Royal Botanic Gardens
Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens are among the finest of their kind in the world. Established in 1846, the gardens encompass two locations: Melbourne and Cranbourne.
The Melbourne gardens lie in the heart of green parkland extending south of the Yarra River, about two kilometers from the CBD. Covering an area of 38 hectares, they are home to more than 10,000 plant species from around the globe, including many rare specimens.
Highlights include the Ian Potter Foundation Children's Garden, designed to encourage the next generation of gardeners, and the Fern Gully Health and Wellbeing Garden, a tranquil spot to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. The Aboriginal Heritage Walk explores the rich heritage of Indigenous Australians.
In summer, live theater is a highlight of the gardens, and a moonlight cinema is set up under the stars. Rolling lawns, lakes, large trees, and abundant birdlife make this a beautiful spot to linger and enjoy a picnic or a traditional high tea at The Terrace café.
No matter what time of year you visit these beautiful gardens, this is one of the best free things to do in Melbourne.
National Gallery of Victoria
Melbourne is famous for its culture, and the National Gallery of Victoria is the jewel in the crown. It's not only the oldest public art gallery in Australia, it's also the most visited. Here, you can admire more than 70,000 works of European, Asian, Oceanic, and American art in two city locations.
The international collection is housed in the St. Kilda Road building, originally opened in 1968. The building is renowned for The Great Hall, where visitors are encouraged to lie on the floor and gaze at the colorful stained-glass ceiling.
The extensive Australian collection is held in the Ian Potter Gallery in Federation Square, featuring the history of Australian art, from Aboriginal works through to the Heidelberg School, and contemporary mixed media. One of the highlights is the large triptych format, The Pioneer by Frederick McCubbin.
There's always something new to see at the National Gallery of Victoria. It presents more than 40 exhibitions a year, as well as special events, children's programs, tours, and performances. Best of all, entry to the permanent exhibitions is free.
Melbourne Museum and Royal Exhibition Building
A short tram ride from the CBD, the Melbourne Museum is surrounded by beautiful gardens and parkland. This modern purpose-built museum houses a diverse collection depicting society and cultures, as well as science and the environment.
Highlights include Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre; the Phar Lap exhibit, about Australia's greatest racehorse; and the Children's Gallery, a series of hands-on activities designed to stimulate and engage youngsters. You can also stroll through a vibrant forest, and immerse yourself in a world of life-size dinosaurs.
Adjacent to the Melbourne Museum is the elaborate Royal Exhibition Building. Built in 1880 to host Melbourne's International Exhibition, the building also held the first Commonwealth Parliament of Australia in 1901. Regular tours are available, and the building is still used for exhibitions and special events.