As the city’s most loved green space, the Royal Botanic Gardens [Birdwood Avenue, South Yarra] is a haven in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the big smoke. Besides being the spot to walk around, marvel at the lush greenery or relax with a picnic in town, the gardens are also an important resource for education, conservation, science and horticulture. With its roots stretching all the way back to 1846, the gardens extend over 36 hectares and are home to a diverse collection of over 50,000 plants from around the world. Alongside the recreational and education fun you’ll have, the Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden is another popular drawcard, attracting over 150,000 visitors each year. Go wild in the wetland area, bamboo forest, gorge, plant tunnel, rill and kitchen garden, before talking your own free walking tour through the gardens.
Melbourne’s laneways are synonymous for being canvasses for some of the world’s best street art. Hit the streets and you’ll discover a dizzying array of colourful murals by well-known local and foreign artists. Any ‘grammer worth their salt knows how to get the money shot so we’ll share the nitty gritty right here. Start at the famed Hosier Lane (opposite Federation Square), walk past elaborate stencil work on Centre Place, rock out to the greatest musical hits on AC/DC Lane, wind your way into Croft Alley before following the maze of colourful laneways heading north from there. Eat your heart out Banksy.
St Kilda may be home to an amazing beachside vibe and cool bars but there are other residents who attract attention in this seaside suburb. Over 1000 fairy penguins call the St Kilda breakwater home and are one of the most popular locals around. Walk up to the end of the iconic St Kilda Pier and watch the penguins swim up towards the breakwater as they come in at sunset, post-fishing for dinner. As a bonus, you’ll get to learn about why the penguins are nesting in an urban enclave of a major city! Just remember to refrain from touching or feeding the penguins, and flash photography. Nobody is ready for their close-up, especially as they come in from the sea after picking up some tucker.
So, you might have to dish out some cash (as some of the staff might get cranky if you spend all day at their establishment with nary a drink in sight), Melbourne’s rooftop bars are the perfect place to soak up the city skyline and take in the expansive views from all corners of the grid. Siglo [161 Spring Street] overlooks St Patrick’s Cathedral and the magnificent Parliament House, Bomba [103 Lonsdale Street] has all-weather rooftop bar overlooking leafy Lonsdale Street, hidden gem Union Electric [13 Heffernan Lane] is in the thick of things, Loop Roof [23 Meyers Place] offers panoramic views of the city centre, while Naked for Satan [285 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy] boasts a phenomenal 360-degree view of Fitzroy and wider Melbourne. With views this good, you can afford a drink or two.
Art and culture are at the forefront of Melbourne’s touristic attractions but you don’t have to break the bank to get your Picasso on. The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) [180 St Kilda Road] has a collection of more than 73,000 works of art, as well as the world’s largest stained-glass ceiling that reflects a bright array of colours onto the gallery floor. Don’t be fooled by its name - the State Library of Victoria [328 Swanston Street] is a hotbed for all things Australian art related: paintings, prints, sculpture drawings, ceramics and photography are on display for free. The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) [111 Sturt Street, Southbank] is another gallery candidate, with group exhibitions of sculpture, video, installation, photography, print and paint. Free museums for everyone!
Melbourne takes it foodie rep quite seriously and there’s no better place to see if it measures up than at the myriad markets peppered through the city. You can’t go past the iconic Queen Victoria Market [Queen Street]; besides being the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s also the city’s most popular one with locals and tourists alike flocking to have their fill of fresh produce, excellent coffee and food, and stalls peddling everything from accessories to clothing. South Melbourne Market [Coventry Street & Cecil Street, South Melbourne] is a hotspot for artisan produce, fresh seafood and handmade goodies, while the ever-popular Prahran Market [163 Commercial Rd, South Yarra] offers up live music on weekends to go with its delicious array of fresh food, gourmet cheese and in-market restaurants. If you’re really on a budget, wander through the markets and taste all the free samples being handed out on every corner!
Summer is obviously the best time to indulge in everyone’s favourite free activity — hitting the beach. Luckily, Melbourne boasts a few seaside hot spots just waiting for you to dip your toes in the sand. Take a walk along the pedestrian path in Port Melbourne Beach, or head to St Kilda Beach with a book in tow to pass the time as you catch some rays. If a laid-back vibe is more your style, neighbouring Elwood Beach is another sought-after spot when the weather gods play nice, while the ever-popular Brighton Beach Bathing Boxes are a standout attraction for anyone wanting to capture that perfect beach Insta-moment. Bring some sunscreen, stay hydrated and revel in the picturesque views over Port Phillip Bay. You can thank us later.