The first time I went to Australia I fell in love…with Sydney. Not surprising since it’s just so darned pretty. But on my next visit I found the pretty one had lost some of its shine and it was its less popular sibling Melbourne that made a lasting impression.
There’s no doubt that of the two Sydney is blessed with the more obvious attractions, but Melbourne is attractive is a less obvious way. I’d been encouraged to visit, not by the most famous TV programme set there in the fictional Ramsay Street, but a less well known show called The Secret Life of Us, which made the city look very appealing, despite the ongoing dramas of its twenty-something characters.
I found it a perfect mix of creative culture, varied shopping and plentiful entertainment, with lovely parks, beaches that are just a tram ride away and excellent eating and drinking options (and most importantly good service, something that was sadly lacking in Sydney). And as well as all that, Melbourne is handily positioned for some great day trips.
So, here’s a few of my Melbourne highlights that you might enjoy.
Southbank – yes, just like London, Melbourne also has a Southbank which runs alongside the Yarra River and is a focus for art and culture. I stayed in the Langham Hotel which overlooks the river and is perfectly placed for transport and places to eat, drink and be merry. Once you’ve rambled round the Southbank it’s also an easy walk along and across the river to the Docklands area, where among other attractions there’s an ice rink, Sunday market and the Melbourne Star, a London Eye style observation wheel.
St Kilda – setting of the Secret Life of Us, this neighbourhood was a must do for me and being on the bay offers palm trees, beach, a pier and stunning sunsets. A good place to catch one is the Stokehouse, a well known bar and restaurant right on the foreshore, while there are also lots of other places to eat, drink and shop.
The trams – one of my favourite forms of transport, trams are plentiful in Melbourne and you can get one down to St Kilda and out to explore other neighbourhoods, which is well worth doing as they vary a lot and will give you a real feel for local life. But there’s also a free City Circle tram which is handy for jumping on and off and seeing the sights. I even used it to take my washing to the launderette and none of the tourists aboard seemed to mind.
Penguin Parade – if you only have time for one day trip make it Phillip Island, home of the little penguins. I’d never been particularly interested in penguins, but have to admit I was transfixed watching the natural phenomenon of dozens of the little creatures waddling in from the sea after sunset. It did feel a little bizarre to be sitting in the pitch dark waiting for them to appear, but when they did it was worth the wait. And although its more costly, I’d recommend buying a Penguins Plus ticket for access to a much closer viewing platform. Also on the island is the Koala Conservation Centre which is worth a visit on route to the penguins, though you’ll be lucky to catch one of them awake seeing as they sleep around 20 hours day.
Great Ocean Road – probably the most famous trip out of Melbourne and home to fabulous coastal scenery, beaches that surfers must adore and plenty of opportunity for interesting walks. Coach trips run out here, or if you have your own transport there are plenty of quiet beaches you can stop off as well as busy seaside towns like Apollo Bay, where the Bay Leaf Cafe makes a nice lunch stop.
Yarra Valley – this trip is one to make without the car as there are far too many good wines to sample. I booked a tour at the tourist information office in Federation Square and went on a mini bus with a friendly group and a great guide. It’s only an hour outside of Melbourne and there are plenty of vineyards to choose from, including Domaine Chandon, which was founded by Moet & Chandon and produces method traditionelle sparkling wine – so basically Champagne, you just can’t call it that unless its made in France.
Mornington Peninsular – another area noted for vineyards is the Mornington Peninsula, where there are also farms and orchards where you can go fruit picking as well as plenty of beaches and coastal walks. I was there visiting my friend’s family and although the weather wasn’t the best for seeing the area, we definitely got a flavour for what looked like a great place to live and visit.
Eating and drinking – I’ve already mentioned a few places where I enjoyed the local cuisine and drinks, but there are plenty more in Melborune so make the most of it, it’s a real foodie treat.
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