MELBOURNE is the most European of Australia's cities, and while it may lack a truly stunning natural setting or in-your-face sights, its subtle charms are addictive. The European influence is perhaps most obvious in winter, as trams rattle past cosy cafés and bookshops, and promenaders dress stylishly against the chill. You will find many Melburnians from Italy and Greece – this is the third-largest Greek city after Athens and Thessaloniki – but also, following large-scale immigration since World War II, from Vietnam, Lebanon and Turkey. The immigrant blend makes the place a foodie centre, and tucking into a different cuisine each night – or new hybrids of East, West and South – is one of its great treats.
Melbourne is also the nation's cultural capital: laced with a healthy dash of counterculture, the city's artistic life flourishes, culminating in the highbrow Melbourne International Arts Festival in October, and its slightly more offbeat (and shoestring) cousin, the Fringe Festival. At the heart of the city lies the Central Business District (CBD), bounded by La Trobe, Spring, Flinders and Spencer streets, dotted with fine public buildings and shops, and surrounded by gardens on three sides. Sights include the ghoulish Old Melbourne Gaol and the Immigration Museum. To the north of the CBD a wander through lively, century-old Queen Victoria Market will repay both serious shoppers and people-watchers, while the Melbourne Museum in tranquil Carlton Gardens gives an insight into Australia's flora, fauna and culture. In the east, the CBD rubs up against Eastern Hill, home to Parliament House as well as the landscaped Fitzroy Gardens, from where it's a short walk to the venerable Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Bordering the south side of the CBD, the muddy and, in former decades, much-maligned Yarra River lies at the centre of the massive developments which have transformed the face of the city. Federation Square on the north bank of the Yarra River is considered the centre of the city; its adjacent park, Birrarung Marr, links Federation Square with the sports arenas further east. The city boasts a reasonably cool climate, although January and February are prone to barbaric hot spells; temperatures can climb into the forties, with the threat of bushfires.
Melbourne is a city of neighborhoods. Italian or Chinese, groovy or chic, bohemian or beachside — Melbourne has them all. Each has its own character instilled by the type of people who live and work there — emigres from all over the world who have brought their customs, beliefs, businesses, food, art and style to the city.
The Central Business District
Laid out as a grid, the city center is easy to navigate. The modern skyline of the financial district contrasts with well-preserved Victorian architecture, and the alley ways and arcades that snake through the city give it all charm and character. Swanston Street, a pedestrian mall generally considered to be the city's main drag, runs from the ornate 19th century domes of Flinders Street Station to the gleaming, billion dollar Melbourne Central Shopping Complex . The stretch of Collins Street between Swanston and Spring Streets is a more exclusive shopping strip. Known as "the Paris end" of the city, it is home to luxury boutiques and prestigious offices and hotels. Running parallel is Bourke Street, the oldest and most successful pedestrian precinct where major department stores, such as David Jones and Myer , are located. A block away, the entrance to Melbourne's Chinatown in Little Bourke Street is marked by an ornate Chinese arch. Spilling into the surrounding alley ways, it is one of the oldest in the world outside Asia, and is home to a fascinating variety of restaurants and grocery stores. The area between Swanston and Spencer Streets is nine-to-five territory, Australia's corporate heartland and headquarters of many of its largest enterprises. Ambitious plans are afoot to further extend this area by redeveloping the derelict warehouses of the adjacent docklands. The Colonial Stadium was the first project to be unveiled and if the developers have their way, the world's tallest building will soon follow. To the south and east lies a vast and beautifully maintained belt of parkland, containing the Fitzroy Gardens and the Melbourne Cricket Ground , with the Royal Botanical Gardens lying just across the Yarra River .
On the southern bank of the muddy and surprisingly narrow river lies the landmark Victorian Arts Centre and the chic Southgate shopping and dining precinct. Further along is the glitzy Crown Entertainment Complex offering a 24-hours of entertainment, luxury stores, nightclubs, eateries and one of the world's largest gaming facilities. Hugely controversial, it is one of the city's most popular, and popularly detested, sites. Whether the locals like it or not, it is also Melbourne's favorite visitor attraction. Directly opposite is the state of the art aquarium , the Convention Center and Exhibition Center.
