Stopping by Melbourne CBD for a few days, don’t have a car. and are wondering what to do with the kids? This is a few of our favourite places to go to in the city by foot or public transport:
The Melbourne Museum (11 Nicholson St, Carlton) opened its new children’s section in December 2016 and it is brilliant. The Pauline Gandel Children’s Gallery is designed for babies and kids up to 5 years old. There is now lots of tactile elements- things to touch, climb on, crawl on etc. There is also a nice sandpit outside with hidden fossil bones to uncover.
The times that my kids have been there, it’s been a bit crazy with the crowd (and school groups!) but they have really enjoyed it. Just be warned that it gets extra crazy on weekends and rainy days since you will be limited to staying indoors. If you’re just there for the kids’ area, you’ll want to go on a good day where the kids can enjoy the outdoor section too as it’s half the experience. Finding street parking around this area can be difficult and parking at the museum is expensive so I recommend taking public transport to get here (tram 86 or 96).
The National Gallery of Victoria (180 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne) sometimes puts on kid-friendly exhibitions or art installations on the ground level. Last summer they had a giant car wash installation in their courtyard which sprayed fine mist that the kids could run through.
We have been to Sea Life (Melbourne Aquarium) (King St and Flinders St) a few times and my 4-year-old always enjoys it, especially the little 4D show and the penguin exhibit at the end. However, I will say this- it’s expensive and a little on the small side. If you have an annual pass, it makes for good kid entertainment on bad weather days and you don’t have to feel bad about your kids running through everything at top speed (my 4-year-old can get through it all in an hour!). However, if you’re only in Melbourne for a limited period of time and have already been to your fair share of aquariums in other parts of the world…I’ll be frank, it’s no loss if you don’t check it out!
Melbourne Zoo is not technically in the city but it is close enough and very easily accessible by public transport (tram 58 or the Upfield train stopping at Royal Park station). More bang for your buck compared to the aquarium, but for some reason chooses to charge kids over 4 on weekdays whereas they are free on the weekends. There are over 300 species of animals as well as a play space called Keeper Kids for kids. My kids are particularly fond of the seal exhibit. Worth a visit if you’re not visiting any other zoo in Australia.
Just on the edge of the CBD in Docklands is the very modern Library at The Dock (107 Victoria Harbour Promenade, Docklands). It has a big kids’ section with lots of books and three interactive screens. There is also an interactive projection on the floor which is fun for crawlers. When the kids get sick of being indoors, there is also a modern playground right outside at Buluk Park. Bring a towel and a change of clothes if your kids can’t resist water as there is a water feature in the middle. My 18-month-old will get right in there even in the middle of winter!
The State Library of Victoria is in the heart of Melbourne (328 Swanston Street, Melbourne). It looks formidable but yes, anyone can enter it, and yes, it is free. They always have plenty of free activities on for kids. Play Pod is the library’s program for kids under 8 that runs in their indoor courtyard from 10am-4pm. It’s a free play area with books and craft activities etc. They have a different theme each season.
Photo from State Library of Victoria blog
4. Shopping centers
One of my family’s favourite place to go in the city is the Emporium Melbourne shopping mall (287 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne). We love eating at the food court at Level 3 ($2 green tea soft serve cones from Rice Workshop!) and the kids love having a play at Myer right above on Level 4 after. The Myer toy section is designed to be really interactive. There is a giant T-Rex that moves when you walk past, amazing Lego displays (with Duplo blocks for playing), a Disney princess section, and even an area where the kids can colour and watch a kids’ movie. Oh, and of course there are also all the toys on sale that the kids love looking at, pressing, and touching……and begging you to buy as you say “no” repeatedly and try to exit the store with them hanging onto your leg screaming…
Harbour Town in Docklands is another shopping centre that has a lot of free kids activities on, especially during the school holidays. If you have older kids, there is also ArtVo which is an 3D immersive art gallery and ice skating at the O’Brien Group Arena,
4. Parks + playgrounds
In the city above the Flagstaff train station is Flagstaff Gardens (311 William Street, West Melbourne). It has a nice traditional playground with slides, swings, sandpit, seesaw, and climbing ropes.
On the other end of the city, there is Carlton Gardens (1 Carlton Street, Carlton). It is a really beautiful park with the world-heritage-listed Royal Exhibition Building and is also where the Melbourne Museum and IMAX theatre is located. The playground is located at the corner of Rathdowne Street and Carlton Street and features a toddler-friendly section with soft surfaces, a cubby house, and a small slide and seesaw. There is also plenty to do for the big kids- swings, tunnel slides, flying fox, climbing wall etc. Just be warned there is a primary school nearby so school groups do often flock over (and also those who drop by after visiting the museum!).
Birrarung Park next to Federation Square houses the ArtPlay bullding which is open Wed to Sun 10am-4pm and runs workshops and free play sessions for kids. Next to the building is the playground with sandpit, slides, swings and plenty to run and climb on. There are also great hills next to it for the kids to roll down!
A playground we visit very frequently is the one at Ron Barassi Snr park in Docklands. Catch the city circle tram or 86 tram to get there- it’s just a short walk down from the end of the line. There is sand all around the playground (it’s basically one giant sandpit) and water play available. The main attraction though are the two towering tunnel slides. Getting up can be quite the workout if you have younger kids who are too afraid to get up or down on their own.
For the ultimate playground though you hae to visit Royal Park Nature Playground (34 Gatehouse St, Parkville). It is located just next to the Royal Children’s Hospital and yes, it is slightly out of the CBD but totally worth making the trip for (catch the 58 tram there). It and was crowned the nation’s best by landscape architects in 2016. There are slides, swings, sand, water play, and plenty of ropes, rocks, and beams to climb on. Make no mistake- it is HUGE. It is more suited for older kids though and is designed for risk-taking. However, there are still elements that younger kids will enjoy…and there are also fountains to run/crawl through so be sure to bring a change of clothes…or two.
Photo from architectureau
What are your favourite places to visit with kids in Melbourne city?