The Big Apple Down Under – Melbourne, Victoria

The Big Apple Down Under

Melbourne, Victoria

After living in or even visiting New York City, it is almost impossible not to compare other great cities to it. Since New York sets the pace for dining, art, and fashion, it’s difficult not to evaluate other cities without using Manhattan as a point of reference. Go ahead and try not to compare a city’s skyline to Manhattan’s, even if you’ve only seen it in photos. Although you’ll never have a finer French dining experience than in Paris, find more beautiful leather than in Florence, or see more vibrant, dazzling lights than in Tokyo, New York is special because it borrows a bit of the best from all over the world and packs them onto one small island. Walk down any avenue in NYC. You’ll find restaurants with cuisine from every country in the UN, theatres, galleries and museums, shops and stores with everything from Italian leather to Japanese kitsch. Not only is New York home to superlative food, entertainment and goods, but also offers every type of these amenities imaginable. New York could not have all of these things without its citizens. They are diverse, cosmopolitan and sophisticated, and they are responsible for all that is fabulous in Manhattan. So is there any other city that has as much to offer? One trip to Melbourne, Australia and you’ll agree that there is!

A city of about 3.6 million, and the second largest city in Oz, Melbourne is up to its skyscrapers in charm, diversity, sophistication, and like NYC, fabulous food, wine, and culture. Melbourne is considered by many to be the cultural capital of Australia and one walk through the heart of the Central Business District (CBD) will attest to the city’s diverse population. Like New York, people from all over the world call Melbourne home and its cosmopolitan vibe makes it a hot spot for international travellers who want to experience city-life down under. Melbourne’s CBD is compact and bustling, and the suburbs surrounding it are as unique and varied as the Upper East Side is from the West Village.

Melbourne’s diversity is especially reflected in its food. And what better way to get a feel for a city than through its cuisine? Have a taste of everything from baklava to dim sum. Take an afternoon stroll down Lygon Street, Melbourne’s own Little Italy, and try a gelato or espresso. Show off your chopstick expertise while enjoying Dim Sum in Melbourne’s Chinatown. Victoria Street hosts many Vietnamese restaurants where the eats are cheap, delicious, and as spicy as you like. With its large Greek population, Greek food is also a specialty here. Try Stalactites on Lonsdale Street, a Melbourne institution.

If art and culture are what you’re after, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy in this city. Start at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Federation Square. It is the first museum for moving image in all of its forms where the exhibits range from short films to prototypes for video games. After this trip to Fed Square you can walk across the street to Young and Jackson’s Hotel and get a glimpse of Chloe, a painting of a beautiful, if underdressed woman who was a favorite of soldiers from WWI & II, Korean and Vietnam wars. Many young men wrote letters to her from the trenches, promising their return someday. During renovations to the hotel several years ago, Chloe spent some time at the National Gallery of Victoria, which is about a block from Young and Jackson’s on St. Kilda Road. You can spend hours viewing the Gallery’s collection and the world-renowned exhibits there. If you’d like to see a ballet, opera or theatre performance, the Arts Centre is right next door.

Not into high culture and missing your favorite neighborhood watering hole? Sink into one of Melbourne’s bars. Try Transport Hotel in Federation Square, which is divided into three areas, a public bar downstairs with outside patio, an award wining restaurant, and the upstairs lounge/garden area offering high end spirits, a variety of wine and beautifully crafted martinis. Or, drop down one of the many alleyways in the CBD for a grungier, edgier night out. You’ll find many hidden gems there; one to try is St. Jerome’s in Caledonian Lane or Pony in Little Collins Lane. If it’s a nice day, head to St. Kilda and sit outside at the The George Hotel, where you will find a fantastic wine bar.

Don’t forget to shop. Melbourne, Sydney’s more cultured and sophisticated sister is known for its fantastic shopping. Chapel Street is Melbourne’s shopping equivalent of Soho in New York. With over 1000 shops and stores, it has a well-established reputation as Melbourne’s premier shopping district. The Melbourne fashionistas consider it one long runway to show off their latest look. If you’d prefer a unique piece by an Aussie designer try Little Collins Street, where many Melbourne designers have set up shop. Check out the funky boutiques in Fitzroy on Brunswick Street or Greville Street in Prahran, where hipsters reign. Flinders Lane in the CBD also caters to the cutting edge crowd. Don’t forget to investigate the Queen Victoria Market for souvenirs, crafts and delightfully fresh food.

Exhausted from the bar-hopping, shopping and sightseeing? Head to one of Melbourne’s beautiful gardens and spend an afternoon lounging on a blanket. The Fitzroy Gardens and the Royal Botanic Gardens are spectacular. The Botanic Gardens have become world famous for their exotic collections of plants displayed around a sparkling lake and sweeping lawns. Some of the major collections include Australian Rainforest, Fern Gully and California. The Fitzroy Gardens catch beautiful afternoon sunlight and are a great place to practice up on your photography skills.

Like New York, Melbourne is easy to get around and public transportation is great. There is a free tram that circles the CBD while all other trams require passes that can be bought ahead of time at train stations, convenience shops or on board the tram (coins only). A ride on the free circle tram is a good way to orient yourself to the city and you can hop off at any stop that sparks your interest. The tram and train maps are easy to read. Although the CBD is the heart of the city, the surrounding suburbs give Melbourne its eclectic feel. Take a ride to St. Kilda Beach and enjoy the shops and cafes on Acland and Fitzroy Streets. While you’re there, walk across to the bay and have a coffee and a snack at the St. Kilda Baths. You can take a tram to Prahran or Toorak for exquisite shopping. Richmond is popular with bargain hunters and has tons of great bars and restaurants to restore energy to exhausted shoppers. Taking a tram to Fitzroy will give you a feel for the funkier part of town where the eccentric types call home. Although the public transportation is great, it can also be pricey at $6.10 Australian dollars for a day pass. So don’t forget that the best way to see a city is to walk it. Although St. Kilda is too far to walk to, Prahran, Fitzroy and Richmond are about a 30-minute walk from the CBD.

So as a city, Melbourne really does stack up. Melburnians are a cosmopolitan, cultured group who enjoy a gorgeous city with anything and everything you could possibly desire. Each suburb of Melbourne offers a different experience and makes up a wonderfully diverse and dazzling city. So pack your bags and head down under for the best city in the southern hemisphere.

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