Prahran & South Yarra
Just out of the city are Prahran and South Yarra, names often used interchangeably for roughly the same area. Home to Chapel Street, lined with boutiques and nightclubs, this is Melbourne's favorite playground and is packed every weekend with young people out for only one thing—fun! Saturday nights see the street grind to a halt and transform into a traffic jam disco, as cars blare top volume techno music, while the gay strip along Commercial Road also buzzes. The funkier, more relaxed Greville Street is home of vintage fashion stores, a weekend market and the venerable Continental Cafe . South of Prahran is Toorak, synonymous with discreet wealth, and home to many top executives.
Further out is St Kilda, which has transformed from a shabby red light district to a bayside resort, and is now a popular place for backpackers and Melburnians on a sunny weekend. The attraction is not so much the mediocre beach as the lively street life along Acland and Fitzroy Streets. Parts of the area still have a mildly seedy feel—that is definitely part of the attraction—but it also boasts Luna Park , an ornate and historic funfair along the waterfront, a lovely pier, weekend craft market , and the Esplanade and Prince of Wales hotels.
Just north of the city is Carlton. Many of the quaint Victorian terrace houses have been converted into student accommodation for the nearby university, and the district's cafes and bookstores buzz with life. The new Melbourne Museum is located here in the beautiful Carlton Gardens . Lygon Street, arguably the city's premier dining strip, is home to a large Italian community, as well as restaurants serving cuisines of Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam and even Jamaica.
Even more cosmopolitan is Brunswick Street, one of Melbourne's liveliest and most distinctive streets. Originally a working class neighborhood, it has emerged as the heartland of bohemian cafe culture, humming night and day with colorful bars, nightclubs and restaurants of every description, as well as funky and unconventional stores. Running parallel a few blocks down, Smith Street retains a grittier edge, with long-time local residents, refugees and the down and out mixing with the patrons of its cafes and music venues.
Williamstown & Other Areas
A little further out, but easily accessible by ferry or train, lies the old town of Williamstown—once a vital port. This quiet residential suburb has recently regained favor after many years in decline. Picturesque and historic streets, views over the sea and pride in bygone days attract hundreds of weekend visitors. An information center advises on the many things to do and see.
Once home to Greek immigrants, Richmond more recently has become known as “Little Saigon” with a growing Vietnamese community opening restaurants and shops along Victoria Street. The factory outlet stores of Bridge Road and Swan Street attract those in the know seeking bargain buys.
Tree-lined streets and beautiful town houses distinguish South Melbourne, popular both for its market and its growing breakfast cafe scene. Port Melbourne is being transformed from derelict docks to inner city dwellings while Albert Park is home to the Grand Prix and is a popular spot for joggers and dog walkers around its artificial lake .
Melbourne her neighborhoods, and it is only through exploring them that visitors will get a feel for the underlying beauty of this vibrant multicultural city.
Melburnians love food. If one thing sets Melbourne apart from almost all other cities in the world, it is the outstanding quality, variety and affordability of its food and drink. Melbourne's thousands of restaurants and cafes feed the city's millions with nearly every cuisine imaginable.
While some of the best places can be tucked away in the nooks and crannies of the city, it is not particularly difficult to find good food anywhere. It is actually harder to find a bad meal than it is to stumble upon a great find! Just walk down the street and take your pick of cafes, restaurants, bars and takeaway outlets. Ambiance is as important as the food, and style is simply a way of life in Melbourne, so expect to find the most popular places in the city's famous streets and districts, each known for a specific approach to lifestyle, fashion or food.
In the north of the city, Brunswick Street has become a weekend favorite for long, languid brunches enjoyed in a distinctly inner city, urban environment. The best cafes have been established for years—such as Marios and The Fitz . Newer arrivals such Retro Cafe and Umago are sneaking up the popularity stakes. These eateries are well patronized and serve up huge, hearty delectable brunches (all day and all night) using the local fresh produce to its best advantage. Brunswick Street is a sanctuary for Melbourne's fringe dwellers and arts community, so be prepared to meet street performers, joke tellers, fire twirlers and many other colorful locals.
