|Melbourne has some wonderful family attractions for visitors. Whether you are visiting from the country, interstate or overseas, Mum, Dad and the children will be well entertained while visiting Melbourne. Many of the attractions are in the central part of the city or easily reached by public transport or short car journey. The cream on the cake is that some of the best attractions are free.
Melbourne Aquarium in Central Melbourne
Move from the King and Gentoo penguins in the icy expanse of Antarctica through river and reef environments to the apex predators of the Aquarium, the sharks. There is a panoramic Fish Bowl viewing area. Enhance the experience by planning your visit during feeding times. Shark Tank will get a whole new meaning.
Melbourne Museum in Carlton
The museum is a heap of fun for the whole family at a very decent price.
Look out for the free highlights tours which are run by volunteers. They can add a bit of extra information and focus on the most interesting aspects.
Learn about how the huge blue whale skeleton was cleaned of meat - firstly, rats were allowed to eat the meat off the bones and then the bones were dragged through sewerage to allow bacteria to do the final cleaning. Other highlights include the dinosaur area (of course), minerals section where you can see how much you're worth in gold based on your weight, 3D volcano, glow in the dark minerals, live orb spiders, a garden showing Aboriginal culture and a forest gallery with tall trees and animals and birds.
The Children's Gallery has play areas for kids aged from 3 to 8 years old (you can produce a puppet show with stuffed Australian animals, build a ziggurat in Mesopotamia or even construct a Parthenon look-a-like) and an outdoor Children's Garden has old fashioned kids games such as hula hoops, quoits, skittles, stilts, hopscotch and skipping.
Melbourne has a range of excellent wildlife experiences. The main zoos are Melbourne Zoo in Parkville, Healesville Sanctuary in Healesville (200 species of Australian wildlife) and Werribee Open Range Zoo in Werribee South (African animals such as rhinos, giraffes, zebras, monkeys, cheetahs and hippos).
Photo Slideshow of Werribee Open Range Zoo
Apart from the big three, the Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park in Pearcedale is a wonderful place to meet endangered native nocturnal animals rarely seen in the wild such as quolls, bettongs, pademelons and gliders up close as well as the more usual Australian animals such as kangaroos.
Photo Slideshow of Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park
Visit one of the many parks and gardens in the beautiful Dandenong Ranges which are less than an hour from Melbourne. Most of these gardens are free to visit.
On the way to the Dandenongs visit Grants Picnic Ground and Tearoom in Kallista which has a special area where you can feed the local native birds including sulphur crested cockatoos, crimson rosellas, eastern rosellas and kookaburras. Bird seed can be purchased for a small price.
The Alfred Nicholas Gardens in Sherbrooke has water features including waterfalls and an ornamental lake.
The National Rhododendron Gardens in Olinda has seasonal displays of brilliantly coloured blooms of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, cherries and daffodils.
The RJ Hamer Arboretum in Olinda has lovely walks through an ever changing variety of interesting trees. Our personal favourites include sequoias with their weird curved branches and birch trees.
Cloudehill Nursery & Garden in Olinda has extensive gardens including sculptures and a restaurant. An Admission fee applies.
Cross the Westgate Bridge to get to Scienceworks in Spotswood. There are hands-on exhibits, live demonstrations, tours, activities and shows. We haven't had more fun with science since the time we experimented with mentos and Coke! The site also has the Melbourne Planetarium and Lightning Room.
Take a ferry or boat ride to Gem Pier and Nelson Place in Williamstown and explore Gem Pier which has HMAS Castlemaine permanently moored and during the winter months there are tours of the Sea Shepherd ships that have returned from Antarctica.
Wander around Melbourne's lanes and admire the Melbourne Urban Graffiti Art . The artwork changes on a regular basis. If you don't like it today then come back tomorrow.
Take a visit to the colourful Bathing Boxes at Brighton beach. If the weather is nice have a dip in the water or else explore the bathing boxes and make a sandcastle. Have a swim at one of Melbourne's many sandy beaches. Combine a trip with an exploration of the rock pools at Ricketts Point Marine Sanctuary in Beaumaris. You should be able to find sea shells, sea urchins, starfish and jellyfish. Time is of the essence with this activity. Make sure you go at low tide.
Photo Slideshow of Ricketts Point Marine Sanctuary
Melbourne has two wonderful Botanic Gardens which are both huge. The Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne is close to central Melbourne and has an amazing collection of plants and trees positioned around extensive lakes. It includes the Ian Potter Foundation Children's Garden which is a wonderful natural area for kids to explore and includes some water features. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Cranbourne are a longer trip to visit but probably more interesting for the kids. Some of the more fun areas for kids are the "Desert Discovery Camp" with a big sandpit under a roof with a fossil wall, "Rock pool Waterway" where the kids can jump between tiles of different heights in a slow moving river while trying "not" to get wet and walking across the giant metal Lilly pads. There are also walking tracks through the woodlands.
