Cultural diversity is often associated with refugee issues in Australia. However in the state of Victoria, multiculturalism is its biggest strength, with the population coming from 200 different countries, sharing 135 different faiths and speaking more than 260 languages and dialects. This also makes Melbourne is the most culturally diverse city in the country and home to a smorgasbord of ethnic and cultural festivals.
In addition to community-wide events like Moomba, Cultural Diversity Week and NAIDOC Week, there are many that celebrate individual cultures including Polish, Chinese, Africans, Greeks, Japanese, Italians, Koreans, Swiss and many more. Best of all, majority of the ethnic and cultural festivals offer free entry. Here are 18 popular festivals to help you make the most of your visit the world's most liveable city.
Chinese New Year is an important event in Melbourne's cultural calendar. It is also one of the world's most celebrated festival, usually occurring in January or February as determined by the lunar calendar. While Melbourne may not one of the top cities in the world for this festive occasion, there is no lack of activities for everyone to enjoy in Chinatown, Docklands, Federation Square, Crown Entertainment Complex and Queen Victoria Market. There are also celebrations in suburbs including Richmond, Glen Waverly, Boxhill, Sunshine and Footscray. You and your family can look forward to sixteen days of lion and dragon dances, visual art and light installations, cultural performances, craft workshops, food markets, parades and fireworks. Highlights are the crackling firecrackers and the Dragon Parade through the streets of Melbourne. Visit the website for the detailed program and venues.
The Lonsdale Street Festival (formerly referred to as the Antipodes Festival) celebrates Melbourne as home to the world's largest Greek population outside of Greece. The influx of Greek migrants to Australia heightened due to the debt crisis in Greece. Held in February along the iconic Greek Precinct, Melbourne's biggest Greek street party serves up a weekend of Greek culture, food and entertainment. You and your family can experience the Greek culture through the traditional performances, live international and local entertainment, food stalls and Loukoumadomania eating competition. There are also carnival rides, face painting and balloon sculpting for the kids.
Every February, Federation Square is transformed into a Japanese village thanks to the Melbourne Japanese Summer Festival. Organised by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Melbourne (JCCiM), this 1-day cultural event provides the general public with the opportunity to experience traditional and contemporary Japanese music, food, art and entertainment. You and your family can dress up in Japanese fashion and join the best dressed competition. There are songs, dance and Raiko drumming. You can also enjoy games and activities like origami and yo-yos, and participate in a raffle to win some prizes.
While the celebrations may not be the scale of the St Patrick's Day Festival and Parade in London, the Melbourne Irish Festival brings together the local Irish community and shares the tradition and history of the St. Patrick's Day Festival to the greater Community of Melbourne. Organised by the Melbourne Irish Festival Committee, this annual 1-day event is held on the Sunday before Saint Patrick's Day. You and your family can experience the Irish culture and heritage including Irish dance performances and traditional music, kids games and craft, and Irish delicacies. Don't miss this opportunity to interact and learn more about the Irish community.
Head over the Queen Victoria Market in March for the Turkish Pazar Festival. Organised by Moreland Turkish Association, this annual event transforms the Market into a traditional Turkish bazaar and takes the visitor on a journey to Turkey. You and your family enjoy Turkish food, music, dance and cultural displays. Highlights include the display by the Ottoman Mehter Band and musicians from the Ankara State Folk Music Ensemble.
Venue: Queen Victoria Market
Address: Cnr Elizabeth and Victoria Streets, Melbourne, VIC 3000
April brings the sights, sounds and taste of Korea to Melbourne. Held at Federation Square, the annual Korea Week Festival celebrates traditional and contemporary Korean culture. You and your family can meet the Korean community and enjoy many aspects of Korea society including food, music, crafts and costume. Some of the highlights include a Hanbok (traditional Korean costume) Fashion Show, performances by the Busan Metropolitan Traditional Music Orchestra, Taekwondo (Korean martial arts) demonstration, Korean hair styling and make up show and a K-pop Contest.
Federation Square plays host to Buddha's Day and Multicultural Festival in May. This 2-day event is jointly presented by Fo Guang Shan Melbourne Buddhist temple and Buddha's Light International Association of Victoria (BLIAV). In addition to commemorating the birthday of Shakyamuni Buddha, it also celebrates the diversity of Melbourne's multicultural and multi-faith society. You and your family can participate in the World Peace Blessing ceremony, Dharma talks, meditation, Tai Chi, traditional arts and crafts, tea ceremony and sample vegetarian food.
Coinciding with the Portuguese National day is the Taste of Portugal festival in June. Organised by the Portuguese Speaking Communities Incorporated (CLP Inc), this annual cultural event promotes the Portuguese language and culture to the public while bringing the Portuguese speaking communities in Melbourne together. You and your family can enjoy Portuguese street food, samba dance classes, traditional Portuguese Fado singers, art and photographic exhibition, children's activities and handicrafts demonstrations.
Peru is synonymous with Machu Piccu, the Inca Empire, ceviche and alpacas. Now you can experience this South American culture right here in Docklands at the Peruvian Festival. This event is organised by the Peruvian Festival Inc. as a way to showcase the Peruvian culture in Melbourne and celebrate the national Independence Day. You and your family can sample scrumptious Peruvian dishes, learn to make a pisco sour cocktail and listen to traditional música criolla. If you're up for it, party till dark Inca style with the salsa bands.
