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A Guide To Family Friendly Melbourne

I am so excited to share Bhupi’s Guide to Family Friendly Melbourne.  According to her, ‘the world’s most liveable city is quite possibly also the world’s best city for kids’. If that hasn’t whet your appetite sufficiently, read on…

Melbourne - City View

As a stay at home mum who doesn’t like staying at home, by the time we arrived in Melbourne (our third international move with kids in two years), I was already well practiced at exploring new places to discover what they offer to keep active preschoolers entertained.

London and Hong Kong, our other two homes with the kids, are great cities but a lot of what’s available can be hard to access particularly with young children and strollers. In Melbourne I have been blown away by the sheer quality, quantity, range and accessibility of child friendly things to do in and around the city. Whether you live here, are visiting on holiday or passing through to attend one of the many world class events Melbourne plays host to every year (see Special Events below), if you’ve got kids in tow, here’s a guide to what the world’s most liveable city has to offer the little people…

 

PLAYING INDOORS

Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) www.acmi.net.au

Located in Federation Square (see Playing Outdoors below), ACMI brings the magic of the movies to life. The permanent (and free) Screen Worlds exhibition provides a fun and interactive history of the moving image. Star in your own special effects movie clips, play classic computer games, attend a movie making workshop or watch a kids movie screening (tickets required). Visit the Australian Mediatheque (also free) to access an impressive archive of international and domestic tv and movie history and relive childhood favourites with your kids.

Melbourne Museum www.museumvictoria.com.au & IMAX www.imaxmelbourne.com.au

Interactive displays on dinosaurs, bugs & butterflies, the human body, an incredible array of (taxidermy) animals from aardvarks to zebras, an entire wing dedicated to kids play and learning, an indoor forest, two outdoor play spaces and Melbourne’s IMAX cinema next door – this place is child entertainment heaven come rain or shine. Located beside the city centre in the picturesque Carlton Gardens (which also houses the beautiful Royal Exhibition Building). If your kids aren’t exhausted after all of that there is also a great playground just behind the museum.

National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) www.ngv.vic.gov.au

Located on two sites either side of the Yarra river. Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia is in Federation Square (see Playing Outdoors below) and hosts national and indigenous works of art. South of the river, next to the Melbourne Arts Centre and opposite Queen Victoria Gardens, is the international art gallery. Both galleries host an ever changing range of arts focused kids’ spaces, attractions, activities and events.

At NGV International the kids’ fun starts with the huge fountains outside and wall of water at the entrance. Walk through the foyer to the indoor space beyond to find kids of all ages lying on the floor looking up at the stain glass ceiling then continue out the back doors and into the beautiful garden space filled with sculptures and climbing equipment for kids.

Scienceworks www.museumvictoria.com.au

Quite possibly the world’s best museum for kids of all ages. Located in Spotswood on the grounds of an old pumping station, it is ten minutes west of the city centre by car or train (plus ten minutes walk from Spotswood station) or catch the Williamstown Ferry (see Playing Outdoors – Yarra River Boat Trips below). Well worth the trip for two floors of fun, interactive displays on the science behind sport, the human body, transport, building cities and future technology. It also houses a planetarium with shows for kids of all ages. Tycho to the Moon is a favourite for younger kids while older ones might enjoy learning about the southern hemisphere sky. Tours of the old (still working) pumping station and the Lightning Room show are great for over 5s. The grounds also have two playgrounds, bbqs and an amphitheater. There’s a whole day’s entertainment whatever the weather.

Melbourne Aquarium

Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium www.melbourneaquarium.com.au

See fish galore, coral reefs, sharks, jelly fish, seahorses, lizards, crocodiles, penguins and the occasional diver feeding fish or cleaning the tanks. Set over four floors with differently themed areas it includes spaces where kids can hold some of the sea creatures. Additional activities include fish feeding, seahorse feeding and behind the scenes tours. Older kids can also dive with the sharks or get up close to the penguins in their enclosure. Melbourne’s aquarium is a real underwater wonderland for kids big and small. 

State Library of Victoria www.slv.vic.gov.au

Home to the very popular Children’s Book Festival held annually. Year round the library Play Pod is a great space for kids to read, play and enjoy a variety of games and activities. For toddlers the library also hosts regular storytimes filled with stories, songs and rhymes. 

