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Melbourne is Australia’s second largest city and is currently where we are based; making us experts I suppose. Not to be out-shone by big sister Sydney, Melbourne offers so much to see and do. It may not have the huge attractions like the Opera House or Harbour Bridge, but its attractions are more nuanced. During the January school holidays we had the opportunity to be tourists and discover tons of great things to do in Melbourne with kids. This is our guide to ensure you and the kids have a great time and make sure you hit up the best things to do in Melbourne with kids. Best of all, most of the things we suggest are FREE or very low cost!
- 1 Central Business District
- 1.1 Federation Square
- 1.2 Circle Tram Tour
- 1.3 Flinders Station
- 1.4 Explore the Laneways
- 1.5 Royal Botanical Gardens
- 1.6 Cycling the Yarra
- 1.7 Queen Victoria Market
- 1.8 The Melbourne Star Observation Wheel
- 1.9 Melbourne Museum
- 1.10 Visit the Zoo
- 1.11 See a Sporting Event
- 1.12 Chinatown
- 1.13 Bourke Street Shopping
- 1.14 South Bank
- 1.15 The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI)
- 1.16 National Gallery Victoria
- 1.17 Children’s Hospital Playground
- 1.18 Ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s
- 1.19 Art Play and Birrarung Park
- 1.20 Fitzroy Gardens and Capt. Cook’s Cottage
- 1.21 Find a Festival
- 1.22 SEA Life Aquarium
- 2 St Kilda
- 3 The West Side
- 4 The East Side
- 5 Daytrips
Central Business District
Your first visit should be to Federation Square (Swanson/Flinders) to the great Melbourne Visitor Centre. Here you can pick up tons of brochures of what to do in Melbourne and Victoria, book tours and buy your Myki card needed for public transit. The entire CBD is a free tram zone where you can hop on any train for free, making getting around to all the sights very easy and inexpensive. If you are travelling outside the “Free Tram Zone” (lots of signs will tell you) then you will need to purchase a Myki card ahead of time and load it with cash as trams do not accept cash. Federation Square is a gathering space centrally located near many of Melbourne’s major sites. You will always find something going on here from special events to cultural celebrations. Check out what is happening on your visit here. FREE!
Circle Tram Tour
The red and green historic circle trams (Route 35) do a loop around the CBD and is a good introduction to the city. Melbourne is well known for its impressive tram network and the Circle Tram brings you back to a bygone era. You can pick up a map aboard the tram or at the Visitor Centre in Federation Square. Best of all, this is a completely free activity and kids love any type of interesting moving vehicles. It takes about 50 minutes to make the loop, but you can hop on and off and make a day of it. Start your tour at the Flinders Station Stop, near Federation Square. FREE!
Flinders Station (Flinders/Swanson) is Melbourne’s version of Sydney’s Opera House and is a cultural icon of the city. Its red and yellow brick exterior situated along the Yarra River is the heart of the CBD. The station dates from 1909 and is still one of the busiest places in Melbourne. Snap a photo of this icon and then get swept away in the pedestrian flow of commuters coming and going. The kids will enjoy checking out the clocks from around the world above the main entrance to see what time it is at home. FREE!
Explore the Laneways
A highlight for most visitors is exploring Melbourne’s laneways and arcades and is a top thing to do in Melbourne with kids. Wander off the main streets and you will find these laneways everywhere. They are little streets that were originally intended to provide rear access to businesses back in the original settlement. They have since become the cultural hot spots of the city and they absolutely buzz with activity especially at lunch time. Kids will love Hosier Lane (off Flinders) which is completely covered with graffiti, which is more often called “street art” here. You can often see artists working on their latest creation.
