10 Cool And Unusual Things To Do In Melbourne

By Angie Soares, a local who falls in love with her city’s unpolished edge every time she comes home from her many travels overseas.
Edited by Elodi Troskie

You’ll find the best things to do in Melbourne if you’re willing to go a little bit off the beaten track. The city offers a whole lot of cool activities to do, especially if you’re looking for cheap – or even better, free – things to do in Melbourne. With its beautiful architecture, historical sites, culturally diverse cuisine and exciting nightlife, it won’t be difficult to stay entertained in Melbourne. After living in the city all my life, I’ve discovered quite a few of its hidden gems and unique experiences. Here are 10 cool and unusual things to do in Melbourne!

Brunch (and coffee, of course): Fitting right in with the locals

Brunch is a pretty big thing in Melbourne. So, to be fair, this isn’t really an unusual activity at all. But a trip to Melbourne won’t be complete without indulging in brunch in Degraves Street and trying out the amazing Italian style coffee from Degraves Espresso. That’s another thing Melbourne is big on: coffee. We don’t play around when it comes to coffee and you’ll find some of the best coffee in the world here. But even if you’re not a big fan of caffeine, like me, you don’t need to go thirsty. I usually order hot chocolate or chai tea, which is also really good around here. Brunch is a sure way to kick off a day in the city feeling like you’ve lived here your entire life.

Federation Square

This is one of the first places I recommend visitors to go when they’re looking for cool things to do in Melbourne. Federation Square is one of Melbourne’s most visited attractions and never fails to bring life to the city. There is always something going on here, especially during summer. Concerts, live music, modern art exhibitions, food truck, festivals over weekends… Trust me, Federation Square will never let you down. Keep your eye on social media to see what events are coming up or keep it a surprise by going down there to see what the day has to offer. The square is located just across the road from Flinders Street Station and is part of the free tram zone, so it’s really easy to get there.

Escape rooms

The escape room craze is definitely one of the more unusual things to do in Melbourne. If you don’t know what to do in Melbourne, this is quite an interesting way to pass a few hours. Every escape room is different, but it all revolves around solving puzzles and riddles to make it out of a room you’re locked inside. Melbourne first of its kind, Escape Room, was opened in Flemington in 2014 by a psychologist who got the idea from a trip to Budapest. Participants are left in a dark room with cello music in the background adding to the mystery. You’re given 70 minutes to solve the puzzles and figure out the clues to make it out in time. A few other cool escape rooms in Melbourne are Woodbury Escape Rooms, Escape Hunt and Trapt. Trapt also has a bar downstairs featuring local wines and beers to enjoy after your nerve-wracking experience escaping from upstairs.

Australian Open: The most exciting time in Melbourne

Every January, the Australian Open blows new life into Melbourne. This is probably the best time to visit Melbourne, even if you’re not necessarily the biggest tennis fan. The entire city participates in this tournament with games being live broadcasted in Federation Square for those who couldn’t get tickets to watch the games in Melbourne Park. Surrounding the tournament, you’ll find many other cool things to in Melbourne at night, like AO Live Stage, a 15-day music event at Birrarung Marr, hosting Australia’s best musical acts, this year including artists like Angus & Julia Stone, Dean Lewis and the UK band, Bastille. Another cool event during this time is the AO Sports Film Festival where tennis fans can enjoy the daily screening of sports films across three different locations in the city: Birrarung Marr, The Glasshouse and AO Ballpark. If you’re wondering what to do in Melbourne when traveling with kids, the AO Ballpark is a good option. This is a mini theme park with lots of fun activities for kids (and adults!).

Port Melbourne: Enjoy the sunset from the pier

One of the things that make Melbourne unique is how easy it is to get to a beach close by the city. Port Melbourne is only a 20-minute tram ride from the city centre and offers enough entertainment for a whole day (and night!). If you’re exploring Melbourne on a budget, a trip to Port Melbourne is the perfect activity. Although this area is outside the free tram zone, the trip won’t cost you much. Once you get there, explore Westgate Park, enjoy some artisanal ice cream or go on a guided bicycle tour of the area. Of course, the sunset is free of charge, and this is one of the best places in Melbourne to enjoy the beautiful city views at sunset. If you want to get sundowners, you’ll find a wide selection of restaurants and bars on the pier where you can make yourself at home.

