Exploring Melbourne in a day or two
from a Hop-on, hop-off bus
Yarra River at dusk
Everybody who visits Melbourne leaves totally enamoured. The capital of Victoria, which is set on magnificent Port Phillip Bay, has many advantages on its side – its settlers came here to get rich on the gold that was discovered in the 1850s; they were not brought here as convicts. So many people have chosen to live here, which is why the city boasts so many different cultures – including Greek, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Lebanese immigrants.
So perhaps Melbourne’s charm is that it is totally un-Australian; it’s far more European, especially in its ornate Victorian architecture and multi-faceted, warm personality. It’s also laid back, elegant, and cosmopolitan, and offers visitors exciting dining, shopping and nightlife opportunities. In fact, Melbourne produces some of the best art, music, cuisine, fashion, design and ideas in the world!
As for the sights – you will find so much to see and do here, you’ll just have to return so that you can see and do everything. But while you’re here, we’ve made sightseeing an absolute cinch. Hop on one of the FREE sightseeing buses that tour the city at any of the 13 stops. Then hop off when you want to explore something in-depth. When you’re finished, you can hop on the bus again and continue on your way. The bus offers an informative commentary to help you personalise your sightseeing choices. And, as we said, it’s absolutely free.
How much does it cost?
This 13-stop bus tour takes 90 minutes and is completely FREE!
Departs daily from 9.30am onwards, every 30 minutes until 4.30pm
Places to see and things to do along the route
1. You start your bus tour at Melbourne’s famous Arts Precinct, home to the city’s arts and performing artists. The focal point is the Arts Centre, which offers a diverse array of arts and entertainment in its galleries and performance spaces. It’s also home to the Performing Arts Museum, which tells the story of the country’s dance, opera, music and theatre. Visit NGV International (National Gallery of Victoria), Australia’s oldest and most important public art museum, housing one of the finest art collections in the world. Discover Ancient treasures from Egypt, Greece, Rome and the pre-Columbian period, and see over 16,000 works of art, including Asian, European and British treasures.
Nearby you’ll find the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), the city’s leading contemporary art gallery, and you can watch contemporary theatre at the city’s famous Malthouse Theatre. New on the block is the Melbourne Recital Centre, home to the Melbourne Theatre Company.
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2. Next stop is Federation Square, in the city centre, Melbourne’s unique cultural precinct is full of entertainment and cultural sights. Here you’ll find the Melbourne Visitor’s Centre, where tourists flock to find out about the city. There are fabulous opportunities to relax in open spaces, dine in a selection of restaurants and cafes, or refresh yourself and socialise in a choice of bars.
Explore the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia (branch of the National Gallery of Victoria), the country’s first public art museum dedicated to Australian art. It’s a treasure trove of drawings, sculpture, painting, photography, fashion, textiles and jewellery. Nearby is the ACMI – Australia’s Centre for the Moving Image, where you can discover the world of moving images in a series of high-tech galleries, cinemas and studio spaces.
Melbourne’s contemporary riverside park, Birrarung Marr, is also located here. Opened in 2002, it’s full of indigenous artworks and is an ideal respite from the busy city centre. Kids aged 2 to 13 enjoy the excellent playground and creative arts studio at nearby ArtPlay.
A nice 1-minute video on Melbourne
3. Melbourne's Sports Precinct is next along your route, and it shows the city’s passion for sport with its fantastic selection of local, national and international events. Here you can visit the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), built in 1853, and home to a number of famous international games. Explore the National Sports Museum at the same location, with its display of 2,500 artifacts showcasing the country’s sporting history. Also here is the Champions Thoroughbred Racing, a permanent gallery dedicated to horseracing.
Next stop is the Rod Laver Arena, venue for the Australian Open tennis finals, also where many top international entertainers perform. There’s also Olympic Park Stadium, built for the 1956 Olympic Games, and now used mainly for athletics. Another multi-purpose sports venue is Hisense Arena, an indoor/outdoor facility used for sports and music concerts. The last of Melbourne’s sports venues, AAMI Park, offers a dedicated rectangular pitch stadium for football and rugby.
