Five of the best things to do in Melbourne this winter

Red blood moon with an iridescent reddish hue in the night sky

Sue Hewitt

Posted May 19, 2021

Melbourne's CBD will come to life this winter with a series of unmissable events.

From Mickey Mouse to Monet and a giant illuminated eel, Melbourne is bouncing back to life with a season of blockbuster festivals and events that promises to breathe new life into the city. 

The buzzing events calendar kicks off with Melbourne’s new winter arts festival, Rising, which begins on 26 May – the night of a rare blood moon, a total lunar eclipse that will see the night sun light up the sky with an irridescent reddish hue.

Here are five unmissable blockbusters bringing the buzz back to Melbourne this winter.

A woman enjoying the immersive Snow White exhibit at ACMI

Immerse yourself in the magic of Disney animation at ACMI. Photo: Getty

Five unmissable events in Melbourne this winter

Disney: The Magic of Animation (until 17 October at ACMI)

When you wish upon a star, the magic of Disney animation comes alive. Melbourne has the first Australian show of the original sketches and rare artworks spanning the almost 100 years of Disney animation. Starting with such treasures as a pencil drawing from Mickey Mouse’s debut in Steamboat Willie in 1928 to the first-ever showing of artworks from this year’s Raya and the Last Dragon.

Whether you’re a little kid or a big kid at heart, Disney: The Magic of Animation exhibition featuring 500 exhibits from your favourite animation films will intrigue and delight while you explore the evolution of this art form. There’s an immersive room where you can experience the depth of colour in animation through scenes from The Lion King (1994) and Pocahontas (1995), and another where you can step inside the images to become part of a scene from the 1937 classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Rising Festival (26 May to 6 June, various locations)

Back to Melbourne starts with a bang with the newest cultural arts event, Rising, bringing electrifying art, music, performances, ceremonies and new foodie experiences to the city’s heart. Over 12 nights, there are 133 events and projects – including 36 world premiere commissions – featuring more than 750 Victorian artists across multiple venues to replace the Melbourne International Arts Festival and White Night Melbourne. The four key locations are Chinatown, Birrarung Marr, Arts Precinct and Midtown, as well as satellite sites around the city, from laneways and twisting waterways to carparks and hidden ballrooms.

Its edgy line-up sees a nude disco, a gigantic glowing eel on the Yarra and a supernatural forest called The Wilds at the Myer Music Bowl with an on-stage ice rink. Flinders Street Station’s majestic ballroom, hidden from the public for 35 years, will house an immersive, multi-sensory show by leading Australian artist Patricia Piccinini. Her somewhat unsettling uber-real silicone sculptures merge human and animal forms, and she uses video, sound and light to enhance the experience. Foodies can dive into the nightly banquet at the Mess Hall (in the Town Hall) or several other food extravaganzas. The adventurous can be ferried to Herring Island in the dark to partake in sonic bathing in baths with soundwaves pulsing through the water, while music lovers starved during COVID are spoilt for choice.

The Bungul event at Rising Festival, Melbourne, 2021

The Bungul event at RISING festival. Photo: Getty


French Impressionism (4 June to 3 October at the National Gallery of Victoria) 

In an international coup that will captivate art lovers, the NGV will host a world-wide exclusive exhibition of more than 100 masterworks of French Impressionism. Claude Monet is the star of the show, which features remarkable artworks from the world’s most comprehensive collection of Impressionist paintings, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. There are also works by the biggest names of the Impressionist movement, such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Mary Cassatt, including 79 masterpieces never seen before in Australia.

Sixteen Monet canvases will be displayed on a curved wall to imitate the oval gallery the artist helped design at the Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris, to exhibit his famous Water Lilies series. The works coming to Melbourne span 30 years and capture the artist’s beloved scenes of nature and his extraordinary garden in Giverny. The exhibition is presented with themes across 10 sections that follow the evolution of Impressionism, from the early works of Monet and Eugene Boudin and artists of the Barbizon school who painted outdoors. 

Treasures of the Natural World (from 12 June at Melbourne Museum)

We can leave Australia to see the natural wonders of the world, but in a world-first, Melbourne Museum is bringing them to us. From the bones of a woolly mammoth to an 11-million-year-old fragment of a Martian meteorite, the Treasures of the Natural World exhibition allows you to get up close and personal with priceless objects that mark milestones of the earth’s history over millions of years. There are than 200 rare scientific, historic and culturally significant objects and specimens from The Natural History Museum, London, home to some of history’s rarest and most significant discoveries.

Among those on their way to Melbourne is a massive claw from the baryonyx, a dinosaur that stalked the earth 120 million years ago, standing on two legs while using its claws to slash at prey. Visitors can marvel at a 400,000-year-old hand axe that was found alongside the bones of a woolly mammoth, see the birds that inspired Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, or take a peek at the world’s biggest butterfly, the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing with a wingspan up to 28 centimetres, only found in certain forests in Papua New Guinea.

Melbourne International Film Festival (5 to 22 August)

Running since 1952, the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) is one of the world’s oldest film festivals, alongside Cannes and Berlin, and even COVID couldn’t stop it. Last year the festival went online and streamed more than 118 features, documentaries, and short films from 56 countries in 32 languages over three weeks. Its famously loyal followers lapped up the films from their lounge rooms but now film lovers can’t wait to get back into cinema seats with a bag of popcorn. The 2021 program has yet to be finalised but will include global as well as locally produced feature films, short films, virtual reality experiences, and nostalgic movie marathons screened across 18 days.