Photo Slideshow of Ian Potter Foundation Children's Garden
Photo Slideshow of Royal Botanic Gardens, Cranbourne
Is the family looking for some excitement? There are some outdoor high rope courses in Melbourne which include heart-racing obstacles high up in the trees and sections where you fly through the air on a flying fox (zip line). Check out Tree Surfing Australia in Arthurs Seat or Trees Adventure in Belgrave. The courses are ideal for greenies since there is sure to be a lot of tree hugging.
Photo Slideshow of Tree Surfing Australia
Fancy doing a Torvill and Dean impression at the Medibank Icehouse in the Docklands. If that is too difficult try an impression of Steven Bradbury, Australia's most famous speed skater who won a gold medal after all his opponents crashed at the last corner. Bradbury skated past the pile of skaters on the ice to Olympic glory.
Learn about Australia's rich sporting history at the National Sports Museum in the iconic MCG. All sports played within Australia are represented, although I couldn't find the section on Tiddlywinks when I last visited.
We dare you to visit the Old Melbourne Gaol in Central Melbourne which is place where 135 people, including infamous bushranger Ned Kelly, were hanged. Crime must have run in the family since the wounded Kelly spent his days in the Gaol at the same time his mother was serving a sentence in the women’s wing.
The The Enchanted Maze Garden at Arthurs Seat is a top notch attraction with a range of outdoor mazes, a dark indoor maze with 3D effects plus tube slides down the side of a hill. Don't worry, they'll let you in even if you don't know the difference between a maze and a labyrinth.
If your kids have a tidiness fetish then steer clear of the St Kilda Adventure Playground which is a wonderfully organic playground which constantly changes and evolves. Kids can explore and use their imagination with opportunities to run, climb, create, jump and play with animals (turtles, rabbits, and chickens). The playground is staffed and has set opening hours and sometimes closes for special events.
Puff, puff. Hop on board the iconic historic steam train, Puffing Billy which passes through mountain scenery and panoramic views between Belgrave and Gembrook. There is also a stop at Emerald Lake which has paddleboats and even a model railway.
Melbourne may be a large city but we are not without our farms and furry residents who are sure to charm and excite any child. Collingwood Childrens Farm in Abbotsford is only 5km from the centre of Melbourne and visitors can even milk the cow. Myuna Farm in Doveton is a public community farm and visitors can take a farm tour on a train or take a pony ride. Chesterfield Farm in Scoresby is an historical farm now operating as a tourist/children's farm. There are daily farm shows, baby animal nursery, tractor ride tours of the farm and animals such as kangaroos, emus and ostriches to hand-feed.
Fairy Park in Anakie is a one hour drive from Melbourne. Enter the world of fairy tales, legends, dragons, towering castles and an exciting Medieval playground. Fairy Park is very reasonably priced and is one of our favourite locations to take visitors.
London has the London Eye and Melbourne has the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel. Our name may not be as catchy but there is plenty to see when you are 120 metres up in the air (in an air conditioned cabin).
Visitors don't come to Melbourne for a mega theme park like Wet 'n Wild. If you did, I've got bad news. You should have got on the plane that said "Coolangatta Gold Coast" and not Melbourne. Nevertheless, Melbourne does have some theme parks which provide a fun and exciting day out.
Luna Park in St Kilda has Melbourne's best range of thrill rides for all ages including the iconic Scenic Railway. Walk through the clown's mouth and experience the thrills which Pharaoh's Curse and the Coney Island Top Drop can deliver.
Wonderland Fun Park in the Docklands is smaller than Luna Park and provides some rides and good old fashioned carnival style fun.
Gumbuya Park in Tynong is about an hour out of Melbourne and offers a blend of natural and man made attractions and is best suited to younger people.
When the weather warms up Funfields in Whittlesea or Adventure Park Geelong offer massive water slides, water playgrounds, rides and other attractions.
Photo Slideshow of Funfields
Photo Slideshow of Adventure Park Geelong
Melbourne has a bay and water and therefore has its fair share of ships. Two of the more impressive ones are the Tall ship Polly Woodside - keep your eye open for Pirate Day (on the first Sunday of each month) or Storytime (fun and interactive storytelling with a variety of sea-faring stories and songs for little ones aged 2-7 years each Tuesday) and the Tall Ship Enterprize which has sailing trips on Port Phillip Bay.
Are you stuck in a small hotel room with an even smaller TV? Expand your horizons with a visit to the IMAX Melbourne Museum in Carlton.