To soak up the laneway cafe and restaurant culture, start your walk at Flinders St & Degraves St and head north all the way to Centre Place, the most photographed laneway in Melbourne. Try to time your visit to coincide with lunch time. You can find any type of food you desire. Nab some seats if you can, people watch and taste the beautiful food of Melbourne. Our kids love the ShanDong Mama dumplings at Centre Place. Another arcade (covered pedestrian shopping laneway) that we really like is the Block Arcade. This arcade dates from 1893 and features beautiful historic mosaic tiles with a glass canopy ceiling. Ogle the delicious cake displays at Hopetoun Tea Room where there is always a queue for a table. If you want a sweet fix without the lineup, grab some chocolate at Haigh’s Chocolate, a confectionery shop that dates from 1915. Free, but I am sure you will find some goodies to buy.
There are some great laneway tours where you can learn a lot more about the history of these famous Melbourne alleys.
Royal Botanical Gardens
Established in 1846, the Botanical Gardens are very impressive, but don’t underestimate how large they are. You could spend days exploring the various areas of the gardens. The Royal Botanical Gardens are located just south of the Yarra River. Cross the bridge from Federation Square or Flinders Station and you can enter the Gardens. Adults might enjoy the free guided tours, but with kids you will probably want to head straight to the Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden. Here kids can explore the bamboo forest, the kitchen gardens and the wet play area. This is a lovely place to spend a couple of hours with young children (best for under 8s) and have a picnic. FREE!
Cycling the Yarra
For a more active thing to do in Melbourne with kids, rent some bikes (try rentabike.net.au) and head east from the CBD following the Yarra River. The shared bicycle and pedestrian path is perfect for kids of all ages. Take in the sights along the river as you cycle past the Botanical Gardens, stadium district and rowers out on the river. There are many parts of the trail where you will be cycling on a floating path right beside the river. If you make it 4km east you will come to the Burnley Bouldering Wall, a climbing wall located right off the cycle path and under the Monash Highway. Kids will have a great time challenging themselves on the three walls. This is a completely free activity and what makes Melbourne one of the “most liveable cities”. On your return bike trip make sure you look up and take in the views of the city skyline. FREE after you rent your bikes
Queen Victoria Market
The Queen Victoria Market is another icon of Melbourne and a not-to-be-missed thing to do in Melbourne with kids. Kids will love watching the hustle and bustle of the market especially on weekends. For younger kids the weekend market can be overwhelming and so you might want to visit during the week (the market is closed Mondays and Wednesdays). In addition to the beautiful fresh fruits and veg, there are lots of home made treasures to be found and food stalls to test out. FREE!
The Melbourne Star Observation Wheel
For 36o degree views over the City, take a ride on the Melbourne Star, a giant ferris wheel. With audio commentary, you will learn about Melbourne’s major landmarks and sites. Located in the Docklands, take a free tram there. Family (2 adults, 2 kids) from $67.50 when booked online in advance.
This is a great Museum to visit with the kids as there are things for kids of all ages. The post-modernist building will capture their attention straight away. My kids loved the Dinosaur Walk exhibit with giant fossils suspended from the ceiling and interactive displays. Unexpectedly, they spent a lot of time at the 600 Millioon Years exhibit checking out the beautiful and unique precious rocks. This is also a great place to learn about the history of Melbourne, including the early English settlers and the aboriginal original inhabitants of the continent. For younger children, there is a fantastic Children’s Gallery (0-5 years old) for young ones to explore. Older children will still enjoy the activities in the outdoor garden space and this is a great place for a rest or picnic lunch. If you want to extend your visit, there is an IMAX theatre with wonderful films showing. FREE for kids, $16/adults
Visit the Zoo
Kids love a day at the Zoo and adults will appreciate the history of the Melbourne Zoo, which opened in 1862. With more than 250 species to see at the Zoo from unique Australian animals to African cats to Antaractic seals, the kids will surely be impressed. The enclosures are artfully created to provide up close viewing in a natural environment. If you have younger kids they will love the meerkat area at the front where kids can explore tunnels the way meerkats do. In the centre of the Zoo is a playground and carousel for the kids to burn off steam. We usually bring our lunch and eat in the covered seating area near the giraffe area. FREE for kids on weekends and school holidays, $32.50/adults
See a Sporting Event
Melbourne is absolutely crazy about sport and so no trip here would be complete without taking in a game. If you visit in January, the Australian Open tennis tournament is a great thing to do in Melbourne with kids. Read all about my tips and advice for taking the kids to the Open here. If you are here from March to October, you will want to check out the sport that originated in Melbourne, Aussie Rules Football. If you have a lot of patience and time on your hands, taking in a cricket match might be the way to go. Our kids loved the Melbourne United soccer game we went to a couple of weeks ago, where the spectators provided just as much entertainment for the kids as the game did. Prices variable, kids tickets are very reasonable and sometimes free with adult tickets.
