Melbourne’s Unique Charm
I recently spent a few days in Melbourne to watch the Melbourne Cup and also celebrate my birthday there. I’ve been to Melbourne a few times and the city never ceases to fascinate me! There is always something new to discover in Melbourne. From eclectic to artistic, Melbourne packs a lot of interesting sights, architecture and cultural activities in a small place. Its laneways, trams and parks give it a very European feel to the city. It’s distinctly different from the rest of the Australian capital cities. Despite not having iconic landmarks like Sydney has, Melbourne still offers a lot of things to be explored and enjoyed. Here’s my top ten list of things to see and do in Melbourne:
1.) Art and Cafe Culture
One of the first things I noticed when I landed in Melbourne is the way the freeways and buildings are so stylishly designed and decorated. Certainly the road from Tullamarine airport into Melbourne CBD felt like a big modern art exhibit, with colourful, modern architecture and art structures along the highway, and the best part, hardly any vandals can be seen! When you walk around the city centre, it’s all funky buildings, sculptures and designs.
There is also a cafe culture in the city. Nearly every corner of the city has a small cafe, and because there is a big Italian community in Melbourne, you can almost guarantee that they take their coffees seriously! I have always had a great cup of coffee in those small cafes. After so many visits, I managed to find my favourite cafe there called Brunetti’s. They have a great range of pastries, cakes, and best of all, their hot dark Italian chocolate is really something not to be missed! The biggest cafe is near Lygon Street, but they also have a small outlet in the CBD on Swanston Street.
The myriad of laneways that dot the city centre are remnants of the original city planning of Melbourne, which dates back to the 1800s. This system of small alleyways used to be the lifeblood of the city and has now given the city its unique charm. The laneways have been spruced up and converted into nice shops, bars and restaurants. There certainly is that European character feel with these laneways, and definitely worth checking out.
3.) Museums and Art Galleries
Melbourne is considered to be the art capital of Australia, with a wide range of museums, art galleries and performance theatres dotting the city. You will never run out of things to look at and do if you love art and culture, as nearly each day, something new comes up in one of these galleries or a new theatrical production opens its curtains.
The Museum of Melbourne near the Carlton Gardens is a great place to check out. It has displays ranging from dinosaurs and the Australian bush to the Aboriginal life and culture. More importantly, it has an exhibit on the Melbourne story (how Melbourne evolved into the city it is now).
If you love art, another great museum to check out is the National Gallery of Victoria. This is where you find paintings and artwork from famous local and international artists such as Andy Warhol and Frank Gehry to name a few. It has moving exhibitions of different art forms and genres that are worth looking out for.
4.) Gardens and Parks
Conservatorium, Fitzroy Gardens
The one surprising thing with Melbourne is the fact that it is a compact city yet it is filled with a number of gardens and parks surrounding its CBD. One garden truly worth checking out is Fitzroy Gardens. This has the Conservatorium, which houses so many colourful flowering plants and tropical varieties. Next door to it is Cook’s Cottage, which is the original cottage where Captain Cook’s family lived in and was shipped from England as a gift to the people of Melbourne and reconstructed in the Fitzroy Gardens.
Another great park to check out is the Carlton Gardens. It has a nice pond in the middle, and a beautiful fountain at one end of the park. It is adjacent to the Melbourne Museum, so worth checking it out if you are on your way to the museum.
The Shrine of Remembrance is also another great place to check out. It is an ANZAC memorial built on top of a small hill, with great views of the city. The botanical garden is just next door and is definitely worth checking out.
5.) Eureka Skydeck and Rialto Melbourne 360 Observation Deck
Melbourne has some of Australia’s tallest buildings, and 2 of them offer great views of the city and the surrounding areas. The Rialto was the tallest building in Melbourne and was the first to offer a viewing platform called the Melbourne 360 Observation Deck. It offers a fantastic view of the city and across to Southbank, the Dandenong Ranges, and to St. Kilda and the Bass Strait. It seems that the Rialto has just announced that it will be closing its doors on 31st December 2009, so before it does, make sure you avail of their $7 closing entry deal and enjoy the great view!
The Eureka Tower’s Skydeck 88 is a more recent addition to the Melbourne skyline and is much taller than the Rialto. The Eureka Skydeck 88 is the highest viewing platform in the Southern Hemisphere and offers a slightly different perspective to the Rialto. The Eureka Tower is on Southbank, which is on the other side of the Yarra River.
6.) Crossing the bridges over the Yarra
It may not sound like much, but the many bridges crossing the Yarra River each have a unique design to it. The Yarra River is a prominent feature of the city. Walking and crossing the bridges by foot is a great way to explore Melbourne, and a great exercise as well. A couple of these bridges are pedestrian-only bridges, and each are designed differently from the other. One of the bridges has a list of countries where the settlers in Melbourne came from and some details on when and how they have arrived into Melbourne. The Princes Bridge is one of the oldest bridges crossing the Yarra and links Swanston Street to the Southbank area. The view of the city from the different bridges is great and worth exploring.
7.) St. Kilda and Port Melbourne
The seaside suburbs of St. Kilda and Port Melbourne has recently had a facelift and resurgence from being a rough area of Melbourne to one of the best place to live in the city. It has a great cafe culture, and a great lifestyle being close to the beach. In St. Kilda, there is a weekend market near the Pier and St. Kilda Baths which is worth checking out for works of local artists and businesses. Port Melbourne, on the other hand, has a good beach and is where you can take the ferry over to Tasmania.
8.) Day Trip to the Yarra Valley
Domaine Chandon - Yarra Valley
The Yarra Valley is a wine region just 45 minutes away from Melbourne CBD. This wine region produces one of the best wines in the country, and has over 70 wineries in the area. The makers of Moet & Chandon have a winery here called Domaine Chandon, and proves to be a popular one for many tourists. They make a sparkling red wine, which is quite an unusual one. Another great winery to check out is Yering Farm, which is one of the smaller boutique wineries in the region. It’s a family-owned vineyard and only sells its wines in a few restaurants and hotels in Victoria (apart from the winery itself). One of the more popular wineries is the Rochford winery. What makes this winery so popular are the numerous events and concerts that they hold on the grounds of their winery. They do make great wines as well!
Melbourne is known to be the shopping capital of Australia. It’s not that the rest of the capital cities of Australia don’t have much choices, but it is more of the number of quaint boutique stores that are available in the city. I’m not into shopping myself, but I can tell that there are so many cool boutique stores dotted around the city. The shopping malls have also started to crop up. Direct Factory Outlet (DFO) has the most branches in Melbourne than any other city in Australia. Melbourne has capitalised on this, and even has organised shopping tours where a tour guide will take you to the best bargains in the city!
The Docklands is one of the areas very near to the CBD that is being developed into a nice urban residential and entertainment complex. What used to have old warehouse and dockyards have now been demolished and transformed into nice brand new apartments and cafes and restaurants. A new shopping complex called Harbour Town has been built with a good range of outlet shops. This area being by the water has a nice waterfront walk where you can just relax and chill out.
Melbourne may not necessarily have the distinctive landmarks and the beautiful harbour that some other major cities can boast of, but it definitely has a unique charm that is worth exploring. If you find great deals on flights domestically or if you plan to visit Australia as an overseas holiday destination, I suggest you have a look at Melbourne.
Have a Fabulous Journey ahead!