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The One and Only

Melbourne, Australia

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Melbourne is a vibrant, cosmopolitan, multicultural city. Melbournian friendliness means that this is a friendly, energetic and fun place. Miss out on Melbourne and you’ll have missed out on one of Australia’s richest cultural experiences, as well as the sporting capital of a nation that loves to play games.

In the last ten years, Melbourne has undergone something of a renaissance – areas that used to be deserted have been redeveloped with a friendly village feel. Below the glass towers of the business district are countless bars, restaurants and small shops lining the alleys and Victorian-era arcades. The riverside has also been rediscovered. The centerpiece here is Federation Square: this strange, modernist area is still a little controversial with the city’s residents, many of whom feel it doesn’t really fit – but there’s no such thing as bad publicity, they say, and it’s certainly been pulling in the crowds!

If you’re exploring the city center, a good way to start is with the free tram-loop. They still use some vintage wooden trams from the 1930s. Alternatively, the observation deck of the Rialto Tower - the tallest building in the southern hemisphere – will give you all-round views of the city. Pay a visit, too, to Melbourne’s Victoria Market, where they sell everything from cheese to fashions.

If you want to really understand the way the Australian mind works, visit the Immigration Museum. Visual and audio displays give a great – and very moving – account of white colonization of Australia from the eighteenth century onwards. You can follow this with a stroll through the Australian Art gallery in Federation Square, a fantastic showcase for local art. Melbourne Jail, built from blue stone in 1841, is the other must-see. It’s beautifully dark, dank and spooky – a great place to bring the kids to give them the creeps! Over a hundred people were hanged here, including local bad-boy hero Ned Kelly. The popular night-time tour is a little sensationalistic, but is still enormous fun.

To get a feel for the city’s cosmopolitan atmosphere, it’s a good idea to explore as much as you can on foot – check out the ‘Paris End’ centered on Collins Street. For contrast, take a stroll around the funky Fitzroy area, where you’ll really find out what cultural diversity means. Café conversations around here cover everything from the price of real estate to the intricacies of body piercing. Chinatown is probably the liveliest part of Melbourne to be on a Sunday morning when everyone gathers in the area to sample ethnic food and drink manufactured by the city’s large Chinese population – this isn’t on the scale of Chinatown in New York, but it’s still great fun. If orientalism is your thing, you might also like to explore the Vietnamese quarter, too. Gamblers will love the massive Crown Casino and entertainments complex – a factory of fun so huge that you could spend weeks in it doing something different every day.

If you feel like a little more peace and quiet than any of the above offer, visit the Royal Botanic Gardens – certainly Australia’s finest and easily among the best in the world. This is a great place to chill out after the stresses and strains of city travel! Around the perimeter is an old horse gallop which is now a favorite jogging venue with city dwellers.

The St. Kilda area is also very popular. The Pier is the place to come for city and bay views, or a swim in the St. Kilda Sea Baths. These days you can also take a cruise to see the Fairy Penguins – a species that used to be endangered to the extent that the location of their colony was kept secret. Nearby, the amusements at Lunar Park are great if you’re interested in finding out about how fairgrounds and arcades worked in the days before video games. The 1912 rollercoaster isn’t much of a thrill and the ghost train wouldn’t spook a toddler – but it’s still a fascinating insight into how people used to enjoy themselves. Don’t leave St Kilda without a sculptured cake from one of the unique shops on Acland Street.

For more seaside atmosphere, jump on the ferry for a day out in Williamstown – soak up the history of this old port as well as enjoying a swim from its fine beach. Two of Australia’s best surfing beaches – Elwood Park and Middle Park – are also within easy reach of the city. This is your chance to learn kite surfing!

Sports fans will be truly spoilt for choice in Melbourne – head for Yarra Park for just about every sport under the sun. If you’re visiting at the right time of year and you want a real insight into the local character, get a ticket for an Australian Rules football match.

Melbourne is almost three cities in one – you’ll find few places with more fun, and more to do.

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