Let’s start exploring the buildings of Melbourne with a fun fact:
The St James’ Old Cathedral, was completed in 1839, which means that it is currently the oldest building in Melbourne. Now, this is a pretty impressive building for such an early year in Australia’s history. Just to give you some reference, this is what it looks like today:
We’re no experts in the mystical ways of architecture, but for an almost-200-year-old building, we’d say she’s looking good for her age!
To put things in perspective, Victoria alone has over 2400 heritage-listed buildings. What’s a heritage-listed building you ask? For us here in Melbourne it’s when this particular place, object or thing has been recognized as having a major significance to the history of Melbourne and the culture of the people that surround it.
In our opinion anyway, Melbourne is pretty much the cultural capital of Australia and it’s got incredible history, artwork and architecture just oozing out of it’s pores – ready for a traveler like you to come and get it.
We won’t just be covering old buildings though! This city houses some awesome (and sometimes outright strange) modern architecture as well, so let’s see what else we can find out about Melbourne through it’s buildings.
Today, we’re exploring what we a Depot Adventures believe to be the top 10 buildings of Melbourne.
If you learn something new, then come and join us on our secrets of Melbourne tour! We don’t just cover architecture, we also take a look at the key moments of how this city became what it is today and we’ll even grab you a coffee (on us!).
In no particular order:
- Coop’s Shot Tower
- The Shrine of Remembrance
- Hozier Lane
- Old Melbourne Gaol
- Eureka Tower
- Federation Square
- National Gallery of Victoria
- Melbourne Art’s Centre
- The State Library
- The Royal Exhibition Building
1. Coop’s Shot Tower
Sitting right in the middle of Melbourne Central train station (think the equivalent of New York’s central station but in Melbourne.) This 50-meter high tower truly is a sight to behold, especially sitting directly under the 84-meter high glass cone.
Something really fascinating about this building is that it was actually built because of Melbourne’s riches during and after the Gold Rush. With a new influx of immigrants and a boost to the economy (after all the population has increased 10 fold in just 30 years)
Bonus: If you’re not sure what a shot tower is, check out this article.
2. The shrine of remembrance
The Shrine of Remembrance, which was built in the 1920s, is also one of Australia’s more solemn buildings. After all, it’s a war memorial. Locals see it as a place for people to peacefully reflect upon and remember soldiers who died fighting. It was built as an ode to the ANZAC soldiers who fought in World War I. It’s now a symbol for Australians who have served in any war. Seeing this in person is a must-do for anyone visiting Melbourne.
It’s an absolutely massive memorial, in fact, it takes up the space of an entire city block surrounded by beautifully kept grassland and of course, the eternal flame.
It has a number of other attractions including the Hall of Memory, an underground gallery that tells the ANZAC story through dramatic projections and sound effects. Nearby is the Pool of Reflection where you can sit in quiet contemplation.
Bonus: If you get a chance to be in Melbourne at exactly the right time – Once a year on the 11th of November at 11am, there’s a beautiful light display on the inside of the shrine where the sun shines through the roof and lights up the word “love”.
3. Hozier Lane
Ah, Hozier Lane.
Although it would sound on the surface to be a hidden laneway, if you’re walking down Flinders Street (arguably Melbourne’s most famous street), this particular laneway stands out like a sore thumb (In a good way of course!). It’s probably the pinnacle of Melbournian culture and definitely a popular hit with both tourists and locals alike.
There’s a grey line between “street art” and “vandalism”, but really, Hozier Lane’s modern purpose is as a safe and legal space for street artists to express themselves.
Filled with dynamic and ever-changing high-quality urban artwork, it was actually opened as a street art gallery in 1998, and in true Aussie style, it’s now filled with a number of lavish cocktail bars to top it off. (in fact, if you visit Melbourne a few times – the laneway will likely look totally different each time!)
It’s not the only laneway like this either! If you find yourself around Melbourne for a little while, make sure you take the chance to explore around. There are quite a few lanes around the city filled with colourful artwork like Hozier’s.
4. Old Melbourne Gaol
Sitting right on Russel street (another very famous Melbourne street) is an incredibly eerie, 3 story high former prison. While it’s no longer a prison (it was officially closed in 1924), it’s now a museum filled with relics of the past and the history of some of Australia’s most notorious criminals.
It’s most famous historical inmate: Ned Kelly
As of 2010, it’s now recognised at Australia’s longest-standing and oldest survival prison. As a visitor, you’ll be able to walk through and take a good look inside the cells. This includes learning some interesting things about the inmates that used to spend their time within those cells.
5. Eureka Tower
When you first take a look around Melbourne City, you’d be hard-pressed not to be able to see this towering over you. Standing 297 meters tall, it was Australia’s tallest apartment block when completed in 2006 and remains the tallest high-rise building in Melbourne.
It’s hard to imagine what Melbourne looks like from the Sky Deck at the top until you actually experience yourself. The photos just don’t do it justice!
One of its most famed experiences (although not for the feint-hearted) is the “The Edge Experience.”You’ll stand in a wall-to-wall glass, elevator-style room, as it slowly extends outwards and protrudes from the side of the building. Look down, and you’ll find nothing but glass separating your feet from the almost 300-meter drop to the pavement below.
