Central Melbourne is filled with a gorgeous and eclectic combination of wide, easily walkable boulevards and narrow, graffiti-covered alleys. This contrast perfectly conveys what makes the city so diverse and fun. Australia’s second most populous city has a boastful number of excellent restaurants and a thriving art scene, all easily accessible via the impressive tram system — even if located in one of the city’s many suburbs. A cosmopolitan metropolis, Melbourne is a must visit for families.
For a great introduction to the city, check out the free, three-hour walking tour leaving daily from the centrally located State Library of Victoria. The Free Melbourne Walking Tours leave daily at 10:30am and 2:30pm year round.
Melbourne’s Major Attractions
The National Gallery of Victoria, the most famous art museum in Melbourne and the oldest art museum in the country, features an array of impressive Australian and Asian art. After visiting the National Gallery, head over to the Royal Botanic Gardens next door and walk around the gorgeous grounds, which include more than 10,000 plant species.
Queen Victoria Market, an historic landmark and shopping mecca, is a good place to mingle with the locals. The stalls feature everything from exotic produce to authentic Aborigine boomerangs and didgeridoo, an aboriginal wind instrument.
Don’t miss those alleys, or laneways. Stroll the magnificent Seven City Arcades, favorites for browsing with unusual shopping opportunities in over 260 boutiques and specialty stores. Even if you aren’t in the market to buy anything, they are worth seeing for their design details including the Block Arcade (built in 1891) with its Italian mosaic floors, and the Royal Arcade (dating from 1869).
For family fun, hire a set of rollerblades or bikes and explore the trails that run along the Yarra River. You can also climb onboard the River Shuttle to enjoy marvelous views of the riverside and promenade, and use it to aid your sightseeing by jumping on and off at any of the stops along the way, including Federation Square, Victoria Harbor, the Melbourne Exhibition Centre and five other locations.
Any families travelling with children in their teens should visit the Melbourne Museum, which has well-produced exhibits on everything from Melbourne history to local flora and fauna. Don’t miss “The Melbourne Story,” which is an engaging look at the 150+ year of the city.
Explore Melbourne’s Neighborhoods
Melbourne is a truly spectacular city for walking, so much so that many of its large boulevards are reminiscent of the nicest parts of Paris. Don’t be tempted to limit your sightseeing by the convenience of the Central Business District — much of it is filled with tall skyscrapers with little character — and instead focus on the neighborhoods surrounding the city’s center.
Every visit to Melbourne should include a day at St. Kilda, Melbourne’s playground on the bay where you can swim, stroll and picnic. You’ll never forget the fun you’ll have together at historic Luna Park, the symbol of the area with its famous laughing face entrance. Ride for free and catch the golden ring at the beautifully crafted carousel, or take a thrilling ride on the heritage roller coaster.
If you’re there for dinner, head to Araliya on Fitzroy Street for superb Sri Lankan food. Get the curried duck leg and wagyu brisket, and make sure you wash it down with their jasmine green tea mojito. Those with less adventurous palates will find plenty of rice and noodle dishes too.
Fitzroy, the hipster mecca of Melbourne, is a welcoming neighborhood reminiscent of New York’s Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Every visit should include a stop at Carlton Gardens, a gorgeous park on the edge of the neighborhood. After that, do some shopping on Brunswick Street and pick up a few Flat White’s (Australian for Latte) at Industry Beans on Rose Street.
Arts & Culture Abound in Melbourne
Since opening in 2002, Federation Square has become the cultural heart of the city, and the place where locals and visitors gather – and the site of the Melbourne Visitor Centre for maps and information.
This fascinating complex demonstrates the fusion of fine arts, bold architecture and culture that includes The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, the world’s first museum of its kind is a home dedicated to Australian art in all media. ACMI Australian Center for the Moving Image is the place to explore the history of cinema from its inception through the digital age. If you remember such Australian classics as “Animal Kingdom” (2010), “Happy Feet” (2006), “Shine” (1996), “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (1994), “Mad Max” (1979) or “Walkabout” (1971), you’ll find a lot of interest.
There are many restaurants and cafes within this cultural complex, as well as galleries and shops where you are sure to find something to bring home as a reminder of your trip.
Tour the Immigration Museum, located in the Old Customs House and learn about the history and role immigration has played in the development of Australia. Arranged into four categories: “Leavings,” “Settlings,” “Journeys” and “Getting In,” you will meet the nine million or so people who migrated to Australia from 1800 to the present.
