Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens

The most beautiful building in Melbourne

Country: Australia | Type: Cultural | Theme: EducationSecular Structure

Introduction to Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens

The Royal Exhibition Building has been said to be the most beautiful building in Melbourne, Australia. The building and the accompanying Carlton Gardens were designed by the architect Joseph Reed for the great international exhibitions in Melbourne in the 1880s. The building is constructed from slate, brick, timber, and steel, and has style features that include the Byzantine, Romanesque, Lombardic and Italian Renaissance. The Royal Exhibition Building is one of the oldest still-standing exhibition halls in the world, and is the sole hall still being used as venue for exhibitions. The building still hosts big trade and public exhibitions and key events. The Carlton Gardens are a good example of the Gardenesque style of the 1800s. The gardens features include garden beds in the parterre style, important avenues, a system of paths, groups of trees, three fountains, and two little lakes. The Royal Exhibition Building & Carlton Gardens were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2004.

The building and its gardens were designed for the two great international exhibitions in Melbourne in the 1880s. The building’s architect was Joseph Reed, and the building is made from steel and slate, brick and timber. The building features elements from the Byzantine, Romanesque, Lombardic and Italian Renaissance eras.

The international exhibition movement had a great impact around the world and the structures designed and made to host the displays world-wide were impressive. However, only a small number of the buildings are still standing. Only a few remain authentic in their original setting and state. The Royal Exhibition Building, still located on its original site and in excellent condition, is therefore a rare building that has survived.

The Carlton Gardens consist of two main sections – an axial garden layout in the area to the south of the building, and a garden in the northern area that was designed at the end of the two 1880s exhibitions. The South Carlton Gardens, its name now, is still used as parklands and for exhibition functions. A major recent alteration has been the construction of the Melbourne Museum in the northern garden.

The Royal Exhibition Building has continued to stand in its original location and in garden surroundings. This is different from most other exhibition buildings world-wide. T he building has had many and varied functions over the years. It was used as an exhibition hall up until 1901. The building then became a parliament building until nearly 1920. It was used as a fever hospital during World War I. After the war and until 1975 it was used as offices and stores, and as a ballroom. The building was formally added to the Register of the National Estate in 1975. The descriptor “Royal” became part of the official name of the building in 1980.

The background of the Royal Exhibition Building & Carlton Gardens is tied to the history and growth of the international exhibition movement that extended across the continents from the 1850s. The movement highlighted technological innovation and development, which promoted a rapid boost in international trade and industrialisation by knowledge and idea exchange.

The immense scale of the structure is a reflection of the values associated with industrialisation. The building displays a number of the significant features that made the exhibitions so spectacular and successful, like a dome, a great hall, huge portals to entry, adaptable areas for display, axial planning, as well as accompanying gardens and areas for viewing.

Unlike many international exhibition pavilions, the Royal Exhibition Building was intended to be a permanent building having an important role to play in cultural activities as Melbourne city developed. The building still functions as an exhibition hall today.

Most major airlines fly Into Melbourne, Australia. Melbourne’s airport is approximately 20 minutes from the central business district by car or airport bus transfer.

The Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens are located right in the central business district of Melbourne. The building and gardens are serviced by Parliament train station, the City Circle and numbers 86 & 96 trams, and buses 250, 251 and 402.

Tours of the building take place at 2pm most days, departing from the Melbourne Museum next door.

Key Facts

Nearest City:Melbourne
Coordinates: Lat: -37.8061, Long: 144.9703


  • Magnificent building and gardens
  • Architecturally important example of an international pavilion
  • Byzantine, Romanesque, Lombardic and Renaissance features
  • Guided tours of the building
  • Melbourne Museum and IMAX cinema nearby
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