It was started as one of Melbourne’s most controversial building developments to date, but the Eureka Tower has changed the shape of Melbourne’s skyline in one of the best ways imaginable.
6. Federation Square
Or “Fed Square” as the locals call it. It’s not just one building – but several iconic Melbourne buildings in one spot!
Right across the road from Flinders Street Station (Melbourne’s incredible famed, heritage listed, train station), is a uniquely modern and artistically controversial central hub for restaurants, galleries, and shops.
It’s also just a fantastic “hangout” or meeting spot.
We’d say “OMG you just have to visit Fed Square if you come the Melbourne”, but honestly, it be would be more of an impressive feat to not go there. It’s huge. and it probably makes up one of the biggest architectural statements in the entire city. You’ll probably find yourself walking through it (or at least past it) just to get to somewhere else you’d planned on going anyway.
Not to mention, it’s home to ACMI, the Australian Centre of the Moving Image (Which is another museum that we’d highly recommend stepping foot in if regular museums bore you, and especially if you have kids!)
7. National Gallery of Victoria
If we head just a few hundred meters south of Federation square, you’ll first find 2 large water fountains that outline the entrance of Melbourne’s largest and most comprehensive art gallery. It’s also the most visited art museum in the whole of Australia if that’s your thing.
The first thing you’ll notice as you enter is that the entire doorway is a glass panel waterfall! Take a moment to brush your hand against it, it’s well worth it. Don’t worry, the actual entrance points are around to the side, so you won’t get soaked walking in.
Filled to the edges with both contemporary and historical pieces from all over the world – there’s always some amazing event or exhibition happening here. There are a number of free galleries, but if you’ve got a little bit of extra cash in your travel budget, We definitely recommend taking a look at what’s on offer and seeing if you can snag a ticket to the current exhibition.
8. Melbourne Art’s Centre
Melbourne is a creative city famed for its arts, culture, and architecture. What would we be without an iconic set of venues literally called “the Melbourne Art’s Centre!”
Located between Federation Square and the National Gallery – technically, it’s a complex of arts venues located along St Kilda Road in Melbourne, Victoria. It comprises the State Theatre, Hamer Hall, Fairfax studio, the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, and a few other performing spaces (home to the highly acclaimed Melbourne Symphony Orchestra). Between them, these spaces have more than 8000 (yep, 8000 with a triple 0) seats and are used by well over 500,000 people each year.
What you’ll notice first about it, is its Eiffel-Tower-like structure. If you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse at night-time the entire structure lights up and glows so brightly that it’s visible from quite a distance away.
Hold-up, what’s the Sidney Myer Music Bowl?
Well deserving of its own paragraph – The Sidney Myer Music Bowl itself has seen probably 100’s of global acts including Lorde, AC/DC, Paul McCartney, Metallica, and Florence and the Machine just to name a few.
In fact, the largest crowd ever recorded at a music event in Australia (edit: the Guinness Book of World Records lists this event as the “Greatest concert attendance in the southern hemisphere in history!”), was right here at the Bowl when a crowd of 200,000 people were recorded to come to see The Seekers.
This is probably one of the most versatile event spaces in Melbourne. It’s almost completely outside (with a small covering for the front of the crowd) and the architecture of it is absolutely fascinating.
9. The State Library of Victoria
We all know how boring libraries can be, but we guarantee you – this one is anything but! It was actually one of the first free libraries in the entire world. A combined museum, gallery, and library all in one, the State library’s extensive collection of over two million books and 350,000 photographs should delight any bookworm or information enthusiast.
Today, the University (that’s “college” for all the Americans out there) students of Melbourne see this as a pretty safe haven. You’ll often find them studying, chilling, or just eating lunch on the beautiful lawn out the front of the library.
Inside, you’ll find 6 expansive reading rooms and a number of other rooms to explore. Some of these rooms have actually appeared on a few TV shows and movies over the years. The Rock Band “Faker” even shot a music video for one of their 2005 hits in one of the reading rooms.
It’s also the home to the previously mentioned and extremely infamous Bushranger Ned Kelly’s armor (and a number of other historical items relating to Ned Kelly’s history).
10. Royal Exhibition Building
A living piece of the international exhibition movement (blooming in the late 19th and early 20th centuries), The Royal Exhibition Building was designed by none other than architect Joseph Reed, who also designed the State Library. This incredible piece of architecture has quite the history behind it. In fact, during the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1919, the building was totally transformed and used as an influenza hospital.
It’s completely surrounded by the Carlton Gardens, and just walking through these gardens is quite an experience in itself. The Exhibition Building is so culturally significant that it’s one of Melbourne’s very few world-heritage-listed buildings.
Inside, it’s one massive open space with an internal balcony on the second floor that looks over the floor below. This “Great Hall” is topped off by a central octagonal glass dome that lets sunlight totally encompass and brighten up the space.
Want to learn more about the buildings of Melbourne?
Come and join us on one of our tours! We might be biased, but our guides are some of the most knowledgeable and entertaining people we’ve ever met. (That’s why we hire them as guides!).