Federation Square is the city's premier gathering spot. Geometrically designed buildings housing art galleries, cinemas, shops and cafes surround a large open area used for concerts, outdoor films, sitting, strolling and people watching. The city's excellent Visitor Center is located here in spacious underground premises.
The National Gallery of Victoria has two distinct properties worth visiting. The Ian Potter Centre, located on Federation Square, has a wonderfully eclectic, three-level interior design, with each room varied in shape and color. It houses a large collection of Australian art, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art on canvas and bark; intriguing sculpture made from wood and found objects such as metal and barbed wire; and Australian colonial art, landscapes and Impressionists. The National Gallery of Victoria International is located just south of the Yarra River and offers works by major European and other international artists.
For performances and other cultural events, head to the Arts Centre Melbourne; the complex includes the State Theatre, the Playhouse and the Fairfax Studio, among other venues. The lobbies' art works are open to the public.
The design of the handsome reading room at the State Library of Victoria was based on London's original British Museum Library Reading Room. The central dome provides galleries for two permanent exhibitions: The Changing Face of Victoria with historic artifacts, photos, drawings and maps, and Mirror of the World: books and ideas, an exhibition from the library's valuable rare book collection. Admission is free. Internet use is also free -- there's a wireless hotspot here.
St. Paul's Cathedral, located at the corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets across from Federation Square, is neo-Gothic in style with an interior of decorative mosaics, floor tiles and wood carvings. A choir of men and boys sings at 5:10 p.m. every Tuesday through Friday and at Sunday services. On the opposite corner is the imposing mustard-yellow facade of Flinders Street Railway Station, with its long arcades stretching along Flinders Street and St. Kilda Road.
For a view of the city, Eureka Skydeck affords a 360-degree panorama from 935 feet up. For a truly scary experience, a glass cube called the Edge extends out beyond the building's top edge with views in all directions -- including straight down.
The Royal Botanic Gardens comprise 94 undulating acres with 10,000 plant species from all over the world. Sections of the gardens include an Australian forest walk, fern gully, camellia garden, and ponds with geese, ducks and swans. It is free and may be accessed by walking about a mile via Princes Bridge and then along the Yarra River, or from St. Kilda Road just south of the National Gallery of Victoria International. The area along the Yarra River has free barbecue setups and picnic tables, and the botanic garden has two attractive cafes.
Docklands -- an emerging commercial, residential, sports, marina, hotel and restaurant complex -- is still under construction in the old industrial port area, but its many restaurants, shops and public attractions are already open to visitors. You can reach Melbourne's largest new development via the free City Circle tram.
St. Kilda is a quirky seaside suburb with a huge number of restaurants and pastry shops, an esplanade, a beach, a pier with an arts and crafts fair on Sunday, and Luna Park with its old-fashioned amusements and rides. It makes a nice half-day outing. It's served by several different tram routes; for a variety of city views, you can go via one and come back another.
Sovereign Hill, near Ballarat, recreates Victoria's gold rush days during the 1850s when it was the richest alluvial gold mining area in the world. See the tented and mud-and-bark hut living quarters, and watch horses hauling carts and carriages and propelling machinery. The town has candle and confectionary makers, blacksmiths and tinsmiths, carriage makers and wheelwrights, and furniture manufacturing. You can pan for gold, explore a mine and spend the night in a lodge overlooking the town. It's about 90 minutes outside of Melbourne by train or car.
Where to Stay in Australia
Getting Around Australia
Sydney City Guide
Melbourne City Guide
Brisbane City Guide
Living Like a Local in Melbourne