Melbourne is neither Australia’s largest city nor political capital, but its claim as the nation’s cultural Mecca is undeniable. The city boasts several art galleries, museums, and festivals, and plays host to major international concerts, exhibitions, sporting events, and theatrical productions. In Australia, Melbourne enjoys the reputation of being at the forefront of cuisine, shopping, fashion, music, sports, and nightlife. And its counterculture, arts community, and café scene are alive and well. Stroll the leafy streets and you’ll also get to see Melbourne’s Victorian-ear architecture and modern skyscrapers, delight in the magnificently landscaped parks and gardens along the way, and observe in appreciation the myriad ethnic communities that are flourishing in this cosmopolitan city – from the Greeks, Italians, Lebanese, and Jewish to the Chinese and Vietnamese.
The City Centre is perhaps Melbourne’s most touristy hotspot. Here, you’ll not only find the Melbourne Aquarium as well as a host of museums, cathedrals and Victorian buildings, but you’ll also find the sexy Eureka Tower, which is the tallest residential building in the world and recently completed in October, 2006. The City Centre is also home to the Parliament House of Victoria, the original seat of the Australian federal government before it moved to Canberra. If you’re into shopping or would like a snack or meal, you can head over to the docklands by the waterfront, where you’ll not only find a stadium but a precinct of shops, restaurants, and bars. The Queen Victoria Market is also in the City Centre. It is the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere, selling everything from clothes and souvenir items to fresh fruits, meats, and seafood. And even if you’re not a big fan of Chinese food, it might be worth your while to hit up Chinatown. The streets and buildings here have not changed much since the 19th century when the Melbourne gold rush brought waves of people to the city.
If you want to enjoy the outdoors, you can head over to St. Kilda, Melbourne’s beachside suburb. You’ll find piers, esplanades, parks, and botanical gardens here, and you’ll be able to walk, fish, rollerblade, sunbathe, or just relax and soak in the beautiful scenery.
Melbourne also holds a few festivals each year, including the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in April, the Moomba during Labor Day weekend in May, the Melbourne Fringe Festival in late September, and the Melbourne International Arts Festival in October. So, if you’re into comedies, family activities, fringe plays, or art, you might want to time your visit accordingly.
People in Melbourne are also sports-mad. The city is known as the sports capital of Australia. Melbourne is the home of the popular Australian Football League, the Australian Grand Prix, the Australian Tennis Open (in January), and the Melbourne Cup (in November), an annual thoroughbred horse race “that stops a nation”. Even if you are not into sports, it is worth going to an Aussie Rules Football match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to experience the raucous crowd atmosphere. And if you happen to be in town while the Australian Tennis Open or Melbourne Cup is taking place, you should make an effort to attend, as both are once-in-a-lifetime experiences.