Author: Fiona Ludbrook
Date of Trip: August 2016
Sometimes you do not have to venture too far from home to go travelling!
Recently I have been exploring Melbourne, a city where I lived for almost thirty years, but rarely had time to get to many of its best offerings, as a traveller there myself. Here’s some suggestions for anyone exploring this vibrant, friendly city.
Begin exploring Melbourne at the public transport hub of the historic Flinders St Railway Station in the heart of the city. This station not only gives you access to the entire suburban rail network, opposite on both sides run Melbourne’s iconic trams.
Opposite Flinders St station, you will find the City Square, including the Melbourne Information Centre, The Potter Gallery, exhibiting many wonderful works of Australian Art, whilst a short walk over the Prince’s Bridge will lead you to the Melbourne Arts Centre, including performing arts theatres and the National Gallery of Victoria, for blockbuster exhibitions and a fabulous collection of international art. Both the Potter and National Galleries have free admission.
Besides the City Square is the Burrong Mar walk along the Yarra river. Keep going and you will get to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, home of the 1956 Olympics, Australian Rules Football, Cricket and the Sports Museum. Cross the bridge over the railway line and you come to the Melbourne Tennis Centre, home to the Australian Open, every January, with courts for hire should you want to play where the tennis greats have played.
The nearby Melbourne Botanic Gardens are truly glorious and provide a relaxing afternoon or morning. The botanic gardens are ideal for a picnic too. Alongside fabulous collections of indigenous and exotic plants, they are home to an abundance of birdlife, including black swans. Beside the gardens is Melbourne’s wonderful observatory.
Head to the Victoria Market for a wonderful array of fresh produce, inexpensive street food and the cheapest souvenirs in town. The market mirrors the multicultural nature of Melbourne’s population and is always a great place to see Melbourne’s residents going about their lives.
For food, head to Lygon Street. Originally the Jewish Quarter of town, during the 1950s and 60s the Italian Community established itself here and restaurants opened in abundance. Lygon St remains amongst the best places in Melbourne to find fantastic Italian cuisine, but has since been joined by many other local ethnic groups. Here too, you will find Readings Bookshop, and opposite, the Nova Cinema, screening foreign and arthouse films, as well as a few blockbusters. I spend a lot of time in Lygon Street, when I return to Melbourne!
St Kilda, will get you to the beach, the very cool Village Bell shopping drag, Linden Art Gallery and Melbourne’s Red Light District. However St Kilda is also famous for wonderful Eastern European delis and cakes and the Luna Park amusement Park. St Kilda’s small botanic gardens are also worth a visit. On Sundays an Art and Craft Market runs along the beach front of the Esplanade. A small colony of little penguins can be seen at dusk near St Kilda Pier.
Close to St Kilda is Prahran, thesedays centre of Melbourne’s gay and lesbian community. Lots of fantastic shopping here, from designer labels, to antiques great delis and the quirky as well as the neighbouring suburbs of Armadale and Toorak, the most exclusive address in town!
Possoms can be viewed nocturnally climbing up and down trees at the Exhibition Gardens, adjacent to the World Heritage listed Exhibition Building and Melbourne Museum at the Northern end of the city. The Museum itself is well worth a visit. A key exhibit is the legendary Phar Lap, the taxidermied remains of a race horse that became a public favourite during the 1930s Depression, but was poisoned when he raced in the USA. As well as Phar Lap, there are galleries worth exploring, from indigenous species and habitats, to Australian social history, even indigenous mega fauna and dinosaur remains on display. Don’t miss the gallery relating to Victoria’s indigenous people, for both traditional lifestyles and contemporary achievements!
The Melbourne State Library, has ever-changing free exhibitions. Tours of the library itself, including the impressive reading room are held regularaly. The same is true of Parliament House. Both buildings showcase Melbourne’s arhitectural heritage and provide ample evidence that here, were the richest goldmines in the history of the world. Highly recommended if you have time, or visit during winter and want great places to visit indoors!
Catch a train out to Ferntree Gully and see the wonderful temperate rainforest and ride on the heritage train, Puffing Billy.Lovely hikes through the Dandenongs, specialist gardens such as Tulip and rhodedendrons in season.
One of my favourite suburbs is Brunswick. Go here for the best Middle Eastern food at very reasonable prices, as well as more interesting shopping. Contrast Melbourne’s orthern suburbs, with those of the more affluent East!
Melbourne boasts one of the world’s truly great zoos, with not only a wonderful collection of animals, it showcases plants as well and has an incredible record for its breeding program of endangered species and prides itself on public education on endangered ecosystems and wildlife conservation. It has a very good collection of native animals. However if native animals are your top priority, head out to its annex, Healesville Sanctuary, or the Ballarat Wildlife and Reptile Park, who specialise in Australian animals.
Melbourne has also established a world reputation for graffiti art embellished laneways, home to great eateries and coffee, upbeat fashion and general vibe. Don’t miss De Graves St, or Hosier Lane, off Flinders St. Yes, Melbourne is a city that loves its food. Lively bars can also be found in this area. Don’t miss a quick drink at Young and Jackson’s hotel, opposite Flinders Street Station. Here you will discover the famous and once contraversial portrait of Chloe, now something of a local icon!
Expect friendly and obliging service everywhere. Tips for such will be appreciated. Contrary to popular belief, Australians do tip for good service and wait staff and those in the hospitality industry will appreciate rewards for ther efforts. Their wages are very low. If you do experience nonchalant or inefficient staff, let them know why you will not be tipping!
Melbourne is a safe and easy city for solo travellers. It is also a wonderful city, for anyone who enjoys walking. It has regularly been voted the “world’s most liveable city” due to its extensive parklands, green spaces, size and laid back lifestyle, with a wonderful food culture and passion for accessible and innovative Arts. It’s public transport system is generally excellent, with trams, trains and buses running until after midnight. Melbourne is also awash with festivals, from the International Comedy Festival every April, Moomba in March, White Night light festival in February and Spring Racing Carnival from October to mid November. a mecca for horse racing lovers and fashionistas alike.
Inside Melbourne’s Town Hall, you will find yet more changing exhibition space, as well as a Half Tix agency, where you can purchase cheap unsold tickets to performances held the same day; great way to access Melbourne’s great live theatre and comdedy scene. But the tiny La Mama theatre in Carlton, is another matter altogether. This twenty seater gem launches new Australian works. Book via their website. La Mama is a must if you love live theatre. Though not every performance will be brilliant, many are and experiencing such an intimate venue, where the actors and audience are in each other’s face is memorable in its own right!
When planning travels to Australia, always remember it is a huge country. Unless you have several months you are best to plan to limit travels to one or two geogrphical areas. A combination of Melbourne, including trips to Phillip Island to see the little penguins, driving the Great Ocean Road, doing the round of wineries on the Mornington Penninsula or Pyrennese region together with Sydney and The Blue Mountains could be done in two weeks, preferably three!