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Evans Walker Bridge. Southbank, Melbourne
Photograph: Josie Withers

Things to do in Melbourne today

Need some last-minute plans? We've got you covered with the best things to do in Melbourne today

Adena Maier
Written by
Adena Maier

Have your plans for tonight fallen through, or are you simply the type to live on the edge and wait until the last possible moment to plan your day? Luckily, Melbourne is the type of city where you can always count on finding something fun to do on short notice. 

From five-star musicals and wintery light festivals to cool gigs and nearby day trips, we've got you covered with our curated guide to everything fun happening right now. Have a scroll, lace up your shoes and prepare to hit the town. 

Want more? Check out these great free things to do, or head outside on a hike or bike ride

Things to do in Melbourne today

  • Theatre
  • Drama
  • Melbourne

It’s Christmas for Potterheads. Three years after its celebrated opening at the expensively refurbished Princess Theatre, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is taking an apt step back in time with a second premiere, this time of a streamlined one-play version that carves a good three hours off of its original running time. There are various motivations for this. Even for ardent devotees or seasoned theatre veterans, six hours in a seat is a slog, and once killed-for tickets had become readily available. But what could have been a cynical hatchet job has turned out to be the making of this show. The main pillars of the story remain – picking up where JK Rowling’s novels ended, we meet the children of famed wizard Harry Potter as they depart for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. However, the enduring friendships that kept Harry alive are elusive for Harry’s awkward son Albus, and when he fails to live up to the towering expectations of not just his school but the entire wizarding world, his sole friendship becomes both his greatest refuge and his biggest vulnerability.

But while you might reasonably assume that this is a play about magic, you’d be wrong. This is a play about love. Which should come as no surprise – love is quite literally the most powerful, death-defying force in JK Rowling’s seven-book saga. What is surprising however, is how one of the greatest juggernaut fiction franchises of all time has leaned – comfortably, credibly, with heart-rending sensitivity – into a queer romance.

Many people who strapped in to the six-hour theatrical marathon that was the original two-show format of the Cursed Child were left frustrated by the almost-but nature of the relationship between the two main protagonists, Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy (yes, son of that Malfoy). A story (no spoilers – #keepthesecrets) that spends such extravagant resources to explore a connection that overcomes alternative realities, the boundless void of uncreation and simply being a teenager with overbearing parents, yanked the rug from beneath the audience’s feet with a couple of clunky lines that frankly retconned the hours of storytelling they’d just witnessed. However, in this streamlined one-play version, whatever tentativeness that may have held back fully embracing this facet of the narrative seems to have lifted. Now, this wondrous show, jam-packed with spectacle and surprise, is one of the most authentic, moving, beautifully told coming out stories ever seen on stage.

The original conjuring of Cursed Child had one clear imperative. JK Rowling’s sequel to her blockbusting novels would be an unappologetic ode to the worldwide fandom that had embraced the wizarding world of Potter and Co down to the swish and flick of the smallest charm. But this also posed a problem. With a marathon performance (with a hefty pricetag) that relied so heavily on fan service, a swathe of potential ticket buyers, uninitated into the Potterverse, were held at arm’s length.

While some knowledge of Potter’s history is still somewhat a prerequisite, many of the recent changes to story have jettisoned the winks, nods, and barefaced indulgences to the novels and distilled the narrative to focus on more universal truths – of course packaged in a way that still makes use of the extraordinary stage craft and sorcery that made the two-show OG one of the most successful stage shows on both Broadway and the West End.

But how could such a success lose almost half of its running time and remain intact? It’s a question of economy of narrative. Those who are only familiar with the films of the original seven novels may be used to more disciplined plots than those that actually exist in Rowling’s pages. Indeed, the beats of the original script of the Cursed Child, penned by Rowling in partnership with Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, were at times so head-spinningly convoluted with call-backs, flashbacks, back-to-the-future divergences, it was tricky to keep a handle on every parallel story arc in motion. By losing some of the zanier corners of the story, the action feels more nimble, the plot more agile, and the emotional poigniancy that thrives beyond the whizbangs of the wandwork shines even brighter. It makes certain scenes that might have seemed inconsequential in the scheme of six hours of theatre hit even harder and individual lines that might have seemed throwaway blaze into memory.

But fear not, this edit doesn’t shortchange audiences when it comes to jaw-drops. Oooohs and aaahhs and how-the-hells? still abound in this bewitching triumph, amplified by the fleet-footed choreography of Steve Hoggart and buoyant, poppy score by Imogen Heap. Which is important, because seeing magic tricks before your eyes is an experience that the sterile ease of CGI simply cannot touch. To see wands waved in real life and for spells to literally spring from them is a thrill that remains entirely unchanged in the new Cursed Child, but without the uniformly stellar performances of this Australian cast, they would be nothing more than parlour tricks. Nyx Calder as Scorpius is deeply endearing in his awkward, quirky account that is clearly the product of many hundreds of hours inhabiting this role, while Ben Walter’s quiet frustrations and subtle yearnings as Albus Potter are a perfect echo of the internal battles many young people conceal while they are discovering their identity. 