Chinatown is located in the east end of the CBD and is a great place for kids to learn about Chinese culture. Wander the streets to take in the temples, Asian supermarkets and restaurants as you are temporarily transported to China. Visiting during Chinese New Year is an especially exciting time of year with parades and celebrations on the streets. If you have time you can check out the Chinese Museum and you definitely want to sample the dumplings in Chinatown. FREE!
Bourke Street Shopping
Kids and shopping don’t naturally go together, but visiting the Bourke Street pedestrian shopping street is a fun thing to do with kids in Melbourne. There is often good musicians busking on the street and it is imperative to check out the Myer department store, a Melbourne institution. FREE!
South Bank, which is the area south of the Yarra River (across from the CBD) was once an over-looked area of high rises. Now, it is a bustling part of the city with a vibrant cafe (and after work drink) culture and dynamic street performers. Our kids love to stop and watch the various groups performing and busking. Even with kids you can stop into one of the cafes or bars along the waterfront promenade for a cool drink on a hot day. FREE!
The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI)
Visiting ACMI (beside Federation Square) was a filler activity one day for the kids, but turned out to be a total unexpected surprise. My kids loved the interactive displays as they learned about the history of film, the film industry and more modern digital culture. While we were there, they were showing the 3D film Collisions (FREE), a virtual reality film about an indigenous man’s experience witnessing atomic testing in the 1950s. It was an amazing opportunity for the kids to experience this new evolution in film – 3D and virtual reality. But most of all it provoked a lot of discussion about the aboriginal people of Australia, nuclear testing and first contact. There are lots of wonderful films showing that you can pay additionally for. FREE Museum Entrance, Can pay for feature films
National Gallery Victoria
We have only scratched the surface of the National Gallery of Victoria. Younger kids will enjoy the lovely outdoor space where there is currently a reinvention of the suburban car wash that acts as a children’s playground. During school holidays there are special events and my kids really enjoyed the magic show we attended. Check out what is going to at the NGV here. FREE!
Children’s Hospital Playground
Melbourne has fantastic playgrounds and compared to North American playgrounds, they are much more interesting. Sometimes kids will get tired of visiting attractions and being tourists and need a good play. This playground, officially called the Royal Park Playground is a great thing to do with kids in Melbourne and has won many awards for its unique design. My older kids (7 & 9 year olds) love the challenging high ropes area, while younger kids will enjoy the sand and water play area. All kids will like the long slides and climbing structures. FREE!
Ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s
On a hot day, there is nothing like a delicious scoop of New York Super Fudge Chunk ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s. Stop by their shop on Flinders lane (just off Swanson St) and treat the kids to my favorite ice cream. $5 per person
Art Play and Birrarung Park
Right behind Federation Square along the Yarra River is Birrarung Park, which was an important meeting ground of the Wurundjeri people. There is a great playground here for kids to explore. Art Play is right beside and is a place for kids to explore their artistic side. Check their website for program times, some of which you need to sign up for in advance. FREE!
