Central to this captivating city is the sophisticated Southbank, Melbourne; an area overlooked by sky-high skyscrapers. The Southbank skirts the Yarra River, roughly lying between the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre to the west and the glorious Alexandra Gardens to the east.
This waterfront district was an industrial neighborhood until the 1990s, when hotels, a casino, and big-name chefs with glitzy restaurants began to open. Southbank also boasts the Melbourne Arts Precinct, a thriving hub of mind-blowing museums, galleries, and theaters in thought-provoking buildings.
From ticking off the many museums to dining on exquisite menus, discover the best things to see and do in Southbank, Melbourne.
Take in the Views From Melbourne Skydeck
As the Southern Hemisphere’s highest observation deck, Melbourne Skydeck on Riverside Quay soars above the city at close to 1,000 feet tall.
Within the Eureka Tower skyscraper, Melbourne Skydeck—formerly known as Eureka Skydeck— is one of the top attractions on the Southbank and one of the best places to visit in Melbourne.
Take the elevator to floor 88 to witness far-reaching views across Melbourne, the Dandenong Ranges, and Port Phillip Bay.
Gaze at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria to the southeast, St. Kilda Beach to the south, and Australia 108, the tallest building in the country by roof height and the second tallest by full height.
Thrill-seeking visitors could try the virtual reality plank experience, which involves strapping on a headset to wobble on a narrow plank, 985 feet above the Southbank.
Once you’ve soaked up the magnificent views, make your way to Bar 88 or Eureka 89, a bar and restaurant on the 88th and 89th floors respectively, to enjoy sparkling wine produced in Melbourne’s Yarra Valley.
Visit the National Gallery of Victoria
The extraordinary National Gallery of Victoria, known locally as the NGV, was established in 1861 and is the oldest museum gallery in Australia.
The NGV has two sites; NGV International on St. Kilda Road on the Southbank, and nearby at the Ian Potter Centre, Federation Square.
The NGV International was designed by Sir Roy Grounds, opened in 1968, and given a large-scale makeover by Mario Bellini in 2003. It’s here where the world’s big-hitting exhibitions—such as Van Gough and Keith Haring shows—descend when they tour Australia.
Travelers visiting the Southbank could view the gallery’s vast European, Asian, Oceanic, and American collections.
Dedicated art lovers could easily spend a full day here, taking in the gallery’s famous water wall at the entrance, the rear sculpture garden, and the breathtaking stained-glass ceiling in The Great Hall. Designed by Leonard French, it’s the largest of its kind in the world.
Enjoy a Boat Ride on the Yarra River
Sail on the sun-dappled lower reaches of the Yarra River, the waterway that slices through the city’s Central Business District.
Beginning in the Yarra Ranges, 150 miles east of Melbourne, the river meanders through the Yarra Valley and into Melbourne before emptying into Port Phillip Bay.
Join a bucolic river cruise from the Southbank. Scenic boat journeys typically last up to two hours and offer the chance to sail by many of Melbourne’s iconic landmarks, including the Southbank Promenade.
Sail west from Princes Bridge. You’ll pass Crown Casino, the largest Casino in Australia, Melbourne Aquarium, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, and the Maritime Museum.
Walk or Cycle the Southbank Promenade
Melbourne’s attractive Southbank Promenade is home to a string of cafés, restaurants, bars, and the city’s most glamorous hotel and entertainment complex, Crown Towers.
Trace the Yarra River from east to west, or vice versa. Look out for eye-catching public sculptures, with art displays regularly adorning this riverside spot.
You could also rent a bicycle or join a guided tour. You’ll follow the city’s paths and parks from the Yarra River towards Alexandra Gardens’ boathouses, used by the city’s rowing community.
If you really want to flex your cycling ability, start in the Southbank and follow the Yarra River Trail upstream to the serene Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria or, further, Abbotsford Convent.
