5 Unique Things To Do in Melbourne Australia

Melbourne is an eclectic city that regularly lands itself on coveted lists like “Australia's Most European City,” “Most Livable City in the World,” or “Where to Get The World's Best Coffee.” It's a wonderland of vibrant street art, bustling nightlife, European laneways (narrow streets filled with art, shops, and cafes), and a melting pot of cuisines from various cultures.

It's not a boring city by any stretch of the imagination, but every Melbourne guide is chockfull of predictability. There's the obligatory visit to the museum, the library, the laneways, and iconic landmarks like Flinder's Street Station – but there are so many more unique things to do in Melbourne than that.

1. Ride The Oldest Steam Train at Puffing Billy Railway

Just an hour outside the city, you'll find the oldest surviving steam train in the world. Step on board a train rich with history, travel through the beautiful Dandenong Ranges, and most importantly, feel like you're on your way to Hogwarts! 

Puffing Billy Railway was first opened in 1900 and served a much more practical purpose – to deliver food and supplies to the communities in the hills. This iconic tourist attraction is a must for anyone visiting Melbourne. The train has been pristinely preserved entirely by committed volunteers. 

The train runs on the original 15 mile railway. It travels along the beautiful lush backdrop of the Dandenong Ranges, where passengers can dangle their legs over the side carriages and feel like they're traveling to a mystical land. At some points, you even feel like you're floating. 

A landslide in 1953, coupled with financial losses, tragically shut down this railway. However, public interest in the railway led to tens of thousands of people lining up to ride the Puffing Billy train on its final day of service. Public interest in preserving the railway led to the formation of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society, which successfully reopened the line in 1962. 

These volunteers have preserved the railway ever since. You can get off at several different stops, but I highly recommend taking the journey from Belgrave to Lakeside. Here, you can take in the beautiful scenery of the lake, get something to eat at the cafe, rent some bikes, have a picnic, or take a paddleboat ride in the lake.

Special events at Puffing Billy include the Polar Express-themed ride held every December, with a visit from Santa himself and Puffing Billy’s Train of Lights treats passengers to a light show.

2. Browse Curious & One-of-A-kind Antiques at Wunderkammer

If you're not much of a shopper or are into more obscure items, you need to check out this shop in central Melbourne. Wunderkammer is German for “cabinet of curiosities,” a fitting name for this unique shop.

Old antiques, taxidermied animals, minerals, meteorites, dinosaur teeth, woolly mammoth hair, and other antiques with unique backstories make homes here until someone comes along and gives them a new home.

Owner Ben Meyer sources these odds and ends from his connections with collectors and sellers worldwide searching for certain fossils, antiques, and other sought-after items. Still, he has sellers come to him off the street, or he finds things at auctions and estate sales. 

Meyer has said that the most remarkable item he's gotten hold of was an American Civil War field amputation kit in noticeably used condition. For me, a 100 million-year-old tooth from a Spinosaurus dinosaur caught my eye. Did you know those dinosaurs towered over the T-Rex? 

For just AUD 50 (about $33), I left Melbourne with the tooth of an extinct species! I asked about the backstory behind the tooth, to which he responded he “has a guy” that searches for these sorts of things. It's the perfect place to shop for esoteric gifts for that friend who has everything.

3. See Free Roaming Animals at Werribee Open Range Zoo

When a zoo has the endorsement of a vegan, you know it’s doing something right. This “zoo” is hardly a zoo at all. Werribee doesn't cage their animals in small enclosures for human entertainment. Instead, they have a vast range of Australian and African wild animals homed in expansive plots of land left entirely open. That's right; I said open.

I saw a cheetah standing in front of me with a fence that only came up to my shins. A few things set this zoo apart from the rest – its open-range design, the care and stimulation they provide for their animals, and their African-style safari tours. You'll find this expansive 560-acre savannah about 30 minutes southwest of Melbourne. 

Included in the admission price is a safari tour which involves hopping onto the safari bus that drives around the zoo to get up close and personal views of animals like rhinos, zebras, giraffes, bison, camels, and more. 

On my safari tour, we got an insight into a new development currently underway at Werribee. They're expanding the already massive open-range zoo to house the Asian elephants residing at the Melbourne Zoo. The expansion will include 52 acres just for the elephants, roughly the size of the entire Melbourne Zoo. On weekends and holidays, kids get in for free so definitely add it to your list of things to do in Melbourne. 

4. Meet The Wild Penguins of St. Kilda – One of The Best Things To Do in Melbourne

Just 20 minutes outside the city center in St. Kilda, you'll find a colony of 1400 Little Penguins (sometimes known as Fairy Penguins) that settled there in the ‘1970s. No, they're not in an enclosure, they're wild penguins, and this is their natural habitat. At 1kg (about 2.2 pounds), they're the smallest species of penguins in the world, and every day after sunset, they swim back to their nests along the shore.

A viewing platform called St. Kilda Breakwater takes you directly to them, but it is currently under redevelopment to expand the platform. The new platform will be more significant to provide a better viewing experience for tourists and locals while minimizing interference with the wild penguins. The new pier will be fully functional by 2024.

You might have seen these little penguins before in a viral photograph that went around social media in 2020. German photographer Tobias Bamgaertner captured this stunning photo of two St. Kilda penguins caressing each other as they overlooked the Melbourne city lights. The image won a global photography award.

You can see the penguins any day of the year, but the best time to see them is from October to December, during the chick-laying season. The penguins are most active during this time because they take turns raising their chicks.

The penguins swim right up to the shoreline and trudge up to the rocks just after sunset, but paradoxically, this is the busiest time for people to visit the penguins. You can beat the crowds by arriving an hour before sunset. 

Alternatively, since the breakwater is open 24 hours, you can go later in the night or shortly before sunrise and will still see penguins with much fewer people. However, please avoid touching the penguins, disturbing them, or using flash photography.

5. Ride The World's Oldest Continually Operating Roller Coaster at Luna Park

About a mile away from St. Kilda breakwater, you'll find Luna Park. After visiting the penguins, this is a great nighttime activity to add to your itinerary while you're in the area. Luna Park is over 100 years old and home to the world's oldest continually operating roller coaster.

Great Scenic railway is a wooden roller coaster that runs along the outskirts of the entire park. It's also the only one of its kind still operated by a standing brakeman who manually controls the rollercoaster, bringing it to a stop. 

The best seat in the house is in the middle, right behind the brakeman or, in my case – brakewoman. It's a wonder how they can not only ride but control the roller coaster as it dips and turns, all while standing up. 

While it's not exactly the scariest rollercoaster you'll ever go on, it's an enjoyable 3 minutes that packs a punch for how old it is, and you can purchase a single-ride ticket instead of paying the much steeper price tag for unlimited rides.

Leave Melbourne With a Story To Tell

When in Melbourne, do as the Melbournians do. Anyone can go to a museum or art gallery, but how many people can say they got to come up and personal with a wild penguin? 

Since Australia has reopened to the world, it's never been a better time to visit the land down under. Australia lost $72 billion in tourism revenue during the two-year closure of its borders.  

If you're going to embark on the long plane ride and the cost of traveling to the other side of the world, you could do something unique while you're at it. These experiences will provide you with an exciting tale to tell and you would be helping out the local economy.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.