Although I’ve visited the capital of Australia’s Victoria State before, I found Melbourne always has more surprises to reveal. The site for the city was established at the top of Port Phillip Bay in the 1835 and a small settlement was established in 1837. It was briefly named ‘Batmania’ after one of its founders, John Batman. Movie buffs may be disappointed that it was finally named Melbourne by Queen Victoria, after her Prime Minister Viscount Melbourne.
1. Check out the old buildings
Many of the old bluestone buildings are still in place, though in some locations they’ve disappeared. Recently, however, there’s been a move to at least keep the frontage and put the tall building a respectful distance inside. Makes walking round the streets a lot more interesting. One building that’s done this well is along Lonsdale St. Pop in to No 50, behind a row of older buildings and see artefacts that were dug up from pre-existing buildings. The position of those buildings is marked on the tiled floor.
Parliament House, in Spring St, was built in stages, with the first part opened in 1856 after Victoria became self-governing in 1851. It was only completed in 1929. One surprising fact is that Melbourne served as the temporary capital of the Commonwealth of Australia from 1901 until the new capital of Canberra was ready in 1927. The first sitting of the Australian Parliament was held in Victoria’s Parliament House in 1901. The building is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.
2. Visit an Art Gallery
You may already be aware of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and their wonderful exhibitions. They’re currently hosting an excellent exhibition of work by MC Escher and Nendo that is well worth a visit.
Two surprises (apart from the stained glass ceiling) –
- There are other galleries inside apart from the special exhibitions!
- Go up the escalators behind the information desk, to find the other gallery spaces.
- You can also find work exhibited in the space outside the building, both in front and at the back.
- There’s also exhibition space behind the cloakroom as well as activities for children.
- Entry (apart from special exhibitions) is free.
** A point to note: Selfie sticks & gimbals are not to be used. However, if you have the need for using a stabiliser (e.g. a gimbal), you may apply in advance for permission and this may well be given.
The Lyon Housemuseum is a unique combination of private residence and private museum. They Lyon family live in their own private gallery so “museum ” and “living” are brought together seamlessly. The museum is only open for visit by appointment. The schedule is on their website, as is information about their exciting new project due to open in mid-March 2019.
The new project will be open to the public six days a week and is purpose built on the adjacent block. Specially commissioned works will occupy the space in the new gallery. Here’s the surprise. All of the thousands of round protrusions on the top of the building were fixed in place by Yueji Lyon personally. What a job!
Visit them at 219 Cotham Road. Kew 3101. The No 109 tram will drop you there. Catch it from Port Melbourne or in the city in Collins St.
3. Catch a Stage show
The East end of the Melbourne CBD is home to lots of interesting places. You’ll find lots of theatres here. Real live actor type theatres! There are lots to choose from You can see the very Aussie ‘Muriel’s Wedding’ at Her Majesties Theatre in Exhibition St, or go over the road to the Comedy Theatre. The Melbourne International Comedy Festival hits town from 27th Mar – 21st Apr 2019. Be there, or be square.
Who could miss knowing that ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ will be playing at the Princess Theatre in Spring St for the next few years. This heritage listed 1488-seat theatre was completely refurbished to host the show. The Princess Theatre is listed by the National Trust of Australia and is on the Victorian Heritage Register. If you’re not sure whether you should go, this is our take.
4. Have your lunch in a Park
Melbourne is a lovely city to enjoy sitting on the grass while you eat your lunch. The Flagstaff Gardens, on the north western side of the CBD is one such place. Close to the Queen Victoria Market, they used to be the highest spot in town and the flagpole (flagstaff) stood there. Today, you’ll share your space with other like minded souls sitting on the grass, lovely shady trees and a couple of assorted artworks including a sundial that is accurate except during Summer Time.
However, there’s one garden you won’t be able to sit on the grass in and enjoy your lunch. The Melbourne Club is a ‘Men Only’ Club on Collins St, running through to Little Collins St. They have the only garden in the CBD and you can peek only at the top of the trees if you walk along the side in Ridgway Lane. It is said that some of the gentlemen used to keep apartments in the laneway for their lady friends. True or not? Who knows, but today the ‘Ladies Only’ Lyceum Club occupies a space in this lane.
Check out the Fairies Tree in the Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne. You’ll find a lot more than fairies carved there. There’s also many a secret something in the bricks around the fountain at the opposite end of the park.
5. Go for a walk
This is how you can truly discover Melbourne. Even if you have no idea where you’re going, you’ll definitely discover something new. After all, the city is built on a grid and it’s hard to get lost, once you know the street names and their order. However, if you have limited time and want to see as much as you can, why not call the people at Hidden Secrets Tours. We went for a wander around the streets of the East End of the CBD with our lovely guide Catherine. Check out the theatres, stopped for coffee and discovered delicious treats like specialty chocolates and macarons along the way. Walk by the Melbourne Club on Collins St and try to peep into their garden. We could see only the tops of the trees.
You can discover the statue of Sun Yat Sen in Chinatown, in front of the Chinese Museum. We were pleased to discover the Ladies only Lyceum Club overlooks the garden of the Melbourne Club. I guess they can see more than the tops of the trees.
6. Treat your inner foodie
Discover new foods
We loved Longsong, Little Bourke St, which is homed in an old stable. The food is an excellent example of what’s on offer in the many restaurants all across Melbourne’s CBD and surroundings. With so many restaurants to choose from along Bourke St, Little Collins St, not to mention Chinatown and all along Russell St, they compete on quality. Visitors are spoilt for choice.