Look across the river to see the vibrant angel sculpture in Birrarung Marr park, facing Alexandra Gardens. Created in 1988 by artist Deborah Halpern, the towering sculpture is covered in bright, hand-painted ceramic tiles.
Take a break at a café or restaurant on the route. Kanteen, two and a half miles upriver, is a tranquil café facing Herring Island.
Discover the Melbourne Recital Centre
Located within Melbourne Arts Precinct, the Melbourne Recital Centre is a show-stopping building designed by architects Ashton Raggatt McDougall and making its debut in 2009.
There are two theaters within the center—the 1,000-seat Elisabeth Murdoch Hall and the more intimate 150-seat Primrose Potter Salon—that host classical, opera, rock, folk, jazz, contemporary, and cabaret performances.
The spectacular Elisabeth Murdoch Hall is designed using plywood panels made from Australian hoop pine, fashioned to resemble the back of an instrument and provide greater acoustics.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra, Australian National Academy of Music, Australian String Quartet, Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra regularly appear on the Melbourne Recital Centre’s program.
Check out the timings of the music sessions in the Salon, where visitors can watch open rehearsals of Melbourne’s chamber musicians. There’s also a daytime Mini Music Lovers program for families.
Experience the Immersive LUME Melbourne
Opened in 2021 on the Southbank, The LUME is a futuristic digital space where art is beamed onto the gallery’s wall.
The LUME occupies a staggering 32,000-square-foot space over four stories within the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Visit The LUME to experience its playful multi-sensory exhibitions, with the state-of-the-art space incorporating visuals, sounds, tastes, and aromas. The gallery’s captivating program features emerging Australian artists and international big-hitters such as French Impressionist artist Monet.
Stop by The LUME’s evocative café, where the menu is themed around the exhibition. While Monet’s tribute to France’s floral landscape is broadcast onto the gallery walls, a series of French dishes are served, including terrine de poulet (chicken terrine) and asperges truffées (truffled asparagus).
Marvel at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)
This free Southbank gallery is the Melbourne Arts Precinct’s magnum opus of contemporary art. Designed by Wood Marsh Architecture, the rust-steel monolithic building houses four galleries
Explore the Australian Centre For Contemporary Art’s exhibitions and program of events, which champion Australian and international contemporary artists.
Alongside thought-provoking art by artists including Paul Yore, Jeremy Deller, Frances Barrett, Patricia Piccinini, and Pat Brassington, the Australian Centre For Contemporary Art hosts talks, lectures, symposia, performances, screenings, and music events.
Explore the Malthouse Theatre
Southbank’s Malthouse Theatre is set in a red-brick former brewery, delivering a year-round program of live music, dance, comedy, talks, and drama.
There’s also an outdoor stage offering summer performances in the Ngargee Courtyard, between the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art and the Malthouse Theatre.
If you’re not able to catch a show (most take place in the evening, bar the odd matinée), enjoy the Malt Kitchen & Pantry.
This fantastic space flows into the Ngargee Courtyard, where hungry visitors can enjoy alfresco food and drinks. The café’s menu offers coffee, breakfast, lunch, and cakes. Try the Lamington, an Australian sponge cake doused in coconut flakes.
Gaze at The Travellers Public Art on Sandridge Bridge
Wander across the 1888-built Sandridge Bridge and you will notice the curious public art, called The Travellers, lining the west side of the pedestrian crossing.
A collection of steel sculptures by artist Nadim Karam, The Travellers is an ode to the city’s arriving migrants and their contribution to Victoria.
Wander slowly over the river to take in the 10 sculptures that were commissioned by the City of Melbourne and the Victorian government in 2005.
The location of The Travellers is significant as the site of a former Aboriginal meeting place and near the landing point where many of Melbourne’s early migrants arrived in Australia.
Each of the abstract sculptures represents a different period, among them Gayip (the Aboriginal period), First Settler (the convict period); Melbourne Beauty (the gold rush period); Running Couple (refugees); Butterfly Girl (Asian and Middle Eastern migration); and Walking Sun (multiculturalism).
