Australia’s great coastal cities enjoy world renown for their incomparable outdoor lifestyle. Sydney and Brisbane for their sun-drenched, water-based relaxation; Perth for great beaches; and Adelaide for parks and scenic hills. Yet Melbourne stands apart with an open-air character of its own; cosmopolitan and sophisticated, yet still essentially Australian in every way.
Set out to explore Melbourne and you’ll find a multi-faceted city full of surprises. And with an explorer’s mind, you’ll uncover things mere tourists will almost certainly overlook. To get your adventurous juices flowing, start your journey at the vast Visitor Information Centre in Federation Square, that un-missable landmark right across from Flinders Street Station. You can book tours, buy tickets or just get maps for your own self-guided voyage of discovery.
Outside in Federation Square you're just as likely to see street theatre, musicians or all manner of performance artists - and if you're not careful, you may end up as part of the entertainment! Opened in 2002 to celebrate the nation's coming of age, futuristic Federation Square offers a wide assortment of art, dining and entertainment options all ideally located. And if the clouds gather, there's plenty to do indoors.
Australians, as you’ll find out, enjoy a special sense of humour and Melbourne is often teased about its varying weather. But in truth, a glorious sunny day in Autumn or Spring is no time to be hanging around inside and Melbournians and their guests can be found strolling the leafy banks of the Yarra, picnicking, cycling or enjoying one of the superb al fresco dining experiences along Southbank or any of the city streets.
If the classic river steamer passing under Princes Bridge looks inviting, why not give it a try? Climb aboard M.V. Grower, the river’s oldest working ferry, just in front of Southbank for a half- or one hour tour.
You just can’t get a bad coffee in Melbourne. Pull up a seat at any outdoor café and sit back for an hour and just soak up the atmosphere while you ponder an aromatic macchiato or dense restrito. Just like a good café, Melbourne offers way more than a simple cappuccino.
If you want to cover some ground in a short time, you can hire a bicycle at Federation Square and head down to the new docklands area on the western edge of the CBD; a recently redeveloped cityscape, transformed into a modern living space from grungy warehouses and wharfs. Even the locals are only starting to discover this new part of town. With the massive Telstra Dome, the new home of Aussie Rules football, as its centrepiece, the list of quality eateries, restaurants and cafes rolls on like the never-ending movie credits. Stop for a moment though and admire the Variety Australian Entertainers of the Century and Walk of Stars, where 100 plaques, a mosaic wall and bronze figures commemorate Australia’s finest entertainers.
Pedal northeast past the historic Flagstaff Gardens to the Queen Victoria Market. No matter where in the world you travel, the local outdoor markets will always give you an insight into the character of a city. The Queen Victoria Markets are Melbourne’s market and, in keeping with the outgoing flair of the city, often provide entertaining street theatre and music that can be as simple as talented buskers, right through to the lavish Opera in the Market with a lineup including Opera Australia’s Taryn Fiebig, tenor sensation Roy Best, and the international flautist Jane Rutter. Sunday’s the day.
Let’s do lunch – and where else but the thriving cosmopolitan and gastronomic centre of Melbourne; Lygon Street, Carlton. Nationally recognised for its wonderful diversity of cuisine, it is probably best known for fabulous Italian dining. The historic heartland of Melbourne’s Italian community, it’s the place where the city’s famous café culture was born – or so they say!
In Lygon Street, you’ll find pasta and pizza like you’ve never imagined. Such wonderfully evocative names such as Il Gusto, Il Fresco and Piccolo Mondo will greet you as you try to make a choice from the scores that line both sides of the street. Relax, you can’t choose a bad one.
After a satisfying repast and perhaps a vino, stroll or pedal across the few hundred metres to the magnificent Carlton Gardens and Melbourne Museum. Established in 1857, the classically-designed gardens are dominated by the imposing UNESCO World Heritage listed Royal Exhibition Building.
Following the garden trail, we can continue clockwise around the CBD to the expansive Fitzroy and Treasury Gardens with its superb conservatory and the relocated Cooks Cottage, brought out from Yorkshire in barrels and crates and reassembled in 1934 to commemorate the great navigator and discoverer.
Back in the city we can track down a few unusual and eclectic attractions. In summer, climb to the top of 252 Swanston Street, right in the heart of the city, and enjoy some al fresco shopping. That’s right, The Rooftop Market, is open from 11am until 3.30pm every Friday and is “chock-a-block” full of quirky and cute designer label like Aduki, Hamb, Gorman and Boy on a Bike. At night the space reverts to the Rooftop Cinema where you can relax in a deckchair and take in a classic with a drink from the bar.
Did I say bar? No-one goes thirsty in Melbourne and the cocktail bars and nightlife are an institution in Melbourne. Within the city, try a Manhattan at Madame Brussels, a Long Island Tea at The Order of Melbourne, or a Margarita at the Meccca Bah, Docklands. You’ll never run out of choice.
To top off your Melbourne experience, book in advance for a table or bar stool at Taxi back in Federation Square. Immensely popular, multi-award winning Taxi is *the* current hot ticket in town. Michael Lambie’s vast and intriguing menu can only be conquered by repeat visits, but a degustation is a wise choice for those wishing to get cross section. Just make sure the wagyu beef is on the list.
Tour planning and attractions:
Visitor Information Centres: Federation Square, Burke Street Mall
Taxi Dining Room – Level 1, Transport Hotel, Federation Square, Cnr Flinders and Swanston Sts, 9654 8808
Rooftop Market - 252 Swanston Street - www.rooftopmarket.com
Queen Victoria Market, Corner Elizabeth and Victoria Streets Tel: (03) 9320 5822 www.qvm.com.au
City of Melbourne Local Government (for Parks and Gardens) Phone: +61 3 9658 9658 www.melbourne.vic.gov.au
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