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Walking around Melbourne, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d landed in a Swedish art house movie, because so many people are wearing black. But two important things will tell you that you haven’t. Firstly, trams – and strange tram-related road rules – have never appeared in a Swedish art house movie. And secondly, Melbourne shows her true colours in so many other ways beyond sombre sartorial style.
Like in the proudly displayed flags and scarves of her many AFL Football (Aussie Rules) teams like Carlton and Hawthorn, or in the bright, helpful attitude of her residents, who seem more authentic and eager than Sydneysiders. Or in her passion for music and the arts; in the hole-in-the-wall pubs along Brunswick Street, where you can catch up-and-coming bands play free any night of the week.
Or along Lygon Street’s sumptuous Italian food outlets that lure tourists and locals alike with the fragrance of fresh coffee, garlic and tomato. Or in St Kilda, the waterfront entertainment hub, and in the quirky, offbeat thrift stores that mingle with high-end fashion on Chapel Street.
So if Melbourne were a colour, she would be red: bright, vivid, passionate and sexy.
Melbourne's Top 10
10. Federation SquareThe meeting place for Melbournians in the know, the square is the site of many a Melbourne shindig.
5. Southbank A trendy entertainment precinct alive with beautiful people on the banks of the Yarra River. Recommended for a leisurely breakfast.
9. Melbourne Observation Deck Gives an uninterrupted bird’s-eye view of the city.
4 . MCG Melbourne Cricket Ground, Mecca for the sports-mad. Home to cricket in the summer, Aussie Rules in winter.
8. National Gallery of Victoria Feast your eyes on some of the most influential Australian and international art, split between two locations.
3. Flinders Street Station In all its decrepit grandeur, Flinders Street Station may not be somewhere you’d want to hang out all day, but it is worth a look for the punks out the front clashing with the grand colonial architecture. Also, handy if you need to catch a train.
7. St Kilda Markets Set along the picturesque boardwalk, these markets offer quality rather than quantity. Find what to do in St Kilda with this Guide
2. Abbotsford Convent Never fear, there aren’t any nuns there these days, so you can enjoy an alcoholic beverage as you wander the grounds without being slapped with a ruler!
6. Luna Park The oldest Luna Park in existence, this one – unlike Sydney’s –still retains its traditional charm.
1. Old Melbourne Gaol Australia’s most haunted building (take a candlelit tour and see for yourself) and the place where Ned Kelly met his maker. Admire or despise him (and Australians are fairly evenly divided), outlaw Kelly did come up with some of the coolest last words ever: ‘Such is life’.
- Shrine of Remembrance – A memorial to those who served in war.
- Princess Theatre – A reportedly haunted theatre from the 1850s.
- Station Pier – Port Melbourne’s historic main passenger pier.
- Puffing Billy Railway – In the 1900s, Melbourne was connected to the rest of the populated areas in the country by way of narrow-track steam trains, and Billy is the only remaining working engine.
- Flinders Street Station – A railway passenger station from the early 20th century.
Melbourne Art & Culture
- Melbourne International Arts Festival and Fringe Festival – Two independent celebrations that last for 17 days in October.
- Art Appreciation – The city has more than 100 galleries, including The National Gallery of Victoria, which is the oldest and largest gallery in Australia.
- Opera – Opera Australia and the Victorian Opera Company are two notable companies that occasionally offer free concerts.
- Film Festivals – There are four major film festivals held in Melbourne every year, including the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF).
- The Australian Ballet – This ballet company is the largest in Australia and has annual performances at the State Theatre.
- Queen Victoria Market – An open-air market with more than 600 vendors.
- Hunter Gatherer – Profits from second-hand and HG-label merchandise assist the low income, unemployed and elderly.
- Dangerfield – Clothing that encourages bold statements and individuality.
- Haighs Chocolates – Established in 1915, Haighs is a must for any chocolate lover who appreciates decadent candies made from raw cocoa beans.
- Melbourne Central – This area offers tasteful architecture and interesting displays, such as the Fob Watch marionettes, the Glass Cone and a Vertical Garden.
Gay & Lesbian Melbourne
- Melbourne Queer Film Festival – This is one of the oldest queer festivals in the world, incorporating queer-themed films and events.
- Hares and Hyenas – A must-see bookshop that offers GBLT literature, news and culture.
- Bars, Pubs and Nightclubs – Several popular nightclubs include The Peel, Xchange and Laird.
- Midsumma – The International Gay & Lesbian Festival offers three weeks of fun, history, dancing, art and community events.
- Club 80 – One of the biggest sex clubs in the world.
- Ride a Bike – A relatively new bicycle-sharing system has been established, along with special road lanes and facilities for bikers.
- Melbourne Zoo – Australia’s oldest zoo that features animals in bio-climate zones and realistic enclosure environments.
