Melbourne: Australia's Cultural Capital

With its dynamic arts and culture scene, Melbourne has long established itself as Australia’s Cultural Capital. The City is rife with galleries, museums, theatres, bookshops, cafés and bars – not forgetting its characteristic laneways, an abundance of hideaways with eclectic shopping and dining tucked away from the busier streets. Melbourne’s architecture, both colonial and modern, is stunning – and its range of art and theatre events are cutting edge. Here we look at some of the gems that are not to be missed when visiting this inspiring City.

Street art

No need to visit a museum – Melbourne’s laneways are an outdoor gallery of ever-changing urban art. Wander Melbourne’s streets and you’ll find a variety of stencils, murals, paste ups and installations to admire, with no admission charges.

Visit the laneways that run off Flinders Lane, in between Swanston Street and Russell Street; or take a guided tour of Hosier Lane to hear the story behind some of the works. Off the Bourke Street Mall, Union Lane is a hotspot for fresh art, together with Blender Lane just off Franklin Street.

Visit in July and you might catch the Gertrude Street Projection Festival. This annual delight runs for 10 days and transforms familiar buildings with projection art and installations.

street art in melbourne

If you’re driving around the City, keep a look out for more art on the side of the road. Eastlink, running between Donvale and Frankston, is home to four major exhibits positioned prominently on the roadside, with a further eight along the EastLink Trail. You can find out where the art is on the Eastlink website which includes a downloadable map.

City of Literature

Spend a few hours discovering why Melbourne was given the title of UNESCO City of Literature back in 2008. Watch for the Literary festivals that take place throughout the year – including the Emerging Writers' Festival (June), the Melbourne Writers' Festival (August/September) and the Overload Poetry Festival (September). Other regional literary festivals take place throughout the year in Victoria’s towns. 

The State Library, located under a 100-year-old dome, is a must-see for literature lovers. It is Australia’s oldest free public library and the oldest publically funded cultural institution. Its stately facade, beautifully preserved interior and glorious stained glass windows are a sight to behold in themselves – but it is also home to many rare books, compelling exhibitions and a number of fascinating free tours with enthusiastic guides.

Continue your literary tour at the Wheeler Centre where you’ll find book launches, debates, events and tasty treats at the Moat café.

The Arts Centre

Visit Melbourne’s Arts Centre, a striking building that sits beneath an impressive 162 metre spire which signposts you to the complex. Aside from being a defining landmark, the Centre is one of the biggest and busiest, hosting thousands of performances each year.

melbourne arts centre

The programme is varied, including classical and popular music, comedy, dance, opera and theatre, so there’s something for every taste. You can also take a fascinating tour for $20 which takes you through hidden passageways and backstage rooms, showcasing some of the Centre’s technical contraptions that regular visitors don’t get to see.

ACMI at Federation Square

Spend a few hours exploring the ACMI, Melbourne’s museum for film, television, digital culture, video games and art. The Centre will take you on a journey through history of motion capture films spanning the past 100 years with its captivating displays and unique events. Entry is free although you’ll need a ticket for some of the attractions. You’ll find the programme of world-class exhibitions together with scheduled performances and talks is updated regularly.

Ian Potter Centre: NGV

Continue your journey through Melbourne’s fascinating and colourful history at the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square. Here, you’ll find a remarkable collection of Indigenous and non-Indigenous art spanning from the Colonial period through to the present day. Home to more Australian art in its permanent displays than any other art gallery across the globe, this gallery is refreshing in its approach to art and holds your attention, whatever your age or interests. General admission is free.

Ian Potter Centre

The full NGV collection displays around 800 words at a time from its collection of over 20,000 pieces, rotating its collection regularly so there’s always something new to see.

Federation Square

A visit to Melbourne wouldn’t be complete without spending some time in Federation Square itself (‘Fed Square’), a modern piazza that hosts world class events and major cultural attractions. The entertainment is varied depending on when you visit – currently there’s a twinkling six metre high Christmas bauble that lights up at night, a Christmas light show projecting festive cheer onto the building's facades, markets and activities for the family together with an outdoor cinema showing favourite Christmas films. Year round, there is a diverse range of activities that will captivate and fascinate, whatever your interests.

Explore the amazing Melbourne art scene with Scenic Tours. See our dedicated tour here, or for booking information, call our helpful sales team on 0808 274 1366.

Image credits: Flickr Creative Commons

Laura Barlow-Edwards
Laura Barlow-Edwards
Laura is Scenic's Digital Marketing Exec. She loves travel; her first river cruise was on the Danube, and she fell in love with Budapest at first sight. In her free time, Laura is usually reading, travel blogging, or planning her next adventure.