City Sights, Cafes & Kids: A Family Holiday in Melbourne

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Visit Melbourne with your family for a fun-filled city break. Whether it’s the riding a tram, visiting the Zoo or aquarium or wandering down laneways, there’s plenty to do with kids.

A Family Holiday in Melbourne

Melbourne is a city known for its arts, culture, shopping, dining and of course sports. It’s one of my favourite cities in Australia but even I wasn’t sure about how suitable it was for kids. However, after our recent trip with a kid in tow, I can recommend this as a destination that the whole family will enjoy. Melbourne is brimming with loads of family-friendly attractions and activities. And being just under 90 minutes away by plane from Newcastle, it’s an easy destination to reach.

From the airport to the CBD, you can’t miss the Melbourne Star observation wheel located in the Docklands area. At night, it is lit up with thousands of LED lights. Upon spotting it, my daughter announces that’s where she wants to visit first. It’s a good choice as it’s a fantastic way to get an aerial view of Melbourne. Up close, the cabins are a surprise. They’re bigger than I expect and can fit up to 20 passengers. Plus, they are air-conditioned so cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The other thing that surprises me is the quietness of the operation. The Star glides through the air reaching a height of 120 metres – the equivalent of a 40 storey building. One revolution of the wheel takes approximately 30 minutes and because it gradually ascends and I’m busy looking at things, I don’t notice that we’ve reached the top.

From here, I can see all of Melbourne’s landmarks and the surrounding areas. With the map provided and the compass on the ceiling of cabin, it’s easy to identify places of interest. Besides me, my kid points out interesting things she can spot such as colourful cargo containers at the Port of Melbourne, the Spirit of Tasmania ferry as well as cars and trains that look like miniatures from the air.

If you get can’t enough of a panoramic views, visit the Eureka SkyDeck. This is a completely different experience than The Star but one worth doing as well. Instead of a slow ascent, it takes just 38 seconds to travel from the ground floor to the 88th floor to the highest observation deck in the Southern Hemisphere. Once at the top, we enjoy panoramic views of Melbourne against a backdrop of Melbourne sounds. There’s a specially composed soundscape featuring the sounds of Melbourne such as the sounds of the Grand Prix and Queen Victoria Market.

For a closer look at the sights while we wait for our turn at “The Edge”, we use the free viewfinders available at adult and kid heights to check out Melbourne landmarks. Soon our buzzer sounds and it’s time to experience “The Edge”, a glass cube which projects 3 metres out from the building. It’s surreal to be 300 metres above the ground and able to see the street far below through the thick glass. We don’t find it that scary but the woman next to me shudders slightly and moves closer to the door after reluctantly posing for photos.

From the heights of Melbourne, we venture underwater as our next stop is Melbourne Aquarium. With Melbourne’s changeable weather, it’s always good to have an indoor option and the SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium is the perfect place to visit if it’s cold, raining or too hot. The aquarium comprises of 12 different zones and takes about an hour or two to complete. There’s plenty to see and it’s very kid-friendly. Make sure kids pick up the Dive Log Book which has questions for kids to answer as well as a allotted spaces to stamp at different stations throughout the aquarium.

Kids will love the specially designed observation bubbles which give them an underwater view of sea life. There’s so much to see at the Aquarium but our favourites include Pinjarra the giant croc and the penguins. Now theoretically, I know that salt water crocs are big but until I meet Pinjarra, I realise I have no idea how massive they are. At 750 kilograms and 5 metres long, Pinjarra is a fearsome sight especially when he glides up to the glass and gives me a wide toothy grin that roughly translates into “hello yummy food”.

I move away from the glass and head instead to the penguin feeding talks. This is a much more enjoyable experience watching penguins frolic and eat. There’s a variety of penguins to watch from King penguins to Gentoo penguins. We laugh as they shuffle along on land and marvel when they dive into the water to perform their version of aqua aerobics.

Still continuing with the creature theme, we venture to Melbourne Zoo the next day. Easily accessible via train or tram, the zoo is a must-see. It’s easy to spend half a day here just wandering around seeing all of the animals such as giraffes, tigers, zebras, lions as well as smaller creatures like meerkats, lemurs and reptiles.

We make our way to the elephant and this is where the fun begins in an exhibit set up to resemble a Thai village. We can get up close to the elephants and their antics. A loud banging noise ensues and we realise that one of the elephants is thumping on the door with a large stick curled in his trunk. It’s lunch time and he’s impatient.

