Why You Should Visit The World's 'Most Livable City'
Melbourne, the cultural capital of Australia, sits in the southeastern state of Victoria. The city's café culture, art galleries and hidden laneways are reminiscent of a European city, but with a distinctly Australian style.
Melbourne has been named The World's Most Livable City by The Economist for six years running. No surprise -- in addition to the city's draws, wildlife, beaches and vineyards are just a day trip away.
A favorable exchange rate means the U.S. dollar goes really far right now in Australia. With the dollars you'll be saving, you can upgrade your flight ticket to a higher cabin or spend a few extra days in Australia.
Virgin Australia will start nonstop flights from Los Angeles to Melbourne this spring, which is actually autumn Down Under. Victoria has pleasant fall months, as the state has a temperate climate similar to San Francisco with fall temperatures in the 50s-70s and rain later in the season.
Pack good walking shoes and a light jacket, and discover Melbourne and Victoria armed with these must-see tips from our Australian Deal Experts. Just remember, getting lost is part of the fun.
1. Melbourne is all about laneways and arcades. And we're not talking about a bowling alley.
Flinders Lane, a narrow one-way street, is home to some of the city's most acclaimed restaurants and pocket hole eateries -- small restaurants hidden in 20th-century buildings.
Historic shopping arcades -- glass-enclosed shopping centers -- dating back to the 1800's are still bustling. The Royal Arcade on Collins Street is the oldest surviving arcade in Australia and worth a visit. Use that strong U.S. dollar for some shopping finds.
2. It feels European -- but with a strong Australian accent.
Much of Melbourne is comprised of historic Victorian buildings dating back to the 1800s and the Gold Rush years, so much so that Victoria has its own heritage registry. Some of the city's most photographed buildings include Flinders Street Station, its prominent dome and row of clocks are integral to the cityscape, and the Royal Exhibition Building, which was built to host the World's Fair in 1880 and is flanked by Carlton Gardens.
The best city views are across the Yarra River. From the Southbank promenade you can perfectly capture Princes Bridge, the Yarra River, Flinders Street Station and Federation Square.
3. There's an open-air market that rivals Seattle's Pike Place Market.
You'll find the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere in Melbourne. Dating back to 1878, the well-preserved façade of Queen Victoria Market houses two floors of food halls, specialty shops and fresh produce. You could spend all morning here tasting local foods such as passion fruits and meat pies, perusing clothing and souvenir stalls, and sampling local wines.
A few things to know: 1) there is no entrance fee, 2) the market is closed on Mondays and Wednesdays and 3) the market is open from 6 a.m. until mid-afternoon.
4. The cool crowds hang at cafes.
Melbourne is a city obsessed by coffee. The love affair emerged when Melbourne's first espresso machines landed in the city in the 1950s.
A traditional coffee shop serves flat whites (espresso with steamed milk) and long blacks (a double shot of espresso). But the city's café culture is trendier than your corner Starbucks -- with outdoor tables on hidden laneways, cafes inside converted historic storefronts and newer filter-style brews.
5. Enjoy great takeout -- thousands of miles from home.
From dumplings in one of the world's oldest Chinatowns to Italian food on Lygon Street, Melbourne is truly a melting pot (of cuisine) -- and has the largest Italian and Greek populations outside of Europe. Try one of the world's best pizzas at 400Gradi in the Italian precinct -- their margherita pizza won top honors at the Pizza World Championship in Parma, Italy, a few years back. And if you're suffering from jet lag, Stalactites in the Greek Precinct has your back with a 24-hour menu of souvlaki and gyros.
The newest precinct is coming in March, with five permanent food truck sites on St. Kilda Road, Peel Street, Les Erdi Plaza, Batman Park and Flinders Street.
6. You'll feel like a local at hidden bars and restaurants.
You've got to get lost to find these exclusive bars. Try the pre-prohibition cocktails, the Old Fashion is a house specialty, at Lily Blacks on the edge of Chinatown tucked away on Meyers Place. Or sneak off to an underground speakeasy at Eau De Vie. It's easy to miss this unmarked door on Malthouse Lane but the jazz tunes are not to be missed.
And don't forget to look up for rooftop bars. Entry to the narrow Goldilocks bar is within a noodle house on Swanston Street; once upstairs there's an open-air view of the city. And Toff in Town is a bar hidden inside a bar (Curtain House) with private booth dining.
7. The more you venture out, the more at home you'll feel.
Don't make the mistake of spending all of your time downtown -- Melbourne's neighborhoods are worth the tram ride.
Head out to St. Kilda for a seashore walk on the beach, live music at the Palais Theatre or a dip in the heated seawater spas at the St Kilda Sea Baths. Head north to Fitzroy to indulge your creative juices in independent bookstores, eclectic art galleries and hopping bars.
Live the high life on the strong dollar (or just window shop) in the posh districts of Toorak and South Yarra -- with designer boutiques and gourmet eateries -- then tour the historic Como House and Garden for a peek into the high life of Melbourne's early days. (Gardens are open daily; guided tours of the mansion are available on Saturdays and Sundays.)
8. Festivals are basically nonstop.
If it seems like there's always something going on in Melbourne, well that's because there is. Here's a few popular events to help narrow down the list:
- Start 2017 off with the first grand slam of the year at The Australian Open (Jan. 16-29) and see some of the biggest names in tennis.
