What’s So Great about Melbourne?

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.

St. Kilda Melbourne

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.

Churchill Island

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.

Flinders Street Station

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?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

16 thoughts on “What’s So Great about Melbourne?”

  1. I have heard nothing but fantastic things about Melbourne. I agree with you about neighborhoods; in my opinion they are one of the most important factors in how much I enjoy a city.

  2. Hook turns are very scary for a newcomer! We have them so that traffic waiting to turn doesn’t block trams. They are only required in the CBD (‘downtown’) where traffic turns across tram tracks. It all makes sense but I know they can be intimidating!

  3. I absolutely loved Melbourne, it was one of my favourite places in Australia. The weird thing was – my boyfriend didn’t like it. We spent 3 months there and he never warmed to the place. There seems to be a divide between people who love Sydney and people who love Melbourne – he was definitely in the ‘love Sydney’ category.

  4. Glad you liked my home city Matt! I always say that Melbourne would be everyone’s favourite city if it wasn’t so far away. Sydney is a place that’s in your face – somewhere that you feel you’ve ‘seen’ in a weekend. And who can blame the tourist hordes there – the harbour is breathtaking. But Melbourne though, it needs a little more time to get under your skin. You need to find great cheap food, wander down a laneway and sit with tens of thousands of sports tragics at a sporting match. Great blog!

  5. I just recently moved to Melbourne – and I really like it! It is a great place with lovely cafés, 2hand stores, wonderful food, street art and laneways and wonderful coffee :)
    I’m sure I will even fall more in love with the city the longer I live here!!

  6. I was in Melbourne in December, and I really enjoyed it. You’re right about the tram system, it made it really easy to get around. It was a great city to just wander in, always something interesting to see, good food. I stayed in St. Kilda, just a quick walk from the beach, which was great. And Melbourne was a perfect starting point for the Great Ocean Road, one of my favorite places.

  7. Great post! I lived in Melbourne for 5 months in 2008 and have to say that it is definitely my favourite city in the world. You’re right about the diverse neighbourhoods. I enjoyed the range of night-time entertainment. In particular, The Espy in St Kilda for it’s live rock music. I recently wrote about why I love Melbourne on my blog. A must do for chocoholics like myself are the Max Brenner Chocolate Bars. They do the most beautiful hot chocolate in the world, made with real melted chocolate, served in hug mugs. There’s one cafe in Melbourne Central shopping centre, near the Elizabeth St. entrance and one in the QV centre, near the State Library.

  8. Mahalo Matt for a great article. I too love Melbourne. Another fantastic time is to go in March for the Food and Wine festival. It goes on for two weeks and there are easily 30-40 events per day. I kid you not! We went for 9 days and fortunately caught the Italian pasta maker Barilla feeding everyone in Fed Square for 7 nights straight followed by a film on food. That was FREE!
    They had early morning coffee crawls visiting middle eastern bakeries almost every morning :)
    and when the Food and Wine Festival ends the following day in the Melbourne Grand Prix.

    Thanks again

  9. Yup love the food in Melbourne! Would reserve places like these for when I am old and decrepit because it is so old ppl friendly. Would probably do the 3rd world countries while im still able bodied and not on the zimmer as yet :P LOL

  10. I agree that Melbourne is a magic place to live and visit. We lived there for ten years in a number of different suburbs and loved it! I think one of the things that makes Melbourne a winner for me (above Sydney where I subsequently lived for 5 years…) is that Melbourne city and inner suburbs are a lot more accessible than Sydney.

    My favourite place to live was Richmond, we were on the tram line and only a short distance to the MCG (we have had our membership in for about 8 years now, maybe only another 20 years to go before we can become members…). We could also easily access the city, but also the local area was really walkable with great shops, restaurants and markets.

    To make the most of Melbourne is difficult in a short time – I think the attraction is in the little things over a longer period. Hopefully we will live there again one day, but for now we are making th most of Brisbane – at least we are close to family again for a while…

    1. I think you’re right, Melbourne is a place that deserves time in order to appreciate it. That being said I had a great week there and it made a huge impression. It’s in all honesty one of the few places in the world where we would consider living.

  11. I’m originally from 3 hours away from Melbourne and always wondered why travelers would be attracted to this city. Then I moved into the city and realised why. I absolutely love the food and how it can surprise you, for example the other night we were walking around richmond looking for a place to eat before the footy and found this amazing little cafe ! However the absolute highlight for me is footy season. The city really comes alive and it brings Melbourne together(I hardly ever talk to people on the street or on the train until I’m wearing my club colours on the way to or coming back from a game).

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