Carlton is so much more than bustling Lygon Street. Beyond the pasta restaurants and gelato stores of Little Italy lies a historical neighbourhood. It's full of unique culture, local laneways, and even a secret movie set. To get you started, we’ve put together a hit-list of all the things to see and do in Carlton and surrounds. Download this free walking map and get exploring.
Wander through lush gardens with a backdrop of historical architecture
Melbourne’s pretty UNESCO-listed Royal Exhibition Building is set amongst Carlton Gardens and dates back to 1880. The opulent building features a Renaissance dome and elaborate fountains. Grab a coffee at Market Lane Coffee, and sit under the towering Moreton Bay Fig Trees, which were an important meeting place for Aboriginal communities past. If brunch is more your speed, try St Charly’s all day breakfast menu.
Get cultured at Melbourne Museum
Next door, Melbourne Museum’s modern architecture cuts a striking figure – but what lies within is much more interesting. It also acts as a natural museum, hosting international exhibitions as well as important local antiquities. Here you can view the warm possum skin cloaks worn by Aboriginal people in the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre. Or, wander through the lush, living Forest Gallery, and see the legendary Melbourne Cup racehorse Phar Lap.
Then, chill out with a documentary at Melbourne’s massive IMAX theatre. It boasts the largest screen in the world, at 32 metres wide and 23 metres high. Find more projection screen magic at Learning Lab, with the brand-new Worlds Immersive video installation.
Indulge in the good life along Lygon Street
Head towards Rathdowne Street, and continue until you hit Lygon. Stroll north along leafy Lygon Street, known as ‘Little Italy’, and discover where Melbourne's famous café culture was born. It was here that post-World War II migrants developed a thriving community in the heart of the city. Lygon Street is also home to The University Café, the site of our first espresso machine back in 1952. Or head down during summer to try the iconic Tiamo tiramisu in their new outdoor dining area.
You can’t visit Lygon Street without picking up a gelato – Pidapipo is famous for their hot Nutella, on tap. Top any selection with the delicious Italian spread to satisfy your sweet tooth. But it’s not all food on offer here – plenty of trendy boutiques flank the bustling restaurants. Cult independent bookstore Readings is the perfect pit stop when you need a little quiet time.
Discover a hidden movie set in the busy university district
At the intersection of Lygon and Elgin streets, turn left until you hit Swanston Street and the esteemed University of Melbourne. Founded in 1853, the leafy sandstone campus has a hidden movie history. A gothic underground carpark near the South Lawn – also an architectural icon – featured in Aussie cult flick Mad Max. Head towards the residential colleges to discover four ancient River Red Gums. These historical trees were essential to the Woi Wurrung people for shelter, canoes and tools.
Architecture buffs can continue their education in the NGO Precinct. Stroll along Pelham Street and bear left at Leicester Street to find the award-winning 60L Green Building, home to the Australian Conservation Foundation. Tour the building to find out more, or visit the Going Solar shop for sustainable products.
Find fresh produce and Melbourne’s best markets
A few stops along the way will keep your pantry stocked. King and Godfree is excellent for Mediterranean groceries and deli favourites. Milk The Cow has some of the best cheeses in the city. You can even stay for a cheese degustation paired with four matching wines.
Continue down Swanston Street, turning right at Victoria Street until you hit Queen Victoria Market. It’s the perfect place to end your walking tour of Carlton. You'll find hundreds of fresh food, homewares, and specialty stalls. That's dinner sorted!
Last updated on Thu 4 Feb 2021
Sign up to What's On weekly
Thanks for signing up!
Hidden Secrets Tours
Indulge and discover the city's hidden charm with Melbourne's original laneway walking tours.
This chocolate walking tour visits some of the city's best chocolatiers with exclusive experiences.
Melbourne By Foot Cultural Walk
Explore Melbourne's past and present on foot via laneways and arcades, street art, music and cafes.