Monday, May 07, 2007

Melbourne, Australia

The Marvellous City of Melbourne
By Matthew Lawson

Map of MelbourneG'day. When you think of a city in Australia, it's a sure bet that Sydney is the first one on your lips. But these days, Melbourne, the second biggest city and state capital of Victoria, is the place to be in the southern hemisphere.

It's not as pushy or brash as that colourful harbour city a few hundred miles north - far from it. It's more European in character than glitzy Sydney. Melbourne oozes style and sophistication, a place filled with elegant grace and gourmet tastes. Fashionable and fabulous. Cosmopolitan and cultured. Of course, friendly rivalry still exists between the cities, but Melbourne is in a class of its own.

Considered to be Australia's most liveable city, Melbourne has also scored another notable travel accolade and was named the world's most liveable city - not once, but twice.

Ariel view of Melbourne's CBDSize is everything
Victoria's landmass is little smaller than the state of California and about the size of the UK. Australia is a big, big country, roughly equal to mainland USA. The distances and travel time between places of interest can be further than you imagine. When you are making plans, allow enough time to take in everything down under can offer - think days not hours.

If you're organising accommodation, Melbourne can offer you every type under the sun, from lavish 5 star names to smaller boutique hotels, with plenty in the mid-price range. Check out sites such as Hotel.com.au - Melbourne for ideas and value.

What's in a name?
Melbourne is a comparatively young city by world standards. After settlement on the banks of the Yarra River in the 1830s, it was formally named after the British Prime Minister of that time, William Lamb, Lord Melbourne. It rose from a small settlement harbouring a few settlers to become a bustling city after the discovery of gold in nearby Ballarat. During the late Victorian era, Melbourne was the second largest city of the Empire after London, and the national capital for the first quarter of the 20th century.

Melbourne Town HallMelbourne was planned with a vision
A city created with a grid-like pattern of smart streets and laneways, designed for simple navigation. It's very much in evidence today. A model city framework that makes discovering the architectural delights of Melbourne on foot a pleasure. Boutiques and bars thrive alongside big retail stores and fun street markets. Grand 19th century buildings mingled with soaring glass towers across skyline. This is one photogenic city.

A streetcar still desired
Melbourne's public transport is a reliable and inexpensive way to get around. One of the biggest attractions is the tram network, the third biggest in the world. In fact, tram enthusiasts from everywhere come to ride the rails of this huge network, 240 kms (almost 150 miles) in size, covering the CBD to the outer suburban areas. Don't miss the free City Circle tram for visitors. It loops around the city, passing major attractions and retail precincts. It gives you a good sense of perspective.

Food for thought
Melbourne's diversity is definitely reflected in its food. Flamboyant London celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay described Melbourne's restaurants as Australia's "culinary engine room". How true. With over 3,000 international restaurants you'll never be hungry for choice. Yum cha (dim sum) in Melbourne's Chinatown, spicy Vietnamese noodles in Victoria Street and Greek baklava in Lonsdale Street. Take an afternoon stroll down Lygon Street, Melbourne's own Little Italy and cool off with a refreshing homemade gelato.

Melbourne TramAre you sports mad?
On the international arena, Melbourne is home to some of the biggest events on the sporting calendar, such as the Formula One Australian Grand Prix, The Australian Open Tennis and The Melbourne Cup horse racing carnival. If you're coming to Melbourne during the autumn and winter months (March to September - remember seasons are reversed) catch a games of Aussie Rules Football. It's earthy, macho and gutsy. Down here, footy isn't a passion, it's a religion.

Time for culture
You'll find plenty to keep you busy. Start at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Federation Square. Here you can explore the moving image in all its forms from the birth of TV in Australia to interactive exhibits, videos and computer games. Walk a block and you'll come to The National Gallery of Victoria, located on the lush, tree lined boulevard of St. Kilda Road. Take time to discover the heritage and history of Australia's past and present, captured on canvas. In the International Collection you can see works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Tintoretto and Picasso. Continue your cultural experience with a visit next door to the Victorian Arts Centre, where ballet, opera, music concerts are regularly performed by top local names and overseas stars.

Melbourne's ChinatownRetail therapy
Melbourne is a mecca for shoppers. Even Sydneysiders concede that Melbourne does it better! Naturally, the city center has leading retail stores and all the designer boutiques you can dream of. Tip: visit Little Collins Street. A quaint street where many trendy Melbourne designers have set up shop, or Flinders Lane, with style for the cutting edge crowd. If you're bargain hunting or looking for souvenirs, head for The Queen Victoria Market. Stall after stall of trendy fashion, novel crafts, sports gear and delicious fresh food.

More sights and shops
Take the Number Eight tram down to South Yarra and you'll come to Chapel Street. With hundreds of shops and stores, it has a well-established reputation as Melbourne's premier fashion district. Think of it as one huge runway of labels and funky looks. Check out the boutiques in Greville Street in Prahran where hipsters reign. Richmond is popular for discount bargain hunters with the added bonus of wonderful cafes and bars to pep up your energy. If you're looking for something individual and quirky, Fitzroy will give you a feel for the "edgier" part of town.

Melbourne Cricket GroundHip St Kilda
You can't visit Melbourne and not go to St Kilda, located on one of the most picturesque points of Port Phillip Bay, just a short ride from the city. For decades it had a dubious reputation, now it's fun and ultra fashionable beach suburb with cool bars and cafes. If you love cakes, stroll down to famous Acland Street and try and resist the mountains of calories and cream tempting you through the shop windows.

If you're planning your next big adventure, a trip Down Under, put Melbourne at the top of your list. Every part of it gives you the chance to experience something new and different, with plenty of friendly Aussies to make you feel welcome. A dazzling and diverse city that reflects the best of modern Australia. (Hey...Sydney's well worth a look too!)

About the Author
Matthew Lawson heads up Hotel.com.au and is an avid traveller. Check out the low hotel room rates for Australia and around the world.

Pictures
Map of Melbourne
Ariel view of Melbourne's CBD
Melbourne Town Hall (Looking from Collins Street)
A Melbourne Tram on St Kilda Road
Chinatown Melbourne, Little Bourke Street
Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG)

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