It’s a decent time to visit Melbourne, which has an air of celebration about it right now. The Melbourne Storm have just been crowned champions of Australia’s National Rugby League, the cricket season is just about to start, which includes a clash with England, and, if you’re not into any of that, the city is currently hosting its annual festival – which ends this time next week, so hurry up if you want to catch installation art, classical music and contemporary dance.
Not that there’s a bad time to visit Melbourne, of course, especially not when spring is in the air and the four-seasons-in-one-day city is a blend of sunshine, dew and radiant green. Consistently rated as one of the world’s most liveable cities, this is a place where sport, culture, food and fun merge and mingle in any number of easy-going neighbourhoods – and with some breath-taking escapes on the doorstep, too.
We mentioned the ‘hoods, so let’s start there. Brunswick, Brunswick East, Carlton and Fitzroy are some of the places to head to if you love your whites flat, your beards bushy, your clothes black and your shopping alternative. Brunswick Street is Melbourne’s hippest drag and teems with coffeeshops, murals and street art, too. Shops sell cool clothes and records, and there are dozens of bars and music venues.
Cool coffeeshop and croissant connoisseurs Lune Croissanterie has a home in Fitzroy, for instance, while The Honeymoon Suite in Brunswick is, despite its name, one of the most interesting art spaces in the city.
If you like things a little more raucous, Melbourne is a sports-mad city. Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) is one of the biggest in the world and hosts the Australian national side every Boxing Day for a five-day Test match at the height of summer. This year, the old enemy England will be in town, which will add an extra edge to the holiday carnival.
Exactly a month later, the Australian Open tennis takes place at Melbourne Park, the first Grand Slam event of the season. Then there’s A League soccer team Melbourne City FC – owned by the same Abu Dhabi group that owns Manchester City – over in AAMI Park, which is also home to the aforementioned rugby league team Melbourne Storm. The Melbourne F1 Grand Prix takes place every year at Albert Park, while the famous Flemington Race Course hosts the Melbourne Cup, Australia’s premier horse race. And we’ve not even mentioned Aussie Rules, the local obsession that manifests itself in a dozen clubs in the city – including the recently crowned champs, Richmond.
Throughout the city you’ll see people jogging, cycling and walking everywhere, while surfers love to ride the waves off the coast. Melbourne is a health-mad metropolis.
A BIT OF HISTORY
People used to do anything to avoid ending up in Old Melbourne Gaol but today visitors head for it all the time. You can see the cell of the famous bush outlaw Ned Kelly, who was imprisoned here in the 1880s. Nearby Carlton Gardens is a beautiful park where you can admire myriad Australian flora and fauna, from exotic birds that flap overhead to brushtailed possums which leap around in the trees. The Royal Exhibition Building in the middle of the park is a crazy confection of Victorian architecture and was the site of the first Australian parliament in 1901.
Then there’s Captain Cook’s Cottage in Fitzroy Gardens, which helps trace the country’s history.
TRIPS OUT OF TOWN
You can’t come this far and not whizz up the Great Ocean Road, a spectacular coastal drive with stunning rust-red rocks plunging into the sea on one side and temperate rainforest on the other. The Twelve Apostles are the best example of the former and you’ll be forever stopping to take the best photos your iPhone will ever have the pleasure to store.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Aussies love their food. And they know a lot about it, too. It’s a real foodie haven these days, and there are good eats everywhere. Embla is one of the finest places in town to share small plates in a post-industrial setting. Walk-ins only for dinner. Dinner is the latest Heston Blumenthal export to make it to Australia. Expect complex food like the famous meat fruit or savoury porridge. Black Pearl is Condé Nast Traveller’s favourite bar in the world and it’s easy enough to see why. This Fitzroy joint is jumping – and the food is good, too.
WHERE TO STAY
When Australia’s favourite design hotel chain QT opened its new Melbourne hotel, the press couldn’t get enough of the industrial interiors, the art placed everywhere and the cool vibes. Guests will also relish the amazing service here and the fact that it feels like you’re part of something when you stay here. Locals you speak to will be impressed when you namedrop this place.
Bang in the centre of Melbourne on buzzy Collins Street, the InterContinental boasts quirky interiors behind a historic Gothic facade (it used to be the famous Rialto Hotel back in the day) and a stylish feel throughout. Style, opulence and class characterise The Langham, which is also noted for its afternoon teas.
On the more boutique side, The Lindrum is a 59-room hotel that’s part of the M Gallery Collection – mixing contemporary design with historic character – while St Jerome’s offers tents on its roof.
Just outside Melbourne on the Mornington Peninsula, Jackalope has real wow factor with an internationally-lauded royal flush of moody interiors by Melbourne design practice, Carr.
Emirates fly direct to Melbourne from Dubai daily, with prices starting from AED5,160*.
*Prices are subject to change