Fitzroy Gardens and Capt. Cook’s Cottage
Melbourne is full of wonderful public green spaces and this is one of the best in the City. This park was established in the 1840s and is a beautiful place for a walk. The kids will enjoy running free through the lush gardens. Stop at one of the park’s two cafes for a delicious Australian coffee and treat the little ones to a babycino so they will feel just like the adults. Kids will love the fairies tree and the mini Tudor village. Older kids and adults will enjoy a visit to Captain Cook’s Cottage, which was transported and re-built here in 1934. Gardens are FREE, Cooks’ Cottage family price $18 (2 adults, 2 kids)
Find a Festival
Melbourne is well known for its festivals and you are bound to find one is happening when you are here. Check here for all the latest festivals. Recently we really enjoyed the Chinese New Year Festival and took in the dragon dances, parades and street celebrations that spanned for two weeks. FREE!
SEA Life Aquarium
Melbourne’s Aquarium is a great place to see thousands of marine species. But what sets this aquarium apart is its focus on Antarctic marine species. There are lots of great interactive exhibits to keep the kids entertained. It is located right in the CBD making this a great way to spend a few hours. Family (2 adults, 2 kids) from $79.20 when booked online in advance.
See the Penguins
You don’t have to go out to Phillip Island to see the penguins. Show up at St Kilda pier a bit before sunset and you can see these cute fairy penguins come ashore. There will be lots of other tourists and there are volunteers to make sure you give the penguins their space, but is a great alternative to a trip our to Phillip Island. Don’t expect the whole colony to swim up and march up the rocks, but you should be able to see at few penguins come ashore. Look in the breakwater rocks to spot them. You will be shocked how small they, but they are pretty adorable. FREE
Luna Park reminds me of Coney Island in New York, even though I haven’t been there. Luna Park originally opened in 1912 and is one of those Melbourne icons, especially the “Mr. Moon face” entrance. The park is a blend of old and new and you don’t have to buy a ticket to wander through and enjoy the old world carnival atmosphere. The highlight of Luna Park is the Scenice Railway roller coaster which winds its way around the perimeter of the park. The ride dates back to 1912 and is a wobbly, clanking wooden roller coaster controlled by a brake operator in the middle of the train. There are rides for kids of all ages and many of the rides allow a parent to ride for free. FREE to walk through. Unlimited rides: 13+ $49.95, 4-12 y/o $39.95, 1-3 y/o $17.50, family (4 persons) $149.95. Single ride tickets: 13+ $10.95, 4-12 y/o $9.95, 0-3 y/o $4.95. Try to buy discounted tickets online.
The cake shops along Acland Street are sure to get the attention of your kids. This pedestrian street is a lively restaurant and bar strip, but it is the cake shops that will attract your kids.
St Kilda Beach
St Kilda beach is one of the best beaches in Melbourne for kids because there is always something happening. The shallow sandy water is great for little ones and the kite boarding action will keep the older ones entertained for hours. My kids love to spot the various ships coming and going and are always happy to build a few sandcastles. FREE
St Kilda Adventure Playground
We love Australian playgrounds, but this adventure playground is really special. It is suitable for kids of all ages, but older kids will really appreciate all the fun features. There is a serious flying fox, an in-ground trampoline, a pirate ship, aeroplane, tunnels, a giant wooden castle and so much more. The playground is supervised and only open Mon-Fri 3:30-5:30pm and weekends 11am-5pm. FREE!
Cycle the Waterfront Trail
This is another bike trail our kids really enjoy. The path is well sealed, flat and goes right along the waterfront beaches and parks. Make sure the kids know to stay to the left and ring their bell when approaching walkers, as this is a mixed use trail. Rent bikes and head out for a picturesque bike ride. You can start in St. Kilda and ride all the way to Brighton and back. FREE, after you rent your bikes.
The West Side
Our kids love science centers and this one does not disappoint. There are lots of great interactive exhibits where kids can spend hours creating and exploring. Make sure you check the schedule and attend one of the interesting shows. Our kids loved the Little Sparks and Test Lab where they could tinker until their heart’s content. Take the train from the CBD to Spotswood and then it is a short walk. FREE for kids, $14/adults
We love St Kilda beach and all of its action, but Williamstown Beach is a real family friendly beach full of locals. Like St. Kilda, the shallow, sandy water is great for swimming with kids of all ages. We love spending the day here and finishing it off with fish and chips and watching the sun set.