Aside from sports activities, you’ll also find some fascinating attractions a nearby, like scenic Fitzroy Gardens that has earned a place on Australia’s Victorian Heritage Register. It’s full of all sorts of statues, fountains and structures, including Cooks’ Cottage, home of Captain James Cook’s parents, which has been restored to its former glory, the Conservatory, with its magnificent floral displays, and the Fairies’ Tree, a model of a Tudor Village.
Please note: When Melbourne Cricket Ground is in use, the bus does not stop at this hop-off point.
4. Your next hop off point will take you to see some of Melbourne’s famous theatres, as well as its famous Chinatown Precinct. The city’s theatres are renowned for their architectural beauty, and you can explore some of these, including Her Majesty’s Theatre, known as “The Maj”, home to the city’s major productions. Take a look inside at its magnificent Art Deco interior, then stop off at the Princess Theatre, the country’s most popular theatre, built in 1886. It’s home to a friendly ghost called Federici, who died in 1888 during an opera performance.
Street scene at Melbourne's Chinatown
On Little Bourke St you’ll find Chinatown, with its bright neon signs, hanging lanterns, golden-roofed gateways, restaurants and shops. To learn about the history and customs of Chinese Australians, visit the Chinese Museum, with its exciting displays including the Dai Loong and the millennium Dragon, the largest Chinese dragon on earth.
5. More fun awaits you at the next stop where you can visit Melbourne Museum and find out all about life in Victoria. Located in Carlton Gardens, this award-winning museum houses 8 different galleries showing everything you can imagine, from a complete skeleton of a blue whale to a living rainforest and an exciting IMAX Theatre which boasts one of the largest screens in the world, and offers a unique movie experience.
Also here is the country’s only World Heritage listed building, the Royal Exhibition Building, built in 1880 for the city’s first Federal Parliament. Its interior has been meticulously restored, and you can visit its expansive galleries and Great Hall.
Carlton Gardens is also a World Heritage listed sight, and it’s full of fascinating items including the circular French Fountain, the Hochgurtel and Westgarth Fountains, and the 1891 Curator’s Lodge. A short walk takes you to the 19th Century Old Melbourne Gaol, where you can walk the road to the gallows, or be locked up in a modern-day Police Station. This is the oldest prison and former Police City Watch House, built in the 1840s.
6. Lygon Street Precinct is the next hop-off point on the route. This is Melbourne’s historic Italian area and you’ll find lots of excellent Italian restaurants here, spilling out onto the streets. Visit the La Mama Theatre building, built in 1883 initially as an electrical engineering workshop, then as a boot and underwear factory. In 1967 it was listed as a State Heritage building and turned into a theatre for contemporary productions by Betty Burstall. It’s still the community’s artistic centre. La Mama also manages the Carlton Courthouse Theatre, home to the Melbourne Writer’s Theatre. Built in 1887 by John Short, the single-storeyed building has a Gothic architectural style. It’s located directly oppoisite the 1878 Carlton Police Station.
7. Next stop is at the University of Melbourne, the city’s public university, founded in 1853. It’s the second oldest university in the country and the oldest in Victoria. It boasts a number of historic buildings, all of differing architectural styles, as well as museums, art galleries and special collections. One of these worth exploring is the Grainger Museum, dedicated to Percy Aldridge Grainger, then internationally famous 19th Century Australian-American composer and pianist. Grainger’s archive, personal library and many of his possessions are on display in the museum which is located on the campus.
Queen Victoria Market is one of Melbourne's "must sees"
8. Hop off to explore the Queen Victoria Market, which is much more than a shopping haven. It’s also an historic landmark, reflecting the city’s true cosmopolitan flavor. Spreading over 7 hectares, the market offers you everything your heart desires, from speciality foods to fashion and other merchandise. The market is open 5 days a week, and on Sunday it resembles a carnival with a variety of entertainers on hand to amuse visitors.
From here, why not visit Melbourne Zoo, an opportunity to come face to face with over 300 different animals from all over the world, including some of Australia’s most famous species, from penguins and koala bears to the platypus and the wombat. Flemington Racecourse is also nearby if you’d like to watch some horseracing.
