Australia has been my home now for seven years, yet as much as I love to travel, I haven’t seen much outside South East Queensland and Sydney. I’ve heard many great things about Melbourne during this time – diverse, creative, multicultural, stylish – the list goes on, so this city has been on my to-do list for a while!
My first thought was a) damn it’s cold and b) it looks like a typical England town centre, just a lot cleaner with less gum squished onto the ground. It felt oddly comforting though like I was back where I belong.
Therefore, as someone who obviously knows Melbourne so well… I’ve put together a beginner’s guide to assist those of you who are looking for some Melbourne guidance.
For first timers, I highly recommend staying in the CBD as everywhere I visited was in walking distance, so although the trams look like fun, there really is no need to ride one. My accommodation was at the Ibis Budget Hotel on Elizabeth Street, cheap and cheerful, nothing extravagant, but it was clean and friendly so I couldn’t fault it. This place is only a 10-minute straight walk from Southern Cross station (which is where the airport Sky Bus dropped me off) so it was the perfect base location.
From here, Bourke Street – one of the city’s best-known streets – is just 250 metres to your left. As Melbourne’s main pedestrian mall and one of its main tourist destinations, this entertainment hub is buzzing with activity – including a giant H&M that became my geographical compass. There’s also a great rooftop bar in this direction at Curtis House on Swanston Street. It’s up seven flights of stairs, but it’s worth the climb when you look out at the Melbourne skyline.
500 metres to your right is Flinders Street Railway Station, which is a really lovely building, especially at night. Walk through the underpass (this felt exactly like that tube station scene in About Time with the musician playing) to cross over the Southbank Pedestrian Bridge to Southgate. This bridge is also known as the Love Bridge, much like the one in Paris. The custom is that people write their names on a lock, attach it to the rail and then throw the key into the river to lock their love forever.
Once you get to the other side, you’re faced with Southbank – a tranquil retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. There are lots of waterside restaurants, street entertainers, art galleries and theatres to get your culture fix, except we ended up at TGI Friday’s getting drunk on cocktails. You can take the girl out of Manchester but…
Southbank is also the perfect position to see the city light up at night so definitely come this way after dark!
I also found time to visit the Melbourne Museum which is a 2km walk from Elizabeth Street via Bourke Street, take a left and head through Carlton Gardens. These gardens are world heritage listed and worth a visit in themselves, perfect for a stroll and a picnic. The museum is open daily from 10-5, free for concessions and students, and $12 for adults. I particularly loved the WW1: Love & Sorrow exhibition which explores the impact of the war on Australian families. This exhibition is running until 2018 so there is plenty of time to view it.
Finally, I had just enough time to find a tucked away sweets shop at International Diethnes Cakes which is situated in the Greek precinct of Lonsdale St. Here I found all sorts of Greek dessert specialties, from pastel and nougat to halva and loukimi, plus almond coconut slices, vanilla slices, cannoli, rum babas, tiramisu, waffles, sponges, éclairs, mud cakes and black forest cakes. It all looked delicious, and I honestly couldn’t make a decision for 10 minutes. In the end, I panicked and chose a vanilla cream cake which was nice, but nothing amazing, unfortunately, and now I’m kicking myself at what I could have chosen!
I’m sure a seasoned Melbournite would be shaking their head at how narrow and touristy my trip was, but you have to start with the basics so that you have space to branch out on future visits. My next one is planned for May 2015 which I’m already looking forward to!