Melbourne things to do in winter: Top five activities

The colder months see Melbourne's cultural scene explode, with art walks, open houses and campfires. Paul Chai looks at the hottest happenings this winter.

Weather has never really stopped Melburnians from doing anything – given the changeable nature of the city's meteorological fortunes we would be foolhardy to wait for a predictably sunny day to get out and about.

But it does seem as if winter is a particularly culture-heavy time in the southern capital as people look to the great indoors for something to do.

"Winter is a really important time for art and culture in Melbourne – there is The Light in Winter, Open House Melbourne and the Melbourne International Film Festival," says Nite Art co-founder Deborah Stahle. Nite Art, for example, is an evening "art walk" of back lane galleries in the city centre that are open till late so you can have a wintry wander around the city.

It's just one of many specially arranged cultural events in the coming months. There are special exhibitions at the National Gallery of Victoria to celebrate the onset of winter, some of the city's most interesting buildings are holding an open house weekend and there are special winter menus at some of the top restaurants in town (try the new American steakhouse the Longhorn Saloon in Carlton for a plate of heart-warming poutine).

But you might prefer to hit the Sydney Road live music strip in Brunswick, or find a small bar that caters well to the cold (we recommend the unrivalled whisky collection at Eau De Vie down Malthouse Lane in the city), or catch a game of the winter religion that is the Australian Football League 2015 season.

These are our top five picks of events in Melbourne that are scheduled for when the thermostat takes a dive...

Melbourne Winter Masterpieces at NGV

For more than a decade, the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series have been giving Melburnians the perfect indoor activity on a chilly winter day. These exhibitions have been sourced from some of the world's most prestigious galleries and this year's includes both a modern and a traditional blockbuster from Europe.

Music fans have to get to the enthralling multimedia extravaganza that is David Bowie is, here after a successful season at London's Victoria and Albert Museum. The exhibition celebrates Bowie's five influential decades as a musical innovator through sound, video and interactive spaces, featuring some of the musical chameleon's most extravagant costumes.


Big names from an earlier time will fill the walls at the Masterpieces from the Hermitage: the Legacy of Catherine the Great exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) from July 31 to November 8. Works by Rembrandt, Rubens and Velasquez are among the 400 paintings in a display celebrating the works of these Dutch and Flemish masters.

The extraordinary works were sourced and commissioned by Catherine during her 34-year reign."The exhibition is a rare opportunity to be immersed in the world of Catherine the Great and her magnificent collection of art," says Tony Elwood, NGV director. "Catherine the Great's inexhaustible passion for the arts, education and culture heralded a renaissance, leading to the formation of one of the world's great museums, the Hermitage." 

The Light in Winter

Keeping a warm glow going in the centre of Melbourne during the cooler months, the Light in Winter festival in Federation Square celebrates all things luminous with a range of exhibits and installations.

The 2015 edition is especially timely, given that this year is the International Year of Light, celebrating this most useful of human inventions.

"The Light in Winter has always been about light and enlightenment and this year we celebrate the International Year of Light," says spokesman Matt Jones, acting manager marketing and program. "Light is everywhere and plays a central role in our lives, from our daily activities to technology, science and even art and theatre."

The festival celebrates all forms of light from its most primitive iteration as fire – Leempeyt Weeyn, the campfire program that recreates a traditional campsite for people to come together – to very modern expressions of illumination: the world premiere of Molecule of Light, a laser installation from UK artist Chris Levine that radiates millions of colours in laser light.

Also returning this year, the Light in Winter's ninth outing, is the Solstice Celebration – a free party to celebrate the winter solstice featuring food, music and happenings on the Saturday closest to the solstice (June 20). Bring the family and celebrate the coldest, darkest point of the season. 

Open House Melbourne

Visit some of the city's most amazing hidden spaces this winter when Open House Melbourne throws open the doors of some of the southern capital's most outstanding houses and beautifully designed landscapes.

More than 130,000 people took a peek inside buildings rich in history and design last year and even more are expected to attend the 2015 event.

The Open House Melbourne Weekend is on July 25-26, but this year the event is being extended, so more people can experience it – in previous years its popularity meant attendance was subject to a ballot system.

"Improvements have been made to the program this year to ensure everybody has the chance to experience Melbourne's significant buildings including removing the need for a ballot," says Open House CEO Paul Gurney. "Nearly all buildings open on the weekend will be open access and self-guided, but access to a small number of buildings will be via pre-booked tours."

These tours always book out, so architecture enthusiasts will have to be quick. Bookings open at 10am on July 8.

Adding to the experience will be a range of talks, exhibitions and kids' activities. Potential visitors are encouraged to sign up to the newsletter to receive announcements and keep an eye on the website for a full list of participating buildings – or watch the hashtag #curiocity. 

Go footy mad at the MCG 

For many in the windy city winter is ALL about the Australian Football League season. Out come the team colours, which are just as happily worn to the office as they are to a game, and casual conversations end with "Carn the [insert team here]".

The 2015 Toyota AFL Premiership season runs through to Sunday August 30, before the Toyota AFL Finals Series is played across September. Some games to look out for include the traditional rivalry of Collingwood v Carlton in Round 19 on August 8 (though it may be a mismatch given Carlton's 2015 form); Fremantle facing off against Richmond on July 25 in Round 17; or Hawthorn vs. Essendon on June 27 in Round 13. And the Hawks are the team to watch this season as they are seeking to win a third consecutive premiership, having beaten the Sydney Swans in the 2014 Grand Final and Fremantle in the 2013 Grand Final.

Also the AFL is trying to get families back to the weekend games. "In Victoria in 2015, there is a renewed focus on weekend afternoon football with 20 Saturday day games and 27 Sunday day games for a total of 47 weekend day games overall in Victoria," says Patrick Keane, media relations manager at the AFL. "In 2015, the timeslot for Saturday night matches in Victoria has come forward by 20 minutes from 7.40pm to 7.20pm, while afternoon matches start at either 1.45pm or 2.10pm." The full list of matches can be accessed online.  

Nite Art 2015

Art lovers can take to the Melbourne streets on Thursday July 23 and "curate your own night out" when Nite Art takes over three precincts around the city. In the CBD, Melbourne University and the Art Precinct surrounding Federation Square galleries and city spaces will open through the night for an evening "artwalk".

The idea is to make the whole city an exhibition space for this single evening. There will be light installations with light-based games for people to play, soundscapes and mini-events.

The hub of this nocturnal art fest will be the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne, which will remain open until midnight.

"Nite art is much more intimate experience than something like the big budget White Night Melbourne," says Nite Art co-founder Deborah Stahle. "It is full of discovery and it's a more internal experience where you are disappearing down laneways and discovering art spaces, studios and installations.

"Nite Art 2015 explores the depth and diversity of contemporary cultural practice, at the intersection of art and other fields of knowledge like science, design and technology. Curated projects can be experienced in private and public spaces that highlight the creativity, experimentation and ideas that make up our city." 

See also: The best of Melbourne in three days