One of my friends in Boston is planning her first trip to Australia and asked me to compile a list of must-dos for her. She wants to explore Melbourne like a local without losing that touristy touch.
I randomly quizzed over 30 locals to know what they think is 'true Melbourne'. Based upon their votes (and a slight personal bias in favour of certain things) I've narrowed down this list to the top 10 things that make Melbourne tick.
I'll have to wait and see whether she bought my idea of Melbourne's singularity, but until then I thought of sharing my idea with Weekendnotes.
St Kilda Beach This is by far the most popular beach in Melbourne, famous also for its great proximity to two other Melbourne landmarks Luna Park and Esplanade. During summers, the place is jam-packed with locals looking to have some fun in the sun. Take a walk along the St Kilda Pier to enjoy a grand view of the foreshore. Enjoy an evening walk along the beach for an invigorating experience. Luna Park listed as a Victorian heritage site is an olde worlde but operating amusement park located at a stone's throw from the beachfront. Why? To take a dip at the hottest beach in Melbourne.
Trams With 500 trams, Melbourne has the largest tram network in the world. For a touristy ride, hop on the City Circle Tram, which girds along the Central Business District with continuous audio guides. For a one-of-a-kind experience, dine at the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant. You must book a table in advance as each tram can only seat up to 36 patrons. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner (two sittings) daily. Why? To see what makes Melburnians move.
Street art To experience Melbourne's creative urban culture, do explore Melbourne's fascinating piebald laneways. If you're walking through an offshoot lane in the city (Flinders lane/Little Bourke St) or mucking around in Fitzroy or Prahan, chances are you'll discover some of the best street art without having to refer to a guide or map. These calico street walls add a new dimension to the look and feel of the city. Check out the location of the most densely painted zones along Melbourne Graffiti Walks. Though the Council endeavours to cull the practice of illegal graffiti, it recognises street art as a creative reflection of the cultural zeitgeist. Why? To admire urban expressionist art.
Flinders Street Station Flinders Street Station is one of the most iconic buildings in the city; it is listed in the Victorian Heritage List. The station is located on the corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets. Flinders Street is also home to Federation Square (the cultural and civic centre of the city), St Pauls Cathedral (cathedral church of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne), Melbourne Aquarium (further down), Young and Jacksons (a popular pub - another Melbourne icon). Why? To get your postcard picture of Melbourne.
Landmark sites Shrine of Remembrance: This war memorial was built in honour of the people who laid their lives during World War I and other war and peacekeeping duties since. It witnesses annual commemorative services of ANZAC Day (25 April) and Remembrance Day (11 November). Melbourne Cricket Ground: Melbourne is not called the sporting capital of Australia for no reason. MCG, the largest stadium in Australia, is an ode to the seemingly driving force of this city sports. It regularly hosts international cricket, rugby, footy matches and was also the venue for 1956 Summer Olympics and 2006 Commonwealth Games. Old Melbourne Gaol: Unravel Melbourne's convict history at this historic site. Today, the prison is converted into a museum which displays information and memorabilia of the prisoners and staff. Royal Botanic Gardens: Home to hundreds of varieties of native and non-native flora, the Royal Botanic Gardens is spread across over 36 hectares of vegetated land. Don't forget to pack a picnic basket. Why? To see the touristy side of Melbourne.
Melbourne bears a great Italian influence in food and culture. Thanks to a large Italian community, there is no dearth of good Italian restaurants and Lygon Street, Carlton is considered to be the mecca for Italian cuisine. A local will assure you that almost all the restaurants are great but take a walk along the street and browse through the menus. Some of the best include: Il Gambero on the Park, Bistro Two Dozen, Donnini's, Via Veneto, Kent Hotel. However, a Lygon Street must-stop is Brunetti's cafe serving a huge range of decadent desserts and sweet-somethings. Not recommended for dieters though. Why? To savour Italian fare.
Crown Casino You don't have to be a gambler to visit this place. Noted as the biggest casino in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the largest in the world, Crown Casino draws a major crowd from around the world every year. Apart from the most popular games including Roulette, Poker, Blackjack, Baccarat, Pai Gow and Craps, there are a host of other gaming options too. The casino is part of the Crown Entertainment Complex that houses many fine dine restaurants and other eateries, cinema theatres, nightclubs, boutique stores and more. Why? To enjoy Melbourne's nightlife.
Australian Rules Football colloquially called Footy is almost the pulse of the denizens. Among other things, it is the best topic to start off a conversation with a local. To get an up close feel of Melbourne's sporting culture, watch an AFL (Australian Football League) match (season is from March to August every year). But the games are no place for the timid loud, rough yet surprisingly entertaining. On a match day, witness trainloads of fans (of all age groups) pour out on the street en route the venue, club mufflers dangling over their shoulders. Why? To see why football rules Australians.
This annual Thoroughbred horse race takes place in November but the preparations begin almost as soon as the previous one ends and that is not restricted to the jockeys, trainers, horses and event managers but the populace too. Men and women treat this event as an opportunity to put their best foot forward in the social circuit. Hundreds of tuxedo-clad men and dressed to the nines women attend the race and the pre and post-race events every year. Betting is a regular feature as is champagne-on-the-grass and celebrity citing. But even if you're not interested in being part of the la-di-da crowd, you must attend this world-famous race at least once. Why? To see what makes it 'the race that stops the nation'.
Disclaimer: Though I take full credit for listing the good things here, I do not accept responsibility for missing out anything (after all, there are 30 others to blame).
Im over football, not really interested in racing, although the horses are beautiful. I like cafes and street art and do appreciate these being listed. Melbourne is pretty good for cinema and art galleries too.
By Jody Kimber - senior reviewer Wednesday, 27th of July @ 04:39 am
Great range of ideas, note that city circle trams are free too, so are a great way to travel around the city. Melbourne also has quite a few parks hidden within the CBD, the Royal Botanical Gardens was mentioned but for a good alternative Fitzroy Gardens is worth checking out.
By Emily Pong - senior reviewer Friday, 5th of August @ 07:10 am
Melbourne ....being know for the 'underbelly' ... the crimes tour of Melbourne in fabulous and fascinating!
By glend16 - reader Wednesday, 10th of August @ 09:54 am
Hidden bars of Melbourne tours, also a top thing to do in the evening
By glend16 - reader Wednesday, 10th of August @ 09:57 am
So, I noticed you left off Federation Square, that pile of post-modern junk needs to be noted.
I agree with the hidden bars. Melbourne is riddled with bars and pubs. I've lived here all my life and I'm still finding new trendy little bars tucked away in alleys and up side-streets. It's unlike any other city I've been to.