Diwali or Deepavali is an annual festival of lights celebrated by Hindus all around the world. While the celebrations may not have the same gusto as those in India or other Asian countries like Singapore and Malaysia, the Victorian Festival of Diwali provides everyone in Melbourne the opportunity to be part of this important cultural event. It is organised by Celebrate India Inc, a community organisation facilitating a better understanding of the Indian culture and its diversity among wider Australian community. Located at Federation Square, the festival serves up a smorgasbord of ethnic activities. You and your family can enjoy classical, folk and Bollywood dances, Indian films and authentic Indian cuisine. There are also Indian art exhibitions, traditional henna painting, and dance and craft workshops.
Melbourne's Swiss community gather each October to celebrate the diversity of traditional and modern Swiss culture at Queensbridge Square. You and your family can learn about Swiss myths, legends and traditions through performances on stage. Highlights include yodelling, alpine horn blowing and a carnival brass band. There are also stalls showcasing Swiss food, drinks and other products during the Swiss Festival. Popular items include the Raclette and Gruyere cheeses and the varieties of chocolate.
Grab the family and head on down to Queen Victoria Market in October where the Malaysia Street Festival takes centre stage. This one day event celebrates Malaysia Day through a focus on Malaysia's culinary culture. You and your family savour authentic Malaysian cuisine from some of Melbourne's top Malaysian restaurants and eateries. The selection includes over 30 dishes from West and East Malaysia. In addition to the food, there are also a variety of Malaysian cultural performances and games such as congkak and sarong tying.
Venue: Queen Victoria Market
Address: Cnr Elizabeth and Victoria streets, Melbourne VIC 3000
Love pizza, pasta, vespa and all things Italia? Then head on down to Lygon Street in October for the Carlton Italian Festa. This annual event is organised by a team of organisations who are passionate about Italy, the Italian culture and keeping the Italian tradition in Australia alive. You and your family can enjoy the best that Italy and the Melbourne Italian scene has to offer right here in Lygon Street. There are Italian cars and bikes on display and culinary delights including traditional pizza, pasta, biscotti, coffee and gelato. The day is also abuzz with live entertainment from bands, comedians, dance groups and DJs.
Victoria is home to the country's largest concentration of Polish immigrants and their descendants. Every November, they gather to share the best of what Poland has to offer with the public at the largest Polish festival in Australia. You and your family can enjoy live music performances, traditional dances and special acts on the main stage of Federation Square. There are stalls offering a variety of Polish crafts, artworks, books and jewellery. You can also taste some of the Polish fare including pierogi (stuffed dumplings), bigos (hunter's stew), kielbasa (sausage), traditional cakes and pastries. So grab the family and spend a day experiencing the colours, sounds and aromas of Poland. Visit the Festival website for more information.
The Hispanic Latin American Festival has been celebrating Spain and Spanish Cultures in Melbourne since the 1970s. Also commonly referred to as the Johnston Street Festival, this 2-day event draws thousands of visitors every November. You and your family can enjoy a program that represents the traditions, art and culture of Spain, Latin America and other countries where Spanish is the first language. Johnston Street will be closed to traffic and transformed into a pedestrian boulevard, lined with food stalls serving up a variety of Spanish cuisine. There are also live entertainment on the main stage, steel bands, DJs, dance classes and the popular midday street parade.
The annual Paris to Provence French festival is the largest celebration of France and the French culture in Melbourne. Held at the Como House and Garden in South Yarra, this event creates a pop-up French provincial village market where visitors can experience the various characteristics of France. You and your family can enjoy cooking demonstrations by French chefs, French food, wine and products, roving performers, live music, French photography exhibition, films, a Parisian Fashion Show and a French Bulldogs parade. There are also tours of Como House and activities for the kids. Unlike the other cultural festivals, this event is ticketed.
December in Melbourne is not just about Christmas. It's also a time to celebrate what's great about the Africans and their culture. The African Music and Cultural Festival is the collaborative effort of over 40 African Australian communities and organisations in Victoria representing Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Eritrean, Ethiopian, Ghanaian, Kenyan, Liberian, Mauritian, Morocco, Senegalese, Sudanese, South Sudanese, Somali, South African, Tanzanian, Sierra Leonean, Gambian, Congolese, Zambian, Zimbabwean and other communities. Located at Federation Square, it is the largest annual African festival in Australia. You and your family will be transported to Africa through a day of music, dancing, diverse arts, cultural performances, fashion shows, traditional costumes and authentic African food.
Filipinos are well known for their friendliness and hospitality. They also love to hold parties and sharing their joy with family and friends. The 2 day Philippine Fiesta attest to this warm welcome of everyone to their celebrations and community. This cultural event in December brings together the Filipino-Australian community and associations. The public is also welcomed to share the joy and the spirit of friendship and Filipino hospitality. You and your family can experience live performances by Filipino-Australian performers, watch the parade of Filipino community organisations and taste authentic Filipino food and beverages. Here's another festival to enjoy before Christmas.