Views of Melbourne

Imagine the London Eye Downunder and you have the Melbourne Star. Located in Docklands the gigantic ferris wheel is, apparently, “the Southern Hemisphere’s only giant observation wheel”. It isn’t so much a must see as a can see for miles and miles and miles up to 25 miles (40km) in fact from 120 metres (394 feet) high at its peak. www.melbournestar.com

If you want the views without going around in circles visit Eureka Skydeck 88 www.eurekaskydeck.com.au. Located in the Eureka Tower on the Southbank it is, apparently, “the Southern Hemisphere’s highest viewing platform”. If your kids really love heights they can stand in The Edge – a glass cube protruding 3 metres out from the building and almost 300 metres above the ground.  

PLAYING OUTDOORS

Beaches

Melbourne St Kilda West Beach

Melbourne is located on Port Phillip Bay. Head south towards the Mornington Peninsula for numerous, gentle bay side beaches from Port Melbourne to Portsea. Thirty minutes south of the city centre, Rickett’s Point beach, is great for younger kids as it has calm, shallow waters, rock pools close to the shore, life saving patrols in the summer and a terrific beachside café. Closer to the city centre and easily accessible by tram (numbers 1, 12, 96 and 109) are the beaches of Port Melbourne, Albert Park, Middle Park and St Kilda.

Melbourne - Beach Playground Albert Park

 

Melbourne - Albert Park beachside prom

There are a few lovely beachside cafes (see Practicalities – Eating below) and playgrounds (see Playgrounds, Parks and Gardens, below) dotted along this stretch of the bay. On the other side of Port Phillip Bay, south-west of the city centre, Melbourne’s first sea port, Williamstown, is a charming maritime village which has some nice beaches and stunning views of the city. It is easily accessible by car, train or ferry (see Playing Outdoors – Yarra River Boat Trips below). 

Want to swim in the sea without getting sandy? Sea baths are still in operation at St Kilda www.stkildaseabaths.com.au and Brighton www.middlebrightonbaths.com.au

Collingwood Children’s Farm www.farm.org.au & Abbotsford Convent www.abbotsfordconvent.com.au

Escape to the country – in the city – at the Collingwood Children’s Farm. Located on a beautiful bend on the Yarra River the scenery alone is worth a visit. Kids can cuddle guinea pigs, ride ponies and tractors, milk cows or just roam amongst the sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, geese, pigs, horses and cows. The farm has a lovely café or you can venture next door to Abbotsford convent now inhabited by various eateries. The ex-convent, set amongst beautiful, rustic grounds, is also home to artists’ studios and galleries and serves as an arts, culture and community education centre. Just watch out for the snakes in the summer months.

Melbourne - Tractor Rides Collingwood

Federation Square www.fedsquare.com.au & ArtPlay www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/artplay

The square at the heart of the city, though not necessarily Melburnians, plays host to numerous cultural events, exhibitions and performances throughout the year. Home to ACMI, the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia and numerous bars, cafes and restaurants. There is always something on at Fed Square. Kids enjoy running around the open space of the square and its stage and can watch themselves on the giant screen when nothing else is showing. It sits just above the Yarra river and is an easy, riverside stroll along Princes Walk down to the playground at Birrarung Marr (see Playgrounds Parks & Gardens below) and the fabulous ArtPlay – a centre providing an arts based program of activities for children from babies to 12 year olds.
Melbourne - Birrarung Marr

Luna Park www.lunapark.com.au

This old fashioned amusement park, located by St Kilda beach, has been entertaining children and families for over 100 years. It boasts the world’s oldest continually operating wooden roller coaster, running around the perimeter of the park, it provides fabulous views of Port Phillip Bay. Luna Park also has a gorgeous carousel and more modern rides suitable for kids of all ages… and heights. Pop corn and candy/fairy floss complete the fun fair experience that is sure to delight the kids though possibly not the parents.

