When you’ve hit all the city sights and made the most of Melbourne’s cultural and entertaining attractions – everything from Melbourne Museum to the interactive gallery known as ArtVo – it’s time to head further afield. Book a rental car and explore all the fun Melbourne’s suburbs have to offer. From wild animals to thrilling rides, you can find enough family fun to create holiday memories that will last for years to come.
It’ll only take about 40 minutes in the rental car to reach Werribee, a suburb in Melbourne’s southwest. But you’ll want to get the kids out of bed early because there’s so much to see and do here. Your first stop should be Werribee Open Range Zoo. Here, you can jump on a safari bus to travel across the ‘savannah’ looking for giraffes, rhinos, zebras and many more species you’d expect to find half a world away. There are other habitats to explore, including the African Trail and the Australian Trail.
This is also where you’ll find Werribee Park Mansion. Completed in 1877 for the wealthy Chirnside family, it remains one of the largest and most opulent homes in Victoria. Now you can visit and explore the more than 60 rooms, as well as the grand gardens. Pack a picnic and find a spot on the lawn, wander through the neighbouring Victoria State Rose Garden, or check out the heritage orchard first planted back in the late 1800s.
If you’d prefer a more natural landscape, there are several bushwalks in Werribee Gorge State Park that traverse woodland and follow the waterway through the gorge.
In 1851, the first prisoners were thrown behind bars at HM Prison Pentridge. It housed some of Victoria’s worst criminals until it closed in 1997. Now, the site in Coburg, 14 kilometres north of Melbourne’s CBD, has been transformed.
One of the most recent launches are Pentridge Prison Tours, where, through the marvels of modern technology, you can hear from former inmates and prison officers who spent time inside its bluestone walls. There are two different immersive experiences. B Division: Pentridge Through Time is suitable for all ages and looks at how the jail was run and the changing models of justice. If you’ve got older teens who act as though they’ve seen it all, H-Division: Unlocked uncovers the dark heart of Pentridge. What you’ll see and hear on this tour can be brutal at times.
Elsewhere at Pentridge, you’ll find art galleries, a 15-screen cinema complex, shops, and lots of places to eat and drink. One of the most popular is the huge BrewDog Pentridge. Of course, there are plenty of beers to sample if you’re older than 18 and not the designated driver, but it’s also a great spot for a family lunch. The kitchen serves up chicken and vegan parma, burgers, pizzas, tacos, wings and so much more.
What’s even better than taking them somewhere you’ll all have fun? Visiting a place where they might learn something as well. That’s what happens in the Melbourne suburb of Spotswood, about a 20-minute drive in your rental car from the CBD. Scienceworks is the perfect rainy-day activity, with its interactive displays and exhibits that show kids of all ages how the world works. The Melbourne Planetarium, with its 16-metre domed ceiling and reclining seats, is part of Scienceworks and has a number of presentations throughout the day.
Spotswood was also once the industrial heart of Melbourne. In fact, the Spotswood Pumping Station was a key component of Melbourne’s first sewerage system. The heritage buildings are now part of Scienceworks and can be explored each day on a guided tour. Otherwise download the GPS-enabled map and audio commentary for the Spotswood Industrial Heritage Walk and go wandering around the suburb.
If you find yourself in Spotswood on either Friday evening or the weekend, head to Grazeland Melbourne. This outdoor dining precinct is a foodie’s paradise with trucks and stalls serving up taste sensations from across the world. Plus, there’s live music and DJs to keep everyone entertained.
Turn your rental car in completely the opposite direction to Coburg and you’ll find yourself by the beach. It’s only a 20-minute drive from central Melbourne to the bayside suburb of St Kilda. There’s so much to explore here. Spend a few hours on the rides at Luna Park, where the Great Scenic Railway is the world’s oldest continuously operating roller coaster.
If it’s warm, the kids might like to paddle in the calm waters of Port Phillip Bay to cool off. There’s also the historical St Kilda Sea Baths, with its 25-metre indoor seawater pool, spa pool and steam room, if you prefer to keep it all contained.
Arrive hungry because there’s a special treat for all ages in St Kilda; along Acland Street you’ll find some old-school continental cake shops, with their windows stacked high with baked cheesecake, rum baba, vanilla slice, kooglhoupf and more. They’re all great, but Monarch Cakes has been using the same recipes since its doors opened more than 80 years ago.
Once you’re ready to explore all Melbourne has to offer, hire a rental car to make your journey easy.