Further along is the orangutan enclosure. A curious orangutan mum and her baby come up close to the glass to stare at us. They are clearly as interested in us as we are in them. Mummy orangutan looks from my child to hers comparing the two little ones and then nods at me in a sign of mummy solidarity. I take that to mean that she approves of my little ape! Nearby is the butterfly enclosure. It’s a glorious heated place full of colourful butterflies of differering sizes which flit around and sometimes land.

Although Melbourne Zoo doesn’t appear to be that large, there is a lot of walking involved due to the design of the zoo. Most exhibits lead off from the main centre in a spoke design so wear comfortable shoes and have lots of breaks.

After visiting most of the animal enclosures, we decide to take a break and visit Keeper Kids. This is a wonderful indoor centre especially designed for 3 to 8 year olds and their families to demonstrate the different roles in the zoo. There’s a range of dressups and accessories for kids to use their imagination and role play. My child is in her element as she tries on different clothes and pretends to be a veterinarian, researcher, works person and zookeeper. Her favourite though is the veterinary corner and she spends a while patching up various stuffed animals.

After a play here, it’s back outside to Growing Wild, another special area just for kids. Here kids can imitate different creatures and climb, crawl, clamber, dig, explore, run and roll in an outside space. There’s tunnels, sculptures and paths to explore as well as meerkats, turkeys and giant tortoises to observe.

The next day, the sun shines and we join Melbournites down by the murky brown Yarra River. It’s a beautiful spring day so we stroll along Southbank enjoying the buskers entertaining the crowds. Our destination is Birramung Marr situated behind Federation Square. Birramung Marr is a large playground featuring tube slides, sand pits, swings, swinging hammocks and balance beams. It’s the perfect outdoor space for kids with plenty of grass, trees and rocks to run around.

Our child soon makes friends and is off clambering on rocks and running up and rolling down the nearby hill. We take advantage of our child-free state to catch up on the weekend papers, people watch and just chat. When hunger strikes, we grab some milkshakes and snacks from Pony Cafe situated next to the park. This family-friendly cafe is so sweet with little tables and chairs for kids as well as a range of yummy gluten-free, free-range and vegan options.

In the afternoon, it’s off to Melbourne Museum. In terms of museums, Melbourne Museum is one of the best we’ve experienced with lots of things to keep both parents and kids interested. It’s educational but yet so much fun. My child is enthralled by the exhibits running from one to another to play with the interactive features. Numerous exhibits keep her fascinated including the Dinosaur Walk, stuffed animals, Bugs Alive (very creepy) and Phar Lap which includes a life-sized replica of this champion racehorse as well as old footage of  Phar Lap’s victory races. I’m captivated by the Mind and Body Gallery where I learn all about the human mind and body.

However, the standout attraction is the Children’s Gallery. Designed for kids aged 3 to 8, this is a place where kids can play and learn. This brightly coloured gallery shows children how plants, animals, minerals and animals grow using a range of interactive exhibits.

The gallery also includes a large shaded outdoor courtyard with lots of toys such as hula hoops, skipping ropes and blocks. It’s a lovely spot to have a break and have some snacks.

Just inside from the garden is another spot for families. There’s areas set up for colouring, reading, sideshow mirrors and large blocks to recreate scenes from Rome and Mesopotamia. If you still need more things for kids to do, there’s also a playground on the other side of the Museum cafe. We spent almost 4 hours at the museum and could have easily stayed for longer.

Ditto for our stay in Melbourne. Even though we were in Melbourne for five days, we could have easily stayed longer.

Useful Information

SkyBus from airport is a convenient and easy way to get from Melbourne (Tullamarine) Airport to the CBD taking only 30 minutes. (Our driver did it in 20 minutes during the day). The service runs 24/7 with day departures every 10 minutes. The stop is just outside the domestic terminal and you can purchase tickets from the stand near the stop. Tip: return ticket provides better value than purchasing one way tickets and there are also family tickets available.

To get around Melbourne, either walk or use public transit as most attractions are easily reached within the CBD. There’s the free city centre tram #35 which travels the perimeter of the CBD. Keep in mind, this free tram can get very crowded and if you’re travelling with a pram or stroller, you will need to lift it onto the tram.