Melbourne Cricket Ground (The MCG) www.mcg.org.au

Not just for sports fans, the iconic, world famous ’G is a Melbourne must. You can take a tour and visit the National Sports Museum but for a proper experience checkout an Aussie rules footie match in winter or a game of cricket in the summer – the Boxing Day test being the most famous. Most events have a family friendly, alcohol free zone and are free for under 6s. The stadium has three parent rooms (with baby change facilities, microwaves and family toilets – behind M11 Great Southern Stand, M28 Ponsford Stand and M57 Olympic Stand) and several toilets with just baby change facilities. Strollers are permitted in the stadium but must be folded and stored under seat or can be placed in any unused disabled seat zones.

Melbourne Zoo http://www.zoo.org.au

Kids love zoos and this is a great zoo. In addition to the various animal enclosures, of which the Elephant Trail and Lion Gorge are particular highlights, Keeper Kids is a terrific indoor, interactive play space where children can role play as veterinarians, researchers and horticulturists. Growing Wild is an exciting outdoor space where kids (3 to 8 years) can get close to nature scrambling, crawling and climbing amongst the meerkats, giant tortoises and brush turkeys zones. The zoo also offers up close experiences with various animals. If the kids get tired of seeing more animals there is a nice playground and beautiful, old-fashioned carousel in the zoo to keep them entertained.

Playgrounds, Parks & Gardens www.melbourneplaygrounds.com.au

www.playgroundfinder.com

When it comes to amazing outdoor, adventurous, play spaces mini Melbournians are spoilt for choice. I am highlighting a few centrally located favourites. All have toilet facilities and cafes nearby. The websites listed can help you find a great park or playground near you.

In and around the CBD

  • ArtPlay playground, Birrarung Marr
  • Carlton Gardens, behind Melbourne Museum
  • Fitzroy Gardens also home to Captain Cook’s cottage (brought over from Yorkshire, England and reassembled here brick by brick).
  • Flagstaff Gardens playground across the road from Queen Victoria Market
  • Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden is a fabulous interactive space located in the stunning Royal Botanic Gardens rbg.vic.gov.au. The RBG also hosts terrific outdoor theatre events for kids in the summer months see www.shakespeareaustralia.com.au for more details.
    Melbourne - Royal Botanical Gardens

South of the CBD

– The Fort playground, Aughtie Drive, Albert Park lake

– Plum Garland Memorial beachside playground, Albert Park

– Catani Gardens in St Kilda West has a playground better suited to over 5s and pony rides at the weekend
Melbourne - Catani Gardens St Kilda

– St Kilda Adventure Playground

North of the CBD

  • CERES Community Environment Park, located along Merri Creek in Brunswick East, includes an animal park, organic food and handicrafts market, bicycle repair and recycle workshop, permaculture nursery and a great adventure playground ceres.org.au

East of the CBD

  • Hays Paddock in Kew East despite stiff competition is renowned as one of Melbourne’s best playgrounds
  • Yarra Bend and Studley Park in Kew cover 642 acres of bush land with the Yarra river running through. They have some great walking and cycling trails and plenty of scenic picnic spots. Row boats, canoes and kayaks can be hired from the historic Studley Park Boathouse which also has a cafe and picnic area attached.

Melbourne - Studley Park Boathouse

www.parkweb.vic.gov.au

Southbank

Melbourne - The Southbank

 

From South Wharf Promenade, home to the Polly Woodside tall ship www.pollywoodside.com.au, along Yarra Promenade and Southbank Promenade to Princes Bridge (or vice versa) there are only two roads to cross. The remainder is a scenic riverside walkway (please note that along many parts of the promenades there are no riverside barriers) with terrific views of Docklands and the CBD. Perfect for strollers and scooters. There are also plenty of street entertainers and indoor/outdoor cafes and restaurants if you need a break.

Melbourne - Transport heaven on Southbank

The area outside Crown Casino is known in our house as Transport Heaven and once we’re there it’s very difficult to get the kids to leave. Directly in front kids can spot helicopters landing and taking off from the heliport in Batman Park on the north side of the river, just beyond Batman Park Melbourne’s blue metro trains run across the railway bridge, various boats and ferries sail along the river, look right and there are trams, buses, cars and the occasional fire engine crossing the bridge, look left for more cars, buses and trucks crossing the King’s bridge.

