Not long ago, we were sitting in a café here when we overheard one visitor sum it up perfectly: “Melbourne surprises you.”
This city of 3.7 million (Australia’s second largest) may not be well known to North Americans, but it’s been named the world’s most livable city for much of this decade.
Perhaps that’s because Melbourne is so prodigiously diverse. The Victorian Flinders Street Station sits across the street from the geometric, purely 21st Century Federation Square. Trams course along big, wide streets, but the real action is often down narrow, little alleys. Melbourne is one of Australia’s commercial centers, yet the beach scene of the St. Kilda neighborhood is just a tram ride away. Its heritage is English, yet its residents come from around the world. It’s Australia’s undisputed capital of culture, yet it’s also the birthplace of Aussie Rules football.
All that and a good cup of coffee will get you far in life, and Melbourne is serious about its coffee, and its food in general. You’ll see this in the city’s wealth of ethnic cuisines, and Melbourne’s fine dining is often called Australia’s best.
The Yarra River divides the city, geographically and spiritually. North of the river is the Central Business District, the more established side of town, while the south is trendier and more hip. This carries through to Melbourne’s gay scene, with a more bohemian, somewhat older crowd to the north (head to the Collingwood and Abbotsford neighborhoods), while the southern neighborhoods of South Yarra, Prahran and St. Kilda are more fashion-forward and youth oriented.
It’s worth timing your visit around the Midsumma Festival (www.midsumma.org.au), three-plus weeks of cultural happenings around the city, in January and February.
With all this going for it, no wonder the license plates here declare Victoria, Melbourne’s home state, “the place to be.”