Melbourne Travel Guide


City Centre
The city centre consists of a 7 sq km (3 sq mi) rectangular grid of streets bordered by the Yarra to the south, the Spencer St railway station to the west and the Fitzroy Gardens to the east. Two of Melbourne's most obvious central landmarks are the recently renovated Flinders St Station and the neo-Gothic St Paul's Cathedral. Controversial Federation Square (including the Ian Potter Centre, which houses the National Gallery of Victoria's Australian art collection), opened in late 2002 and inspires an instant love or hate reaction from most. North of these buildings lie the boom-years' Town Hall, the domed and pillared State Library building and the flamboyant City Baths.

Other city attractions include the bustling Queen Victoria Market on the northern fringe of the CBD; the stiking Melbourne Museum and nearby the World Heritage listed Royal Exhibition Building; the mammoth Treasury and State Parliament House buildings; Scots and St Michael's churches; the 19th-century Block Arcade, which runs between Collins and Elizabeth Sts; the collection of Gothic-revival banks on the corner of Collins and Queen Sts; and the landmark Rialto Towers at the western end of Collins St which, boasting an observation deck on the 55th floor, provides a 360 degree view of the city and beyond. At the top end of Russell St there's the atmospheric Old Melbourne Gaol.

Inner-City Haunts
The inner suburbs of Carlton, Fitzroy and Richmond are all recommended for their architecture, restaurants and atmosphere. Carlton is the Italian centre, full of pasta and spaghetti bars, muscle cars and slick Italian clothing stores. Victoria St in Richmond is the vibrant Vietnamese centre, chock full of budget restaurants, and the focus of the Lunar New Year celebrations in January-February. Fitzroy, once the working-class heart of Melbourne, is now a magnet for the urban cool, cafe dwellers and property renovators.

St Kilda is a day trip in itself. For years it was Melbourne's sex and sin centre - drunks, drugs, girls, shady deals and shady characters abounded - but the suburb is slowly being rejuvenated and is now one of Melbourne's most fashionable areas. Fitzroy St retains traces of its former tarnished character, although today you're more likely to be sipping a crisp white and dining on rocket salad than slugging a beer and looking for action. There is a string of average beaches running from St Kilda back into the city, including Middle Park, Albert Park and Port Melbourne. Luna Park, near St Kilda Beach, is an old-fashioned fairground that's fun for kids and coltish adults.

The focus of Melbourne is slowly shifting to the south bank of the Yarra (and, since the first years of the new millennium, beyond to the developing Docklands precinct), which has seen large-scale construction and the influx of huge sums of money and political will. The Victorian Arts Centre buildings and the National Gallery of Victoria are both on the south bank. The aliens-are-coming spire of the arts centre's theatre building is probably Melbourne's most famous landmark.

Opposite the arts precinct are the Royal Botanic Gardens - considered to be among the finest in the world - and Kings Domain, which contains the Shrine of Remembrance, Governor La Trobe's Cottage and the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. The Southgate complex of shops, wine bars, snack stalls and restaurants lines the Yarra's bank. Further along the Yarra, the Docklands - the latest addition to Melbourne's Sydney-style waterside precinct - is in the throes of birth, dotted with new high-rise apartment buildings, riverside restaurants, the Telstra Dome Stadium and half-completed building sites.

Off the Beaten Track

Bellarine Peninsula
The Bellarine Peninsula forms the western side of Port Phillip Bay, and is a popular holiday spot for Melburnians. The seaside resort of Queenscliff sports some fine extravagant buildings now restored to their gold-era glory. Fort Queenscliff was built during the Crimean War to protect Melbourne from Russian invasion - money well spent - and is now home to a military museum. Queenscliff is also the centre for the peninsula's excellent dive scene.

If you prefer not to get your hair wet, head west to Point Lonsdale, renowned for the marine life in its huge number of rockpools. There's also a good surf beach here and an early settlers' cemetery. On the ocean side of the peninsula, Ocean Grove has some fantastic wreck diving in one of the world's most dangerous waterways. Torquay, just south of the peninsula, is one of the most popular surfing and summer resorts on Victoria's coast, and the capital of Australia's surf industry.

Phillip Island
At the entrance to Western Port Bay, southeast of the city, Phillip Island is rugged and windswept with plenty of beaches, a fascinating collection of wildlife and several old-fashioned townships. The island's Penguin Parade is one of the country's most popular tourist attractions. Every evening the little penguins at Summerland Beach emerge from the sea and waddle up the beach to their nests, seemingly oblivious to the busloads of camera-toting tourists. In the southwest of the island, Seal Rocks is inhabited by Australia's largest colony of fur seals, or you can head inland to the Koala Conservation Centre and check out the little cuddly fellas with the sharp fingers.

The island's surf beach, Woolamai, is renowned for its strong rips, but there are also safer bay beaches for less daring swimmers.

Yarra Valley
The Yarra Valley, on Melbourne's northeastern outskirts, is a lovely area for bushwalking or biking, or swilling a few glasses of pinot. The Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the best places to see Australian native fauna. The sanctuary is in a natural bushland setting, and a walking track will take you past enclosures housing wallabies, kangaroos, wombats, platypuses, koalas, birds, snakes and lizards.

The valley is also one of Australia's most respected wine-growing regions, with more than 30 wineries scattered among these beautiful hills and valleys. The region is particularly noted for its pinot noir, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and sparkling wines. The Warrandyte State Park in the valley is one of the few remaining areas of natural bush in the metropolitan area - there are walking and cycling tracks and picnic areas, as well as galleries and potteries dotted throughout the hills.

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