Melbourne at Night
Melbourne’s theater scene is thriving and any visit should include a show while in town. Especially notable is the Princess Theatre on Spring Street, widely regarded by many as one of the city’s most spectacular landmarks. Performances vary month to month so make sure you check their website before going.
Once the kids are in bed, grab a cocktail at 1806 on Exhibition Street. This famed cocktail lounge makes historically themed — and superb — cocktails in a gorgeous setting.
Australia’s Natural Wonders
Being down under means that marinelife and wildlife may be very different than what you’re used to. The Melbourne SeaLife Aquarium will dazzle and mesmerize the entire family, as you discover together the creatures of the Southern Ocean such as sea-dragons cuttlefish, moray eels, Stingrays and Port Jackson Sharks.
For a great family day out, visit the Melbourne Zoo for a classy and educational encounter of the wild kind. Follow the clever “Wild Clues” around the zoo and discover the many weird and wonderful animals that call Melbourne Zoo home.
Day Trips from Melbourne
Yarra Valley, the gorgeous wine-growing region about an hour east of downtown, is a must-do day trip for any family visiting Melbourne. Rochford Wines offers both a great wine tasting and gorgeous setting, with wonderful views of the valley. Stop by Rae’s Restaurant Balgownie Estate Vineyard Resort & Spa for lunch, where a killer burger and great wine complement the views.
For any families traveling with foodies, the Yarra Valley doesn’t disappoint. Yarra Valley Dairy offers an assortment of locally grown wines, cheeses, and other dairy products. Definitely do the cheese tasting while you’re there. For those with a sweet tooth, Yarra Valley Chocolaterie is about as close to heaven as one can get in the Southern Hemisphere. The store includes an enormous assortment of chocolate, a full restaurant, and a huge assortment of various sweets.
Phillip Island, 90 minutes from Downtown Melbourne, is well worth the trip. The island is home to an astounding array of wildlife, including Australia’s largest fur seal colony. During the daytime, you can feed kangaroos, wallabies and a host of farm animals.
Stroll along the elevated boardwalks at the Koala Conservation Centre to view these cuddly creatures high in the treetops.
Then it’s off to the star attraction at Summerland Beach to take your place on a special viewing platform for the enchanting procession of hundreds of fairy penguins, the world’s smallest species. At dusk, after fishing at sea, they catch the surf waves onto shore, and chirp and waddle across the sand to settle into their burrows. The Gray Line Penguin Parade Tours offer an informative trip.
Eating Out in the Foodie’s Melbourne
Gazi Restaurant, run by famed chef George Colombaris, is a perfect spot to grab lunch with the whole family. Located in the Central Business District, the restaurant serves fantastic Greek food. Order one of the chef’s choice platters and a seemingly endless array of dips and small plates will appear in front of you.
Families with at least one member with a sweet tooth should get dessert at Supernormal, a beautifully designed Asian fusion restaurant in the Central Business District. Don’t leave without getting the Peanut Butter Parfait.
For some great people spotting — and even better food and drinks — grab dinner at Lucy Liu, a trendy new Asian restaurant serving large plates for sharing and excellent cocktails. Pair the chef’s tasting menu with a Wildberry Smash.
Where to stay in Melbourne
The Langham, Melbourne (+61 3 8696 8888) at 1 Southgate Avenue, Southbank VIC 3006, Australia, offers a great home base for families. Located along the Southbank Promenade, the hotel is close enough to the city center that most sites are within walking distance, yet far enough that the neighborhood is much more welcoming. The Langham Club Rooms, starting at $330AUD (US$287) per night, come with access to the Langham Club, which includes breakfast and hors d’oeuvres, and complimentary wireless internet – the best bet for families with snacking kids.
Any parent can tell you that mobilizing an entire family to leave the hotel and go to a restaurant can be a challenge, and luckily the Langham, Melbourne has great dining options within the hotel. Melba offers an impressively high quality buffet, with an array of cooking stations cooking everything from Naan to Sashimi. Melba is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and children under 12 eat free or at half price, depending on their age.
If you have some free time away from the kids (the Langham, Melbourne can arrange private childcare by request), the 11,000-square-foot Chuan Spa offers tranquility in the convenience of the hotel. The Chuan Spa Harmony Massage offers a unique take on a traditional Swedish massage and is a necessity for anyone after the long flight to Melbourne. Come back with the kids and let them play in the saltwater pool, which offers great views of Melbourne.
Qantas and its partner American Airlines, and United, all offer non-stop flights from Los Angeles to Melbourne. The flight is 15 hours.
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