Yarra River Boat Trips

One of the best ways to see the city is from the water. There is a range of companies offering a variety of trips and cruises along the splendid Yarra river. Head west towards Williamstown passing through Docklands to see where the Yarra river meets Port Phillip Bay or east through Melbourne’s beautiful gardens and parklands. City centre departure points are located on both sides of the river, below are some options depending on where you want to leave from and go to.

www.melbcruises.com.au Berth 5 Lower Promenade or Federation Wharf below Fed Square

www.cityrivercruises.com.au Berth 4 Princes Walk under Princes Bridge below Fed Square

www.bayandrivercruises.com.au South Wharf ferry terminal, 9 South Wharf Road

www.williamstownferries.com.au Berth 1 Southgate Centre, Southbank Promenade

 

SPECIAL EVENTS

Australian Open www.ausopen.com

The sporting year begins in January with the Australian Open at Melbourne Park located on a beautiful spot on the Yarra river next to the city centre. The Saturday before the official Open start is Kids Tennis Day. There’s a whole host of family friendly activities and entertainment, plenty of opportunities for kids to hit a ball and see the players. Ticketed entrance is free for kids but accompanying adults must pay. During the Open, mid-week family ground passes, providing access to the outer courts and entertainment, can be great value and it’s a lot less busy than the weekend. Under 2s have free entry. Discounted children’s tickets are available for seats in the Rod Laver and Margaret Court arenas. Melbourne Park is fairly stroller friendly but strollers are not permitted in the seating areas.

ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 www.icc-cricket.com

Melbourne is one of the host cities for the world cup being held in Australia and New Zealand between 14 February and 29 March 2015. All Melbourne matches, including the final, will be held at the MCG. For more details on attending matches at the MCG with children see Playing Outdoors – Melbourne Cricket Ground above.

Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix www.grandprix.com.au

In mid March every year Albert Park lake (see Playing Outdoors – Parks, Playgrounds & Gardens above) plays host to the Australian Grand Prix. The Thursday before the official start is Family Day. It’s free for everyone and there’s plenty of entertainment for the whole family including a dedicated kids area located in the general admission zone. For the three days of the Grand Prix kids under 12 (accompanied by a paying, ticketed adult) can access the general admission areas free of charge (please note under 12s free tickets are only available at the gate). Crossing the race track or lake with a stroller can be tricky, though not impossible, so choose your entrance and exit gates carefully or you’ll be in for a lengthy walk. Just make sure you take headphones/ear plugs for the little ones!

Melbourne Cup Carnival www.melbournecup.com

The Melbourne Cup, AKA “the race that stops the nation”, is the highlight of the horse racing carnival that runs during the first week of November but Stakes Day on the final Saturday is traditionally family day. Held at Flemington race course just north of the city centre and easily accessible by train kids go free in general admission on Stakes Day. With entertainment and activities for the whole family it’s a great way to kick start your child’s gambling habit…. or interest in horse racing…. at the very least it’s a fun family day out.

Festivals www.melbournefestivals.com.au

There is never not a festival on in or around Melbourne. Whether your family’s particular interest lies in music, art, food, culture or sport Melbourne will hold a festival to celebrate it – see the link to find a family friendly festival that interests you.

Traditional, family favourites for Melburnians are the Moomba Festival and the Royal Melbourne Show.

 

PRACTICALITIES

Melbourne is very child and stroller friendly. All of the places mentioned, unless otherwise stated, are easily accessible with a stroller. All of the indoor places and some of the outdoor ones mentioned have parent rooms, baby change facilities and/or toilets that are easily accessible with children and strollers.

Eating www.urbanspoon.com /Melbourne/Kid Friendly

Melbourne is famous for its coffee and for being the foodie capital of Australia as a result bad or even just average cafés and restaurants tend not to last long and most places welcome kids. All of the indoor and most of the outdoor places mentioned have good, child friendly cafes. Some beach, park and playground side favourites are listed below but see the link to find places and reviews for your particular location or cuisine of interest.