Sip Cocktails on Ponyfish Island
Dazzling cocktails are served on Ponyfish Island, a floating Southbank bar on the Yarra River.
Ponyfish Island takes its name from Melbourne’s answer to the Loch Ness monster, a mysterious creature that is said to live in the Yarra River. This top-tier people-watching spot allows patrons to gaze at the tree-lined Southbank Promenade.
You could imbibe on drinks such as the Mezcal-based Smoky Quartz and vodka-laced Kakadu Plum Fuzz. Soak up the cocktails with Ponyfish’s carb-filled pizzas, cheese boards, and dips.
Access to Ponyfish is via steps leading down from Evan Walker Bridge, named in honor of the professor, politician, and architect for his role in revitalizing the Southbank.
Tour the Arts Centre Melbourne
The Arts Centre Melbourne, dominated by its iconic spire, is Australia’s largest performing arts venue in the city’s famous cultural precinct. Since the Arts Centre Melbourne is home to several venues, you’ll want to plan your visit to make the most of your time here.
Among the venues located beneath the standout spire structure are the State Theatre and Fairfax Studio, while the circular Hamer Hall lies on the opposite side of the lawn, closest to the river.
The Art Centre’s thrilling program has something for every type of culture-thirsty traveler. Choose from dance, cinema, comedy, art, music, theater, opera, and circus productions.
View the venue’s superlative art collection. Works by Australian artists Arthur Boyd, Roger Kemp, Donald Laycock, Sidney Nolan, John Olsen, and Jeffrey Smart are displayed alongside a collection of early Western Desert paintings and tapestries.
Explore the Australian Music Vault’s exhibition, too, which celebrates some of the country’s biggest moments in music.
You could also join one of the daily guided tours or take yourself on a self-guided tour. Check out the 2,000-seat State Theatre; its mega stage is one of the world’s largest, with Opera Australia and The Australian Ballet performing here.
Lift your head up to see the 75,000 tiny brass cups, cleverly hiding fire sprinklers, adorning the ceiling. The lavish stage curtain, designed by Graham Bennett, is emblazoned with hand-painted Victorian wildflowers, the state’s Coat of Arms, and a lyrebird’s tail.
Shop at Crown Towers Melbourne
The city’s characterful neighborhoods that Australia is famous for offer some of the best shopping in the country.
On the Southbank, the theme veers towards glitzy designer brands. Crown Towers, a luxury hotel, spa, and entertainment complex, offers an all-under-one-roof mezzanine-level mall where you can browse collections by Louis Vuitton, Prada, Bvlgari, and Salvatore Ferragamo.
Fidels The Cellar is the place to go for collectible and rare wines and Champagnes, whiskies, and Cognacs. Monards sells fine jewelry and watches, while Peter Alexander is the place to pick up chic sleepwear.
Make a reservation at Crown Towers’ 28 Skybar Lounge for well-earned post-shopping cocktails. This decadent spot offers jaw-dropping views of Melbourne and a delicious drinks menu.
Dine on Sublime International Cuisine
Travelers to Melbourne usually find there are too many restaurants and not enough time. From high-brow restaurants serving plates of succulent oysters to sublime Italian delis, Southbank has a wide variety of gastronomy options.
For a hit of umami head to the glamorous Saké Restaurant & Bar or the more laid-back Infinite Wasabi, serving outstanding Japanese dishes.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more elegant spot than the Garden Restaurant at the National Gallery of Victoria. This tranquil restaurant overlooks Grollo Equiset Garden and serves a seasonal menu.
For exquisite seafood, Ministry of Crab and The Atlantic at Crown Towers can’t be beaten. There’s also Malayan Mamma for Malaysian dishes, The Bond Store for an indulgent Aussie brunch, and Vegie Kitchen vegetarian and vegan Chinese cuisine.
Southbank, Melbourne is a veritable treasure trove of art, culture, and gastronomy. Experience this fantastic neighborhood and more on Celebrity’s cruises to Melbourne.