Not just home to Victoria Bitter, or Tennis Australia’s epicentre, but every jar of Vegemite ever made AND the largest Greek population outside of Athens, Melbourne is the world’s southernmost, largest city and I like it. A lot.
So what’s to like?
1. The Climate
Yes, don’t faint.
Australians mercilessly tease anyone heading to Melbourne, taunting them with comments like: “you’ll need your umbrella or, don’t forget your raincoat, (even in summer!). But in my experience, this is almost always wrong. Unless, of course, you visit in wintertime, which is, in Melbourne’s defense, their scheduled wet season!
Other Australian cities actually have a higher rainfall than Melbourne, but Melbourne does have more rainy days. This is most likely due to “fairy rain” or “Melbourne mist”- hardly worth worrying about, when compared to the drenching one might receive in northerly Brisbane (the so-called Sunshine state)! When the tropical thunderstorms unleash their fury in that city, nothing will protect you from being wet through. This is hardly likely in Melbourne.
Those coming from northerly parts of the globe will revel in the temperate climate with 30 + Celsius temps in summer and be relieved that there is no white stuff to shovel in winter, but if you want that, of course you can travel to the snow fields of Falls Creek, (a mere five-hour drive), in the highlands of the Snowy Mountains. So, yes, the climate!!
2. The Arts Scene
There is no shortage of exhibitions, events, displays to sink your teeth into. Jean Paul Gautier is currently on display at the National Gallery of Victoria, overlooking the river, with a “Home” exhibition outside. The Film Institute at Federation Square is also free to enter, and the Ian Potter Museum, next door, houses the biggest collection of native art and changing contemporary exhibitions of interest.
Opposite these iconic institutions, there’s an informal but fascinating street display of Graffiti in Hosier lane. Undiscovered talent abounds there!
3. The History
Melbourne, touted as Australia’s capital city in the gold-rush era, was one of the wealthiest cities in the world in the 1800’s. Zürich, eat your heart out!!! The Queen Victoria exhibition building, housing the World Expo of 1880, is but one example of the wealth and status of Melbourne in years gone by.
Unfortunately with all the wealth, comes crime, and the Old Melbourne Goal was built from blue-stone blocks to house the undesirables of society. Whilst no longer in active use, it makes a great sightseeing destination, one that is completely interactive. I spent a few hours there, including several tense minutes being locked in a padded cell, (as a visitor), saw the flogging triangle, then was a “witness” in a mock courtroom trial of Ned Kelly: (the famous bush-ranger), stood under the gallows and trapdoor, where Ned Kelly and other notorious criminals were hung, saw their death masks, and even tried on a Ned Kelly style metal helmet. Great stuff and loads of fun!
On a more sombre note, the Shrine of Remembrance is a gargantuan memorial to the fallen veterans of war and gives an excellent vantage point of Melbourne, from the upper balcony. The structure is something like a cross between an Egyptian pyramid and Mayan temple. Impressive and grandiose are words that come to mind.
The date 11th November is earmarked as Remembrance day, when all Australians observe a minute of silence to honor their veterans, and the Shrine is constructed so that at 11am on 11th November , sunlight will cross a stone inside the Shrine to illuminate the word Love in the verse, “Greater Love Hath No Man,” in reference to the supreme sacrifice many young men have made in support of war efforts in Allied countries. (N.B. not our own). This phenomenon is recreated, most days, on the hour, for visitors.
You can also visit the Melbourne Museum for a chance to see the real “Phar Lap”, a revered Australian race horse (world’s fastest of its time), which died prematurely whilst competing in America. For someone like me who is not into horses at all, I found the exhibit completely mesmerizing.
Don’t forget to check out the Fairy Tree and Captain James Cook’s cottage (transported brick by brick from England) in the ‘Fitzroy’ Gardens for some unusual features in Australian history.
4. The Architecture
Historic and beautiful examples of great architecture abound in Melbourne, like the Windsor hotel, the State Library’s Reading Room, the original gas lights, (on the Prince’s bridge and outside the Parliament building), as well as the old Shot Tower, now protected by an awesome glass dome.
