WHAT is sports crazy and overflowing with delicious food, a thriving arts and music scene and has attractions to suit all walks of life? Melbourne, of course, Australia's second biggest city with its 4.5 million residents.
Located in the south-east corner of the country, Melbourne, the state of Victoria's capital city, is renowned for its never-ending supply of major sporting events including the Australian Open tennis grand slam (January), Formula 1 Grand Prix (March) and the Spring Racing Carnival, which includes the Melbourne Cup horse race that "stops the nation" (November). But there's more than sport: think lots of laughs at the International Comedy Festival, family fun of Moomba, a festival on the banks of the Yarra River which winds through the heart of the city, the tastes and tipples at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival and home-makers' dream day out at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show.
But what's more, this is a city that prides itself on amazing food, largely thanks to its multi-cultural society. Whether it's Thai, Indian, French, Chinese, Turkish or African fare, a five star restaurant with a world class chef in the city, or the best fish 'n' chippery near a beach, there's something to suit all tastes. Even a simple "meat pie with tomato sauce and a beer at the footy" is a dining and cultural experience every visitor to the city should experience.
Chinatown located in the central business around Little Bourke Street is one of Australia's oldest communities having been built up during the Victorian Gold Rush of the 1850s. The area is renowned for its restaurants and Chinese produce outlets and of course the annual extravaganza that is the Chinese New year celebrated each February.
Cross the river Yarra on the Southgate footbridge from Flinders Street Railway station and you'll find yourself on Southgate, home to more than 17 of Melbourne's finest restaurants and a vast array of shops. With more "chefs Hats" awards than any other precinct in Melbourne, your taste buds wont know what hit them!.
Some highlights include:
Carlton and in particular Lygon Street is the traditional home of Italian cuisine and one of the main cafe and restaurant areas in Melbourne. Just North of Melbourne's CBD and close to the main University of Melbourne campus the area is filled with a wide range of great restaurants catering for every budget.
Borsari Ristorante, borsari.com.au, (03 9349 1444) at 201 Lygon Street.
A densely popular beachside suburb just 6 kilometres south of the city, St Kilda offers Melbourne's very best in Jewish delicatessens and Cake shops on Acland Street, Sunday morning Arts and Craft markets, Luna Park and Fitzroy Street filled with cafes, up-market restaurants and shops.
The Stokehouse, stokehouse.com.au, (03 9525 5555) at 30 Jacka Boulevard, St Kilda.
Red Emperor, redemperor.com.au, (03 9699 4170) at Upper Level, Southgate, Southbank.
Often referred to as the shopping capital of Australia, Melbourne offers a vast array of choice from major department stores to boutiques and specialist shops. Chapel Street offers local and international fashion labels with price tags to match. Melbourne Central located between La Trobe and Lonsdale Streets has over 180 shops on 6 levels designed around the glass encased Shot Tower. On the other side of the Yarra, The Southgate complex located between the Victorian Arts Centre, Concert Hall and Crown Casino complex, provides a mixture of up-market fashion, food, furniture, jewellery and Australiana products.
Within central Melbourne there are several arcades and malls, foremost among these is the Bourke Street Mall with David Jones and Myer department stores along with many other major national retailers. Elsewhere the arcades and mails tend to be more specialised, the Galleria Shopping Plaza with it's emphasis on Australia retailers, Australia on Collins for up-market shopping and the oldest arcade, Royal Arcade between Little Collins, Bourke and Elizabeth streets, home of Father Time and the statues of Gog and Magog.
Elsewhere suburban Melbourne offers vast shopping malls such as Chadstone, Southland and High Point all offering a wealth of choice in retail pleasure! Chadstone would be the pick of the bunch through sheer size and choice from up-market specialised retailers to everyday cheap and cheerful outlets.
A must is the markets. Queen Victoria market located on the edge of the CBD has something for everyone with a wide array of fresh food, fruit, meat, vegetables and other goods. One of the world's largest outdoor markets with over 1000 stalls the market has celebrated over 125 years of operations and a very popular weekend activity.
Other markets include South Melbourne, Pharan market off Chapel Street and for those looking for second-hand goods checkout the Camberwell market on a Sunday.
There's no better way to explore Victoria and this beautiful part of Australia than to have your own means of transport. Snare the best deals with DriveNow the home of discounted last minute Melbourne car rental and campervan hire. Book your car or campervan with DriveNow prior to your trip and the rest is easy once you arrive at one of the many car rental pick up points around Melbourne, at Tullamarine, Melbourne's International Airport or Avalon Airport with Jetstar. All the major car rental companies have branches conveniently located in the city centre largely around Elizabeth and Franklin Streets.
Directions and Transport
OF course there are more ways of getting around Melbourne than using a rental car and despite the Metropolitan area covering an extraordinary 8,800 square kilometres, Melbourne is well served by Trains, Trams and Buses. The railway network is centered around two main stations, Flinders Street which predominantly serves the suburban network and Southern Cross station (formerly Spencer Street) that caters for country destinations with some suburban services.
Melbourne's Tram network extends over 250 kilometres and covers all the major city attractions. Tickets purchased onboard are by coin-only machines and most routes run at regular intervals of 10-25 minutes. In central Melbourne a free City Circle service circumnavigates the city with commentary as you pass things of interest. There's also the City Explorer Bus service that leaves the Town Hall in Swanston Street every 30 minutes. Both services operatea on a free "hop on hop off" basis.
Citylink operate a 22km long Toll freeway that links the Tullamarine Airport Freeway, The West Gate Freeway and the Monash Freeway. The roads are clearly marked by yellow tollway signs and uses electronic tolling. You can purchase a variety of citylink passes by visiting citylink.com.au and don't worry if you forget to do so before travelling, you can buy a pass up to three days after you have travelled(by phone 13 26 29 or on their website). It's worth pointing out that CityLink do charge administration fees for payment made outside this 3 day window.
Then there's the alluring entertainment pull of the city, with mighty Crown Casino, a "world of entertainment" in its own right with designer label shops, nightclubs, cinemas and restaurants. Nip into the back streets of inner suburbs for cool band venues whether it be jazz, rock, alternative or techno music, visit tourist hotspots like Melbourne Aquarium, Melbourne Zoo, Scienceworks and Federation Square in the heart of town.
You want in on some secrets? Dig deeper and discover Melbourne's inner city laneways and arcades, stumble upon opulent bars, eclectic boutiques and outdoor dining experiences tucked away in alleys and behind non-descript doors. Take in a meal and hit a grand old theatre, comedy club, or hit the enormous stadium that is the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) for a game of Australian football in winter, cricket in summer.
But if you think you have the city covered, think again. We haven't even begun to explain the delights that await you in funky and modern New Quay, charming Southbank, bustling Chinatown and those dreamy cake shop aromas and fun-filled squeals of delight drifting in from Luna Park in St Kilda. More follows as we continue to build information pages to help you get the very best out of any trip to Melbourne.