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HOT: Old Melbourne Gaol, Melbourne

HOT: Old Melbourne Gaol, Melbourne

Old Melbourne Gaol is one of Melbourne’s big tourist attractions but we’ve only just visited recently because I think it’s more suitable for primary school kids and up.

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.

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 can be disturbing for young children too. 

There are guided tours for an extra $5 per person but as it runs for 40 minutes the staff advise it’s probably not suitable for young kids. We stick with the self-guided option through the three floors.

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, during the school holidays there are often extra activities included with entry. This summer school holidays from Saturday 22 December to Tuesday 29 January 2019, kids can go on a scavenger hunt to uncover a secret from notorious criminal Ned Kelly, hidden within the cells at the Old Melbourne Gaol.

The code-breaking activity uses a UV light torch, secret signs drawn on cell walls and a decoding activity sheet. At the end of A Word From Ned there is a small reward from the gift shop (spoiler alert – a letter from Ned Kelly and a sticker).

There is also a Ned Kelly virtual reality experience for an extra $5 per person but it’s recommended for 12+ years so we miss it.

General entry includes a self-guided tour into Old Melbourne Gaol and two guided experiences – the Watch House tour and Magistrates Court tour. We visit the former as it’s shorter (30 minutes) and we run out of time to visit the latter (40 minutes).

The Watch House experience is led by a pretend police sergeant who orders us to walk, stand, hands out charge sheets and generally gives us a dressing down.

The kids get the giggles and think it’s great fun! It certainly makes the tour more memorable than your standard museum walkthrough.

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 airconditioning or heating so take note of the temperature before you visit.

HOT Tips:

  • Best suited for kids who can read fluently with an interest in history. Personally I think 7+ years is best;
  • A Word From Ned code-breaking activity is designed for children aged five and over;
  • Old Melbourne Gaol is mostly indoors, there is no airconditioning or heating;
  • General admission tickets includes self-guided entry into the Old Melbourne Gaol, a guided Watch House Experience, the former Magistrate’s court;
  • Be escorted around the Gaol on a 40 minute tour. Tours run through out the day and are limited to 30 people per tour;
  • Street parking 2 hours $7 per hour.
  • Tickets can be purchased on the day of visiting.

Joyce Watts

Joyce Watts is a former intellectual property, IT and media lawyer turned entrepreneur. She combines her love for kids, food, travel and bikes into several passion projects.

She owns an online bike store CycleStyle.com.au; develops and produces bike-related creative experiences for families via WheelieGoodFun.com; and writes another popular lifestyle and food blog called MEL: HOT OR NOT The decisive guide to Melbourne with (non-kid related) reviews about things to do and places to go in Melbourne.

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

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