In addition, Art Deco is alive and kicking at Luna Park and the ‘Palais’ Theatre, in St. Kilda and both sit comfortably together with more innovative modern examples of architectural genius like the Rialto building and Eureka Towers, with it top 10 floors plated with 22 carat gold. Visit Eureka at sunset for a fantastic view, of the city lights, or “hang out” suspended in mid-air, 88 storeys above the ground, in the Edge glass cube.
5. The Beach
Unless you are anywhere near the calibre of surfing legend Lane Beechley, the swell at St Kilda Beach is everything you need in a beach and its within a stone’s throw of the city. There may not be any ‘dumpers,’ (i.e. large waves that roll in and crash over your head, throwing you around and forcing you to swallow copious amounts of salty water) but hey, I am comfortable with low lapping waves, and white sand that goes on for miles, with swanky cafes nearby (offering free Wi-fi), grand federation era guesthouses and an old style picture theatre, and amusement park. Coney Island: eat your heart out….
6. The Shopping
Not really my scene, but I do have a teenage daughter so it is a must do. It seems there is a very good reason Swedish fashion giant H& M decided to open their first Australian store there. It is Australia’s fashion capital, (also the former hub of cloth manufacturing), and the city is alive with shoppers and not too pricey shopping arcades with brand labels. Check out the Spencer Street outlet centre for bargains under $10.00
7. The People and Food
Australians are, by and large, a friendly, laid-back bunch. Melbourne has a lively and vibrant Italian community so that you can visit authentic Italian restaurants and coffee houses in Lygon Street, such as the fabulous “Brunetti,” to the north of the city centre, where the pasta, pastries and espresso are better than that served in the streets of Milan.
For an alfresco dinner, there is nothing better than Hardware Lane, (where waiters entice customers in by offering extra deals) or, De Graves Street: a cosmopolitan alleyway of small street cafes, intimate restaurants and eateries that would feel more at home in France or the continent than in Australia. The food is pretty good too, with all cuisines catered for.
Not only Italians, but a mix of cultures, live quite happily within Melbourne, be they Greek, Asian or Indian, indigenous, or white Australian. On the face of it, everyone co-exists happily enough.
8. Public Transport
Melbourne is thanking its lucky stars that they kept their tram system, even after other Australian cities ditched theirs years ago. Trams will take you to a multitude of destination and the free city circle tram enables tourists to quickly access each end of the central business district without fuss, or tired legs! The whole city is a free transport zone, meaning any bus, train or tram is free within the city centre boundaries. ‘Win-win’ for tourists. N.B. You will need a ‘myki’ (electronic) card to access areas outside of the city centre on public transport. The airport bus runs every 10 minutes and is fast and extremely efficient.
Grab a city bike, located at various stations around the city, and for a few dollars, you can have a pleasant 5km cycle along dedicated bike-ways along St. Kilda Road or around Albert Park Lake, dropping off the bike when you arrive at St. Kilda beach.
9. Further Afield – Proximity to other Attractions
Melbourne is the starting place for those venturing on the Great Ocean Road, one of the World’s most Scenic journeys. Melbourne is also the departure point for the ferries to Tasmania. Don’t forget to spend some time in country Victoria in the cherry orchards, take a steam train through country villages, experience the history of Gold Rush towns like ‘Ballarat’ and ‘Bendigo’, or get a taste of Aussie wine at the many Yarra Valley wineries.
10. The Gardens
If you have a green thumb, you will be in heaven in Melbourne city. With three botanic gardens and several parks all within a 3 kilometre radius of one another, everyone in the family will find something to like. Fitzroy Gardens has Cook’s cottage and a fabulous Victorian Conservatory; Carlton Gardens, the Queen Victoria building and Museum and the Botanical Gardens includes The Shrine, Government House and the Myer Music Bowl.
11. The Sport
If spectator sport is your thing, Melbourne offers viewing of the world’s top tennis players at tournaments, throughout the year, in the state of the art ‘Rod Laver’ Arena, cricket at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the very Australian “Aussie Rules” Football in almost every city suburb and is currently hosting the Asian cup in Soccer.
As my taxi driver advised me: There is never time to be bored in Melbourne
Something to Ponder About