Melbourne

 

Melbourne is the capital and largest city in the State of Victoria, and the city with the second largest population in Australia (greater metropolitan area 3.9 million). The settlement was established in 1835 by free settlers around the estuary of the Yarra River and declared a city by Great Britain’s Queen Victoria in 1847. The city was transformed into a wealthy metropolis when gold was discovered in the area in the 1850s and by the 1880s had become one of the richest in Australia.

Melbourne is an acclaimed centre for arts, commerce, education, industry, tourism and sport. It is noted for its arresting blend of Victorian and modern architecture, spacious parks and vibrant multi-cultural lifestyle, being home to 233 nationalities speaking over 180 languages. The metropolitan area has good beaches, although its moderate oceanic climate is notoriously changeable. Since 2002, it has consistently ranked in The Economist’s top three 'World's Most Livable Cities'.
When to go
In a country renowned for its continuous sunshine, Melbourne has a more unpredictable climate. Theoretically, Melbourne enjoys warm to hot summers, mild springs and autumns, and cool winters. However the city’s temperate climate includes quite a lot of rain, and even in summer the weather can change suddenly. Summer is from December to February when it can be hot and most people head for the glorious beaches near the city. Not many visitors come in June to August, when it is likely to be cold, so the best months to visit are March, April and May (autumn), and September, October and November (spring).

Getting there
30 million visitors a year come through Melbourne Airport, which is the second busiest airport in Australia. It is 23 km (14 miles) from the city centre, and the Skybus Super Shuttle will take you there in 20 minutes. For those who don’t want to fly there are alternatives: trains link Melbourne to Sydney (11 hours, 2 trains a day, one by day and one by night); and the famous Indian Pacific from Perth via Adelaide crosses the Nullarbor Plain (literally ‘no trees’) in 3 days. From Darwin or Alice Springs and the Red Centre, take the unique Ghan train to Adelaide and change for Melbourne there. Cheaper than the train, but equally good for seeing the country and getting a sense of its vastness, is inter-state bus travel. The air-conditioned Firefly Express operates routes to Melbourne from Sydney (14 hours), Canberra (9 hours) and Adelaide (12 hours).

Getting around
Once in the city, public transport is good, with trams, trains and buses all accepting the ‘myki’ card which you pre-load with money for travel during your stay. (Available at the Melbourne Visitor Centre, from Southern Cross Station and hotels.) Within the Central Business District the tourist City Circle Tram is free and takes you to most of the main sights.
One way to really get in touch with the history of Melbourne is to take a walking tour, either with a guide or on your own following a route on your smartphone, and this city has many to offer. Melbourne Architours put on a number of guided walks, including one on the early history of the city through the boom of the gold rush and the 19th century crash, and another which covers art deco to ‘moderne’ architecture. Also available are photography walking tours with a local expert, combining photographic advice with the main sights of the city, and sports tours, which take you into the main venues in this sports-mad city. As an alternative, download an audio guide to your phone or iPod, and guide yourself along the 2 hour ‘On the waterfront’ tour or the ‘Eat, Drink Melbourne’ tour (1 hour). For those who can’t or don’t want to walk, the city puts on a Melbourne Visitor Shuttle, which is a reasonably priced 90 minute bus tour of the inner city, with on-board commentary. (Every 30 minutes from the Melbourne Visitor Centre in Federation Square.)

What to see
Melbourne is an ideal place just to hang out, walk the streets of the CBD or China Town, have a coffee or eat in the widest choice of restaurants imaginable. You can hire bikes and explore the Yarra River from the centre along purpose built cycle ways (mind the joggers), or relax in the Botanical Gardens. But if you feel the urge to see some sites in a more formal way, these are on offer: the Melbourne Museum focuses on Australian social history and indigenous culture, as well as the flora and fauna; Polly Woodside is a 19th century tall ship open to the public in South Wharf, with an interactive gallery ideal for the whole family; also good for children is Melbourne Zoo, with 250 species on view in Royal Park just 5 minutes from the city centre (open 365 days a year); or for under water wildlife it’s Melbourne Aquarium, a modern tourist attraction on the corner of King Street and Flinders Street (open daily, allow at least 2 hours). Probably not for children, but fascinating for adults are the Immigration Museum in the Old Customs House, which explores the city’s history as a destination for migrants; and well worth giving time to is the free tour of Victoria’s Parliament House, a similar set-up to the Houses of Parliament in London (if parliament is sitting there are no tours but you can go in the public gallery). Cooks Cottage in Fitzroy Gardens is an 18th century reconstructed cottage tracing the history of Captain Cook’s family: there is plenty to see and do in this tiny house and garden.
For trips out of the city, there is the wonderful Great Ocean Road, accessible in a rented car or on an organised tour, and Yarra Valley Wine Tours, on which you can visit 4 wineries in a day. To get close to koalas and feed kangaroos go to Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park, a 50 minute drive out of Melbourne in Pearcedale, Victoria.

Sport in Melbourne
Australians love sport, and Melbourne has a claim to be the sports capital of the nation – some even say of the world! The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) is the venue for test matches against touring teams each summer, and the unique Aussie Rules Football in winter. Melbourne Park hosts the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament in January each year. The Australian Grand Prix brings Formula 1 to the Albert Park circuit, on a track that is partly on city streets. Slightly slower, but no less exciting, is the premier horse race in Australia, the Melbourne Cup, held in November on the oldest city racecourse in the country, Flemington. Most of these famous sporting venues offer guided tours when events are not going on.

Where to stay
Australia has a very outdoors culture, and you might like to consider a campsite or “Tourist Park” such as Crystal Brook in Doncaster East. Accommodation is in a choice of 2 bedroom “villas” or cabins sleeping up to 6 people, and there is an outdoor pool. The cabins have a fully equipped kitchen and bed linen is provided. The site is in beautiful parkland an easy drive from the Central Business District, and could be an attractive option if you are visiting the city with children. Ashley Gardens BIG4 Holiday Village is 9km west of the city and accessible by public transport. Here you can use a tent or camper van or rent a cabin or deluxe studio. For a good value hotel close to public transport try the Mint Melbourne apartment hotel on St Kilda Road, only minutes from the CBD; or even closer to the centre, on the edge of China Town, is Fraser Place Apartments, from which you can walk or take the free tram to everything you will want to see. For a grander 4 star traditional hotel consider the well-recommended Hotel Charlesfield, close to the city centre on St Kilda Road. The elegant rooms and suites are classically furnished and there is a Reading Room, Snooker Room and restaurant and bar. The 5 star Langham is one of the best hotels in Melbourne, and it is only a short walk to the central shopping area from its superb location on the south bank of the Yarra River. Finally, there are plenty of backpackers-type hostels in Melbourne, such as the Melbourne Central YHA, near Southern Cross station, where you can cook for yourself before exploring the city on foot. If you don’t mind being out in the suburb of St Kilda, try the Home Travellers Motel, really a backpackers’ hostel where you will meet other travellers in a friendly setting.
 
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