I recommend buying the Myki Visitor Pack available at the Melbourne Visitor Information Centre in Federation Square or at SkyBus terminals at the airport. Myki is the name of the integrated ticketing system which you can use on trams, trains and buses in Melbourne. The visitor pass costs $14 but includes a Myki card with $8 value. It also includes a coupon book with discounts to Melbourne’s major attractions such as the Aquarium, Melbourne Star, SkyDeck and Melbourne Museum. We took a number of trams and trains and found Myki and the transport system really easy to use. Locals and rail officers are helpful to assist if you’re not sure what stop to get off at. To top up the card, visit a 7-11 in the CBD or Myki machine in a train station to recharge immediately. Recharging online takes 48 hours to load for some inexplicable reason.

To take advantage of all that Melbourne has to offer, I recommend staying in the CBD. We opt for the Novotel Melbourne on Collins to check out its family-friendly credentials. It doesn’t disappoint and in fact, we find it hard to leave at the end of our stay. Although there are lots of businesspeople staying in the hotel, the staff are warm and welcoming to families and my daughter is constantly fussed over during our stay.

Novotel offers great value to families with its Family&Novotel promise which includes a range of family-friendly benefits such as two kids up to age 16 staying free when sharing their parents’ or grandparents’ room and receiving a free breakfast. (If you need more space or privacy, a second room can be booked at 50% off the best unrestricted rate). For a weekend stay, you can request a 5pm late check out on Sundays to make the most of your hotel stay.

Upon check-in, my daughter is pleased when she receives a welcome gift and I’m pleased when I see our family suite. It’s large and spacious and features an additional room with two single beds and a TV. This is a godsend as we can put our child to bed and enjoy some time to ourselves. Also, the quietness of this hotel encourages her to sleep in, another bonus!

When we finally do wake, it’s down to the buffet breakfast we go. The buffet is vast with everything you could possibly want. There’s the usual range of breakfast items such as bacon, eggs and sausages to a range of continental delights such as barista coffee, cereals, fruit, cold meats, cheeses as well as an assortment of breads and pastries. My favourite is the made to order eggs and I enjoy some tasty omelettes during our stay. My kid is equally enamoured with the pancake machine and cranks out large stacks to devour.

The popularity of Novotel among families is evident by the number of babies and kids at breakfast especially during the weekend. Also on weekends, a kids play area with colouring pages and pencils is set up to keep kids occupied. I’m advised that during school holidays, there is a dedicated play area for kids as well as themed food at the breakfast buffet. It’s reassuring to see so many other families staying at the Novotel and it’s not long until we make friends with other families at breakfast. One mum encourages us to try out the heated pool and spa within the hotel mentioning that it’s so relaxing after a day out in Melbourne.

She’s absolutely right and it’s perfect after days out as we find ourselves doing lots of walking. The location of this hotel is second-to-none. Located on the Paris end of Collins Street, this hotel is in the middle of boutiques and close to fashionable laneways so perfect for mums who like to shop. It’s also round the corner from the Bourke Street Mall which has a Food Mart, chemists, shops and department stores. Very handy, if you forget anything or need some snacks during the day.

Best of all, it’s so convenient for exploring Melbourne being close to tram stops and Flinders Street Station. We find ourselves visiting attractions in the morning then returning to the hotel for an afternoon rest before heading out again for more sightseeing and for an evening meal.

When it comes to food, Melbourne is a culinary delight. There’s a smorgasboard of places to eat and we try our hardest to eat our way around the world. During our stay in Melbourne, we sample dumplings in Chinatown, chow down on mezze in the Greek precinct, consume Spanish tapas in laneways and enjoy Mexican food on offer at the Mexican festival in Federation Square. We also order hamburgers from the popular Mr Burger food truck after noticing long lines of locals queuing for food. No matter what your budget or your culinary preferences, there’s bound to be something your family enjoys. We find that most cafes and restaurants are welcoming of babies and children especially if you get there before the busy dinner period.

After dinner is sorted, don’t forget Melbourne’s nightlife. Hubby and I tag team so that we can go out on alternate nights to catch up with friends. For my night, I dress up and join my Melbourne friends for dinner and drinks in atmospheric laneways. Sipping elaborate cocktails and surrounded by gritty street art and stylish Melbournites, I feel like one hip mama.

Oh Melbourne, I’ll be back soon. This time for a girls weekend away!

Thanks to Tourism Victoria and Accor Hotels for their assistance in organising this trip.

Want information on other destinations to visit with your family? Visit Manly or Taronga Zoo in Sydney or head north to Newcastle, the Hunter Valley and Byron Bay.

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