The grungy laneways; the multi-cultural residents; the vibrant cultural scene; the bold mix of heritage and modern architecture; the independent fashion; the ever-changing street art. The Australian city of Melbourne has heart and soul!
But what about entertainment for young visitors? Visiting families will love the many exciting things to do in Melbourne with kids and here are my top tips:
Melbourne’s Interactive museums
No doubt you’ll be visiting Federation Square during your time in Melbourne (the Melbourne Visitor Centre is there) and you’ll probably make sure you take time to dip into one of the five museums, including the National Gallery of Victoria (also known as the Ian Potter centre or the NGV). But Melbourne has many more museums to offer and these are well set up for entertaining and educating children.
One of my favourites is Scienceworks and the Melbourne Planetarium – just a short drive (five kilometres) from central Melbourne in Spotswood – a revolutionary interactive museum that brings science to life.
Melbourne is home to residents from 233 countries speaking over 180 languages and dialects and a great way to understand this fascinating multi-cultural mix is at the Immigration Museum, where you can see and hear the stories of migrants who have been coming to the city since 1788, through the crazy gold rush years and to today. It’s just a 10 minute walk from Flinders St Station.
For older kids, whisk them back in time to the social depravity of the 19th and early 20th centuries at the Old Melbourne Gaol on Russell Street. Visit the scene of famous Australian bushranger Ned Kelly’s last moments – he was hanged here – and you can do night tours or even sleep over.
Waterfront arts trail
One of the Wandering Kiwi family’s favourite things to do in Melbourne was to walk or cycle along the banks of the Yarra and enjoy the quirky art installations along the way. A good starting point is the inner-city park of Birrarung Marr, where the sound sculpture ‘Federations Bells’ play commissioned compositions regularly. I also love the 10-metre-high, three-legged Angel by Deborah Halpern.
Eating and drinking in Melbourne
Melbourne is famous for its independent café culture (Starbucks didn’t last long here) and range of fabulous eateries, most with a relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere. My top tip for eating out with kids in Melbourne is Lygon Street. You can’t go wrong with pizza and pasta after all! Lygon Street and its Italian immigrants in the 1950s is where Melbourne’s café scene had its beginnings. My favourite is Tiamo a pizzeria with more (food and atmosphere). Finish off with a sweet treat at Gelatissimo Carlton, also on Lygon Street at number 197.
Beachside fun and Luna Park
For some beach fun while in Melbourne take your children on a short drive to the suburb of St Kilda. The wide, palm-lined promenade is frequented by strollers and roller-bladers and there are a number of great cafes. Make sure you cruise the cake shops of Acland Street and when you are fuelled up take the kids for some thrills to Luna Park, the historic fun park that has been entertaining Melbourne for over 100 years. Don’t ‘miss the famous Scenic Railway Roller Coaster that runs around the entire boundary of the park.
Kayaking on the Yarra
A kayaking trip in a city? Yes a kayaking trip along the Yarra River, which meanders right through the centre Melbourne. This is one of the busiest trading ports in the southern hemisphere and the Melbourne kayak trip starts from the historical Victoria Docks. From the kayak you see the ‘Melbourne Star’ Ferris wheel, pass under the Bolte Bridge, with its two huge free-standing pillars that were built just high enough (apparently) to be taller than the Harbour Bridge in Sydney. Then carry on past the Melbourne central business district, looking out for the landing places where early settlers arrived back in the 18th century. This is a brilliant way to experience the city from a different perspective. A kayak tour takes around 1.5hrs and is suitable for all ages with no experience necessary.
Do a street art tour in Melbourne
Melbourne is one of those cities that has become famous for its street art, maybe because its grungy laneways lend themselves perfectly to ‘hidden’ art. Yes it’s kind of illegal and often temporary but the city authorities turn a blind eye because it keeps the tourists who flock to Melbourne’s artsy scene very happy. And this element of discovery makes it the sort of art that even kids can enjoy. They might even get to see artists at work while wandering around the city. Places not to miss include Hoosier Lane, Stevenson Lane, Corrs Lane and Croft Alley (off Paynes Place).
A garden of their own
The Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens are a green haven of peace and tranquillity only a short drive from the centre of this busy city. Over 150 years old, they comprise a series of beautiful landscapes and significant plant collections. It’s fun for kids to run around here, and to enjoy the cafes and events like outdoor theatre and the moonlight cinema. But children have their own special space in the Botanic Gardens – the entirely magical Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden. There is plenty to explore through the ‘ruin garden’, the wetland area, the plant tunnel and more. Kids love splashing about in the ‘Rill’, a gentle waterway and can get their hands dirty in the kitchen garden.
Day trip to Healesville
If you have time for a day trip, hire a car in Melbourne and set your GPS towards Healesville. This town in the heart of the Yarra Valley is home to one of the best wildlife centres in Australia. It’s not a zoo but a conservation organisation dedicated to fighting wildlife extinction. It started out as a sanctuary where people could bring sick and injured wildlife for treatment and you can sometimes watch operations being carried out in the hospital. Plan your visit around ‘the bird show’ (this runs at 12:00pm and 2:30pm) – ‘Spirits of the Sky’ is a spectacular introduction to Australia’s magnificent birds. A new attraction is Tales from Platypus Creek – watching these mysterious creatures interact with the keepers is amazing!
Fun for sports fans
Sports mad kids won’t want to miss a visit to the mighty ‘G’ – the Melbourne Cricket Ground. This is one of Australia’s most historic sporting venues playing host to the AFL Grand Final and cricket’s Boxing Day Test match. Tours of the ground are available. The MCG is a short walk from central Melbourne. Inside the MCG you will find the Olympic Museum, Sport Australia Hall of Fame and the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame, as well as the Melbourne Cricket Club Museum – a display of the rich history of one of Australia’s oldest sporting clubs.
By Natasha von Geldern
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