Melbourne's Yarra River cuts through the city skyline
Melbourne can empathize with Rodney Dangerfield. Once deemed “Marvelous Melbourne” in the gold-boom days of the 1840’s, it has since been relegated to Australia’s second city. It just can’t seem to “get any respect.” But silver in size is where the city’s runner-up status ends. With its sophisticated style, haute cuisine and cosmopolitan flair, it‘s hard to argue; world-class Melbourne has never been more marvelous.
We allowed ourselves 4 nights, 3 days in Melbourne which was simply not enough. With a population of 3.4 million Melbourne was much bigger and had more to offer than we expected. The city is divided by the Yarra River. Once a dirty eyesore running through the city center, it is now a Melbournian playground, where crew teams work the waterway and pedestrians stroll the esplanade that runs along the river.
We used our first day to explore north of the river. To the north is the Central Business District (CBD) and, traditionally, the city’s working-class neighborhoods. The CBD proved a wonderful mix of past and future, with a combination of sleek new architecture contrasted with Victorian-era edifices. The rectangular CBD has the fortune to be buffered by gardens on all of its four sides, giving the city an open, airy feel. The city turns eastward, literally and figuratively, to the goldmine-era Chinatown, which is a vital part of the city’s dining and commercial scene.
Hustle and bustle of Melbourne's arcades
The best part of the city is its meandering arcades and “Little Streets.” Each East-West running street has a “little” street, or an alleyway-like offshoot of its parent. The best are Little Collins and Little Bourke. These are home to Melbourne’s ubiquitous cafes. Degraves St. is the center of the CBD’s café scene, where espresso flows like water and everyone dines alfresco. We followed Degraves St. to Flinders Way, an alley so tiny it could easily be missed were it “not to be missed.” If the CBD has an arty, hipster scene, it’s here. Bohemian coffee shop and funky restaurant workers hang out and smoke on colorful egg crates in the tightly-wound alley decorated with graffiti, giving you pause to wonder you’re not in some Oriental locale.
Victorian architecture of Melbourne
Northern Melbourne also lays claim to the hippest neighborhood, Fitzroy, where Brunswick St. offers a plethora of great restaurants, boutique shops and bookstores. We worked up an appetite wandering around neighboring Collingwood’s main drag, Smith St., not too unlike Brunswick St. but providing more off-beat entertainment. We explored the grounds of Melbourne University and Carlton’s gardens before window-shopping the gelato stands, bakeries and the Italian fare Lygon Street’s “Little Italy” had to offer. We circled back to Fitzroy where a decision on where to eat was almost impossible with all the temptations Fitzroy St. threw at us. Very unlike my carnivorous self, we ended up at a place called Vegie Bar. The place was packed for a Wednesday night and we had fun imbibing in Australia’s micro-brews in the garden outback before enjoying an incredible veggie pizza at one of the restaurant’s communal tables.
Melbournians, proudly punching above their weight, will tell you that before Sydney’s 2000 came their ‘56 and their city is second to none. The south side of the city is a testament to Melbourne’s love of sport. Just south of the Yarra is the Melbourne Cricket Ground, or the “G” as locals call it, where the 1956 Summer Olympics were held. It’s still home to some fierce competition with MCG playing host numerous sporting events including the Australian Football League’s Aussie rule footbal Grand Final and the well-attended Boxing Day Test Match for the ever-popular cricket.
The Royal Botanic Gardens of Melbourne
As if Melbourne and Sydney needed more fuel for their fiery rivalry, the Royal Botanic Gardens near South Yarra are superior even to Sydney’s. We wandered around the gardens for hours and only saw a tenth of their foliage. We walked through dense rainforest to alpine surroundings in the course of a mile.
Melbourne’s more affluent half is to the south. There, we walked down Chapel St. and Toorak Rd, home to upscale boutiques, name-brand fashion outposts and trendy bars and restaurants. From there, we walked all the way to St. Kilda, the seedy-meets-upscale beach area of Melbourne. Acland St. is the center of the action and we enjoyed an Aussie favorite – fish ‘n chips – while watching everyone pre-game before hitting up the dance clubs. The beach itself is a far cry from Australia’s finest but is a great repose for anyone looking to get out of the city.
Melbourne never really stopped being the wonderful metropolis that it is today; it’s not marvelous once again. Some people just need a little reminding. For those, once again, Melbourne is marvelous.