This grand neoclassical building has been at the forefront of Melbourne's literary scene since it opened in 1856. When its epicentre, the gorgeous octagonal La Trobe Reading Room, was completed in 1913, its reinforced-concrete dome was the largest of its kind in the world; its natural light illuminates the ornate plasterwork and the studious Melbourne writers who come here to pen their works. For visitors, the highlight is the fascinating collection showcased in the Dome Galleries.
Start on the dome viewing balcony on the 6th floor and then work your way down to the Dome Galleres, spread over the next two floors. The 5th floor has the Changing Face of Victoria exhibition. Its most notable items are the bullet-dented armour and death mask of Ned Kelly, Australia's most infamous bushranger; the menacing helmet was cobbled together from a plough with a slit cut out for the eyes. There's also numerous original Burke and Wills memorabilia and John Batman's controversial land treaty (read: land grab), in which he's believed to have forged the signatures of the Wurundjeri people.
Bibiliophiles won't want to miss the Mirror of the World exhibition on the 4th floor, featuring a weird and wonderful collection of books through the ages, including a 4000-year-old Sumerian cuneiform tax receipt, significant religious tomes and beautifully rendered nature studies. There are also a couple of galleries on the ground floor near the main entrance.
For more information, join a free hour-long themed tour (departing at 11.30am, 1pm and 2pm).
The lawns in front of the library are a popular lunching and blogging spot; protests and free events are often held here.