By Roger Allnutt
Although Sydney is undoubtedly the most recognizable city in Australia, no visit down under would be complete without including the nation’s second city, Melbourne.
Compared with brash Sydney with its great location on Sydney Harbour, Melbourne is a more refined treasure. The city offers delights ranging from great shopping to world-leading sporting venues, arts and culture mixed with fantastic open spaces and gardens.
Explore Melbourne’s CBD
The Central Business District is set out in a grid pattern with the River Yarra forming a boundary on its south-eastern edge. Within the CBD are numerous shopping complexes – many boutiques are found in the arcades joining the main streets – mixed in with high-rise office blocks and a number of classy hotels. The CBD is best explored on foot but if you tire, catch the free “purple” tram that circles the area during business hours. Actually, one of Melbourne’s enduring symbols is the tram – be aware when crossing the road as they can creep up on you remarkably silently.
Federation Square and St. Paul’s
One of the most popular areas of the CBD is around Federation Square at the junction of Swanston and Flinders Streets and opposite bustling Flinders Street Station. Incorporating the Melbourne Visitors Centre (a great source of information), Federation Square includes a branch of the National Gallery of Victoria showing Australian art, the Victorian Wine Precinct, the Australian Racing (horses) Museum together with restaurants and bars. At times the large screen in the square shows local sporting events.
On the opposite side of Flinders Street you can take in the cool charm of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the main Anglican church in the city, or drop into the iconic Young and Jackson’s Hotel with its famous painting of Chloe.
State Houses of Parliament
There are plenty of points of interest around the CBD area. At the top end of Collins Street, the imposing State Houses of Parliament date from 1856 and were used as the National Parliament from Federation of the Australian states in 1900 until the first National Parliament House was opened in Canberra in 1927. Opposite is the wonderfully elegant Hotel Windsor which has been hosting important dignitaries for decades. Indulge in the scrumptious traditional afternoon tea that has been served since 1883 – check with the hotel for serving times and to make a booking.
The Best Views in Melbourne
In a city area with many churches, St. Michael’s on Collins at 120 Collins Street is most unusual with the interior seating arranged like a theatre auditorium. At the other end of Collins Street at No. 525 the Melbourne Observation Deck on the 55th floor provides a great view of the city, along the Yarra River and beyond. Another great viewpoint is Eureka Skydeck 88 in the Southgate Precinct.
Old Melbourne Gaol
At the other end of Swanston Street from Flinders Street you can visit the stately State Library of Victoria and the Old Melbourne Gaol, both of which have connections to Australia’s most famous bushranger Ned Kelly who was hanged at the gaol in 1880. The library houses his famous armour. Only a short walk further on you can explore Queen Victoria Market for some of the freshest produce and wonderful snacks.
Melbourne has had regular inflows of migrants from many parts of the world dating back to the arrival of Chinese miners in the gold rush days. Little Bourke Street in the center of the CBD is Melbourne’s Chinatown and there are numerous excellent Chinese restaurants to choose from. The surrounding streets contain many other restaurants featuring cuisines from all around the world.
The Southgate Precinct & Melbourne Aquarium
For years the Yarra was a rather muddy colored stretch of water especially through the city area, but the development of the Southgate Precinct created a vibrant area of shops, bars and restaurants and is a great place for watching the passing parade.
Crown Casino is usually a hive of activity while for something different a visit to the Melbourne Aquarium opposite Crown Casino is recommended.
Melbourne’s Sporting Life
Melbourne is internationally known for its fantastic sporting facilities and Victorians are passionate followers of all sports and turn up in great numbers. Apart from the legendary Melbourne Cricket Ground used as the main venue for the 1956 Olympic Games and major cricket and football matches, the area close to the Yarra just east of the CBD also contains the superb Melbourne Park tennis complex – three courts with retractable roofs – and other swimming and sporting facilities. Not far away in Albert Park is the Grand Prix motor racing circuit, home of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix.
The area along the Yarra and bounded by St. Kilda Road is also home to cultural facilities and wonderful gardens. These are readily accessible by walking or if necessary, a quick ride on a local tram.
The Victorian Arts Centre
Just across the river from the CBD, the Victorian Arts Centre is a landmark complex and venue for ballets, opera and symphony concerts (Hamer Hall). The newer Elisabeth Murdoch Hall is mainly used for recitals and is becoming renowned for its wonderful acoustics. Within the CBD area are a number of theatres and you should take the opportunity to take in at least one performance. A short distance further along St. Kilda Road is the lovely Art Gallery which hosts many outstanding exhibitions as well as its more permanent collection.
Gardens and Green Spaces in Melbourne
Melbourne is superbly endowed with gardens throughout the city area from the Treasury and Fitzroy Gardens behind the State Parliament Buildings (don’t miss Captain Cook’s Cottage in the Fitzroy Gardens) to the Alexandra and Queen Victoria Gardens in the King’s Domain.
At the end of the King’s Domain is the Shrine of Remembrance and then you come to the Royal Botanic Gardens. Here are over 12,000 species of native and imported plants and trees interspersed with sweeping lawns and ornamental lakes. It’s a wonderfully relaxing place just to stroll around within a short distance of the city centre.
Where to Stay in Melbourne
Melbourne has a huge choice of hotels and many of these are located within the CBD. In addition to the Hotel Windsor, top hotels include Sofitel Melbourne on Collins, Grand Hyatt, Langham Hotel, The Westin and Crown Towers. There are also plenty of boutique hotels such as Hotel Lindrum, Hotel Causeway and Ovolo (right in Chinatown).
For more information check the website www.visitmelbourne.com
Want to read more of Roger Allnutt’s guides to Australia? Check out A Guide to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.