Harry Potter and Cursed Child was always more than the sum of its parts; such is the way of magic. But somehow, it has pulled out an even more impressive trick – by losing so much of its length and yet somehow saying more. 

  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Melbourne

Is Hamilton, the smash-hit American history musical that won a whopping 11 Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize when it debuted on Broadway in 2015 and won the hearts of critics and audiences the world over, as good as everyone says?

In a word, yes. If you want to stop reading here and just book your tickets, we’ll understand. 

There is a reason it is the most hyped show on Earth, and its writer and first star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, is now a household name. Some 3 million people watched the musical when it appeared on Disney+ in July 2020, and almost 8 million more have seen it live, in cities across the US, in London’s West End and in Sydney. Now it’s Melbourne's turn, with the show taking over Her Majesty's Theatre

With the soundtrack available on Spotify and the original Broadway cast version available to anyone with a Disney+ account on demand, Hamilton is competing not so much with other musicals for your dollars and attention (there are no other shows of this type that can match the show’s tactical brilliance), but with itself. Most in the audience are at least familiar with the show by this point, and quite a few are able to mouth along to every word behind their masks. If you can see the original Broadway version any time you want and listen to the soundtrack 24 hours a day, what power does the staged version still hold? 

In a word, magic. The entire cast is extraordinary, with every one of Andy Blankenbuehler's dance moves sharp as a tack and the constantly shifting stage a whirlwind of activity. Seeing it all click together like a precision-built Swiss watch is intoxicating. There are genuine thrills from the first notes to the final bows, and there is an enormous amount of nuance that doesn't come through in the soundtrack alone, as brilliant as it is.

Jason Arrow is electrifying in the titular role, with a thousand-watt movie star smile and a cheeky self-confidence that makes the ‘polymath, pain in the ass, massive pain’ softer and far more charming than Miranda’s acerbic turn in the role. He’s perfect as the firebrand revolutionary full of ideals and ambition, and you can’t help but be in his corner. But Hamilton really is a two-hander, with Hamilton’s best frenemy Aaron Burr at least as large a presence as Alexander. Lyndon Watts is magnetic in the role, pulling focus in every scene he’s in. He has the perfect mixture of jealousy, desperation and reckless self-aggrandisement to put real pathos into tragedy. There’s gorgeous beauty in key song ‘Dear Theodosia’ that is moving and raw, and his soaring 'Wait For It' is heart-wrenching.

Melbourne had fought to secure Hamilton's first Australian run but lost that battle due to our repeated lockdowns. That turns out to be in Melbourne's favour, however, as the show grew and matured during its Sydney run and is now even more nuanced and tight. Performances are more clever – and much funnier – than they were in March 2021. Arrow in particular mugs and swaggers with a confidence and joie de vivre that befits his character's playboy arrogance. 

It was perhaps fitting, in this age of swings and understudies holding up the world, that principal Chloé Zuel was missing on opening night in the role of Eliza Schuyler, Hamilton's wife. Zuel was absolutely extraordinary in her performance in Sydney, but the role was filled by understudy Tigist Strode on opening night here. Eliza is the lynchpin of the show and its moral centre, and she has not only the most powerful song but also the literal last word (and famous last gasp). If Strode was nervous to fill into such important buckle shoes she didn't show it, stretching the silence in 'Burn' and radiating a rage that was felt all the way in the back of Her Majesty's. 

The opening night crowd clearly knew the show well, with beloved characters like George Washington (Matu Ngaropo), Thomas Jefferson (Victory Ndukwe, also playing Lafayette), King George III (Brent Hill) and Hercules Mulligan (played with a joyful exuberance by Shaka Cook) and Eliza and sisters Angelica (Akina Edmonds) and Peggy (Elandrah Eramiha) all drawing raucous applause. In fact, when Arrow introduced himself as Hamilton, the entire show paused to allow the audience to settle and the cheers to die down. But that doesn’t mean you have to know every word to the Marquis de Lafayette’s insanely fast ‘Guns and Ships’ rap to enjoy the show.

Watching a cast as perfect as this one performing a show as brilliant as Hamilton is the apotheosis of theatregoing. First-timers will probably miss some of the words and context, as many of the songs are fast and furious, with complex internal rhyme schemes and clever nods to musical genres from everything from Gilbert and Sullivan to contemporary R’n’B.

