Melbourne is often referred to as the garden state, and it is easy to see why. The city and surrounding suburbs are home to a huge number of parks and gardens, each with their own unique charm and appeal.
Melbourne’s parks range from large sprawling wildernesses, to carefully curated works of art. Some of the gardens contain fully equipped sports centres, others museums, and some of them are just, well, beautiful gardens. Given there are so many to choose from, we’ve put together this list of our top picks for the best parks and gardens in Melbourne, so you can save time deciding where to go, and instead spending that time enjoying these little pieces of paradise to be found hidden amongst the sprawl of the city.
If you live in Melbourne’s CBD and ever feel the need to find yourself in nature without having to travel far, the Royal Botanic Gardens is the place to visit. The Royal Botanic Gardens, colloquially known as ‘The Tan’, is home to thousands of species of native and exotic plants and trees spread across more than 30 hectares. The gardens beautifully manicured and sprawling paths lead visitors through curated sections of the park, each with themed botanicals from around the world.
The Botanic Gardens are not just full of natural beauty, in fact there are many events on here you can check out. You could hop in a bean bag with some cheese and crackers and a bottle of wine, and enjoy a classic or new release film at the Moonlight Cinemas. For something a little louder, catch a show at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, which stages performances ranging from rock shows to single day dance festivals, all the way to classical music performances.
Alternatively, enjoy a quiet lunch break by the lake or explore the nearby curated Arid Garden. Every trip to the Botanic Gardens holds its share of magic, which is why The Tan tops our list of best gardens to visit in Melbourne.
Nestled in between the CBD and Port Phillip Bay, with a large lake in its centre, Albert Park is one of the city’s biggest sports hubs. Every year in March the public roads that weave through the grounds of Albert Park are transformed into the track for the Formula One Grand Prix.
Further supporting its name as a sports Mecca of Melbourne, Albert Park is home to the Melbourne Sports & Aquatic Centre (MSAC), one of the city’s premium sporting facilities. MSAC houses Olympic swimming and diving pools, courts for just about every ball sport you could think of and even a water slide. If these particular sports aren’t for you, there’s plenty more options, including making use of the cricket pitch or driving range. You could even go sailing or rowing on the lake!
Albert Park is also a popular spot for joggers, with a 5km flat running track following the perimeter of the lake. You’ll be likely to find runners here at any given time working to get a sweat on, or trying to beat their personal best on Strava.
If you live in, or have spent much time in Melbourne, it’s highly likely you’ve seen or been to Carlton Gardens, though you may not actually know it by name.
At the heart of Carlton Gardens is the Melbourne Museum, which offers a rich insight into life in Victoria. Inside you’ll find the Forest Gallery which is the living heart of the museum and is home to tall trees and wildlife. Also within the Museum is the Science and Life Gallery complete with bugs, dinosaurs and fossils, as well as the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre, a place dedicated to the living traditions and knowledge of the Koorie people of Australia. There’s also a well-equipped Children’s Gallery to keep the rugrats happy.
Merely metres away, and in stark contrast to the modern architecture of the Melbourne Museum is the other notable building in Carlton Gardens: the 141-year-old Royal Exhibition Building. Not just an attractive facade, the Royal Exhibition Building is used to accommodate functions and events year round, in fact twice a year you’re likely to experience a sea of university graduates adorned in gowns and mortarboards, waiting to go inside and claim their recently completed degree.
Despite containing these two significant buildings, Carlton Gardens still has plenty of space to have a picnic with a friend, kick the footy or take a walk in your lunch break. Given its proximity to densely populated suburbs including Carlton, Fitzroy and the Melbourne CBD, this is a popular spot for all of the above.
The modest Flagstaff Gardens is in fact the oldest park in Melbourne, first established in 1862. Whilst one of the smallest parks in our list, is it also the most popular. This is largely due to its location, taking up a significant plot of land on the north-west corner of Melbourne’s CBD.
For the last 159 years, this garden has been a popular spot for office workers and city residents alike to get out into nature. Given it’s walking distance from just about anywhere in the CBD, it has become a local favourite for lunch and afternoon drinks alike.
The park contains expansive lush green lawns and flowerbeds and has been noted to attract the local wildlife like possums and native birds. The southern end is characterised by deciduous trees, while the north is home to more native eucalypts. If you’re lucky enough to have Flagstaff Gardens as part of your daily commute to work you also will have seen the rows of large elm trees shading the pathway through the park.
If you work in the CBD or are visiting from interstate, Flagstaff Gardens is definitely worth visiting for a brief escape from the concrete jungle.
Located on the east of Melbourne, right in between the aforementioned Carlton Gardens and Royal Botanic Gardens, and a 5 minute walk from Punthill Manhattan Hotel is a Melbourne favourite, Fitzroy Gardens. Inarguably one of the most beautiful gardens in Melbourne, Fitzroy Gardens is well-loved by locals, as demonstrated by the mention in the Australian musical Icon Paul Kelly’s song “When I First Met Your Ma”.
When in Fitzroy Gardens, It’s easy to forget the city is just around the corner. The lush and superbly presented garden is truly a sight to behold. In the centre of the garden is a miniature Tudor village, gifted to Melbourne by a London pensioner as a way of saying thanks to Melbournians for sending food to England during WWII. Right next to this is Old Cohn’s Carved Fairy Tree, a 300 year old tree stump with 1930s carvings of fairies and pixies alongside kangaroos, emus and possums. A truly whimsical place, this is a perfect place to take the whole family; the kids are guaranteed to love it.
A trip to Fitzroy Gardens would not be complete without a visit to the Conservatory. Built to copy the Spanish Mission/Colonial Revival style of the 1930s, the Conservatory has been a well enduring tourist attraction for over 80 years. Over this time, it has developed a reputation for its beautiful and never ending horticultural and floral displays, which change 5 times a year!
Princess Park is an endeared and often frequented park located about 5km north of Melbourne’s CBD. Nestled between the busy suburbs of Brunswick, Parkville, Carlton and Princess Hill, it’s no surprise Princess Park is a hit with locals, be it for a picnic or a sweaty exercise session with a mate.
On any given Sunday, you would be forgiven for thinking that there was some sort of large event occurring in Princess Park given the volume of people flocking there for picnics and catch-ups. This popularity is not entirely surprising given the quality of the park, with beautifully maintained lush lawns, and shade-a-plenty from the rows of leafy green trees dotted throughout. The top of the park is home to arguably the most populous spot, with a large water fountain and the Princess Park (lawn) Bowls Club. Further south, there is a huge open grass area designated for dogs and their owners (and those who like to sit in the grass and be visited by other people’s dogs).
The perimeter of the park is also a very popular 3.3km running and walking track, on which you’ll see frequently see locals out for their morning run or an afternoon stroll.
In Melbourne, you truly are spoiled for choice when it comes to beautiful gardens. All of the gardens mentioned in our list cater to a different audience, whether it be sports enthusiasts, those wishing to attend events, or others who may want to experience a beautiful floral display.
If, however, you are simply looking for a place to go for a stroll or have a picnic with a friend or two, any of these gardens would be a great choice! Whilst each of them has unique features, what they all share is a clear commitment to care and maintenance, made obvious by the beautiful lawns and plant life on display. In our opinion, any time spent in a park is time well spent, so we would encourage you to check these gardens out for yourself!