Beachside cafe favourites include:

– Sandbar Beach Café in Middle Park www.sandbarbeachcafe.com.au

– West Beach Bathers Pavillion in St Kilda West www.westbeachstkilda.com.au

– Rickett’s Point Beachside Café in Beaumaris www.rickettspointcafe.com.au

Park/playground café favourites include:

– Jardin Tan in the Royal Botanical Gardens (near the Ian Potter Foundation Children’s Garden) www.jardintan.com.au

– Mart 130 located at the Middle Park station tram stop number 130 (tram route 96) and overlooking Albert park’s fort playground www.mart130cafe.com.au

– Pony Café in Birrarung Marr by the ArtPlay building www.ponycafe.com.au

Many of the parks have free, electric bbqs often located near a playground – make like the locals and grab some sausages, bread and tomato sauce from a supermarket to become your own family, hotdog vendor (grab bbq wipes too to clean before and after use).

 

Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market www.qvm.com.au and South Melbourne Market www.southmelbournemarket.com.au are both great places to explore and eat with kids.

Sleeping

Like any major, international city, Melbourne has a vast array of accommodation to suit all budgets. Below are some ideas on good central locations and places to stay with kids.

The Southbank (see Playing Outdoors – Southbank above) is a fantastic location on the Yarra river and within walking distance of the city centre. For five star luxury and easy onsite access to cafes, bars, restaurants, family entertainment (cinema, bowling alley, swimming pools) and a terrific location on the Southbank the Crown Casino complex has several hotel options www.crownmelbourne.com.au. It does also have several casinos and gaming rooms for over 18s.

Fitzroy and Carlton are both very close to the CBD and have plenty great of parks and playgrounds. They are also home to some of Melbourne’s best bars and restaurants

If you want to be close to the beach but still have easy access to the city consider Port Melbourne, Albert Park, Middle Park and St Kilda. All are on stroller friendly tram lines (see Getting Around below). St Kilda is a busier, noisier location than the others but has many great bars and restaurants to keep the grown ups entertained too. Kids and adults can enjoy viewing the colony of Little penguins that congregate at the end of St Kilda pier every evening around sunset www.stkildapenguins.com.au.

 

Serviced apartments can work really well when travelling with kids below are some options to consider:

Adina Apartments have several options in and around the CBD and St Kilda www.tfehotels.com

Gem Apartments specialise in luxury accommodation in great Southbank locations www.gemapartments.com.au

Quest Apartments have a wide range in the CBD, Melbourne suburbs and regional Victoria www.questapartments.com.au

 

For the more budget options some of the hostels have family rooms with access to communal kitchens:

Habitat HQ is a family friendly hostel in St Kilda www.habitathq.com.au

Urban Central hostel is in Southbank www.urbancentral.com.au

The YHA has two hostels located n North Melbourne and the CBD www.yha.com.au

 

For private accommodation options with all the comforts of home anywhere in and around Melbourne:

Airbnb www.airbnb.com.au

Stayz specializes in holiday homes rental www.stayz.com.au

 

Getting around

The CBD and surrounding city are very walkable with a stroller but Melbourne also has a very good public transport network consisting of trams, trains and buses. The myki card is your ticket for use on all three forms of transport. The Visitor Value Pack is available for international and interstate visitors and provides discounts on various Melbourne attractions too.

Melbourne Tram

The new, low floor trams are stroller friendly running mainly on routes 96 and 109 with some also on routes 5, 6, 8, 16, 48 and 72. The City Circle tram (route 16) is free and makes a loop around the CBD with a slight detour to Dockland’s Harbour Town (alight here for child friendly entertainment in the form of softplay at Monkey Mania, ice skating at the Medibank Icehouse and the Melbourne Star).

All trains and train stations are stroller accessible. Most buses are also accessible. For more details on trains and buses see the links below.

www.ptv.vic.gov.au

www.yarratrams.com.au

www.metrotrains.com.au

 

MORE INFORMATION

Federation Square Visitor Information Centre and booking office

http://www.kidspot.com.au

http://www.littlemelbourne.com.au

www.thatsmelbourne.com.au

http://www.weekendnotes.com/melbourne

3 comments

  1. Cathy Winston

    What a great guide – would love to do a big Australia trip with my daughter some day, especially Melbourne, so will be hanging onto this.

    1. Nicola

      Melbourne’s great – especially for food & drink!

  2. Nicole

    I am just planning our trip to Australia in March/April and this guide is just wonderful. I cannot wait to try all the places with the kids. Thank you very much.

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