This grand neoclassical building has been at the forefront of Melbourne's literary scene since 1856. When its central La Trobe Reading Room was completed in 1913, the six-storey-high, reinforced-concrete octagonal dome was the world's largest; its natural light illuminates ornate plasterwork and studious Melburnians. The library’s original reading room, the Ian Potter Queen’s Hall, recently reopened after a glorious refurbishment. Galleries offer free exhibitions of Victorian artefacts (including outlaw Ned Kelly's armour). Free 45-minute tours depart daily (10.45am) from Readings.
Start on the dome-viewing balcony on the 6th floor and work your way down to the Dome Galleries, spread over the next two floors, including the Changing Face of Victoria exhibition on the 5th floor. 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 Wurundjeri people.
Bibliophiles won't want to miss the World of the Book 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. Also inside are the Cowen Gallery and South Rotunda, which display highlights of photographs and paintings from the Library’s collection, as well as the Victoria Gallery, where you'll find the bullet-dented armour 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.
Families with kids up to 12 years old will find a host of books and special activities on offer in the brand-new Pauline Gandel Children's Quarter.
The lawns in front of the library are a popular lunching and reading spot, and civic protests are often held here.