- Brighton Beach – Clean sand, blue water and a stunning view are offered at this renowned beach.
- Royal Botanic Gardens – Plants from all over the world can be enjoyed at one of these meticulously landscaped gardens.
- Rialto Towers Observation Deck – Enjoy the view of Melbourne from the tallest building in the city.
- Australian Grand Prix – A racing event held in Albert Park in mid-March.
- Australian Open – An annual tennis tournament held during the Australian summer.
- Rugby – The Melbourne Storm is a professional club based in Melbourne.
- Melbourne Cup – A thoroughbred horse race that is held on the first Tuesday of November.
- Australian Rules Football – Nine of the Australian Football League teams are based in Melbourne or greater Melbourne.
With its quaint terraces built in the 1800s, Carlton is as pretty as a picture, but it’s got real guts, too. It was populated early on by Italian immigrants and was originally working class, but Melbourne’s foodie clique couldn’t resist the aromas of Nonna’s home cooking and crowds flock to Lygon Street en masse to feast on the still-traditional fare.
Like any good Italian neighbourhood, Carlton has had its fair share of drama, providing the backdrop for years of Melbourne’s tit-for-tat gang wars. Don’t let that put you off, though – the most mafia action you’re likely to see on the streets of Carlton is a couple of old Dons sitting together over good Italian coffee, watching the world go by.
Carlton is also home to Melbourne Zoo, location of some surprisingly funky gigs in the summer months, the Royal Exhibition Building, location of Australia’s first parliament (so presumably some of the politicians really were criminals!) and the Melbourne Museum, where Phar Lap, Australia’s most famous racehorse – actually born in New Zealand – can still be seen (not quite as active as in his heyday, but a testament to Australians’ love of sport and taking a punt).
While Fitzroy still displays some impressive Colonial architecture, the Depression hit it hard and it fell into disrepair for decades. Cheap rent attracted students, immigrants and struggling artists, and the areas around Brunswick Street especially became Melbourne’s bohemian centre.
Alternative boutiques and pubs still dot the streets, but, middle-class money has now gentrified Fitzroy, meaning truly struggling artists can’t afford to live there any more. But the suburb remains home to Melbourne’s annual Fringe Festival every September and fantastic tapas around Melbourne’s Johnston Street-based Spanish Quarter.
Close to Melbourne’s major sporting venues, including the iconic MCG, East Melbourne and Richmond have been adopted by both the Vietnamese and Greek immigrant communities. Victoria Street is a Pho-lover’s dream, with restaurant upon restaurant filled to the brim with authentic Vietnamese delights. Swan Street is the place to go if you fancy for something a little more Hellenic. Melbourne has the biggest Greek population outside Athens, so you can rest assured the grub is garlicky, Greek and good.
Once you’ve finished sampling the culinary delights, work off the calories with some hardcore retail therapy. Bridge Street boasts the city’s biggest range of factory outlets, so put your walking shoes on and get your credit card ready.
Toorak and South Yarra
If East Melbourne and Richmond smell of Yirros and Pho, then Toorak and South Yarra smell of money. Yoga mums with Hermes purses abound, but it’s worth dodging the BMW 4WDs on the northern end of Chapel Street to check out the stunning homes and leafy streets.
Prahran Market is the place for fresh produce, from seafood to meat, while some of the trendy nightclubs, like Boutique and OneSixOnebecome different sorts of meat markets on the weekends!
Now a gentrified suburb, Williamstown has a long history as a port, and its pretty marina and foreshore give a village-feel to the whole area. Williamstown Beach is great for picnics and paddling, and the whole suburb is steeped in local nostalgia, with locals rarely venturing far from their childhood stomping grounds to settle and make families of their own. A trip to the ‘Willy RSL’ club will see you encounter some colourful characters who’ll be only too happy to wax lyrical about the good ol’ days, and introduce you to a fistful of blokes they’ve known for over 50 years.
In case you haven’t picked it already, Melbourne is foodie heaven. World-class restaurants mingle with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gems, and the city’s strong multiculturalism and immigrant communities provide a playground of flavours just waiting to be discovered.
Madame Brussels A fabulously camp, kitsch and cosy Melbourne establishment where cocktails come in ser teapots and cupcakes on fine china. Enough said.
Italian Waiter’s Club: Historically, the place used to be a hangout for Italian waiters to kick back after a long shift. Luckily the rest of us are now in on the secret.
Babka Bakery Café: A Melbourne institution known for sublime breads and hearty breakfasts. Soak up your hangover in Russian baked-goods heaven.
MoVida: The name refers to the period of fun, art and passion in Spain after Franco died, but all you really need know about this restaurant is that its tapas is frighteningly good.
Camy Shanghai Dumpling Restaurant: What the name lacks in poetry, the dumplings more than make up for – and at 15 for $6, they can name it whatever the hell they want!
