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12 iconic Melbourne experiences

Got some time to spare while you’re in town for the Australian Open? From street art and laneway bars to shopping and shows, try these iconic experiences.

Snap a photo on Princes Bridge and marvel at Flinders Street Station

Pause on bustling heritage Princes Bridge and enjoy uninterrupted views of the Yarra. To the east, there’s Fed Square’s contemporary architecture, acres of parkland and the legendary Melbourne Cricket Ground. Look west and see the river lined with modern towers, the Arts Centre spire and iconic Flinders Street Railway Station. A hot spot for photographers across the board, it’s especially popular during sunset.

A large old building lit up at night

Flinders Street station at night

Drink aboard Arbory Afloat

Back for its third summer on the Yarra River, Arbory Afloat is already a Melbourne institution. It’s the place to be for drinks and bites not just by but on the water. This season, Melbourne’s only alfresco floating bar has a Miami theme. Think pastel blues and pinks, palm trees, mojitos and ceviche. There’s even a pool! Come and raise a glass to summer in Melbourne.

People standing around and lounging on day beds next to a paddling pool with umbrellas. The city skyline is in the background while the sun sets

Arbory Afloat

Visit a blockbuster exhibition

Melbourne loves art, especially whenever the city’s biggest public gallery puts on a big exhibition. Right now, NGV International has two, both with New York street-art cred. Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines is a world-first celebration of these late, great 20th-century artists. The pop-culture-inspired characters in Kaws: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness are the antidote to modern life’s darkness.

Take a free tour of Federation Square

Opened in 2002, Federation Square is one of Melbourne’s contemporary architectural icons. The Fed Square Guided Tour explores the site’s history, engineering and distinctive architecture. Design fans will love the main plaza’s textured, undulating sandstone paving and angular exteriors. This free tour starts at 11am Monday to Saturday.

Shop up a storm

For brands like Dolce & Gabbana or Burberry, head east along Collins Street for Melbourne’s Paris end. Or explore nearby Flinders Lane for sweet boutiques, including Alpha60 and Tiffany Treloar. Browse Victorian-era splendour in Royal Arcade and The Block Arcade, or find modern glamour at Emporium Melbourne. And don’t miss the iconic Queen Victoria Market. It’s one of the world’s largest, offering everything from gourmet food to souvenir bargains.

Go Italian on Lygon Street

Lygon Street has long been known as Melbourne’s Little Italy. A short tram ride from the central business district, it’s still the place for a taste of la dolce vita. Favourites include Tiamo Coffee, Brunetti, Donnini’s Restaurant and recently transformed King & Godfree. Taste your way up each level to their new rooftop bar, Johnny’s Green Room, for panoramic views of the city. Add cool newcomers Pidapipo Gelateria and Leonardo’s Pizza Palace to your wish list too.

A shopfront displaying the word Gelateria in a pink neon sign


Eat dumplings in Chinatown

Melburnians are crazy about dumplings. Ideally enjoyed among the bright lights, spicy scents and Asian accents of Chinatown. Devour these bundles of joy at local legend Mr Kwok, or the city outpost of renowned Tim Ho Wan. The queue outside Shanghai Street is often long for good reason, but don’t worry, it moves quickly. Drumplings is another top pick, especially if you want a surprise – like pepperoni pizza dumplings.

See a show

You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to big shows in Melbourne. Alongside New York and London, it’s the only place you can see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Other international hits on stage right now are War Horse, Chicago and Come From Away. The Australian Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet is also on outdoors at the Royal Botanic Gardens. Or try your luck with tixatsix. A limited number of $30 tickets are available every day at 6pm for shows at Arts Centre Melbourne.

Discover street art

Melbourne is renowned for its street art, but the good stuff is hidden in the city’s nooks and crannies. Get the lowdown with a free self-guided street-art walking tour. It covers 11 hot spots and takes about two hours – or just dip in with whatever time’s available. You’ll not only discover the latest creations but some of the city’s most intriguing laneways too.

A leafy street art mural on a large wall

Street art in Meyers Place

Drink in a hidden bar

Many visitors never discover some of Melbourne’s best bars, hidden down laneways and behind unremarkable doors. Favourites include basement level Bar Margaux, an instant classic with a Paris-meets-New York vibe. Peruse the epic wine list at ‘secret’ bar pioneer Melbourne Supper Club, or its rooftop Siglo Bar. Pop in for cocktails at teeny-tiny Bar Americano, tucked down a dogleg alley off an arcade off a lane. Hidden doors lead to drinks and games at Pinball Paradise and Bartronica – a grown-up arcade-game heaven.

Watch a movie on a rooftop

Melbourne’s original sky-high movie venue, Rooftop Cinema, is hosting another hot summer of cool films. Don’t worry too much about what’s on though, because this is much more than a cinematic experience. There’s always glittering city views, a bar, burger shack and deckchairs for everyone. That walk up seven flights of stairs will be well rewarded.

A rooftop bar with the city skyline behind it

Rooftop Cinema

Want more inside tips? Get your Insider’s Guide for $10 lunch spots, to secret summer rooftops, prefect picnics and more.