On a recent trip to Australia, we spent a day in Melbourne, one of Australia’s most popular and vibrant cities. We had a lovely day and have a number of recommendations. So here is our list of 13 fun things to see and do in Melbourne with kids.
I was born and spent the first 8 years of my life in one of the suburbs of Melbourne. It was Peter and Miss M’s first trip. However, the conditions were not ideal.
Peter had only arrived in Australia late the night before. We had driven across from Adelaide with my Dad to meet him at the airport. As you might imagine, he was a little jetlagged.
Miss M was not all that well when we had arrived a week before. We’d been to see the doctor, but we were waiting on tests to come back. It turned out, we both had the flu (influenza B). She tired easily.
- Where to stay
- Shop at the Queen Victoria Market
- Visit the Melbourne Museum
- Ride the tram
- Stroll in the gardens
- See the ‘big’ sights
- Admire the street art
- View the skyline
- Savour a coffee
- Tour the Melbourne Cricket Ground
- Shop at Melbourne Central
- Visit a museum
- Try Melbourne fusion
- Go penguin spotting at St Kilda
Where to stay
I don’t have any real recommendations on where to stay in Melbourne with kids. We stayed with my aunt to the north of Melbourne and caught the train in. Depending on what you are intending to do, staying outside the city might be a good option for you.
Because we were staying with family and wanted to catch up, we were a little late getting started. By the time we got into the city, it was midday. If you can, we’d definitely recommend that you start your day earlier.
1. Meander through the Queen Victoria Market
When we lived in Melbourne, some of my favourite memories involved going to the vibrant Queen Victoria Market. If my brothers and I were good, after a couple of the ‘sheds’ Mum and Dad would buy us some churros to share. It wasn’t until many years later that I found churros outside of Melbourne.
The Melbourne market is a great place to buy some supplies for a later picnic (such as in the botanic gardens) or to find some interesting gifts or souvenirs.
Tip: If you are doing Melbourne with kids who are suffering from jetlag, the QVM is the place for you – it opens at 6 a.m. Go early to find some breakfast (speciality shops and stalls open at 9 a.m.). Market Lane Coffee is the best place for coffee. Unfortunately, the QVM is only open on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday; we missed it during our visit (a Monday).
2. Visit the Melbourne Museum
One of my friends from university works at the Melbourne Museum and I am always amazed at his posts and the variety of things that the Museum does. I have no doubt that is is a great way to spend some time if you are in Melbourne with kids.
There are temporary exhibits and permanent galleries, including the Melbourne Gallery and the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre. At the latter. you can even watch the eel feeding at 1.45 p.m. each day (not during Winter). They also have a ‘dinosaur walk’. Guess where Miss M wants to go next time we are visiting our family in Victoria?
Some of the exhibits from the Natural History Museum in London will even be visiting Melbourne in 2020. The exhibition opens in May. Unfortunately, we won’t be there to see it.
Tip: The museum can also help with those that are jet-lagged and looking to get an early start. Five days a week (Tuesday to Saturday), the museum opens an hour early (9 a.m.) for toddlers and their guardians to join Play Box. This program is designed to help small kids learn and make sense of their world. For older kids, they also do overnight stays…
While you are there, check out the Royal Exhibition Building, too.
3. Ride the tram
The trams are the quintessential Melbourne means of transport. Naturally, if you are in Melbourne with kids, you have to ride the tram at least once.
Public Transport Victoria operates a free City Circle tram that loops (well it is more a rectangle) – in both directions – from Flinders Street Station to Fitzroy Gardens, to the Royal Exhibition Building, past Old Melbourne Gaol and Melbourne Central to the Docklands and back to Flinders Street Station.
Tip: Take a loop on the train or use it to go from stop to stop. Trains go every 30 minutes.
4. Stroll in the gardens
Melbourne has a number of parks and gardens that are perfect for a stroll or even the picnic lunch you found at the QVM. Which one you decide to visit really depends on where you are and how far you want to walk.
We have 4 recommendations:
- Fitzroy Gardens: While you are there, make sure you check out Cook’s Cottage. It’s the cottage where the parents of Captain James Cook – who is credited with discovering Australia but actually didn’t – grew up. He never actually lived there. It was transported from Yorkshire to Melbourne in 1934. A self-guided tour is available in 12 languages. Check out the medicinal garden while you are there too.
- Royal Botanic Gardens: Further away than our other suggestions, the Royal Botanic Gardens is a great choice if you are in Melbourne with kids. They have different themed areas with a lake at its centre. It’s great for small kids on warm days: there is a Children’s Garden with a water fountain and creek for some water fun. If you are a keen botanist, check out the website for free guided tours.
- Flagstaff Gardens: This has the notoriety of being the oldest park in Australia and is a favourite lunch place for many people who work in the city. It is named after the flagstaff that was erected to support the signalling between the city and the Port of Melbourne. It also has a playground and there are a number of hotels near the park
- Carlton Gardens and the UN World Heritage-listed Royal Exhibition Centre: This is just a small jump away from the Melbourne Museum. Explore its tree-lined avenues, majestic fountain and miniature lakes. It even has an award-winning playground (tucked behind the Museum) with both little kid and big kid play areas.
