The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have been discovering the joys of Melbourne, regularly listed among the world’s greatest cities in which to live. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2018 report put it 2nd, behind only Vienna, and it took top spot in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Here are a few reasons why:
1. It has riotous street art
Melbourne’s street art scene is one of the most vibrant and important in the world. Indeed, sprayed, stencilled alleys like the city centre’s Hosier Lane have become must-see sights; veritable galleries serving up an ever-changing feast of technicolour brilliance.
“While brilliant street art is easy enough to stumble upon, dig deeper on a Melbourne Street Art Tour,” suggests our Melbourne expert Cristian Bonnetto.
“What I love about these tours is the fact they’re led by some of the city’s top street artists, which means an insider perspective on creative techniques, issues and controversies.
“Best of all, the tour ends with beer, wine and conversation at the Blender Studios, one of Melbourne’s biggest and best street art studios,” he aded.
The original city-centre tour commences from Federation Square while the Saturday-only tour of the Collingwood and Fitzroy neighbourhoods starts from 48 Easey Street in Collingwood.
2. And one of the world’s most attractive train stations
Flinders Street Station is a hulking beauty. With more than 100,000 commuters passing through it each day, it is a landmark in the city and is especially photogenic when Melbourne’s trams amble by. The building was completed in 1909, when it was Australia’s first city railway station. Its iconic clocks are a meeting point for many city dwellers.
Beautiful Flinders Street Station CREDIT: GETTY
3. There’s seaside fun at St Kilda
Palm trees, Art Deco mansions, retro flats, roller coasters, kosher bakeries, hipster cafes, artists, yuppies, rollerbladers: welcome to St Kilda! Featured in countless TV shows, films, songs and novels, Melbourne’s favourite bayside suburb has been it all: 19th-century seaside retreat, post-war Jewish enclave and born-again, property hotspot.
“At its heart is Acland Street,” said Bonnetto, our Melbourne expert. “Especially pumping on weekends, it’s a mixed bag of buzzing bars, restaurants, funky and tacky shops, buskers, backpackers and high-brow locals discussing film or music projects.
“Between it and Fitzroy Street (St Kilda’s other major bar and restaurant strip), the Esplanade rolls out a stream of Melbourne icons: vintage Luna Park (lunapark.com.au), legendary live music venues The Palais (palaistheatre.net.au) and Esplanade Hotel, as well as the art and craft stalls of Sunday’s Esplanade Market (stkildaesplanademarket.com).
“As for my classic St Kilda moment, it’s gazing at the skyline from St Kilda Pier at sunset, also a good time to spot penguins at the end of the pier.”
The harbour at St Kilda CREDIT: GETTY
4. The cutest wildlife to watch
Phillip Island is world famous for its penguin parade. At dusk each night, a colony of little penguins emerge from the water at Sutherland Beach like waddling commuters heading home from a busy day at sea.
“While the parade is a great event, I’m a bigger fan of Phillip Island’s Koala Conservation Centre,” said our Melbourne expert, “its elevated boardwalks a handy spot to catch a glimpse of Australia’s cutest marsupial.” From October to December, you can even spot fur seals at the aptly named Seal Rocks. Late October is the best month to catch them – don’t forget your binoculars. Phillip Island sits at the entrance to Westernport Bay, 87 miles southeast of Melbourne. polperro.com.au
A little penguin CREDIT: GETTY
5. It boasts Australia’s freshest live music
Melbourne, more than anywhere else in Australia, is known for its vibrant music scene. Visitors can get a taste at Corner Hotel, found in the shadow of the Swan Street rail bridge. The Corner has been shaking heads and hips since the Forties. Everyone from Mick Jagger and The Dandy Warhols, to The White Stripes, David Gilmour and Crowded House have played here, and the place remains one of Melbourne’s best mid-sized venues for top-notch live music.
“It’s a fantastic spot to catch fresh Aussie acts,” said Bonneto, “whether it’s ARIA-nominated Sydney alt-rockers The Preatures or Melbourne’s own indie-pop Saskwatch.
“Top-tier and cult-status acts can sell out months ahead, so check the website well in advance if you’re thinking of hitting its legendary sticky carpet. If you do, make sure to have a drink in the buzzing rooftop bar as well.” cornerhotel.com
6. You can swim with wild dolphins
While Port Phillip Bay offers countless diversions, none quite match the thrill of swimming with wild dolphins. Eco-tourism company Polperro Dolphin Swims runs boat tours which allow you to share the water with the bay’s famous bottlenose dolphins and, if you’re extra lucky, Australian fur seals.
“Having such intelligent, curious creatures swim so close is an incredibly powerful experience, and the availability of ropes to hold onto means that inexperienced swimmers don’t miss out,” said Bonneto. “If you don’t feel like getting wet, you’re just as welcome to watch from the deck.”
Departing from the pier at Sorrento, a beachside town 60 miles south of central Melbourne, the tour runs between three and four hours and must be booked in advance.