Princess Pier: Melbourne’s best spot for sunset photography

At almost 600 meters long, Princess Pier is a Melbourne landmark. Because this area houses less bars and cafes than Port Melbourne, it is a significantly less tourist-packed sunset location. This pier is also a popular fishing spot, adding to its serenity. With its beautiful view of the horizon, this is one of my favourite places to take photos in the late afternoon. For the best shots, either come very early, before sunrise, or capture the never-disappointing sunset at the end of the day. To get to the pier, catch Tram 109 (not in the free tram zone, but once again, very cheap). If you’re looking for a place to eat afterwards, you can head to the Station Pier, Bay Street or Beacon Coves areas which are all within walking distance from Princess Pier.

St Kilda Beach: View penguins every night

More than a thousand little penguins can be seen on the St Kilda Beach breakwater every night throughout the year. It is quite unusual for penguins to make their home to close to an urban area, so this is definitely an interesting Melbourne experience. The best time for viewing the penguins are about half an hour after sunset. Walk along the pier towards Little Blue Cafe, where you’ll find a boardwalk with an info board telling you more about the penguins. There is no entrance fee and you can access this area all throughout the day. Remember that visitors are kindly asked not to take flash photos of the penguins so as to not disturb or disrupt them from their natural environment. The surrounding Port Phillips area is also worth exploring with cool restaurants, fun carnival activities at Luna Park and the South Melbourne Night Market (every Thursday night in January and February).

Chinatown: The budget traveller’s paradise

Chinatown is a well-known part of Melbourne with a rich history dating back to the 1850’s. Located along Little Bourke Street, Chinatown serves as the link to Lonsdale Street. Chinatown is a popular destination for locals and visitors, who both enjoy the street food, historic buildings and cultural festivals throughout the year. The Chinese New Year celebrations in February and the annual Asian Food Festival in spring are some of the highlights. If you’re looking for food to fit a low budget, Chinatown is your friend. You’ll find some of the city’s best dumplings and yum cha in this district. The higher end restaurants have started making their way into Chinatown over recent years, so the best budget-friendly restaurants are often hidden away. Follow the lanterns and lights to explore Chinatown’s best hidden gems. The Croft Institute is a really cool bar and if its local wines and beers make you feel like karaoke, Heroes Karaoke & Rooftop Bar is just a block away.

Rooftop bar: Ending the day on a high note

Rooftop bars are the middle ground between dinner at a restaurant and a night of exploring Melbourne’s nightlife. Because the summers aren’t very long in Melbourne, we have to make the most out of sunshine days, so rooftop bars are the go-to for laid back summer evenings of watching the sunset and snacking on bar food. You’ll find quite a few unusual bars in Melbourne, maybe to serve as entertainment during winter. At Madame Brussels, the garden inspired interior will make you feel like you’re at a garden party while surrounded by the concrete jungle. Easy’s is a weird and wonderful rooftop bar serving beer and burgers in an old train carriage overlooking the city. You’ll be surrounded by paintings, photography, art installations and graffiti from some of the best graffiti artists in the world. Definitely one of the most unusual dining experiences in Melbourne!

Discover the laneways: street art central

Melbourne is full of tiny backstreets, lanes and arcades which are continuously being covered by colourful murals, provocative paste ups, bold stencils and artists’ tags. Losing yourself in the lanes is guaranteed to get your finger on the pulse of the city’s progressive street art culture. But the lanes are more than just street art, they’re microcosms of the city’s whole arts and culture scene. You’ll find some of the best street art in Melbourne down tiny arcades, so get exploring! Centre Place is always a good one to start with; it’s a tiny lane with huge character where you’ll find some of the trendiest food spots in the city, like a hole-in-the-wall dumpling joint and a tropical juice bar. Hosier Lane probably has the biggest range of street art, whilst Meyer’s Place is a miniature version of Melbourne’s bar culture; you’ll find tiny bars which are squeezed into the lane, Tokyo izakaya style!

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