9. Your next hop-off point is at the intersection of Pearl River and Docklands Drive, just minutes from the attractions at Waterfront City, Docklands, Melbourne’s lively entertainment precinct. It’s home to a number of major events, and famous for its waterside bars and restaurants at the New Quay Promenade.
Here you can visit the Medibank Icehouse, an ice sports and entertainment venue including two Olympic-size ice rinks for ice hockey, curling and ice skating, a stadium, gym, café and bar. If you’re in the mood for shopping, head for Harbour Town, or go swimming at the Waterfront City Marina.
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10. There’s another stop in Docklands, at Harbour Esplanade where you can hop on or off to explore Etihad Stadium and Victoria Harbour. Both Victoria Harbour and Yarra’s Edge are full of beautiful parks, great restaurants, waterfront walks and other entertainment. Check to see what’s on at Etihad Stadium, which hosts many sporting events and concerts. If you’re in the mood for some relaxation, head for Docklands Park, which boasts an interactive Play Journey children’s playground and three wetlands that attract a number of fascinating indigenous birds.
11. Next stop is Williams Street, which is close to a number of cultural attractions. Visit the Immigration Museum to find out more about the city’s multi-cultural make-up. You can find out more about Australia’s indigenous culture at the nearby Koorie Heritage Trust Cultural Centre. The area is also Melbourne’s legal centre, so you will find Melbourne’s Law Courts, Supreme Courts and the County Court here. Some of the buildings in the vicinity are also worth taking a look at, like the impressive ANZ Gothic Bank.
If you like, you can also stroll down to the Waterfront at Enterprize Wharf and visit Melbourne Aquarium, home to an incredible underwater world.
A glimpse into Melbourne's Aquarium
12. Hop off here to explore Melbourne’s chic riverside strip, South Bank and the Yarra River. This waterside venue is a tranquil respite from the city, and there is a lot to explore here, including the world-class Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, an impressive architectural structure and the first of its kind to receive a ‘6 Star Green Star’ environmental rating in the world.
Here, too, is famous South Wharf Promenade, which offers excellent dining opportunities along the Yarra River. Not far away is the enormous Crown Entertainment Complex, home to over 40 restaurants, cafes and bars and numerous entertainment venues including cinemas and nightclubs. Further east you’ll find Southgate, another restaurant, entertainment and shopping mecca that also offers a unique indoor deck chair movie experience called Southgate Cinema.
There’s still more to see in this fascinating district, including the Eureka Skydeck 88, the highest viewing platform in the Southern Hemisphere, offering spectacular panoramic views. Two lifts take you up to level 88 in just under 40 seconds. There’s also the unforgettable Edge Experience, a glass cube that projects 3m from the building.
13. The Shrine and Royal Botanic Gardens is next along the route and also marks the end of the tour. Take some time to explore Melbourne’s most famous landmark, the Shrine of Remembrance, a memorial to those who served in both armed conflicts and peace-keeping operations. The city’s magnificent Royal Botanic Gardens is a picturesque haven covering 38 hectares and boasting over 10 000 species of plants from all over the world. The Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden is a popular sight, with its Tropical Hothouse, Plant Craft Cottage and the recently finished Guilfoyle’s Volcano Water Reservoir. Located nearby is Government House, the official residence of the Governor of Victoria.
Take a look at the formal parklands nearby at King’s Domain, which is also home to the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, a popular summer venue for lots of concerts and music events. Also here is La Trobe’s Cottage, a fascinating pre-fabricated cottage brought to Australia in 1839.
Did you know ??? Taking a hop on hop off bus tour is one the best ways to see any large city, as it saves you plenty of precious holiday time and takes you EXACTLY where you want to go... (Not to mention the great cityscape views you can enjoy on the way...). Our "Hop on hop off guides" cover quite a few cities across the world, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney, The Blue Mountains, Perth, Canberra and many other destinations..... (Click on the links to go directly to the city-guide of your choice, or click here to go directly to our world hop-on, hop-off guide).