Everyone said I would love it. This advice didn’t just come from friends and online contacts, Melbourne was named the world’s most livable city in the 2011 Global Livability Survey. That’s a hell of a statement to make and I was curious what could propel a city on the other side of the world into being the best place to live anywhere on the planet. I soon learned that it’s not any one thing, but a glorious melange of many qualities working together in perfect urban harmony.
Architecture and neighborhoods – Like it or not, a huge part of what makes a city great are the atmospherics, how the city is laid out and the architecture which graces it. In the late 19th century at the height of a gold rush, Melbourne was the richest city in the world. This sudden wealth is still found throughout the city in its arcades and opulent buildings in the most unlikely of places. Walking around town without looking up at cornices and stonework is a mistake, you’ll miss a huge part of what makes Melbourne great. Like most cities, Melbourne is comprised of many, unique neighborhoods, but there’s something about the ones found in Melbourne that just makes them better than most others. They’ve preserved interesting character and have an attitude about them that even a casual visitor picks up on right away. One of my favorites is St. Kilda, the seaside escape that combines an urban environment with the heady rush of salt spray and views fit for a postcard.
Easy to get around – In this era of being green and saving money, the ability to get around town quickly and easily is a major point of consideration. Melbourne has done a mostly good job of this through its extensive tram network. Melbourne’s cable tram network dates back to the 1870s and today is the largest urban tramway network in the world with more than 400 tram cars and 150 miles of track. It’s not the most popular form of public transportation in the city though, more people actually use the equally extensive commuter railway network linking the city with outlying neighborhoods and suburbs. If you don’t feel like using the convenient public transportation system, Melbourne is also a very walkable city. We found ourselves traipsing all around town just for the experience instead of filing into one of the many trams. My one complaint about transportation in Melbourne is driving. It’s not the traffic that I minded, it honestly was a lot better than my hometown of Washington, DC, but it was those dreaded hook turns. Hook turns are where cars that would normally have to turn across oncoming traffic are made to turn across all lanes of traffic instead. For the non-native driver, these turns are confusing and downright scary. But I guess that’s further reason to use the public transportation system.
Close to quality of life escapes – A key component to any great city is the ability to escape to great recreation areas easily and quickly. Luckily for Melbourne, there are plenty of amazing places to visit for the day, all showcasing how great the state of Victoria really is. The Great Ocean Road, Healesville Sanctuary and Phillip Island are just a few of the easy escapes for Melbournians. Philip Island in particular impressed me for offering a fun, family-friendly getaway that serves as the perfect urban escape. Historic farms, animal sanctuaries and beautiful ocean views are make Philip Island a pastoral paradise. No matter what you decide to do, there are plenty of options to get away from the hectic city for a day or two.
Food, glorious food – If you’re a foodie, then Melbourne is the place for you. New restaurants sprout up every day and the shear quantity and variation of the food offerings make the city a great place for the culinary tourist. Even if you’re not a foodie, the options are great as we learned when we explored Chinatown. It was hard to pick one restaurant from the many lining the bustling streets, but the sight of roasting duck finally lured us into one of the several family run businesses. The meal was a success and we left content and happy, strolling along the avenues back to our hotel. The laneways are another great culinary find, especially at lunch when dozens of bistros and cafes open their doors to the narrow streets offering businesspeople and tourists alike great options for a quick meal. Before you leave town, don’t forget to stop by one of the artisanal chocolate shops. Australians love their chocolate and the local varieties are amongst the best I’ve ever tried.
Lots to do – Finally, any city that earns the title of Best in World has to have a lot for its citizens and visitors alike to do. Melbourne, not surprisingly, has no shortage of great activities, from the historic to the modern. Even though I’m not a big shopper, walking around town it was obvious that it’s a major pastime in the city. From high end boutiques to quirky small shops, there’s a lot to do for someone with a hole burning in their wallet. My favorite was a little bookstore, the Hill of Content, where I spent some time perusing the shelves. Whenever I travel, I almost always frequent bookstores and pour through the local authors section. Many times there are great books impossible to find anywhere else in the world and it’s a great way to find out more about the destination. There’s so much more to do in Melbourne than just shopping though. The city enjoys a vibrant arts culture so that you could visit a new exhibit, show or gallery every day without getting bored. I’m a history buff though, so the city’s past appealed to me most whether it was at the Royal Pavilion or wandering the historic lane ways, I was in tourist heaven.
There’s no doubt that Melbourne is a great city, and probably is the best in the world. I know I loved it and quickly decided that if I had to live there, well then maybe that wouldn’t be so bad.
Have you been to Melbourne? What did you like best?