Although often eclipsed by Sydney in the glamour stakes, Melbourne is where Australia’s real cultural action takes place. With its vibrantly multicultural makeup, Melbourne is not-uncommonly referred to as the most liveable city in the world.
The city’s fortunes have waxed and waned over the years; the gold rush of 1851 caused a boom, and by 1880 Melbourne was the richest city in the world – but only a decade later it had slumped into depression. This mixed past, combined with the legacies of government and immigration, has left Melbourne with an interesting and varied architecture and culture – and a lot of history.
What Melbourne lacks in big-name landmarks, it more than makes up for in attractive spots around the city. Federation Square is at the top of this list; this mixed-use space opened in 2002, and has become a Melbourne institution. Fed Square’s huge public screen, indoor and outdoor stages and mix of museums and cafes have made it a popular meeting-place for locals and visitors – and something, from art installations to live music, is always going on.
Melbourne is an excellent city to wander in, when its famously changeable weather permits. Leave plenty of time to explore the city as a whole, particularly areas such as Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, famous for its more alternative culture.
Along with its arts crown, Melbourne is also the sports capital of Australia. Original home of the lively domestic game of choice, Australian Rules Football, Melbourne also hosts the Formula One Australian Grand Prix, and is home to the country’s main cricket venue, the Melbourne Cricket Club.
For many, though, one sporting event trumps all the rest: the Melbourne Cup. This legendary horse race sees owners and racing fans from all over the world descend on Melbourne every November. The Cup is one of the richest races in the world – behind Dubai – and is the most prestigious two-mile race anywhere.
Almost two centuries of continuous immigration have left Melbourne with one of the most multicultural societies anywhere in the world, and this shows in its cuisine. An excellent meal from any part of the world is pretty much guaranteed – provided you know where to go: to start with, try suburban Lygon Street for Italian, or Glenferrie Road in Malvern for a variety of Asian cuisines. Adventurous diners should look for local food guides, and ask Melburnians for their dining tips.
As might be expected for a centre of the arts, Melbourne offers visitors an especially varied nightlife scene. From live music and the latest plays, to trendy art exhibits and the hottest new clubs, there’s probably too much to do after dark for a single visit. Again, local listings publications are the best place to start for those after a good time.
Following the Yarra river north from Melbourne brings you to one of Australia’s main wine-growing regions – the Yarra Valley, famous for its chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. Melbourne’s state of Victoria is a major centre of wine production, and oenophiles could spend many happy weeks exploring the state’s different wine regions.
Some 240km to the south of Melbourne lies the island of Tasmania, from where Melbourne’s original western settlers first set off. Tasmania is one of the most beautiful and unspoilt parts of Australia, and home to dozens of animal and plant species found nowhere else in the world. For those in search of the wilder side of Australia, flights from Melbourne to Tasmania operate daily.