The grand steps of Victoria’s parliament (1856) are often dotted with tulle-wearing brides smiling for the camera and placard-holding protesters. On sitting days the public is welcome to view proceedings from the galleries. On nonsitting days there are eight guided tours daily; times are posted online and on a sign by the door. Numbers are limited to 25 people, so arrive at least 15 minutes before time. Check online to book architecture or art tours in advance.
The building's interiors are bursting with gold-rush-era pride and optimism, expressed through exuberant use of ornamental plasterwork, stencilling and gilt. Tours head through the lower house (legislative assembly), the upper house (legislative council) and the library. Fascinating design features and the symbolism underlying much of the ornamentation are illuminated by the knowledgeable guides. Ask about the mystery of the stolen ceremonial mace that disappeared from the lower house in 1891 – it’s rumoured to have ended up in a brothel.
Australia’s first federal parliament sat here from 1901 until 1927, when it moved to Canberra (the Victorian parliament temporarily relocated to the Royal Exhibition Building). Though they’ve never been used, gun slits are visible just below the roof, and a dungeon is now the cleaners’ tearoom.
Speaking of tea, parliament has been serving it since 1924. High tea is $50 per person and includes scones, pastries and finger sandwiches, as well as a glass of sparkling and tea or coffee in a handsome, dark timber-clad setting. Served Monday to Friday on nonsitting days from 2.30pm.