The grand steps of Victoria’s parliament (1856) are often dotted with tulle-wearing brides smiling for the camera as well as 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. It's served Monday to Friday on nonsitting days between 2.30pm and 4pm. Bookings essential.

At the time of research a comprehensive series of building renewal works saw sections of the building hidden by scaffolding, which may be going on for a few years.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Melbourne attractions

1. Old Treasury Building

0.15 MILES

The fine neoclassical architecture of the Old Treasury Building (1862), designed by 19-year old JJ Clarke, is a telling mix of hubris and functionality…

2. St Patrick’s Cathedral

0.17 MILES

Designed by William Wardell, Melbourne's Catholic cathedral is among the world's finest examples of Gothic Revival architecture and the largest church…

3. Tolarno Galleries

0.19 MILES

Tolarno was an integral player in Melbourne’s most famous midcentury artistic marriage: that between Georges and Mirka Mora. The gallery was once…

4. Chinese Museum

0.24 MILES

The fascinating and often fraught history of Chinese people in Australia is showcased in this wonderful little museum in the heart of Chinatown. Start on…

5. Alcaston Gallery

0.32 MILES

Set in an imposing boom-style terrace, the Alcaston showcases international and Australian art, with a focus on the work of living Indigenous Australian…

6. Chinatown

0.32 MILES

For more than 150 years this section of central Melbourne, now flanked by five traditional arches, has been the focal point for the city's Chinese…

7. Conservatory

0.34 MILES

This 1930s Spanish-mission-style greenhouse showcases vibrant floral displays that change five times a year.

8. West Space

0.38 MILES

One of Melbourne’s oldest nonprofit, artist-run galleries, West Space has a varied exhibition schedule featuring young and emerging artists. Expect a…