Cicciolina: Dark, intimate, no reservations and always a line. Brave the wait in the bar out the back, however—it’s well worth it.
Stokehouse: With views out to the bay, families downstairs and fine dining upstairs, this is a Melbourne household name, with smiley, happy service.
Courthouse Hotel: Remember the days of a simple, basic pub meal? If you miss ’em, don’t come here. Encompassing the new food philosophy that is the gastro pub, you won’t find a stodgy roast in sight… but you will find an excellent menu with excellent drinks.
Lentil as Anything: If the clever pun didn’t have you hooked, how about this: you pay what you feel the meal was worth, and in doing so contribute to a ‘new food philosophy that places human dignity over profit.’
The Press Club: A real treat, with a high-end, innovative menu and celebrity chef George Calombaris at the helm.
Melbourne is a city not short on festivals and events, and with a passionate population with a penchant for celebration, no-one throws a party like Melbourne.
For sports, there’s the Australian Tennis Open held each January in Rod Laver Arena. There’s also the Melbourne Cup Carnival in October/November, with the big race itself taking place on the first Tuesday in November. The whole state gets a public holiday for that one! Completing the trifecta is the annual Boxing Day (26 December) cricket test, where 100,000 passionate (and, as the day wears on, often inebriated) fans roar the Aussies on.
In March, the Moomba Festival in March brings musical flavours from around the planet, while the International Flower Show attracts a green-thumbed following.
Melbourne also hosts the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (March/April) where comedians from all over the world (but mostly, it seems, Ireland and Australia) come to drown their insecurities in public applause.
June brings the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, followed in July by the Melbourne Film Festival and Melbourne International Motor Show (interestingly enough, not a lot of crossover with these clienteles.)
The heart of Melbourne winter is warmed by the arrival of the Melbourne Writer’s Festival, in August, and with a thriving literary and arts scene, it’s always worthwhile.
The Melbourne Fringe Festival and Melbourne International Arts Festival arrive with spring and by the end of the year everyone’s just trying to cope with the heat and recover from the Melbourne Cup!
When To Go
Melbourne’s weather is unpredictable. The Crowded House song Four Seasons in One Day was written in and about Melbourne, yet Melbournians vigorously deny that Sydney is sunnier.
Summer in Melbourne, while usually pleasant, can get very hot, and a week or more of temperatures above 35°C (95°F) is not uncommon.
It always seems to rain in October, so carry an umbrella. Melbournians never let the rain bother them, probably because the sun is almost always back before the day is out.
What To Miss
Although Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Markets is one of the biggest open markets in the southern hemisphere, it’s basically a smorgasbord of all the useless junk you don’t need. While the fruits and vegetables are pretty good quality, check out one of the smaller farmer’s markets and save yourself the hassle.
King Street was once Melbourne’s nightlife hub, but is now the domain of buck’s nights and late-night brawls. Melbourne’s back lanes provide plenty of better quality watering holes, without the threat of leering bucks and greased-up, cologne-drenched schoolies.
You may be seduced into a horse and buggy ride through the streets of Melbourne, but take it from us – you’ll pay about $50 for the privilege of looking like a bit of a fool and staring up the business end of a farmyard animal.
Melbourne is a sprawling city. Both its airports are well out of town, so expect to pay through the nose for a taxi ride to civilisation. A better option – although not an appealing one if laden with suitcases – are the frequent and well-priced buses into the heart of the city. You can also rent a car, handy to enjoy the variety of Melbourne "suburban" scenery – visit Melbourne Car Rental.
Melbourne is well-served by public transport, with trams- a quaint but efficient means of getting around from beach to business district. Hiring a car is always an option, especially if wanting to explore outside Melbourne, but parking spaces in the city and surrounding suburbs can be hard to come by. Because of the trams, you also have to get in the left lane to turn right. It’s weird, but somehow works!
For the active/environmentally minded, you can rent a bicycle (and a helmet) at any of the 50 bike stations around the city and return it to a different one. It’s a great, easy and cheap way of getting around.Follow HotelClub in Google Plus
Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city, maintains its European vibe with the sight of Victorian buildings, cafes, and old trams tottering its way in the main thoroughfares. Often called as the creative centre of Australia, the city will delight everyone with its excellent showcase in arts, food, and fashion making it a trend-setting capital. Thus be sure to spend some time in the lovely museums, take a breather at the splendid parks, sample the infectious coffee culture, feel the rugby fever or get acquainted with the Melbournians, a friendly mix of multicultures including Chinese, Italian, Vietnamese, Lebanese and Greek. Push on for further exploits as within an hour’s drive, you can find exhilarating sights such as the mineral springs in the Macedon Ranges or the Twelve Apostles Rock along the Great Ocean Road. That said, visitors can find a true mix of all things Aussie with the endless options for leisure, just hot off Melbourne’s plate!
