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Old Melbourne Gaol, Melbourne

Old Melbourne Gaol is a National Trust heritage-listed property that tells the stories of the men and women who lived (and died) there, from the Gold Rush period right up until around the 1990s, when the Russell Street watch-house was closed.

Old Melbourne Gaol is one of Melbourne’s big tourist attractions and a hit with families with older kids. While the official recommendation is age 5+ years, personally I think kids 7+ years is a better age bracket.

Most of the exhibits require reading of dense tracts of text, which means that older children with strong reading skills and a keen sense of history will get the most out of the museum.

Some of the artefacts and themes may be somewhat disturbing for young children too.

The attraction is a series of self-guided tours. There is timed entry to maintain a maximum capacity of 30 visitors per session and I think you should allow yourself approximately 1.5-2 hours if you're visiting with young kids.

Note I did not see any lifts or other accessible pathways so the site is not suitable for prams or wheelchairs. However, most of the info is on the ground level – though you still may have trouble fitting through narrow cell doors.

To help young visitors explore the gaol there are often extra activities included with entry.

For instance, kids can can ‘Escape the Gaol‘! Aimed at children aged six and up, Escape the Gaol tests children in their ability to decipher riddles and find clues, ultimately leading the ‘prisoner’ to pull off a great escape – all without being discovered by the prison guards!

The code-breaking activity uses a UV light torch, secret signs drawn on cell walls and a decoding activity sheet. Just note despite its name it's not an Escape Room experience!


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The Escape the Gaol activity booklet is designed to be completed as you self-guide throughout the Old Melbourne Gaol.  Allow 1.5 hours to 2 hours to complete the activity. You do not need to pre-book the experience as every child admission purchased will receive an Escape the Gaol activity booklet.

General entry includes a self-guided tour into Old Melbourne Gaol and the City Watch House. The Old Magistrates' Court is only open in Victorian school holidays for public access, when you can try on a costume and put yourself in history.

At the end of the Watch House tour you can take a mug shot photo for free. There is also another photo booth where you can pretend to be behind bars, but those photos need to be paid for at the gift shop.

Old Melbourne Gaol is mostly indoors so makes for a great rainy day activity. Being a heritage property there is no air-conditioning or heating so take note of the temperature before you visit.

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Tips for Old Melbourne Gaol:

  • Best suited for kids who can read fluently with an interest in history. Personally I think 7+ years is best;
  • Escape the Gaol is an immersive and educational scavenger hunt activity aimed at ages six and up.
  • Old Melbourne Gaol is mostly indoors, there is no air-conditioning or heating;
  • General admission tickets includes self-guided entry into the Old Melbourne Gaol and City Watch House;
  • Street parking 2 hours $7 per hour.
  • Tickets can be purchased on the day of visiting though bookings recommended as timed entry is required.
cropped Kristyna Hess Lockdown Portraits x

Joyce Watts is a former intellectual property, IT and media lawyer turned serial entrepreneur.

As well as being the founder of TOT: HOT OR NOT she helps businesses with their SEO, email marketing & social media as BrightSmart.com.au; she owns an online bike store CycleStyle.com.au and develops and produces creative experiences for families via WheelieGoodFun.com. She used to publish another popular lifestyle and food blog called MEL: HOT OR NOT The decisive guide to Melbourne.

She lives in inner-city Melbourne with her husband, two children and seven bikes.

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