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On the Waterfront - Free Self-Guided Walking Tour

Home > Melbourne > Free | Outdoor | Walks
by Vanessa M (subscribe)
I am always looking out for new experiences, wherever I may find myself.
Published January 24th 2016
Walking tours in Melbourne aren't just for visitors who want to see the sights. Yes residents might have passed by many of the attractions, but have you really been aware of all the history and culture that lies under the surface?

The City of Melbourne has created a series of walks that show off many sides of the city, and although you collect the maps at the Visitor Centre (or follow online copies), it's very clear when you do them that they're worth a look even if you live here.

The On the Waterfront tour is one I did recently and is exactly what it sounds like; a tour around the edges of the Yarra River and across many of its bridges. Revealed along the way are facts like when the bridges were created, why they got their names, and what used to be on the sites.

southbank pedestrain bridge, yarra river bridges melbourne
Southbank Pedestrian Bridge (here decorated for Christmas) marks the spot where a creek once flowed into the Yarra River. Elizabeth Street to the north runs along the route where the creek itself flowed.

I'd say most of the history covered is quite accessible, regardless of where you come from.

queens bridge melbourne, melbourne yarra river
Queen's Bridge. Houdini once dived off this bridge in chains, resurfaced after only 25 seconds.

Another side to the walk is the public art that is passed. Sculptures include the $500,000 'Dervish' near Princes Bridge, and 'Constellation', a series of mastheads on Enterprize Wharf.

constellation, enterprize wharf melbourne, yarra river walk, yarra river public art
These figureheads evoke the spirit of the tall ships that sailed along the Yarra River, though they are the same ones that caused the destruction of a waterfall near Enterprize Wharf, because it prevented access to the wide basin beyond. Without the waterfall, salt water was able to enter the freshwater wetlands and the area's ecology was destroyed.

scar project enterprize park, yarra river public art
Enterprize Park is where you'll find the Scar Project. The trees here represent the 'scar trees' that Indigenous people would leave behind after they had stripped bark off them for canoes and other things.

The 4.75 kilometre On the Waterfront route goes as far along the river as Charles Grimes Bridge and Webb Bridge, including attractions like South Wharf and Polly Woodside. I didn't do all of these, because although the route is technically a round trip and goes back to Federation Square and the Visitors Centre, it doesn't really incorporate any new points of interest on the way back (so I didn't want to walk all the way up to those bridges, only to turn back and redo everything I'd just done).

The section I did was great though and it's probably one of the easiest of the seven City of Melbourne walking tours to do because it's hard to get lost when you're by the water at all times and can see Flinders Street Station in the distance, sitting right next to Federation Square and marking the site where you started and to which you need to return.

flinders street station
Flinders Street Station is one of the first stops on the walk.

All of the walking tours by the City of Melbourne start at the Visitor Centre in Federation Square. They are all themed too, and some of the other focuses include separate walks around parks to the north and south of the river, and a look at Melbourne's famous laneways.

Another self-guided walking tour around the Yarra River is the Yarra River Precinct Arts Walk, which focuses on the public art and cultural institutions in the area. It provides more information on some of the sculptures visited throughout the On the Waterfront walk.
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Why? Learn a bit more about the sites along the Yarra River
When: Can be done at any time (but if you want to collect a map at the Visitor Centre, its hours are 9.00am to 6.00pm). The entire walk takes 2 hours.
Where: Begins and ends at Federation Square, and walks along the banks of the Yarra River
Cost: Free
Your Comment
Thanks for the article. I wasn't aware there was information for self guided tours. This is definitely of interest.
by Gayle Beveridge (score: 3|8093) 1936 days ago
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