Start your trip at Melbourne Observation Deck for that bird’s eye view of the city and to orientate yourself to this fascinating city. Then once you take the streets, immerse yourself in Melbourne’s art scene. Visit the regular exhibitions at The National Gallery of St. Kilda or the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square. Don’t forget the Victoria Art Centre in Southbank, the Melbourne Museum in Carlton Gardens and the private galleries that abound the city. The theatres serve a variety of topnotch entertainment for every age, from classical concerts to fun children’s musicals. And yet more recreational options can be found at the massive Crown Entertainment Complex sitting on the Yarra River’s south bank. A short stroll away is the Melbourne Aquarium, another popular stop.
To understand Mebourne’s other passion apart from arts, head for Telstra’s Dome, the centre of the Australian Football League (AFL) and rugby. Get to see the massive retractable roof when you catch a game. The Melbourne Cricket Ground has world fame for its cricket whilst tennis champions lord over Rod Laver Arena. For horses, take a ride over to Flemington and those keen on sailing, head for the coast.
Melbourne hosts major events which figure highly in the world calendar. The Australian Open, held every January, brings tennis stars in the peak of summer for a fortnight of top tennis action. Formula One Grand Prix kicks off in Albert Park in March, being the first on the international racing circuit. On the other hand, Philip Island racetrack is home to the 500cc Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix in October. Catch the world famous Boxing Day match test as cricket fans troop to the MCG to support the home team. Lastly, make way for “Australia’s most famous Tuesday” when the annual Melbourne Cup hits town in November, the biggest horse race in the Southern Hemisphere!
The city’s arts scene reaches its peak when Melbourne Arts Festival happens in October dishing out exhibitions and performances in all genres. And for some wonderful quality time for the family while in Melbourne, enjoy the sight of giant sand sculptures, watch waterski or wakeboarding events, dragon boat races and marvel at fireworks display to celebrate water fun in the Moomba Waterfest in March, highlight of which is the Parade and the carnival.
- Winter (June-August) 1-12°C; cold and damp
- Spring (September-November) 10-20°C; cool with more rains in October
- Summer (December-February) 21-34°C; warm and dry, prone to hot spells
- Fall (March-May) 11-19°C; mild
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HotelClub Blog5 of Melbourne's Best Hotels
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Insider city tips
Tacey Rychter, Editor of Broadsheet Melbourne
"..stay in the CBD and be within walking distance to heaps of great things."
Tacey Rychter, Editor of the online culture guide Broadsheet Melbourne, shares some of her top recommendations for where to stay and what not to miss on your next trip to Melbourne.
1. What do you think is the best neighbourhood to stay in on a weekend trip to Melbourne and why?
That's tough. Windsor and Prahran has really lovely character and some excellent cafes and shops to explore. Fitzroy and Collingwood is an area that's changing very quickly – new cafes, restaurants and bars open every week and forward-thinking people are pushing the boundaries there in a lot of ways. Alternatively – just stay in the CBD and be within walking distance to heaps of great things.
2. What's your favourite hotel in Melbourne and why?
I'd say the Art Series Hotels. The four in Melbourne are well located, and each have an individual, boutique feel. There's a new one in Bendigo too, that's worth checking out. You can borrow these fun, bright-yellow bikes from there and take a spin around the town.
3.What’s your favourite Melbourne attraction you won’t find on the tourist map?
If you love film, I'd say The Astor in Windsor. It's a beautiful, historic cinema that seems to be on the verge of closure every few years, but then gets rescued at the last minute. It's in this glorious Art Deco building, there's something great on every night of the week (often a double feature), and the choc tops are made in-house.
4. Can you suggest any hidden bars or restaurants to explore in Melbourne’s CBD?
Union Electric is one of my favourite little hidden bars at the moment. It's tucked away in Chinatown with little signage, and they do some excellent cocktails with fresh apple juice. You can also order in food from the Chinese restaurant next door. As for hidden restaurants, Rosa's Kitchen is a great little find on Punch Lane for a well-priced, comforting Italian meal. I also think Tonka in Duckboard Place is always a winner.
5. What's the most unique experience you would recommend a visitor to Melbourne’s CBD?
Eat at Chin Chin. It seems like a really tired and obvious recommendation, but after six years it still has lines out the door for a good reason. The trick is to put your name down early – by about 5.30pm. Then you can have a drink downstairs at GoGo before heading into the restaurant to watch this beautiful, chaotic magic happen.
6. What advice would you offer a first time visitor to Melbourne?
Eat as much as you can. The quality, level of creativity and variety of food now in Melbourne is just out of control. And there's so much of it. Have a drink here, a bar snack there, dessert somewhere else. Pack it all in. You can never have it all, but you can try.
Read more great Insider Tips to help you get more out of your trip to Melbourne here.