The first wave of Italian immigrants claimed this area as their domain and it remains so today. Any celebration of Italian culture takes place here—festivals, food, fashion and the Italian sense of fun. Many of the eateries are without pretense, simply serving good wholesome Italian food the way mama used to cook it. Places like Tiamo and Brunetti have remained the same since the day they opened and can be relied on for quality at a reasonable price. Santinos Terrace is ideal for that extra special treat.
If you are traveling to the east of Brunswick Street, chances are you will stumble into Victoria Street and wonder if you are still in Australia. A wonderful example of Melbourne's cultural diversity, Victoria Street is a hectic and exciting strip of Vietnamese restaurants, businesses and street traders. People scurry to and fro and locals flock here to enjoy incredibly quick, cheap eats which are guaranteed to fill the belly. Restaurants such as Tho Tho's , Thy Thy I and The Huong have thrived in this area on quick turnaround and word of mouth.
Central Business District
With abandoned warehouses being turned into slick, modern apartments, the city of Melbourne is no longer a place just for weekday business lunches. Groovy cocktail bars, such as the Gin Palace , Hairy Canary and Melbourne Supper Club are springing up in the back alleyways to accommodate the chic set who call the city center their home. There are numerous examples of fine dining in the city center that cater specifically for the Melbourne professional — Grossi Florentino , Marchetti's Latin and Tuscan Grill are all celebrated establishments.
Where would any hungry city be without a Chinatown? Situated on Little Bourke Street in central Melbourne, Chinatown is a significant attraction of Melbourne, seeing little change over the years since the first Chinese came to make their fortunes on the goldfields. Traditionally, Chinatown is Sunday yum cha, yet Melbourne's Chinatown reflects the city's all day, all night eating attitude. The choice is wide, from restaurants that are a treat to the pocket as well as the tastebuds, to Chinese dining at its most magnificent — Flower Drum . Along with the restaurants, Chinatown also has many grocers and specialty shops, as well as a Chinese Museum .
While Southbank may exude commercialism in a way that is quite unusual for Melbourne, the food and entertainment in this area have proved to be very successful. Visitors can choose from classy and more costly to fast, funky and affordable ( Blue Train ). The Crown Entertainment Centre , with its many offerings, is hugely popular. Southbank also acts as a gateway to many tourist attractions such as the Melbourne Aquarium , Victorian Arts Centre and Polly Woodside .
Fashion is the key when heading to Chapel Street. Be seen (and make sure you have reason for people to look) on this trendy strip of designer clothes and all-that-is-hip. Expensive cars cruise Chapel Street at night but it is just as popular during the day when the beautiful people shop and enjoy long lunches over wine and coffee. The eateries are specially designed to complement the clientele with attitude and accouterments to match. Try out Caffe Sienna , Caffe e Cucina and Kush .
St Kilda exudes the relaxed, kickback culture of the seaside all year round and has grown as another arts center within Melbourne. Acland Street is at the heart of this culture—a place where you can savor the best coffees and eat the most delicious, kilojoule-laden, continental cakes in town. Many of these cafes are without presence ( La Roche Cafe ), but others are tailored for a more groovy crowd ( Big Mouth ). On Sundays, enjoy the shopping on Acland Street then peruse the crafts at the Esplanade Market .
Just around the corner from Acland Street, Fitzroy Street could be considered the main drag of St Kilda with its broad avenue leading down towards the beach . In the past Fitzroy Street gained a reputation as one of the seedier areas of Melbourne, but has now been claimed by the young arty set. Restaurants, cafes and bars, such as Sapore , Mink and Leo's Spaghetti Bar , make Fitzroy Street the place to eat, while still retaining its old street life charm.
Restaurants may come and go in this culinary crazed city, but the hospitality industry is thriving. Enjoy!
