Arty Melbourne, with its hip cafes, lantern-strewn rooftop bars and thriving cultural scene, is one cool customer. This sun-drenched Australian city often takes centre stage in the world of sport, and its theatres, galleries and shops are truly first class. Swathes of Victorian architecture give a distinctly European feel, and the city’s iconic tram system adds to its charm.
To get around Melbourne with ease, purchase a myki: a smart card that gets you access to the buses, trams and trains. There are two zones in the city, though visitors are most likely to find a Zone 1 ticket suffices. Trams are hailed at green-and-gold-coloured stops around the city, and run until midnight. The V-Line trains connect Melbourne with Sydney, a 12-hour trip.
Many of the buildings at Melbourne's street level retain their original facades dating back to the Victorian era. Wide boulevards lined with trees and lawns in the heart of the city add to the European atmosphere; in fact the city is notable for its green spaces, with Fitzroy Gardens and the Royal Botanic Gardens two lovely examples of the city’s parks.
Beyond the CBD, head to the redeveloped Yarra River and waterfront area, populated with restaurants and bars, while a wander round hip neighbourhoods such as Brunswick and Fitzroy is enough to show you why Melbourne claims to be Australia's cultural capital - discover live music, cool pubs and bohemian cafes abound.
St Kilda is an edgy inner city suburb that's known for its beach-bar scene. Once run-down, it's now home to an arty crowd who populate local drinking spots and fill interesting exhibition spaces.
There are a number of illuminating museums to check out back in the city centre, including the Melbourne Museum with its postmodern art and IMAX screen, and the Immigration Museum, which tells the story of Australia's colonisation via first-hand testimony, pictures and memorabilia in a beautiful 19th-century setting.
The periphery of Melbourne is known for its scintillating nature, the nearest of which is the Dandenong range of peaks. Many take the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, a meandering path past woodland, old houses in well-preserved villages and breath-taking views; you'll also find craft workshops and quirky cafes along the way. Further afield is the Yarra Valley – wine country with about 80 local producers, and clearly marked routes. On the Bellarine peninsula to the southwest of Melbourne, you'll find a tranquil retreat from city life, one that's less known by tourists. Don't miss the quaint seaside village of Queenscliff for its picturesque Victorian-era buildings.
Melbourne’s dining scene is epic. It is almost impossible to eat badly. A wealth of influences from across the globe together with a population who have the means and inclination to pay for high quality food, has resulted in a deluge of quality cuisine. Greek immigrants have had a particularly significant impact – Melbourne is fondly referred to as Greece's third city after Athens and Thessaloniki. Beyond the souvlaki, expect cosmopolitan restaurants inspired by Lebanese, Vietnamese and even Sudanese cooking. Many of Australia's best wines can be found in Melbourne, too. Lately, some of the world's most famous chefs have been setting up in Melbourne off the back of its foodie reputation, including Heston Blumenthal.