That doesn’t mean the show is impenetrable, though, quite the opposite – masterful staging and brilliant lyrics make it easy to follow the story of the doomed Alexander from ambitious 19-year-old revolutionary to that fateful duel at age 49. That’s not a spoiler, by the way. The show was written for an American audience, every one of whom would know at least three facts about Alexander Hamilton before the curtain rises: 1. He’s on the ten-dollar bill; 2. He came up with the concept of federalism; and 3. He died in a duel with Aaron Burr. Indeed, Burr opens the show by introducing himself as “the damn fool that shot him”. Knowing Hamilton’s fate from the opening lines infuses every scene with Burr with poignant dramatic irony. 

Without the knowledge that Americans have walking into the room, does Hamilton resonate with a 2022 Australian audience? Yes and no. Americans have a mythologised notion of the country’s foundation that is completely alien to Australia. That puts Australian audiences at a slight disadvantage off the bat, but the performances are so solid, the music so catchy and the lyrics so clever that even if you know nothing about the show or its historical context, you’ll be absolutely blown away. The more familiar with it you are, though, the more you’ll get out of it. So you’re just going to have to go again.

Want more? Read our interviews with the actors who play Aaron Burr and Jefferson, and with the Schuyler sisters.

  • Things to do
  • Pop-up locations
  • Footscray

Keen on eating and drinking outside this winter, but less keen on the bone-chilling cold? Thanks to four venues across Melbourne, you can book in for your own private winter wonderland in the form of cosy winter igloo gardens. Enter your igloo, settle into the cosy chairs draped with blankets and furry pillows and prepare to warm yourself up from the inside with delicious food and beverage packages. 

The igloos are open from now until the end of winter, and we've rounded up their individual offerings below. Date and time availabilities vary across venues.

The Wharf Hotel

Cosy up beneath a sky of twinkling fairy lights on the banks of the Yarra in this cosy private igloo that can fit up to eight people. For $59 per person, you can graze on a sharing platter and enjoy your choice of two beverages including mulled wine or cider, Hot Toddies, Espresso Martinis and house wines, beers and ciders. For an extra $20 per person, you can also enjoy a chocolate fondue station and a boozy hot chocolate. Make your booking here.

The Station Hotel

Snuggle with your partner or up to five of your nearest and dearest friends at this private winter wonderland. For $75 per person, you can enjoy a drink on arrival and a three-course meal with options like Wagyu tartare topped with truffle and black garlic mayo, chargrilled rump of lamb, sticky date pudding with vanilla ice cream and more. Make your booking here.

The Auburn Hotel

For $69 per person, enjoy a three-course meal under a sky of twinkling fairy lights. Your booking entitles you to 2.5 hours in the igloo while you enjoy a winter cocktail and a share-style set menu. Think winter favourites like pumpkin arancini, roasted heirloom carrots, pan-roasted Murray cod and sticky toffee pudding. Make your booking here.

Studley Park Boathouse

When you think high tea, you likely think of a posh affair in an old-world hotel. But thanks to the Studley Park Boathouse, now you and up to five guests can enjoy your treats in the great outdoors with enchanting views of the Yarra — while staying warm in your igloo, of course. For $52 per person, you'll enjoy a high tea comprised of sweet and savoury bites, plus unlimited tea or coffee. You can upgrade to the bottomless Spritz and Mimosa package for an additional $25 per person. Make your booking here.

Looking for more things to do? Check out our round-up of the best things happening in Melbourne this week.

  • Things to do
  • Pop-up locations
  • Brunswick

If you thought building things out of cardboard was a relic of your childhood, think again; Australian independent craft brewery Bridge Road Brewers has created the grown-up hideaway fort of your dreams. Aptly named A Bar Made of Cardboard, it's a pop-up bar where everything aside from the beer taps, fridges and dishwasher is made with recycled cardboard. 

It might sound a bit wacky to craft a bar out of cardboard, but this venue is actually a prelude to a second (and permanent) brewery and bar that's due to pop up on the same site at 129 Nicholson Street, Brunswick East this December. The cardboard bar will be open for around six months, and when the time is up, it'll be dismantled and the materials will be reused, recycled and composted. 

While the cardboard fit-out might seem lean, the menu isn't. Swing by from Wednesday to Sunday to enjoy a line-up of the brewery's top core and seasonal beers rotating across six bar taps, a wine list with small wine producers from Victoria's High Country and small-batch spirits and aperitifs. If you get hungry, order from a small snack menu featuring Chappy's Chips and Mount Zero Olives, or saunter over to the nearby food trucks available on Friday and Saturday nights. 

Looking for more things to do? Check out our round-up of the best things happening in Melbourne this week.

  • Art
  • Photography

The Jewish Museum of Australia is presenting works from one of the world's most risqué fashion photographers in Helmut Newton: In Focus, a definitive exploration of the work of German-born, and one-time Melbourne-based photographer Helmut Newton. 

