Visitors to Melbourne come to experience the contrasts of old-world architecture and the exciting feel of a truly multicultural city. This is a wonderfully compact city, with all the major attractions within easy reach of the city heart. Most visitors also venture to the bayside suburb of St. Kilda, an easy tram ride away.
Parks & Gardens
Birrarung Marr, along the Yarra River east of Federation Square on Batman Avenue (tel. 03/9658 9658; www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/parks), is Melbourne’s newest major parkland. Birrarung means “river of mists” in the Woiwurrung language of the Wurundjeri people who originally inhabited the area; marr relates to the side of the river. The wide-open spaces and large, sculptured terraces were designed to host some of Melbourne’s top events and festivals throughout the year, and the terraces provide views of the city, Southbank, King’s Domain, and the Yarra River.
The Royal Botanic Gardens, 2 km (1 1/4 miles) south of the city on Birdwood Avenue, off St. Kilda Road (tel. 03/9252 2300; www.rbg.vic.gov.au), are the best gardens in Australia and well worth a few hours of wandering. More than 40 hectares (99 acres) are lush and blooming with some 12,000 plant species from all over the world. Don’t miss a visit to the oldest part of the garden, the Tennyson Lawn, with its 120-year-old English elm trees. Other special corners include a fern gully, camellia gardens, an herb garden, rainforests packed with fruit bats, and ponds full of ducks and black swans. Take time to do a guided Aboriginal Heritage Walk through the ancestral lands of the Boonerwrung and Woiwurrung people. The 90-minute walk costs A$25 for adults, A$10 for children 6 to 17. It will make you look at the gardens in a different light. Bookings essential at tel. 03/9252 2429. The gardens are open daily from 7:30am to sunset. Admission is free. To get there, catch the no. 8 tram and get off at stop 21. Allow at least 2 hours.
Nearby, in King’s Domain, take a look at Victoria’s first Government House, La Trobe’s Cottage (tel. 03/9656 9800). It was built in England and transported to Australia brick by brick in 1836. It is open every Sunday from 2pm to 4pm from October to May, and on Australia Day (Jan 26) and some other public holidays. Admission is A$5 adults, A$3 children, and A$10 for a family. The cottage is also open as part of Government House tours (bookings essential: tel. 03/8663 7260) on Mondays and Thursdays. On the other side of Birdwood Avenue is the Shrine of Remembrance, a memorial to the servicemen lost in Australia’s wars. It’s designed so that at 11am on Remembrance Day (Nov 11), a beam of sunlight hits the Stone of Remembrance in the Inner Shrine. Note the eternal flame in the forecourt. King’s Domain is stop 12 on the no. 15 tram traveling south along St. Kilda Road.
In Fitzroy Gardens, off Wellington Parade, is Cooks’Cottage (tel. 03/9419 5766), which was moved to Melbourne from Great Ayton, in Yorkshire, England, in 1934 to mark Victoria’s centenary. The cottage was built by the parents of explorer Captain James Cook, and today it provides the opportunity to learn about Cook’s voyages of discovery around the world. Inside, it’s spartan and cramped, not unlike a ship’s cabin. Admission is A$5 for adults, A$2.50 for children 5 to 15, and A$14 for families. It’s open daily from 9am to 5pm (except Christmas Day). Also east of the central business district are the Treasury Gardens. Look for the memorial to John F. Kennedy near the lake. To reach Treasury Gardens and Fitzroy Gardens, take tram no. 48 or 75 (or the City Circle) traveling east along Flinders Street. Get off at stop 14 for Treasury Gardens, stop 14A for Fitzroy Gardens.
Extensive bicycle paths wind through the city and suburbs. Melbourne Bike Share, Melbourne’s public bike hire (tel. 1300 711 590; www.melbournebikeshare.com.au), has 50 bike stations and 600 bikes at locations around the city. You can’t miss the racks of bright blue bikes. You can pay for a bike with Visa or MasterCard (limit of two bikes per credit card). Your card swipe will also take a A$50 security deposit, which will be refunded later. The first 30 minutes of usage are free; then you pay a fee of A$2 for 30 minutes (up to your first hour), A$7 for 90 minutes, A$17 for up to 2 hours, and A$10 for every half-hour after that. The daily rate makes the bike-share system one of the cheapest transport options in town, but only if you have the bike for less than about 2 hours. If you need a bike for longer than that, it’s probably cheaper to hire a bike elsewhere. Bike helmets are compulsory by law, and you can get one free with the bike or buy one for A$5 at 7-Eleven stores in the city center. You must be 16 years or older to use the bike-share system.
Melbourne Bike Share has developed a range of suggested bike tours that you can download from the website. You can also buy books and maps from Bicycle Network Victoria, (www.bicyclenetwork.com.au). This website is a font of useful information about cycling in Victoria and Australia.
Buy tickets for entertainment events, including opera, dance, and drama, on the day of the performance from the Half-Tix Desk (tel. 03/9650 9420 for daily listings; www.halftixmelbourne.com) in the Melbourne Town Hall on Swanston Street. The booth is open Monday from 10am to 2pm, Tuesday through Thursday 11am to 6pm, Friday 11am to 6:30pm, and Saturday 10am to 4pm (also selling for Sun shows). Tickets must be purchased in person and in cash. Available shows are displayed on the booth door and on the website.