You might have heard about the controversial Sea Shepherd organization whose mission is to end the destruction of the wildlife in the world’s oceans. During the summer, their boats go into the Southern Ocean and try to interfere with the Japanese whaling fleet. When they are not out on the sea as modern day pirates, the ships are based in Melbourne and are docked at Gem Pier in Williamstown. If you visit from February-August, you can tour one of the ships and hear more about their initiatives. Our kids listened attentively throughout the tour and enjoyed sitting in the captain’s chair and seeing the crew area. Best of all, they learned a lot about whales and political activism. FREE, but donations and merchandise purchases are appreciated.
The East Side
Brighton Beach Boxes
When seeing photos of Melbourne, you have likely seen the brightly painted beach boxes of Brighton. You will see many a tourists snapping photos of these cute beach huts. Come and grab your photo, but also plan to spend a few hours on this lovely beach.
Yarra Bend Park – Boat House and Flying Foxes
Yarra Bend Park is right in our neighborhood and is the largest area of natural bushland in Melbourne. Studley Park Boathouse is the oldest operating boathouse in Australia and you can relax and enjoy a hot drink or lunch and even rent canoes, kayaks and boats to explore the river. Head over to Bellbird Picnic area and follow the flying fox walk where you will see thousands of bats hanging upside down in the trees. If you are anywhere near this area at dusk, look up in the sky. It isn’t birds you are seeing, but the flying foxes heading out to feast for the night. FREE!
Treat the kids to Freakshakes!
Freakshakes seem to be taking over the world and Melbourne offers a number of cafes that specialize in them. Load the kids up with sugar and then head to one of Melbourne’s wonderful parks or playgrounds for them to run off the sugar. Our favourite one is Three One 2 One in Richmond, but Naughty Boy Cafe in Princes Hill does some impressive ones too. These aren’t cheap ($14-18) but they absolutely massive and can easily be shared.
Also Read: Melbourne’s Best Dessert Spots
Healesville Sanctuary and Yarra Valley
Healesville Sanctuary, located an hour outside Melbourne, makes a great daytrip from the city. The Sanctuary allows you to see the Australian animals up close as you wonder through the native bush land. You will get to see cute koalas, sleepy kangaroos, swimming platypi, chubby wombats and my favorite, adorable echidnas. Make sure you check out the wild life shows as they are perfect for kids: educational, entertaining, and not too long. On the drive out, enjoy the rolling hills of the Yarra Valley. There are lots of wineries and pick-your-own-fruit farms if you need a break. FREE for kids on weekends and holidays, $32.50/adults
Enchanted Adventure Garden
Read our full review of our visit to the Enchanted Adventure Garden. Located an hour from Melbourne on the Mornington Peninsula, this is a great place for kids to test their limits on the high ropes courses, tubing runs and mazes and brain teasers. General Admission $29/adults, $19/kids. Tree surfing and zip line are additional.
Read my full list of things to do on the Mornington Peninsula with kids. Just over an hour outside Melbourne, Mornington makes a great day trip or weekend getaway. Kids will love the safe swimming beaches and active activities. FREE!
Great Ocean Road
If you are in Melbourne, hopefully you have planned to drive the Great Ocean Road, one of Australia’s major tourism draws. You can do a tour from Melbourne, but if traveling with kids I recommend renting a car and driving it yourself. That way you can stop as you like as there are lots of great beaches, scenic viewpoints, wildlife and nature to explore. Ideally, don’t just spend a day on the Great Ocean Road, spend a few days. FREE!
So there you have it, my recommendations for 35 great things to do in Melbourne with kids. From museums to parks to beaches to cycling, your kids will love their time in this great city.
If you are looking for other city breaks in Australia, check out this post.
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