Duration: 1-2 hours
Price Guide: $0
This amazing 38 hectare garden is said to be one of the world’s finest botanic gardens – boasting over 10,000 species of plants (many endangered) and an array of wildlife, it’s not hard to see why. Directions to the gardens are surprisingly sparse, but thankfully it’s not too hard to find. Open 7.30 – dusk (5.30 or 6pm in winter, spring and autumn, 8.30pm November to March); admission is free. The directions I have given follow a scenic route along the Yarra River, taking about 25 minutes in total. Alternatively, you can ride the free Melbourne City Tourist Shuttle to the Royal Botanic Gardens – the Shuttle begins at the Melbourne Museum and runs every 15 minutes between 10-4pm daily.
Catch a train to Flinders Street Station (on the city loop)
Exit via the main entrance of the station and cross over to Federation Square.
Federation Square holds a host of attractions to suit every desire. From swanky cafes and bars to the incredible National Gallery: Ian Potter Centre (which hosts Australian art), it’s a mix of culture and style. Perfect for lunch or cocktails.
Walk diagonally through Federation Square and down any of the sets of steps that lead to the Yarra River (Transport Bar will be on your right, the Ian Potter Centre on your left) At the bottom of the steps turn left.
The Yarra River runs through the very centre of Melbourne. It has played a huge part in the city’s development, once effectively a drain for the city’s early industry it has been cleaned up and now provides miles of picturesque walks for all to enjoy, is host to numerous rowing clubs, fisherpeople and other water activities. It is also host to events that are held as part of the Melbourne Festival and the Moomba Festival.
Continue walking alongside the river, following the path around until you reach Swan Street Bridge (approximately a 5-10 minute walk)
Throughout this walk you will notice various sculptures and other art dotted around. This is the Birrarung Marr precinct; art that is not confined to gallery walls. Just right of the footbridge are the Federation Bells, which play set compositions daily. On the other side of the river you will see the various rowing and boating clubs of Melbourne.
Cross Swan Street Bridge. Go straight over the road and turn left. To your right is a big hill. Follow the path that leads diagonally up and left. At the end of this path you will see a gate. This is one of the entrances to the Botanic Gardens.
Immediately as you enter there is a map showing you the layout of the park. There is no set route to go, so take your pick. Be warned – the scale of this park is huge, so be prepared to get lost – thankfully there are cafes and tearooms within the park should you need a pick-me-up. Most trees and plants are marked with informative plaques so you can get an idea of what you’re looking at. It’s hard not to see the wildlife here as most come to you; whether it’s a skittish possum or one of the overly friendly black swans (hold onto your sandwich, one was harassing me for mine). In the lake, the eels are prolific. On a sunny day, this is a truly beautiful place to visit, so be sure to take your camera. Once amongst the flurry of fauna and flowers, you almost forget you’re in the middle of a huge city; there aren’t any buildings near the park grounds and little of the city skyline is visible once you’re within the garden fence. If you have the time, try and see everything, but my personal favourites include the Lily Lake, Long Island and the Glasshouses.
One weekends the gardens are a very popular picnic spot and many functions, particularly weddings, are hosted there. During summer, there is a cinema at night and plays and pantomimes are also held on the grounds. There is a charge for all these events, see the Tourist Office in the city for more information.