkets to peruse at CIBI. And at To Be Frank Bakery you can munch on freshly baked breads and pastries (and sip more good coffee) while sitting on a milk crate out front next to a mural.
If you are from out of town and have an AFL or cricket fiend in the family they are sure to want to visit the MCG while you’re here. But these aren’t the only games that make headlines in Melbourne. The city is the venue for the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year, the Australian Open. If you have a tiny tennis star in the making, you can book them into Tennis World’s Australian Open Guided Tours at Melbourne Park to gain behind-the-scenes access to training areas, changing rooms, the player lounge and the underground paths leading to the courts.
It’s a five-minute walk from the MCG and tennis centre to Southbank and the Australian Centre For Contemporary Art, with its iconic rusted-steel facade designed by local architects Wood Marsh. Spend an hour or so viewing the interesting art that is sure to intrigue your little ones, before walking to Collins Street for burgers at Royal Stacks.
Melbourne’s Little Italy has a village vibe, with students from the nearby universities mingling with locals and visitors to the suburb come in search of a heart-starter espresso (this is where Melbourne’s café culture started), dolce treats and pizza and pasta. Let the kids loose in the heritage-listed Carlton Gardens while you soak up the sunshine.
Nestled next to St Kilda, the suburb has long been home to Melbourne’s Jewish community. Head here for great bagels – Glicks on Carlisle Street is an institution – and a multicultural roster of restaurants that stretches from Turkey to Greece to Vietnam to China. And, of course, there’s good coffee – did you really need to ask?
Another inner-city neighbourhood where eating and drinking coffee (or hot chocolate for kids) are two of its major drawcards. Then there’s shopping to be done: Bridge Road is home to factory outlets and seconds stores for the likes of Gorman and Bonds.
Getting from A to B
Melbourne is well serviced with public transport, with its trams and trains delivering you to just about everywhere you want to go. Make the most of the free tram zone in the city centre, and to go further afield get yourself a myki to tap on and off to pay for your ride. There are train stations across the city, the busiest being Flinders Street Station, which is also the universal meeting place for Melburnians.