After an amazing visit to New Zealand, it was time to go back to Australia. This time, we visited Australia’s other major city: Melbourne.
Inna and I were completely blown away by Melbourne. It was such an alive, fun city, way more than we expected. It was the most artistic city we’ve ever visited, even more than Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Paris…
One of the main reasons Melbourne surprised me was that my conceptions of the city were off. I always thought Melbourne was Australia’s “second city”, Sydney being first, similar to Los Angeles/Chicago versus New York City. But this is not the case; Melbourne is just as grand as Sydney. The population is roughly the same, as are each city’s gross domestic products (Sydney’s is 8% and 15% larger, respectively. Compare this to NYC, whose population is 115%/214% larger than Los Angeles/Chicago, and whose GDP is 53%/130% larger than those cities).
To further illustrate the equal prestige between Sydney and Melbourne, consider this: in 1908, Australia had to choose a location for its capital. Both cities wanted it, but instead of deciding between the two, Australia created Canberra, a planned government city (similar to Washington DC) located near the halfway point between Sydney and Melbourne.
All this being said, Sydney is more renown than Melbourne internationally. Or at least in my mind it is. I think there are three reasons for this: 1) Sydney is slightly larger, just enough to not be negligible, 2) Sydney is more business focused while Melbourne is more art focused, and 3) Melbourne lacks an iconic, internationally recognized landmark, while Sydney has two: the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.
To sum up, Melbourne is an amazing city, not as famous but just as grand (and in many ways even more grand) than Sydney. We really enjoyed our visit here, a visit we will now describe in this post!
There are so many places we could start in Melbourne, but I think Federation Square is the best. Federation Square is Melbourne’s main square and there was so much happening here, everyday it was new and different and exciting.
Overlooking Federation Square were Deakin Edge and the Ian Potter Center. These were two of the most interesting architectural works in Melbourne, a city whose architecture was incredible; it was like a modern Chicago.
Inside the Ian Potter Center, we found a book fair. Sold!
Next to Federation Square were some of Melbourne’s grandest Victorian buildings. Above is the city’s town hall.
Melbourne’s annual Christmas show, projected onto Town Hall, was one of the most unique and amazing Christmas displays I’ve ever seen. It was incredible.
Near Town Hall was the Flinders Street Railway Station, the busiest railway station in Australia and another grand Victorian era building.
North of Federation Square was Downtown Melbourne, also known as Melbourne’s Central Business District. It was without a doubt the most alive and exciting downtown we’ve visited.
Some examples of downtown Melbourne’s aliveness: a moving, three-dimensional Christmas storybook (left), and Moroccans rocking out while selling knafeh and commenting on how passerby’s booties look sexy like Kim Kardashian’s.
One of the grandest buildings in Melbourne is the State Library of Victoria. There were so many people here! It was amazing seeing so many people at the library.
The library’s insides were stunning; it was one of the most beautiful libraries we’ve seen. And it also had a super-interesting book exhibit, which we describe in this post.
Continuing north, we come to Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building. Built in 1880 to host that year’s World’s Fair (the seventh world’s fair location we’ve visited on this trip, after Seattle, Chicago, New York City (sort of), Paris, Milan, and Amsterdam), this is one of the last remaining 19th century exhibition building in the world. As such, it and its surrounding gardens have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Additionally, the Royal Exhibition Building was hosting Melbourne’s annual Big Design Market during our visit. Inna described it as a huge, in-person Etsy but unfortunately, we didn’t take any pictures of it.
Like most World’s Fair location we’ve visited, this area is now home to museums. One museum specifically: the Melbourne Museum.
The Melbourne Museum, the largest museum in the southern hemisphere, is a natural and cultural history museum that focuses on Australia and its surroundings. We didn’t go inside this museum but we did go into its lobby, where we were saw the exhibits pictured above.
North of Federation Square was Melbourne’s Central Business District, but the area south was grand as well. First up: the Yarra River, and this view of two of Melbourne’s most iconic architectural landmarks, which we will discuss later in this post.
This spire, located atop Melbourne’s Arts Center, is probably the most iconic architectural work in Melbourne. Not quite the Sydney Opera House, but still pretty cool.
Next to the Arts Center was Melbourne’s main art museum, the National Gallery of Victoria. And despite the fact that most of the world’s great art is in Europe or the western United States, this was one of the best museums we’ve visited, specifically because of one exhibit, which we showcase in this post.
Across from the Art Center and the National Gallery was Domain Parkland, Melbourne’s main attraction south of the Yarra River. Domain Parkland, a collection of four parks (the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kings Domain, Alexandra Gardens, and Queen Victoria Gardens), contain many of Melbourne’s most notable sites and attractions.
The most notable attraction was the Shrine of Remembrance. Located in Kings Domain, this was the grandest WWI turned War Memorial we visited in Australia and New Zealand.
Eternal flame outside the shine.
Melbourne’s skyline, as viewed from the shrine. The tall skyscraper in the left of this photograph (the other iconic building mentioned earlier in this post) is the Eureka Tower, the tallest to-roof skyscraper in Australia.
In addition to the Shrine of Remembrance, Kings Domain featured several other sites, including La Trobe’s Cottage (pictured left), the Melbourne Observatory (pictured right), the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne’s Government House, and more.
Queen Victoria Gardens, located north of Kings Domain, was more subdued than its neighboring parkland, but even so, it was beautiful.
The last Domain Parkland park we visited was the Royal Botanical Gardens. They were stunning, the most beautiful botanic gardens I have ever visited (they come in second for Inna, after the Huntington).
Close-ups in the botanical garden.
By this point, we’d explored both north and south of Federation Square; all we had left was east and west. East/west of Federation Square basically means strolling along the Yarra, and we chose to explore it west.
First up along the Yarra River was Melbourne’s premiere restaurant and nightlife district. This was a pretty happening place, but it was expensive and we weren’t dressed up, so we walked through, to Polly Woodside, an 1885 cargo vessel turned event space and museum ship.
From Polly Woodside we headed to Webb Bridge, a rail-turned-pedestrian bridge and one of the most unique bridges in the world. Other than aesthetics there is no reason I can think of to shape a bridge like this, but aesthetically it was beautiful and the unnecessary-yet-fun design completely captured the spirit of Melbourne.
From Webb Bridge we headed to the Docklands, a major port, business, and tourist area just outside of Downtown Melbourne. Among the many sites located here are Docklands Stadium, Victoria Harbour, Digital Harbour, Central City Studios, and the Southern Star Ferris Wheel (pictured above).
One frustrating thing about Melbourne was that it took forever to get dark. The sun didn’t set until 10pm when we visited, and even though the city was gorgeous at night, it was difficult spending 12+ hours out each day (our Airbnb was in the suburbs and the rail system was too expensive to go in and out multiple times). Because of this, we only spent one night in the city, the night we watched the Town Hall Christmas show shown earlier in this post.
After the Christmas show we went back at the river. It was stunning.
At this point we’ve reached the end of the Federation Square portion of our visit to Melbourne. But we did so much more in this city, including: Queen Victoria Market, Luna Park, St Kilda Beach and Pier, and more. To read about these adventures, head to our next post!