Try the virtual reality experiences at ACMI
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An air-conditioned Star Wars screening isn’t the only way for film buffs to beat the heat. The Australian Centre for the Moving Image’s (ACMI) permanent interactive Screen Worlds exhibition is free and showcases more than a century of key moments in film and animation. Other special exhibitions – such as the current Wallace & Gromit and Friends, on until 29 January – do require a ticket.
Visit the Brighton Bathing Boxes
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While you can’t rent one of the multi-coloured bathing boxes for the day, they do make an interesting backdrop for an afternoon by the sea. There are 82 weatherboard boxes lined up along the sand of Brighton Beach (also known as Dendy Street Beach), each uniquely and brightly decorated.
Board the city circle tram
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Melbourne’s grid-like CBD makes getting your bearings easy and the free city circle tram makes it even easier. Hop on at stops along La Trobe, Flinders and Spring streets or Harbour Esplanade and stay onboard for a full loop to get a glimpse of some of the city’s key attractions: the City Museum, Parliament House, the Princess Theatre, Federation Square, Flinders Street Station and the Melbourne Aquarium. Just jump off when you spot a building you want to investigate further.
Marvel at the Melbourne Museum
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The breadth of displays at the Melbourne Museum means there’s something for every quirky interest. Kids obsessed with creepy-crawlies will marvel at the exotic tarantulas on display in Bugs Alive!, while fossil-loving whippersnappers can see the skeletons of 10 different dinosaurs and Australian megafauna. Entry is free for kids and $15 for adults.
Uncover Melbourne's laneways and arcades
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You probably know that Hosier Lane is the place to go for graffiti but Melbourne is full of lesser-known, just-as-intriguing laneways. You’ll uncover a lab-themed bar, The Croft Institute, at the end of Croft Alley in Chinatown; a subterranean shopping strip in Campbell Arcade; and installations by artist Kranky on Presgrave Place. Part of the joy is simply wandering and seeing what you can find.
Tour the Parliament of Victoria
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Take the time to learn a little more about the city’s civic history with a guided tour of the 19th-century building. Tours for up to 25 people are held several times a day when parliament isn’t sitting. If the House’s Neoclassical design is what really floats your boat, 90-minute architecture tours can be booked for 2018.
Tour Melbourne Town Hall
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Did you know the Grand Organ in Melbourne Town Hall contains 483 kilometres of wire? You might have seen the interior of this bluestone-freestone building as a wedding guest or while listening to the organ at a free lunchtime concert but to truly appreciate Melbourne Town Hall, take a behind-the-scenes tour. They can be booked for up to 10 people on weekdays (except for Tuesday).
See the Triennial at National Gallery of Victoria
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Where else in Australia will you encounter a giant Buddha reclining? The gallery-wide Triennial features pieces from more than 100 artists and designers across a huge range of mediums, including 3D printing, painting, sculpture and performance. As well as the aforementioned Buddha, highlights include Sissel Tolaas’ recreation of Melbourne scents and couture from Chinese designer Guo Pei. The Kids Summer Festival is also on from 8 to 14 January.
Spot the penguins at the St Kilda breakwater
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When you’ve soaked up enough sun, it’s time to embrace your inner David Attenborough. A colony of little penguins have long made their home on the St Kilda breakwater that juts out into the ocean. Keep a respectful distance – they’re just going about their day, after all – and never stick anything in the burrows.
Wander through markets
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Technically, the wandering is free; the purchases are not. But there’s a buzz you absorb from browsing through a busy market and Melbourne is home to some of the country’s best. Queen Victoria Market has all manner of goods, from fresh produce and food stalls to handmade jewellery and yards of fabric. Rose Street Artists’ Market in Fitzroy is a design mecca held every weekend with vintage clothing, unique art and handmade homewares on offer.
Immerse yourself in the State Library of Victoria
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Bookworms can tuck themselves into the La Trobe Reading Room, a century-old domed space home to 32,000 books, while those looking for a less solitary activity can explore the free exhibitions on show throughout the library. They currently include a powerful collection of personal stories from World War I and an assortment of artefacts that track the history of Victoria, including Ned Kelly’s armour and 19th-cenutry maps.
Stroll down St Kilda Beach + St Kilda Pier
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Is a trip to Melbourne complete without a side visit to St Kilda? It’s where the city’s beachside culture plays out, with a foreshore perfect for rollerblading and sunset walks and a bay you can paddleboard across. Visit on Sundays to browse the St Kilda Esplanade Market, which starts at Luna Park and extends all the way down the road.
Walk (or run) the Tan Track
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Don your lycra and get moving. At any time of day you can spot athletic types circling the 3.8-kilometre track but no matter your fitness level, a turn around The Tan is a must-do Melbourne activity – and it will help you get your bearings of the King’s Domain and Botanic Gardens.
Picnic at Royal Botanic Gardens
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Will you lay your picnic blanket by Guilfoyle’s Volcano, the 140-year-old water reservoir in the gardens’ south-east corner, or set up by the Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden? Whichever spot you pick for your feast, leave time for a post-prandial walk through the lush fern gully or tropical glasshouse.
Stop by The Ian Potter Centre
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No doubt you’ve walked past this sculptural building at Federation Square scores of times but make a plan to go inside. It’s home to almost 25,000 pieces of Australia art from the 1780s until now, including an extensive collection of works by Indigenous artists.
Pay your respects at the Shrine of Remembrance
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A little sombre, yes, but this tribute to Australians who have served in conflicts is home to the moving Galleries of Remembrance, an underground chamber displaying over 800 artefacts that tell the stories of those in public service.
Dandenong Ranges National Park
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Plan to spend an entire day traversing the 3500 hectares of Dandenong Ranges National Park – or some of it, at least. Just an hour east of the city, the park is a tangle of ferns and Mountain Ash trees and is cut through with walking trails and picnic grounds. The 17-kilometre Tourist Track from Sassafras to Emerald is a steady workout and crosses creeks and gullies while the Living Bush Nature Walk through Ferntree Gully takes around 1.5 hours to complete and is ideal for little legs.
Get a culture hit at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art
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The outside of this rust-coloured building in Southbank is almost as fascinating as what lies within. Visit on a Sunday and you can join a free tour that will help you gain a better understanding of the contemporary pieces on display within the four galleries.
Royal Australian Air Force Museum
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Aviation nuts will be on the edge of their seats as old-school aircraft take to the skies during the Royal Australian Air Force Museum’s flying displays. You can even ask the pilot questions as the planes, including a Tiger Moth and Mustang, wheel around the skies. The museum, about 25 minutes outside of Melbourne in Point Cook, has scores of former fighting planes on display in its various hangars.