- Formula 1 returns to Melbourne on March 26, where drivers -- including Australia's own Daniel Ricciardo -- will compete in the Australian Grand Prix.
- Laugh until your sides hurt at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (March 29 - April 23) with performances from wry young hipsters and slapstick heros to musical comedy and old time cabaret stars. This marks the festival's 30th anniversary.
- The Melbourne Food & Wine Festival (March 31 – April 9) is Australia's premier culinary event. Join food and wine lovers at more than 200 events that fill the city's networks of restaurants, laneways and rooftops. And this year Melbourne will host the annual World's 50 Best Restaurant Awards, the most coveted global ranking for chefs worldwide.
- When winter approaches, head indoors for live performances, art events and educational programs at the Melbourne Writers Festival, Aug. 25 - Sept. 3. More than a quarter of the program is free.
9. Football is played the Australian way.
Yes, there is football in Australia. No, they do not play by American rules. It's called the Australian Football League (AFL), it's played on an oval-shaped field, and it looks like a mash-up of soccer, football and rugby -- plus the Melburnians invented it. There are kicks and tackles, but you also have disposals and marks. The "footy" season runs March-September, with pre-season games in late February and early March.
There are 10 AFL teams in Victoria and five of them play regularly at the downtown Melbourne Cricket Ground (known locally as "The G"). It's the largest stadium in Australia with over 100,000 seats and was even a site for the 1956 Summer Olympics.
10. A free historic tram makes it easy to get around the city.
Melbourne's tramway system is the only surviving tram network in Australia, and the largest in the Southern Hemisphere with 450 trams. Elizabeth Street has a constant stream of them cutting through the cityscape, door-stopped by Flinders Street Station at the southern end. And it's free to ride between Victoria Street, Collins Street, Flinders Street and Spring Street.
If you're planning to take day trips it's a good idea to have a car. Here's a few things to know: 1) Australians drive on the opposite side of the road from Americans, 2) Melbourne has the country's fastest free Wi-Fi in downtown making it easier to use your maps app, and 3) Get familiar with a hook turn -- the trams in Melbourne don't stop for red lights, thus cars turning right have to make the turn from the left side.
11. Wine country is just an hour away.
The Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula wine regions, famous for pinot noirs and chardonnays, are an easy day trip from Melbourne. Many vintners offer complimentary wine tastings and tours, and harvest season is in March.
Be sure to visit Victoria's first vineyard, Yering Station, whose reserve shiraz viognier and reserve chardonnay just received top ratings in James Halliday's Australian Wine Companion. For those with a taste for French-style sparkling wines, Domaine Chandon -- owned by the French Champagne house, Moet & Chandon -- is a must on the wine trail.
If you don't have a car, there's plenty of day tours that leave from Melbourne for around AU$130 per person -- wine tasting and lunch are typically included too. You can also take the train from Flinders Street Station (in Melbourne) to Lilydale, which is on the outskirts of the Yarra Valley.
12. There are cliffhangers. Well, a road built on an ocean-side cliff anyways.
The Great Ocean Road is the iconic 151-mile stretch of coastline that winds through charming beach towns, along ocean cliffs and through lush rain forest. The official start is Torquay, the surfing capital of Australia and home to Bell's Beach -- yes, the beach from "Point Break."
You can take a day tour along the Great Ocean Road to the famous 12 Apostles. It's a three-hour drive from Melbourne, so be sure to leave in the early morning to allow for a scenic lunch stop in Lorne or Apollo Bay before making it to the 12 Apostles before sunset. These enchanting rock formations are the natural erosion of the limestone coastline, and your eyes aren't fooling you -- there are only eight still standing. The best view is from Gibson Steps, where you can see the apostles from the beach.
13. There's kangaroos and penguins and seals, oh my.
One of the largest colony of little penguins in the world is 90 minutes from Melbourne on Phillip Island. Every evening thousands of little penguins come out of the ocean and walk along the beach to return to their burrows in the sand. You can take a guided day tour to watch the phenomena or upgrade to the new Penguins Plus experience, where the penguins will be mere inches away. Just be sure to book in advance as the Penguin Parade tends to sell out.
This family-friendly island also hosts other wildlife too. Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park allows visitors to hand-feed kangaroos and wallabies, while The Nobbies Centre boardwalks have views of the Seal Rocks -- Australia's largest fur seal colony resides here.
14. Your Australia vacation begins the moment you board the plane.
You can be one of the first to fly on Virgin Australia's remodeled fleet of Boeing 777-300ERs, complete with Virgin's signature cabin mood lighting. Nonstop flights from Los Angeles to Melbourne begin on April 4. Delta connects travelers from 26 U.S. cities such as Seattle, Atlanta, Boston and Miami to the Los Angeles flight.
These planes also feature the widest economy seats on trans-Pacific flights, and premium seats (pictured above) with a 9-inch recline and most legroom of any Australian airline. Plus, there's fully-flat beds with direct aisle access in business class -- Airlineratings.com noted this the best business class for 2017. Not to mention there’s award-winning flight attendants (recognized by Skytrax as one of the best airline staffs in Australia/Pacific for five years running), hours of on-demand entertainment in every seat (handy on the 16-hour flight), and fully inclusive meal and alcoholic beverage service in all cabins.