Despite being located on the opposite side of the globe, Melbourne has a wide-eyed hunger for art, culture, food and fashion that is often compared to that of New York City. The capital of the state of Victoria may only be Australia’s second largest city (after Sydney), but Melbourne does pack a surprisingly heavy cultural punch.
The city is characterised by its hidden laneways, stencil graffiti sprayed on alley walls, leafy tramlines, obscure bars tucked in unassuming corners and alluring eateries dotted throughout the centre of town. Shopping is key. There’s couture clothing at the ‘Paris end’, independent fashions in Flinders Lane and Little Collins, plus world-class restaurants that make Melbourne one shake European and two shakes original. Food is taken very seriously. The Flower Drum was declared by New York Times restaurant critic Patricia Wells to be the best Chinese restaurant in the world for its sensational Peking duck, while other icons such as Vue De Monde wear their Michelin stars with aplomb. The fussiest coffee drinkers down-under live in Melbourne and pride themselves on all that is fashionable and stylishly noir.
Melbourne has long been a breeding ground for creative talent, birthplace of Nick Cave, Cate Blanchett, Germaine Greer, Barry Humphries and Kylie. The arts are nurtured wholeheartedly. The music scene is underground and eclectic, but the city also has highly visible cultural landmarks: the National Art Gallery of Victoria on St Kilda Road, the neo-Gothic buildings of Collins Street and Victorian Gothic churches such as St Paul’s Cathedral.
With a long history of immigration, Melbourne is Australia’s most ethnically diverse city. It is famed for having the largest Greek community outside Greece, concentrated around Lonsdale Street, as well as strong Italian, Chinese and Jewish connections forged in the 1950s after World War II. Consequently, there’s a wild mix of cuisines on offer. At Queen Victoria Market, fishmongers shout the daily specials in one corner, while crusty French breads and creamy cheeses tempt your tastebuds in the food hall at the other.
The city centre is laid out in a grid pattern, drawn up in 1837 by Robert Hoddle and giving an orderly feel to the otherwise brooding city. But it was during the 1850s gold rush that Melbourne boomed from a provincial town into a world city of fine colonial architecture. Its main station, Flinders Street, is a grand Edwardian building that became a symbol of the city, its clocks the default meeting place for Melbourners. Modern additions to the cityscape range from the 36-storey Republic Tower to kooky Federation Square.
Melburne’s much-envied, laid-back lifestyle is found in suburbs such as St Kilda Beach – a south-side favourite for those of the glamour set who need to live near water. The bohemian core is on the north side – Brunswick East, Carlton North, Northcote and Fitzroy, oozing a pre-2003 Williamsburg, Brooklyn, kind of cool for artists, musicians and poets.
Melbourne isn’t about being fast-paced; the people who flock here tend to come to embrace its tolerant nature, to lap up its art, fashion and food, or to seek inspiration. It always has something interesting tucked up its sleeve.