Do you get nose bleeds when you get as high up as the top of the escalator in a shopping centre? In that case, scrap Eureka Skydeck 88 and The Edge at Southbank from your agenda. As well as views across Melbourne, you can dare to enter the Edge which is a glass cube which projects three metres out from the building and happens to be suspended almost 300 metres above the ground!
Try a free visit to the Old Treasury Building in the Melbourne CBD to see the original gold vaults where gold bullion was stored during the gold rush era. The kids can earn a Gold Licence - but no digging is allowed in the building, even with a gold license!
Sometimes it is best to let a local expert show you around. Browse through these Tours which cover day trips to Phillip Island, art tours, balloon flights, wildlife tours, aquatic adventures such as kayaking, day tours outside Melbourne, walking tours, bus tours, chocoholic tours, river cruises, classic steamboat cruises, photographic tours, sport based tours, bike tours, ghost tours, hidden secrets tours, architecture and design tours, crime tours, street art tours, Neighbours "Ramsay Street" Tour and trike tours. There are even Free tours - although tips are obviously appreciated :-)
Sometimes holidays are opportunities for a special experience. Maybe see Melbourne from an entirely different and spectacular perspective - from the air. Melbourne Joy Flights operate helicopter joy flights over Melbourne. If you are willing to get up very early in the morning, a number of companies operate balloon flights over Melbourne and the Yarra Valley (Melbourne's wine growing area) including Balloon Flights over Melbourne. If you have trouble getting up in the morning, consider an afternoon scenic flight on a plane with Melbourne City and Yarra Valley Scenic Flights.
There are some classic trips from Melbourne including the Great Ocean Road and the Grampians National Park.
Take a trip to Phillip Island (about two hours from Melbourne) and see the famous Penguin Parade. Why go all that way and not enjoy one of the many other attractions of the island?
At the Rhyll Trout and Bush Tucker Farm you can easily catch a trout in the "rainforest pool". So easily that it almost seems the trout are trained to jump onto your hook. The local chef would be happy to transform your freshly caught trout into a delicious meal and add some Devonshire tea featuring Jumbo Wattleseed Scones.
A Maze'N Things on Phillip Island definitely has a huge maze and other things such as Maxigolf, Illusion Rooms, Puzzle Island and a huge vertical slide. Therefore it is extremely well named.
The Phillip Island Chocolate Factory shows the chocolate making process in action, has opportunities for yummy samples and contains exhibits such as model trains which move through a chocolate village and a chocolate statue of David (please don't eat the fig leaf though).
Phillip Island caters to wildlife experiences. Tour the Koala Conservation Centre to get close-up viewing of the koalas, stop at the midday San Remo Pelican Feeding or wander around The Nobbies and find some penguins and other sea-life. Phillip Island Wildlife Park is home to over 100 different species of Australian animals or go on a Wildlife Coast Cruises and visit one of Australia's largest wild Fur Seal Island colonies.
Stop on the way to or from Phillip Island at either Maru Koala and Animal Park in Grantham (which also has the Pirate Pete mini golf course), Warrook Cattle Farm in Monomeith (experience farm life on a family run working cattle and sheep property) or Caldermeade Farm in Caldermeade (400 cows are milked twice daily).
Within a hour of Melbourne is Ballarat which has a range of family friendly attractions. Wander round the recreated goldfields township of Sovereign Hill and see craftsman at work, take an underground adventure tour of the Red Hill Mine or pan for real gold.
The Ballarat Wildlife Park has Australian native animals and reptiles and it is possible to get up close and personal to many of the animals.
Visit Kryal Castle for some medieval adventure including a Torture Dungeon & Museum (some of the equipment might be able to be hired on an hourly basis if the kids misbehave too much).
Bendigo, about two hours drive from Melbourne also has some interesting family attractions. At the Central Deborah Gold Mine put on a hard hat and miner's lamp and descend 61 metres beneath the surface for a guided tour of the tunnels and discover what conditions as a miner were really like during the harsh gold rush era.
The Discovery Science & Technology Centre has over 100 interactive exhibits to explore. You can journey through the cosmos at the Planetarium or maybe whoosh down the vertical slide.
It's hard to believe that our website doesn't provide all the information a visitor needs but an extra brochure or idea might be obtained from Melbourne Visitor Centre at Federation Square. There is also a Melbourne Visitor Booth in the Bourke Street Mall between Swanston and Elizabeth streets, which is a great place to find information on shopping, attractions and events, as well as free brochures and maps of the city.
City Ambassadors dressed in their distinctive red uniforms are located at various street locations in the city centre can offer assistance with directions, public transport enquiries, events and general questions about Melbourne.