Visit a distillery
In the old days of early Melbourne, the lanes behind Lonsdale St were not the place to go if you wanted ‘polite company’. However, you can visit the Little Lon Distilling Co, tucked away in the last single story house in the city’s CBD. Find it at 17 Casselden Place. Their signature gins are named after the local ‘lights’ of the old days, each with fascinating stories.
Enjoy the coffee
Little coffee spots are dotted all around Melbourne and the city is not called The Coffee Capital of the World’ for nothing. The original owner of Pellegrini’s was part of the first wave of Italian migrants who arrived in the 1950s. Their arrival introduced the local populace to good food, good wine and good coffee. Every little laneway and arcade seems to have a place to refill. Take your cup with you. Melbourne is also the home of the reusable coffee cup!
7. Go to the market
You may have heard of the Queen Victoria Market which, fittingly, fronts Victoria Street. Catch a tram along Elizabeth St to the entrance of this Victorian era building. Apart from clothing and souvenirs, there’s a huge section covering two city blocks selling food – a real market! Drop by any day except Monday or Wednesday, 6am – 2pm. Some of the outside shops are open normal shopping hours.
8. Check out the arcades and lanes
Like many European cities, Melbourne has some beautiful arcades. These are essentially laneways with skylighted roofs, beautifully tiled floors and even more beautiful storefronts. The Block Arcade, L shaped with two frontages on Collins and Elizabeth Sts, is filled with tearooms and other delights. Another Victorian era arcade is the Royal Arcade, with an entrance on the Bourke St Mall. It’s the oldest surviving arcade in Australia, opened in 1870. There’s also an entrance on Elizabeth St. They don’t open past 8 any evening, so make sure you’re there early for a good look around.
9. If in Doubt, Ask…
The Information people
If you’re lost or just need information on where to get a cuppa, or when the arcades close, ask one of the City of Melbourne’s City Ambassadors. They also have maps to help you find the places you need. The Ambassadors are all volunteers and you can find them
- Melbourne Visitor Booth in Bourke Street Mall
- Melbourne Visitor Hub at Town Hall
- Queen Victoria Market Visitor Hub
- Fitzroy Gardens Precinct (Fitzroy Gardens Visitor Centre near Cooks’ Cottage).
10. Interesting buildings in the park
Hop over to the Fitzroy Gardens along Wellington Parade in East Melbourne. It’s an easy walk from the Parliament building in Spring St. There are two cool buildings you shouldn’t miss in these gardens.
The Conservatory is an arch shaped glasshouse open every day of the year unless they’re changing the displays of plants. The themed displays in peaceful surroundings, are a restful break from the weather outside.
Captain Cook is the chap who claimed what is now Australia as Terra nullius (Latin for nobody’s land) in 1770. He did this despite the fact that there were already around three quarters of a million people actually living there. He never went anywhere near the site of what became Melbourne, nor did he ever live in ‘his’ house. So goodness knows why the city fathers of Melbourne decided to buy it years ago and transport it brick by brick to where it is now in the Fitzroy Gardens! Still, it’s an interesting addition, even if only to check out just how small it is and how low the doors and ceilings are.
11. Catch a tram
If you want to cover as much of the city as possible, the trams are a great way to go. The Free tram zone grid in the CBD north of the Yarra River is well served by regular trams. Just hop on and off at the stops. The zone includes all trams within the boundaries of Flinders Street, Spring Street and La Trobe Street. As you approach the end of your free ride, you’ll hear an announcement advising you to tap your Myki card if you are leaving the Free tram zone.
You can pick up a card for AUD6 at stations and convenience stores and preload money for your fares. If you want to travel round the outside of the grid, catch the City Circle Tram, Number 35, at the designated stops. The City Circle tram route also includes Docklands and the Marvel Stadium.
12. Go to a sporting event?
Melbourne plays host to many top sporting events and has the facilities necessary to give the organisers a good start. Most are either close enough to the city to either walk, or jump on a train or tram.
First up is the Australian Open tennis. Every January, the first Tennis Grand Slam of the Year is played in the courts in and around Rod Laver Arena along Olympic Blvd. The men’s final is held the last Sunday of the month, closest to Australia Day on 26th. It’s often startlingly hot, but now they can close the roof of the centre court and turn on the cooling, offering some relief to players and spectators.
The first F1 Grand Prix race kicks off the annual race calendar, around the lake in Albert Park, just south of the Yarra River. The rest of the year you can jog or commune with the black swans regally swimming in the lake. Do be careful, there are public roads in the park, as well as walking paths.
You’ve heard of soccer and possibly Rugby, (League and Union), but how about AFL (Australian Football League)? Usually called ‘Aussie Rules’, the game is played on an oval field with an oval ball. It involves lots of jumping and the object is to kick the ball between the goal posts. Docklands Stadium, also known as Marvel Stadium, is the home of the AFL.
There’s a joke that if you enjoy watching grass grow, go and watch the cricket. Fans will definitely disagree and the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) has been home to Melbourne Cricket Club since 1853. As the stadium is the largest in Australia, it also hosts a variety of events from Cricket Test matches, the AFL Grand Final and even the 1956 Olympics.
Then there’s The Melbourne Cup. Australia’s premier horse race runs at Flemington Racecourse the first Tuesday in November every year at 3pm. It’s billed as ‘The race that stops a nation’ since Archer won the first race in 1861. Catch a tram or get a train from Spencer St or Flinders St Stations.
Economy Traveller travelled as a guest of Visit Victoria and Malindo Air. Watch this space, we’re also working on a YouTube video.