Melbourne See And Do
Swanston Street (at Flinders Street)
Tel: 61 3 9655 1900
This architecturally striking cultural complex in City Centre is built around an undulating paved area, which is encircled by bars, cafés, and restaurants, including celebrity chef Michael Lambie's much-lauded Taxi. The space is a favored warm-weather hangout for Melbournians, and often hosts concerts, mass screenings of sports events, and more. Flanking the Square's soaring atrium is the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, with its extensive collection of Australian art, and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), where you can discuss, create, or watch videos, games, and films. Champions: The Australian Racing Museum & Hall of Fame, on the opposite side of the square, houses an impressive taxidermy model of Australia's most famous racehorse, Phar Lap.
Badgers Creek Road
Tel: 61 3 5957 2800
More than 200 native Australian wildlife species make their home in this natural bushland setting about an hour and 15 minutes' drive outside of Melbourne. Meander along the paths and you'll encounter kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, dingoes, echidnas, Tasmanian devils, and reptiles in near-natural environs, along with water birds, owls, eagles, parrots, and emus. Maps are available, but it's simpler and more fun to arrange for a tour with one of Healesville's well-informed volunteer guides. Don't bypass the platypus house: You'll never get a better chance to see these strange, shy monotremes up close. And a darkened walk-through area lets you see nocturnal mammals such as the tiny, super-cute possums; hopping desert rats; bilbies; and fruit bats.
Flinders Street (at King Street)
Tel: 61 3 9620 0999
A cool blue refuge in the heart of the city, Australia's only aquarium specializing in Southern Ocean creatures houses 10,000 marine and a few dozen land-based animals in a series of spiral-down displays. Start at ground level with the creepy venomous-critters exhibits, and work your way down to the vast oceanarium. En route, peruse surreal sea jelly displays, kid-friendly touch pools, and a massive coral atoll teeming with tropical fish, moray eels, and sea stars. The aquarium's showpiece, the 600,000-gallon oceanarium, has glass tunnels allowing close-up views of the underbellies of cruising sharks, sea turtles, and massive rays. (Arrive at twice-daily meal times and you'll see these awesome creatures in a feeding frenzy.) Intrepid souls can even arrange to dive in this vast tank (advance bookings are a must, and the cost is $180).
Tel: 61 3 9657 8867
A temple in this sports-mad city, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) is also the birthplace of Australia's homegrown football game, Aussie Rules. The high-flying, fast-paced game was originally developed to keep Melbournian sportsmen fit during the winter, but subsequently grew its own fan base. Hugely popular games are held at the grounds each weekend from March till late September. As many as 100,000 fans turn out, and their roar can be heard from blocks away. Guided tours of the grounds run on non-game days; call ahead for tour times. For tickets to games, be prepared to book weeks in advance and even earlier for finals games.
11 Nicholson Street
Tel: 61 3 8341 7777
This modernist monolith with the sail-like roof is the largest museum in the Southern Hemisphere, so allow a few hours to do it justice. Six themed exhibition halls explore Australia's complex fauna, flora, culture, scientific legacy, and indigenous heritageand give visitors a sense of Australian society. A highlight is the world's first "living forest gallery," where nearly 8,000 live trees are home to a variety of species including snakes, birds, fish, and frogs. Another must-see is the sensitively curated Aboriginal gallery, Bunjilaka, with its fascinating archival footage, artifacts, and oral histories.
Swanston Street (at Flinders Street)
Tel: 61 3 8620 2222
Federation Square's Ian Potter Centre houses the nation's largest repository of Australian art, with some 25,000 works. The three floors of gallery space include an exhibit hall with a nearly comprehensive overview of indigenous artwork, including some spectacular Tiwi Islander works. Upstairs, there's a collection of Australian Impressionist, colonial, and 20th-century art. A second museum, NGV International, is located across the river at the gallery's original home in St. Kilda Road, Southbank. Here, the eclectic exhibits include Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and pre-Columbian antiquities, as well as paintings, photographs, and prints by latter-day masters like Albrecht Dürer and William Blake. Don't miss Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles, one of the NGV's more controversial buys, now worth a small fortune. The gallery's tranquil sculpture garden has works by Henry Moore and Auguste Rodin (180 St. Kilda Rd.; closed Tue.).
The National Gallery of Victoria is closed on Mondays. NGV International is closed on Tuesdays.
About a third of a mile offshore from Melbourne, the 40-square-mile Phillip Island is best known for its resident colony of adorable fairy penguins (about 90 minutes by car or bus, with an additional half hour needed to reach the penguins). Every evening, hordes of camera-toting tourists converge to watch thousands of the fat feathered creatures waddle from sea to burrow; the parade can be witnessed from viewing platforms or from a secluded sand strip with infrared goggles and a naturalist guide. Contact Phillip Island Nature Park for more information (Cowes; 61-3-5951-2800; www.penguins.org.au). Phillip Island also has large colonies of koalas, Australian fur seals, and shearwaters; spectacular coastal walks; and excellent fishing and surfing. Stay overnight at the Glen Isla House, a luxurious country home with an exceptional private dining room and wine cellar (230-232 Church St., Cowes; 61-3-5952-1882; www.glenisla.com); or hole up in an ultra-modern suite at The Hill of Content, which caters to couples (33 Rhyll-Newhaven Rd., Rhyll; 61-3-5965-0100; www.thehillofcontent.com.au).
Tel: 61 3 9252 2300
Established in 1846, the Royal Botanic Gardens encompasses 87 acres of meandering paths, sweeping lawns, and lily-littered ornamental lakes. Plants are displayed in major groupings and include a shady rain-forest walk, rose and cactus gardens, fern gullies, a tropical glasshouse, and a delightful children's garden that's also fun for adults (who isn't wowed by gigantic vegetables?). Guided garden tours, including an Aboriginal Heritage Walk, leave from the visitor center near Observatory Gate, which also serves café-style meals, if you haven't packed a picnic.
Melbourne's verdant Yarra Valley (about 30 miles east of the city center) has some of Australia's most acclaimed cool-climate wineries. The region has 55 cellar doors, including the third-generation family winery De Bortoli, with its private Trophy Tasting Room; the historic Yering Station; the boutique winery Coldstream Hills, with its reserve pinot noirs and chardonnays; and the magnificent Domaine Chandon, where you can taste award-winning sparkling wines matched with modern Australian food. Epicurean Food & Wine Tours runs excellent, unhurried small-group excursions through the area (61-3-9598-0943; www.epicureantours.com.au).
About an hour's drive southwest of the city is Melbourne's second wine-producing region, the Mornington Peninsula (www.morningtonpeninsula.com.au). Here, 50 wineries offer world-class pinot noirs and chardonnays, as well as fine pinot gris, pinot grigio, reisling, sauvignon blanc, semillon, shiraz, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon. Enjoy an epicurean picnic in the sculpture garden of Montalto's, a Tuscan-style winery with extensive vineyards and olive groves. Also consider taking wine-appreciation sessions at Red Hill Estate or bottling your own sparkling wine at Foxey's Hangout. Other Peninsula hot spots include the acclaimed boutique winery Prancing Horse Estate, the award-winning Paringa Estate, the charming Tuck's Ridge, and Red Hill's microbrewery. Both Melbourne Private Tours (61-4-1957-1800; www.melbprivatetours.com.au) and Epicurean Food & Wine Tours (see above) give relaxed, reputable tours through the area.