Melbourne is a cosmopolitan city sprawled around a wide beach-lined bay. Yet its center is very walkable. Many of the city's most famous attractions are within a short stroll of each other, or you can hop on one of the city's historic trams and trundle between them.
Federation Square is the new focal point of Melbourne and home to some of the city's most interesting museums. The National Gallery of Victoria 's Australian collection is housed here at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia . There's also the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and the Australian Racing Museum , dedicated to horseracing. Pick up a bowl of noodles at the popular and funky Chocolate Buddha on the northern side of the central square. Federation Square comes alive with festivals, performances and exhibitions year round. Inquire at the Melbourne Visitor Centre on the eastern corner about what's going on. From here, you can catch the free City Circle Tram on Flinders Street for a circuit of the CBD or head down to the river, directly below Federation Square , where you can rent a bike at Hire a Bike to explore the riverside Main Yarra Trail .
National Gallery of Victoria
Across the Yarra, The NGV: International showcases art from around the world, including collections from Asia and the Pacific. Next door is The Arts Centre , home to the Melbourne Theatre Company. Tours of the centre leave at 11am on Monday to Saturday and 12:15pm on Sundays. In the afternoon or evening, take in a play. Students, under 27-year-old's and seniors can buy half-price tickets from the box-office from two hours before performances begin. From October to December, The Famous Spiegeltent sets up in The Arts Centre forecourt. Recreating the world of traveling European theaters, the mirror-lined tent hosts musical and theatrical performances. Within the Arts Centre , Curve Bar offers drinks, meals and interesting canapes, while Cafe Vic serves up quick meals before the show. On Sundays, the Arts Centre Sunday Market lines the footpath from the concert hall to the river's edge, selling quality Australian crafts.
Eureka Skydeck 88
Just along the Southbank Promenade from here is Eureka Tower. At 92 floors, it's the highest building in the Southern Hemisphere, and the viewing platform at Eureka Skydeck 88 affords views all across Melbourne. Choose from the community of eateries in nearby Crown Entertainment Complex or watch the street performers at the Southgate Leisure Precinct while licking ice-cream from Trampoline . Boat tours of the Yarra leave from the lower promenade below Southbank Promenade. From here, you can also take the Williamstown Ferry across the bay to Scienceworks museum , with its hands-on exhibits for kids. Alternatively, you can head across Kings Way Bridge to Melbourne Aquarium . Its walk-through shark exhibit provides a close-up encounter with Australia's famous razor-toothed predators.
The Royal Botanic Gardens
The Royal Botanic Gardens is one of the finest in the world and a hub for Melbourne's outdoor life. Tours of its sweeping lawns, conservatories and giant trees are available through the gardens' Visitors Center. In the summer months, watch a movie relaxing on beanbags under the stars at the Moonlight Cinema or take in a play by the Australian Shakespeare Company on the gardens' lawns. The Terrace restaurant offers relaxed dining and Devonshire teas by the gardens' Ornamental Lake, while Observatory Cafe near the Ian Potter Foundation Children's Garden serves fresh, casual meals. On the lawns by the cafe is the historic Melbourne Observatory. Across the road, one of Melbourne's most prominent landmarks, The Shrine of Remembrance , commemorates the sacrifices made by service men and women.
Set in gracious Carlton Gardens , Melbourne Museum is one of the best places to learn about Melbourne and its surroundings. Don't miss the Melbourne Story exhibit about the city's history, or Bunjilaka, the Australian Aboriginal Centre. The museum has an extensive shop with quality Australian crafts and educational toys. In the same building is an IMAX cinema , and just across the courtyard is the World Heritage-listed Royal Exhibition Buildings, built in 1880 for Melbourne's first International Exhibition. Tours of the Exhibition Buildings depart most days at 2pm from Melbourne Museum . For a bite to eat, head to the Italian and university heartland of Lygon Street , just two blocks west down Grattan Street, or one stop on the free Melbourne City Tourist Shuttle . Nearby, Thresherman's Bakehouse has huge, hearty, meals for a tiny price, while Brunetti serves up authentic Italian coffees, extravagant pastries and rich hot chocolates.