5. Take in the Flinders Street sights
If you are visiting Melbourne with kids, there are a few sights that you need to take a few minutes to see: Flinders Street Station, Federation Square and St Paul’s Cathedral. Luckily al three are right next to each other on an intersection on Flinders Steet. This makes them quick and easy to see.
Start at Flinders Street Station. This iconic art nouveau building was the world’s busiest passenger station in the late 1920s. If a Melburnian says they’ll “meet you under the clock”, they mean the under the row of clocks above the main entrance.
Across the road, take a stroll through Federation Square and check out what is on during your visit. This public square hosts art installations, free concerts, public viewings (such as of the Australian Open), food or dance festivals, and other community events. What will you be lucky enough to see?
Tip: If you missed the Melbourne Museum, make sure you check out the Koorie Heritage Trust’s Cultural Centre for an introduction from the traditional custodians, the Wurundjeri people, to what the city looked like before British colonisation. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, you can also take a one-hour tour with an aboriginal guide to learn more about the city.
On the opposite corner is St Paul’s Cathedral, which is built on the site where the first public Christian service was held in Melbourne in 1835. If the Cathedral is not closed for services, take the self-guided tour or just pause for a moment and soak up the atmosphere. Kids appreciate the moment of calm in the busy city.
6. Admire the street art
Start on Hozier Street (opposite Federation Square, just down from the Cathedral), and take a tour to view some fantastic street art that includes a piece by Keith Haring. The art is so colourful and fun and is sure to be a hit on Instagram and with budding influencers. Follow the tour through to Centre Place (Collins Street and Flinders Lane), AC/DC Lane (named after the Australian band – logically the art features musicians), Croft Alley and Duckboard Place.
Tip: Visiting Melbourne with older kids? Your teenager will love taking photos of all the street art. Give them a camera or phone and let them find their favourite!
7. View the skyline
For an unparalleled view of the city from its highest vantage point, try the Eureka Tower in Southbank. The Skydeck on Level 88 of the tower is 285 metres above the ground and only a 38-second elevator ride. Miss M and I stayed down the bottom when we visited. She was too young to appreciate the view.
Tip: Add a bit more thrill to your visit to Melbourne with kids: try the ‘Edge’. Its a transparent glass cube which slides out from the building and is suspended 285 m above the city. It’s not for those, who are afraid of heights.
If you are in Melbourne with kids and want a great view of the city, but don’t want the cost, try the Shrine of Remembrance (near the Botanic Gardens, off St Kilda Road). The Shrine is visible from the other end of town and planning regulations still prevent any constructions that would block the view. It is home to the Eternal Flame and the police officers who provide security are required to uniforms resembling those worn by WWI light horsemen. Each Sunday at 4.30 p.m., the Last Post Service is held at the Shrine.
If you climb the steps of the Shrine, you’ll have wonderful views across the city.
Tip: Families can borrow an ‘Explorer kit‘ from the Visitor’s Centre with tools and questions to help kids learn more about the Shrine and what it represents.
8. Savour a coffee
Expresso culture in Australia grew from the cafés owned by post-war Greek and Italian migrants and is particularly strong in and around Melbourne. In fact, it is said to be part of the city’s DNA. When visiting Melbourne, make sure you take some time to stop for a coffee.
In contrast to Italy, Melbourne baristas prefer 100% arabica beans and now have access proliferation of local micro-roasters. Most cafés also do a great breakfast/brunch and great coffee combo.
Melbourne regularly makes the list of the world’s best coffee cities (CNN, Huffington Post, BBC Travel). Three that frequently appear on the “Best coffee in Melbourne” lists are:
- Brother-Baba Budan (359 Little Bourke St)
- Market Lane (QVC), and
- Patricia (Corner Little Bourke & Little William St).
Tip: You can savour your coffee even if you are visiting Melbourne with kids: most cafes will make iced chocolates or bubbachinos (frothed milk) for those, who are not old enough to drink coffee.
9. Tour the Melbourne Cricket Ground
Anyone that knows much about Australian sport will have heard of the Melbourne Cricket Ground or MCG. Australians often just refer to it as “The G.” No trip to Melbourne with kids who love sport would be complete without a trip to the MCG.
It is the largest stadium in the southern hemisphere and the 10th largest globally. Cricket enthusiasts will probably know that the MCG is the largest cricket ground by capacity. It was home to the 1956 Summer Olympics and the 2006 Commonwealth Games, as well as two cricket World Cups (1992 and 2015).
When we visited Melbourne, Miss M decided that she would rather have a nap, so Peter and my Dad went on the behind the scenes tour without us. They had a great time, while I had a lovely coffee and something to eat at the Paddock Café.
Dad was awed to be on such hallowed ground. Peter is a Bayern Munich fan and has done the Munich stadium tour more than once, but even he was awed at the sheer size of the stadium.
Tip: School-aged kids will particularly enjoy the Australia Sports Museum. It is currently closed for an upgrade and will reopen on 29 February 2020. The MCG promises cutting-edge technology and immersive experiences.