7. And there’s a highly Instagrammable shopping centre
Melbourne Central Shopping Centre not only has plenty to wave a credit card at, both in terms of shops and restaurants, but there is also history at which to marvel, in the form of Coop’s Shot Tower, a statuesque former bullet factory that is now attractively encased in a domed glass window that stands 84m high.
Architectural marvel and retail haven Melbourne Central Shopping Centre is well worth a visit CREDIT: Getty
8. There’s a craft hipster haven, too
More than a weekend market, the Rose Street Artists’ Market is a total Fitzroy scene, where northside hipsters and creative types hang out, chat and guzzle copious amounts of coffee. It’s also a top spot to buy handmade art and design from some of the city’s brightest artists and craftspeople. Scour the stalls for anything from sculptural jewellery, graphic T-shirts and avant-garde frocks, to artisan candles and designer lamps.
“If you’re seeking souvenirs, look out for the stall selling stunning, affordable photographic prints of Melbourne,” said Bonneto. “I always buy a few as gifts when heading abroad.” While the market’s very own Young Bloods Diner serves competent grub and coffee, it’s no match for Industry Beans, which lies just around the corner.
9. Collins Street is the city in microcosm
No thoroughfare embodies Melbourne vanity like Collins Street, and no trip to this town is complete without a saunter down it. Start at the corner of Spring Street, where the neo-Renaissance Old Treasury Building provides an imposing eastern bookend.
Designed by 19-year-old government draftsman, JJ Clark, and constructed in 1862, its basement vaults were used to store much of the $200 million worth of gold carted in from the Victorian goldfields. Head west, admiring the rococo-revival foyer of the Regent Theatre at no. 191, the mosaic floor of the Block Arcade at no. 282, and the ingenious preservation inside no. 333.
The neo-Gothic ceiling of the ANZ Bank at no. 380 is also worth a peek, while further west at nos. 471 to 477 stands the equally flamboyant Olderfleet Building. Schedule your walk in time for sundowners at sky-high Lui Bar in the Rialto Towers.
Architecture on Collins Street CREDIT: GETTY
10. But there’s a quirky side too
Melbourne can be a tricky city, hiding many of its most fabulous boutiques, cafés, bars and art down nondescript laneways, behind inconspicuous doors and up rickety old stairs. Get a little guidance with a Hidden Secrets Tour, which wisely snubs the obvious and the naff for what Melbourne does best – offbeat creativity, quirkiness and surprise.
Tours cover a number of themes, from Melbourne’s laneways and historic arcades, to art, architecture and design walks, to coffee and food crawls for curious gastronomes. What we admire most about this tour company are the guides, all of them truly, madly in love with their hometown (and rightly so!). Wear comfy shoes and for tour times, prices and bookings, visit the website.
11. You can escape to luscious gardens
Few botanic gardens match the elegance and sheer romanticism of Melbourne’s most famous patch of green. The Royal Botanic Gardens is one of the city’s most impressive treasures, and definitely worth setting aside a few hours for.
Travel the world through micro eco-systems, stretch out on the sweeping lawns with a good book, or delve deeper on one of the garden’s themed guided tours, some of them free (see rbg.vic.gov.au for details).
Few botanic gardens match the elegance and sheer romanticism of Melbourne’s most famous patch of green CREDIT: GETTY
“If you haven’t packed a picnic hamper, settle in at acclaimed chef Shannon Bennett’s Jardin Tan (jardintan.com.au), where French-Vietnamese inspired dishes are made with produce from the cafe’s own kitchen gardens,” suggested Bonneto.
“Come summer, don’t miss the magic of an alfresco film at Moonlight Cinema (moonlight.com.au/melbourne).
“Whatever the time of year, you’ll see no shortage of sweaty locals doing the Tan, a 4km-long former horse-exercising track turned jogging and eye-candy trail.”
12. Or a beach-laden peninsula
Hanging off Melbourne like a giant hook, the Mornington Peninsula is one of the city’s classic summer playgrounds. The beaches come in two forms: shallow, family-friendly bay beaches, and wild, open, surfer-studded back beaches.
The Mornington Peninsula is one of the city’s classic summer playgrounds CREDIT: GETTY
Visitors can quaff pinot noirs at boutique wineries like Ten Minutes by Tractor, enjoy high-tech wine flights at the Crittenden Wine Centre (crittendenwines.com.au), nibble on local cheeses at Red Hill Cheese (redhillcheese.com.au) or procure produce and art at the monthly Red Hill Market (craftmarkets.com.au).
Of its string of towns, historic Sorrento remains the prettiest; a salubrious combination of 19th-century sandstone buildings, Laura Ashley-style boutiques, and blonde-bobbed lunching ladies discussing schools over chardonnay.
13. Melbourne is also home to Australia’s greatest coffee
The baristas in Melbourne’s cafes are often thought of as some of the most highly accomplished, with coffee brewing an art form that is taken seriously. Sit and savour a cup in one of Patricia Coffee Brewers, Market Lane Coffee or Brother Baba Buden and see what all the fuss is about.