Visit Melbourne and sink into the easygoing vibe that is the one of the trademarks of Australia’s stunning southeast coast. The myriad attractions of Australia’s second most populous city include a skyline which juxtaposes Victorian and modern architecture, and a host of gorgeous parks and gardens. Harder to pin down, but perhaps most seductive of all, is Melbourne’s hip and hybrid cultural scene, enhances by two centuries of immigration.
The best way to get around Melbourne is by tram. The city's tram network is the largest in the world and includes the City Circle Tram, a free service that circumnavigates Melbourne’s central business district (CBD). For a gull’s eye view of the metropolitan sprawl, whizz up the Eureka Skydeck (www.eurekaskydeck.com.au) – at 285m it’s the highest manmade vantage point in the southern hemisphere. Newly re-opened in July 2012, Hamer Hall (www.artscentremelbourne.com.au) is a world-class performing arts centre offering an eclectic programme of live music.
All kinds of festivals and events pack the Melbourne calendar. Sports fans may want to plan their trip around January’s Australian Open tennis tournament (www.australianopen.com) or September’s Australian rules football AFL Grand Final (www.afl.com.au). If you’ve packed a homemade hang glider you can enter the Birdman Rally, a much-beloved fixture of March’s Moomba community carnival (melbourne.vic.gov.au/moomba). Melbourne Cup Carnival (www.melbournecup.com) is the most vibrant horse racing event in the world and the ultimate expression of what Melbourne is renowned for – sport, food, wine, business, social interaction and fashion.
Whatever you do, don't do it on an empty stomach – Melbourne is a great place for eating out, whether you're after fine dining or catch of the day. If you’re downtown and like it hot, try Mamasita (www.mamasita.com.au), an authentic Mexican restaurant which is so popular with locals you may have to queue for your tacos and tequila flights. Nearby is the European (www.theeuropean.com.au), an old-world establishment whose menu runs the gamut from toast and crumpets to 'nose-to-tail' beef dishes. Claypots on 213 Barkly Street is a cosy fresh seafood bistro and one of the trendy St Kilda neighbourhood’s best-kept secrets.
Get a sip of Melbourne's eclectic nightlife at a "rather fancy terrace and public house” named Madame Brussels (www.madamebrussels.com). On the summer rooftop terrace you can share pitchers of Pimm's served by hip young staff in tennis whites, while overlooking Melbourne's east end. Equally popular, Cookie (www.cookie.net.au) succeeds in combining a Belgian-style beer hall with a Thai restaurant and nightclub. If you all you want is a quiet downtown drink, try Siglo at 161 Spring Street, a classy rooftop bar with a view of the parliament building and an extensive wine list.
Melbourne is great for indulging in retail therapy. At the Arts Centre Melbourne Sunday Market (www.artscentremelbourne.com.ar) you’ll find everything from ceramic dog bowls to handmade kaleidoscopes. If you’re a film lover expect to spend a lot of time (and cash) in the ACMI store (www.acmi.net.au/acmi_store), which stocks a terrific range of DVDs, books and posters. For one-off fashion items, dive into the boutiques that line Flinders Lane in Melbourne's Central Business District.