With colonial architecture lining the city center, Melbourne was once known as a historic hub. But in recent years the city has become one of the world’s most trendy capitals. Be it a culinary adventure at one of the many riverside restaurants, or the screams of delight (and fright) coming from Luna Park, Melbourne is vibrant, colorful, and bright.
Ever since my sister moved to Australia in 2015, I was looking forward to visiting her, and this finally happened in March 2017. During my visit, we spent five glorious days in Melbourne. While doing research on Pinterest (the only way that I prepare for trips these days) prior to our arrival, I discovered that the trendy, upbeat bars and restaurants lining the modern Southbank region are only one side to the bustling city—Melbourne is also known for its psychedelic street art, as well as an adorable colony of fairy penguins nesting at the St. Kilda Pier.
With roots dating back to 1835, it is no surprise that the city center comprises buildings typical from the British Colonial Era. Picturesque Flinders Street Station, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne City Library, legal institutions… these buildings signify the British influence from Australia’s colonial days. But standing right next to Colonial Melbourne, is Federation Square, the Yarra River, and Southbank, where cute bars, contemporary restaurants, fine dining, the Crown Plaza, the Eureka Tower (with a skydeck 974 ft in the sky), and the Melbourne Arts Precinct popped up — a living manifestation of the reinvention of Melbourne, Victoria.
Melbourne’s Cool Side
Start your visit to the city center with a wander down Hosier Lane, Melbourne’s most famous and ever-changing lane of street art. Hidden behind the Forum Theater (a live music venue) on Flinders Street, this lane is covered in brightly colored street art. If you don’t like crowds, try to go in the middle of a working day; though the street will still have other tourists taking pictures, it is likely to be less busy, allowing you to photograph the vibrant alley.
A five-minute walk from Hosier Lane, across the road from St. Paul’s Cathedral, is Federation Square. Here, modern structures rise from the ground as a space for people to sit and relax on, while cafes offer flat whites, the preferred caffeinated drink across Australia.
Use the pedestrian crossing through Flinders Station to start heading towards Southbank. At the end of the walkway, you will find The Arbory Bar & Eatery. One of the busiest bars I’ve ever been to, it offers views of the river and South Bank, as well as delicious sweet potato fries. Keep walking through the very long bar until you find a seat or follow the Southbank Pedestrian Bridge towards Ponyfish Island, located in the middle of the Yarra river the little island is home to the aptly named Ponyfish Bar, another rustic spot. Grab a drink and enjoy the beautiful sunset views of the city and the river.
Though not close to the city center, St. Kilda is one of Melbourne’s most popular areas. Locals and visitors spend their days lounging on the beach, while fitness fanatics get their high running, walking, or cycling on the pathways stretching from Melbourne Port past St. Kilda. Even at sunset, St. Kilda is packed with active locals – from joggers and cyclists to skateboarders to beach volley ball players serving aces before visiting one of the always-busy restaurants and bars.
An adorable colony of Fairy Penguins, the smallest species of penguin, nests between the rocks of the St. Kilda Pier. It is worth visiting the area at sunset, when these cute feathered creatures make their way to the nests. If after dark, remember to turn off the flash on your camera.
Australia’s Sporting Capital
Australia’s sporting capital, Melbourne is home to three major sport stadiums: Melbourne Cricket Stadium (MCG); Melbourne Park, where the Australian Open is played annually; and AAMI Park, a stadium dedicated to soccer and rugby matches.
Taking place at the end of March every year is the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix. During the week leading up to this event, you can hear racers warming up their engines and doing practice rounds around the city. Attracting nearly 100,000 spectators every year, the track covers 3.3 mi around Albert Park Lake (less than two miles from the central business district).
The race has become such a big part of local culture that it is even represented in Hosier Lane’s street art—by the entrance to the lane is a painting of a child wearing a racer’s helmet. A race car is reflected in the glass shield of the helmet, while the child’s eyes hold reflections of race flags.
Sightseeing in the Australian heat is much easier by bike. The Melbourne Bike Share System allows visitors to rent bikes from any of the stations throughout the city for AUD 3 for 30 minutes.
From Shopping to Art to Nature: My Recommendations
Try to spend at least two days exploring around the city center, leading from the arts precinct, across the Yarra River, past Flinders Station, Federation Square and St. Paul’s Cathedral into the shopping district.
Shopping in Melbourne is a must. Not only is the city home to incredible designers and their stores, but also to Emporium Melbourne. This is a huge shopping center, covering two blocks and three stories with some of Europe and Australia’s most exclusive and most famous brands; Myers, Uniqlo, TopShop, Marimekko, Swarovski, Pandora, and Seed are among the labels found here. The center is located between Lonsdale and Bourke Streets and also houses other (more affordable) brands.
Melbourne is also a foodie paradise, especially for MasterChef fans. Chef George Calombaris, a judge on MasterChef Australia, has three restaurants in Melbourne: Gazi, a more informal Greek-style restaurant; The Press Club, where fine dining is offered in the shape of a Greek Degustation menu; and a center for the culinary adventurous, The Tasting Room—here the chef experiments with new tastes and flavors. I opted for the modern cuisine at Gazi. Located in the city center, the restaurant is beautifully decorated with hanging ceramic pots covering the ceiling. Foodies will also be excited to learn of Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, a restaurant by the culinary superstar located in the Crown Towers. If rooftop bars are more your thing, travel to the Rialto Towers, where Lui Bar offers cocktails from 55 floors in the sky. You’ll have to look long and hard to find a sunset drink with a better view!
One of the city’s most talked about sites is the “Pink Lake” at Westgate Park. Thanks to its high salt content, as well as interaction between the algae and bacteria in the water, the lake turns pink in certain weather conditions (during sunny, dry times).
If you are in Melbourne for the summer, visiting the lake is the perfect end to your trip. The water literally turns pink—like a strawberry milkshake—and it is a beautiful, unforgettable phenomenon to witness.