Melbourne is best known as Australia’s cultural, dining and shopping capital in the southern state of Victoria. Melbourne’s probably more akin to a very big town than a very big city. The atmosphere is a little less rushed, but no less cosmopolitan than its other state capital counterparts.
Born out of the Victorian gold rush in 1851, today it’s known as the garden city boasting an abundance of lovely parks and pretty, green areas. Cultural city is far more appropriate however as Melbourne burst at the seams with pursuits of the arts in all its forms, from musicals to opera and fine art, theatre and bohemian performances. Named by UNESCO as a City of Literature and topping many international lists, it’s been repeatedly acknowledged as one of the world’s most liveable cities.
Melbourne is the birthplace of television in Australia, the home of Australian Football, home of the Australian Ballet, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and more than 100 art galleries.
The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art at Southbank leads the city, and perhaps the country developing challenging and innovative visual art. It’s rusty, steel building is an architectural icon and the gallery focuses on commissioning new art rather than collection and display.
The Arts Centre in the prime central location of Melbourne’s leisure and entertainment precinct consists of the Theatres Building, Harmer Hall and the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. It’s worth taking a guided tour to explore all this area has to offer. Hear the background to its extraordinary design and the many forms of entertainment that can be enjoyed. On Sunday’s the area turns into a marketplace with over 120 stalls of fantastic art and craft including ceramics, photography and textiles.
Theatrical pursuits are more than covered by the Australian Centre of Performing Arts in North Melbourne. Their philosophy is to integrate a diverse range of creative concepts, both training and showing at Gallery 14, and live performances at Cabaret Voltaire.
The 120 year old Her Majesty’s Theatre is as much an icon of the city as the Opera House is for Sydney. The theatre now hosts world class touring musicals on an epic scale, along with comedy festivals, opera, plays and dance. There are literally dozens of productions, exhibitions and shows that will enlighten, amuse and fascinate you with the quality and talent of Australian artists all over town. Part of the fun is finding them all which is great, as you discover the heart of the city at the same time.
On Flinders Street the Australian Centre for the Moving Image is the home of film festivals and grand exhibitions dedicated to movie making. Maybe it’s something in the water but Melbourne is a consistent inspiration for artists, writers and musicians. So much so, art is not always restricted to galleries and exhibitions but rather explode onto the streets, on walls in tiny alleys, or free standing sculptural installations. The city takes advantage of the expression and again, many guided tours are available so you can take in these bursts of al fresco inspiration.
When you’ve had your fill of the creative make yourself crazy deciding on where to dine. Mixing international influences with home-grown originality produces an array of avant-garde culinary experiences unlike any other place in the world. Melbourne has become renowned for its innovative dining spirit that continues to evolve and impress the finest of palates. Fine dining isn’t restricted either to large, expensively designed restaurants, although there are many great examples of those. Some of the smallest eateries, bistros and cafes produce enticing and diverse menus in wonderfully eclectic surrounds.
There are far too many dining options to list, suffice to say there’s not really any part of Melbourne that doesn’t have an amazing place to dine. The CBD is awash with choice, so too the banks of the Yarra River, the maze of laneways and then there’s Little Italy on Lygon Street which is probably worth a mention all to itself.
Possibly the birthplace of Melbourne’s café culture, Lygon Street in Carlton has become a tantalising representation of the large Italian community that has added so much to the fabric of this cross cultural city. Likewise the Greek precinct at Lonsdale Street will have your mouth watering and your heart thinking you’re in the old country.
Make time to explore the many laneways that intertwine the city centre revealing boutique eateries, funky little bars and unique delightful stores that surprise you with their originality and design. They say these lanes were originally designed just for humans as Melbourne’s wide streets were originally made to accommodate the large bullock teams that would haul produce from one end of town to the other.
Now you’ve been suitably entertained and fed it’s time to get on with the serious business of shopping. From retro to high fashion, fine art to one off treasures, Melbourne prides itself on being inventive and pioneering in terms of design.
Many of the country’s international fashion designers are based in Melbourne, and not taking anything away from Brisbane and Sydney who have brilliant designers in their own right, the city is largely regarded as the fashion capital of the country. Not only an undertaking purely for females either, the men of Melbourne can be very fashion aware.
As with cuisine, a multitude of shopping precincts and individual gems are dotted around the city. Probably one of its more legendary locations is Chapel Street which extends over four kilometres and oozes high end fashion designers as well as unique vintage finds.
Melbourne Spring Fashion Week is the industry event of the year, among many other sponsored fashion weeks that take place throughout the year. Spring belongs to fashion in the city which culminates in the race that stops the nation, the colourful Melbourne Cup horse race on the first Tuesday of November. The Cup is as much about fashion and hats as it is about horse racing and has its own place in Australian culture and tradition.
Australia’s largest casino resides at the Crown Casino which fits in nicely with Melbourne’s general approach of doing things large. Some of Australia’s greatest shows and events are hosted in these spectacular halls and venues. This is the place to get glam, shop, dine or try your luck at the casino.
Every destination should have a Melbourne City Circle Tram. If you’ve never visited this is the way to get the lowdown on places of interest with running commentary absolutely free. You can jump on or off wherever you please exploring any areas that take your fancy. Besides, trams are as symbolic of the southern city almost as much as San Francisco.
Melbourne is unique with a personality that weaves history and innovation into a fabric of creative expression that’s always entertaining and intriguing. You never quite know what you might find next.
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