|Melbourne’s Federation Square, Yarra River and Southbank|
Ask Zoe McDonald what makes Melbourne so special and she’ll barely skip a beat. “It’s just so liveable,” says the 28-year-old, part-time tour guide, graphic designer and actress during a walking tour of the city’s hidden lanes and arcades.
“All the good things in life, great food, wine, coffee, fashion, arts, sports and entertainment come together here,” she adds. “It’s what keeps Melbourne alive and buzzing, and I think everyone who lives here or visits taps into that energy and creativity.”
|Park Hyatt Melbourne, centrally located in Parliament Square, boasts oversize guest rooms and suites—among the largest in Melbourne|
Australia’s second largest (more than four million people) and most southerly mainland city may not have the iconic Opera House or Harbor Bridge of Sydney—its much flashier rival to the north—but Melbourne packs a punch when it comes to sophisticated style with a cool urban edge.
Perched on the banks of the Yarra River, which flows gently through the heart of the city, Melbourne is a city that’s constantly on the move, rolling from one major event to the next (The Australian Tennis Open, Formula One Grand Prix and Melbourne Cup, to name just three) and fueled by a never-ending supply of arguably the world’s best coffee.
A patchwork of vibrant inner-city precincts, each linked by the efficient Public Transport Victoria (ptv.vic.gov.au) system of trains, buses and trams, Melbourne is easy to explore. Tip: Buy and top-up a "myki card" for seamless public transport journeys, although much of the city center can be enjoyed on foot.
|A higher floor room at the Crown Towers offers great views of the city’s skyline.|
Melbournians have a love-hate relationship with Federation Square, invariably packed with tourists and locals enjoying the plaza’s art galleries, cafes, bars, entertainment and eye-catching—if controversial—contemporary architecture, but its central location opposite Flinders Street Station makes it an ideal starting point to a walking tour of Melbourne’s tree-lined streets and historic buildings.
Tip: Hidden Secrets Tours offers three fascinating small group walking tours—Lanes and Arcades, Cafe Culture and Sommeliers City Walk—led by passionate and knowledgeable guides like Zoe McDonald and taking in some of Melbourne’s best history, architecture, boutiques, art and eateries
Day and night, the riverside Southbank Promenade serves up excellent indoor-outdoor restaurants, bars and cafes, extending as far as the always popular Crown Casino and entertainment complex.
South Yarra’s bustling Chapel Street is a centerpiece of Melbourne’s enviable cafe and shopping culture with some of the world’s best baristas serving up turbo-charged coffees to a fashion-forward crowd relaxing between retail raids.
The restaurants and cafes along The Esplanade and Acland Street in St. Kilda offer a breezy beach vibe, while Melbourne’s bohemian side can be explored in the antique stores, bookshops and retro boutiques in Fitzroy’s Brunswick Street.
Australia specialist Ian Swain, president & CEO of Philadelphia-based Swain Tours, believes Melbourne is constantly refining and redefining its portfolio of luxury hotels and setting new standards. Crown Towers at Southbank, for one, is really a standout, he says. “Make sure you request a high floor with Crystal Club access for tremendous views of the city skyline. Sample the many restaurants in the complex, and don’t miss having a treatment in Crown Spa.”
Swain also recommends the elegant Park Hyatt Melbourne for its central location in Parliament Square, award-winning Radii Restaurant & Bar, and oversize guest rooms and suites—among the largest in Melbourne. “A Club Deluxe King on a higher floor of the hotel offers great views and access to the private club lounge,” adds Swain.
|Federation Square is usually packed with tourists and locals enjoying the plaza’s art galleries, cafes, bars, entertainment, and eye-catching, if controversial, contemporary architecture.|
On a smaller but no less luxurious scale, husband-and-wife hoteliers Peter and Rowina Thomas ensure that personal service and attention to detail form the foundations of The Lyall Hotel and Spa, their privately owned 40-suite boutique property just a stroll from many of Melbourne’s best restaurants. With its discreet Bistro Lyall, Champagne Bar, in-house spa, gym, and outdoor terrace for breakfast, lunch, cocktails and dinner, The Lyall ffers a five-star grand hotel experience in a relaxed and intimate atmosphere.
For a small boutique hotel experience in the heart of the city, Swain recommends the Hotel Lindrum. A former billiards hall, which once belonged to the family of champion player Walter Lindrum, the historic building in Flinders Street has been transformed into a stylish 59-room hotel that is now part of Accor’s MGallery Collection.
Melbourne has a thriving arts scene which filters cleverly through to the funky Art Series Hotels group—The Olsen, The Blackman and The Cullen—a collection of inner-city hotels paying tribute to three of Australia’s leading artists: John Olsen, Adam Cullen and Charles Blackman.
|A City Circle tram pulls up outside the Flinders Street commuter railway station.|
“Each hotel features original works of the artist being showcased and offers a real sense of what Australian art is,” says Swain. Two other recommended boutique hotels include The Como, an easy walk to the best restaurants and shops in Chapel Street, South Yarra, and The Prince, a fashionable retreat in St Kilda. “Enjoy a treatment in Aurora Spa, cocktails at The Deck, and dinner at Circa,” suggests Swain.
Food and Wine
World-class food and wines, sourced from the best farms and vineyards in and around Melbourne and regional Victoria, are cornerstones of the city’s daily life and rarely fail to deliver on their promise.
Tip: Pick up a copy of Melbourne’s annual Good Food Guide, a comprehensive review of the city’s finest dining venues from five-star restaurants owned by some of Australia’s top chefs to cheap and cheerful family-run eateries.
Four standouts include Neapoli (30 Russell Place, no website), fortuitously the final stop of the Lanes & Arcades walking tour; Rosetta, the latest venture by top chef Neil Perry and a masterstroke of regional Italian cooking; Botanical, a stylish but casual restaurant overlooking the Royal Botanic Gardens; and the lively Mama Baba, a new Greco-Italian restaurant by Melbourne’s celebrity chef George Calombaris.
Swain also recommends an exclusive food tour hosted by a local chef or a hot-air balloon flight over the city of Melbourne, followed by a private tour of the Yarra Valley wine region, with Melbourne Private Tours.
Attention Sports Fans
When it comes to sports, Melbourne is a “real gem”, says Swain Tours’ Ian Swain ([email protected]). “We can arrange private tours of all the major sporting stadiums,” he adds, “including the Rod Laver Tennis Center and the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the venue for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.”
Melbourne also offers an array of tours outside the city, including a day tour to see koalas and kangaroos in the wild with Echidna Walkabout, or a self-drive tour to Coliban Park, a classic Australian sheep station owned by the same family for four generations.
Qantas operates 37 flights a week from the U.S. to Australia, and is the only airline offering A380 service on select non-stop flights from Los Angeles to Melbourne and Sydney.