10. Shop at Melbourne Central
When you’re in Melbourne with kids and want to take a break from the heavy sightseeing, go shopping at Melbourne Central. What I really mean is: go and admire the architecture and watch the kitschy clock.
Melbourne Central boasts 300 retailers over five levels. However, in my opinion, the real star is Shot Tower Square.
The square is named after the Coops Shot Tower, a former bullet-making factory build in 1889. A magnificent glass cone (designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa) now spans the sky above the tower, protecting it and creating a fascinating juxtaposition.
Tip: Kids will love the giant marionette watch that hangs over the square. Each hour, it plays ‘Waltzing Matilda’ – like a modern-day version of the Glockenspiel in Munich.
11. Visit a(nother) museum
If you have time up your sleeve when you are visiting Melbourne with kids, check out one of the other interesting museums. You are guaranteed to find something to suit their age and interests.
- Old Melbourne Gaol: Built in the mid-1800s, the gaol was the lock-up for dangerous criminals, petty offenders, the homeless and the mentally ill, as well as the site of 133 hangings, the most famous of whom was Bushranger Ned Kelly.
- Scienceworks: If your child is into science and experimenting, Science Works is the right museum for you. A planetarium, lightning room and a lab with changing hands-on experiments are some of the highlights.
- Melbourne Aquarium: These are popping up all over the place. As each one has a ‘local’ section with sealife specific to where you are, it is still worth a visit even if you have been to one before. Look out for discounts.
- Immigration Museum: Find out more about the diverse range of cultures that have made Melbourne the city it is today. They have some interesting exhibitions too – at the moment there is one on dance.
12. Try Melbourne fusion food
Melbourne has one of the most diverse populations in the world. The myriad of immigrants, who have made Melbourne their home, have also contributed to its vibrant cuisine. Take the opportunity and taste the world when you are in Melbourne with kids.
Visit Chinatown. Chinese miner arrived in Victoria in search of gold in the 1850s. They settled in Little Bourke Street, in an area flanked by five traditional arches. Visit one of the wonderful restaurants in Chinatown, or eat at one of the foodcourts.
The Chinese Museum is also worth checking out, if you have the time.
Melbourne also has the largest numbers of Italian immigrants in Australia. Some came with the gold rush in the 1850s, but the majority fled Italy following WWI and WWII, especially from Calabria and Sicily. This influx shaw the establishment of Little Italy, which you can find on Lygon Street between Elgin and Queensberry streets. Visit Little Italy and try one of the Italian restaurants, which are synonymous with the area.
Tip: Almost all kids love pizza. When you are in Melbourne with kid, perhaps you can even try Toto’s Pizza House. It is often (possibly erroneously) credited as being the first pizza bar established in Australia. In 2007, Toto’s was the second member to be inducted into the World Pizza Hall of Fame.
The City is also home of a large Greek population, one of the largest Greek diaspora communities in the world and the largest Greek-speaking population outside Greece. The Greek Precinct located on Lonsdale Street between Swanston and Russell streets and is home to many Greek restaurants. If you prefer Greek food, visit the Greek Precinct.
This mix of nationalities has also meant that the best description for Australian cuisine is fusion. Some of the best examples can be found in Melbourne. Try some fusion cuisine – such as at many local pubs.
13. Visit St Kilda and go penguin spotting
For a special treat – weather permitting – take a tram to St Kilda. It’s only a hop, step and a jump away from the CBD.
You can’t go to St Kilda without taking a stroll along the St Kilda pier. It is a Melbourne institution! Grab a coffee or an ice cream at the kiosk at the end of the pier. If you time it right, you will even get to see St Kilda’s cutest residents, the fairy penguins.
The fairy penguins (Eudyptula minor), which are also called little penguins or blue penguins, is the smallest species of penguin. They grow to be 33 cm high and have a blue plumage. Fairy penguins can be found in Australia and New Zealand. They are very cute but stink.
Many of the fairy penguins have made the man-made breakwater their home. At the end of the pier is a lookout for the local colony. Around dusk, these little fellas return from their day at sea (the best time is normally about 30 minutes after dusk). You will probably hear and smell them before you see them!
I vividly remember searching for fairy penguins as a child (there used to be a colony at Victor Harbour, where we would spend our Summer holidays). Their smell really does give them away. A torch is useful to see them, but please be careful not to shine it in their eyes as they are nocturnal and very sensitive to light. Likewise, please don’t use a flash when taking photos.
Tip: If you have more time in St Kilda, visit Luna Park – kids (young and old) will get a kick out of walking through the giant mouth. This historic amusement park is free to enter (you have to pay to go on rides). If you dare, take a ride on the Great Scenic Railway, the world’s longest continually operating roller coaster (its inaugural trip was in 1912!). The views of the Melbourne skyline are stunning, especially at sunset.
Tonnes to do in Melbourne with kids
There are so many things to see and do in Melbourne with kids that it does not really matter how old your child is or how long you will be there – you will not be bored. If it is the first stop on your Australian odyssey, there are even things that are open extra early to help you get over your jet-lag. We hope our tips are useful.
Whatever you decide to do, we hope you enjoy this wonderful, vibrant, multicultural city.