Once dubbed the 'king of kink', Helmut Newton was once one of the 20th century's most provocative and prolific fashion photographers. Shooting fashion royalty like Claudia Schiffer and Grace Jones, Newton is known for his collaborations with international magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair.

Helmut: In Focus is a collaborative exhibition between the Jewish Museum of Australia and Photo 2022 International Festival of Photography and allows the general public to view Newton's expansive photography portfolio, but also dive deep into his Jewish roots and early life. 

Helmut Newton: In Focus brings together fashion, photography and visual arts audiences alike.

  • Museums
  • History
  • Melbourne

The glory and pain of our formative years never leave us. The awkwardness, the heartache, the moments of soaring joy and the losses that crushed us often feel as real as the day they happened. 

The Immigration Museum is now plumbing these universal experiences in an immersive exhibition that’ll have you feeling the entire spectrum of human emotion. They’ve presented 71 Australian coming-of-age stories that range from the monumental to the mundane, by diverse storytellers including author Alice Pung, model Andreja Pejic, disability activist Jax Jacki Brown, AFL footballer Jason Johannisen, drag queen Karen from Finance and Senator Lidia Thorpe.

Through light, sound, visual art and interactive installations, they tell of first kisses, victories and humiliations in tales that traverse time, gender, culture and orientation to celebrate our shared humanity. It’s anticipated that visitors will find themselves relating to these stories in unexpected and delightful ways, leading to the question of whether the process of becoming an adult ever really ends.

Admission is free with museum entry (adults $15, seniors $10 and free for everyone else).

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  • Museums
  • Melbourne

Whether you are on babysitting duty for the school holidays or are a keen ocean explorer, the new Dive into the Deep exhibit at SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium, offers a unique and informative day out for adults and children alike. For the first time at the Melbourne Aquarium, the Dive into the Deep exhibit sees a 14 metre long, immersive digital projection, taking guests on a explorative examination through the depths of the ocean, and through the stages of time.

Designed to explain the story of the ocean zones and bring to life the marine creatures that call it home, engaging wall graphics and digital imagery take visitors through the ocean’s sunlight zone (0-200 meters), twilight zone (200-1000 meters), and midnight zone (1000-4000 meters). Unless you are a marine biologist, we guarantee adults will have some learning to do too. Answer this question to see if you still have a thing or two to learn about the oceans: how much of the ocean lies within the midnight zone, where the water pressure is extreme and temperature is near freezing? a) 30 per cent; b) 70 per cent; or c) 90 per cent.

The Dive into the Deep exhibit also houses a collection of mystical aquatic creatures like the tasselled anglerfish, lungfish, clownfish and many more. Dive into the Deep is part of the permanent exhibits, which are included in the admission price, so be sure to check out some of the aquariums stand out features while you’re at it, such as the Penguin Playground and the Bay of Rays.

And for anyone playing at home: the answer was c) 90 per cent. Things seem to get weird in the midnight zone and to be honest we are glad the closest we can get to exploring it is through the digital projection. If you didn’t know the answer, go check out Dive into the Deep to learn all a whole lot more about the ocean.

  • Art
  • Southbank

The NGV will celebrate the stories and perspectives of our queer communities in a landmark new exhibition set to open in 2022. Queer is the most comprehensive Australian survey of art relating to queer themes to date, with more than 300 works pulled from the NGV collection to be exhibited across five galleries at the NGV International. 

Works on show will reflect the many ways the word "queer" can be used, from a representation of gender and sexuality to a philosophy and political movement. Naturally, you can expect works who identify as queer, but also works from artists who were not able to do so safely in their own time. There will also be works that aren't from artists who aren't part of the queer community, but whose works relate to queer histories. 

Some of the exhibitions stand out works include 'The Metropolitan' by fashion and performance great Leigh Bowery; 'St Sebastian at the Tree' by renowned German renaissance painter and printmaker Albrecht Dürer; 'The Kiss' by Peter Behrens; 'Where's Mickey?' by Destiny Deacon; and 'The Letter' by Agnes Goodsir. 

Historically, the voices and stories of those who are queer have been sanitised if not outright ignored. Queer will make a point to highlight this – while the exhibition will not present a full history of queer art, it will reflect on the gaps in the history it does present. 

Queer opens at the NGV International on March 10, 2022.

  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours

Connect to the country through these four Indigenous-led tours that run in Melbourne and surrounding regions of the Kulin Nation. Visitors can gain a deeper understanding of Melbourne's past and better understand Wurundjeri culture – a culture that dates back hundreds of thousands of years.

Explore more: meet the Deadly Melburnians, retrace history with Aunty Carolyn Briggs and learn the basics of Boon Wurrung language from Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir.

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