When people think of Australia, what usually comes to mind is visions of the vast and untamed outback, arid wilderness areas that don’t really give off “leisure destination” vibes. Sure, there’s talk of sunny beaches, of sultry December summers that make it seem like the perfect place for a holiday when you’re freezing in the winter months. If you live somewhere tropical, though, you likely already live in perpetual summer, and your country’s own beaches probably aren’t anything to sneeze at, either.
You go to Melbourne for the cultural convergence. It’s a veritable melting pot of cultures, where you are likely to find a Lebanese canteen and a Sichuan restaurant on the same block, if not standing side by side.
The capital of Australia’s garden state of Victoria, Melbourne has been described as “like San Francisco, but without the fog.” It’s well-developed and forward-thinking, truly deserving of its status as one of the most livable cities in the world—a list they’ve topped seven years in a row, from 2011 to 2017.
So, make sure to put Melbourne up there as one of the places you need to see before you kick the bucket. With a good Melbourne tour package, you can come to this city while saving a lot of money on flights and accommodation. And don’t forget to include the following in your list of places to see.
Queen Victoria Market
This seven-hectare open air market is the beating heart of Melbourne and one of the city’s major historical attractions. It occupies two whole city blocks and is said to have been established in the late 1860s, which means that it is some 150-odd years old. It’s where locals come to pick up their essentials, from fresh produce, meat, poultry, and game to all sorts of homewares.
Queen Vic Market, as it is affectionately called by locals, is also a great place for breakfast or lunch, thanks to its numerous stalls that sell deli meats, breads, cheeses, pasties and truly excellent Australian coffee. There is also a non-food market featuring open air sheds and shops that sell curios and souvenirs, as well as clothing, stationery, jewelry, accessories, and more.
The market has a comprehensive and informative website where you can view its trading hours, see a list of stalls and shops, check the market schedule for any special events, and even book a foodie tour. Visit on a Tuesday for the freshest gains.
See a whole different side of Melbourne when you visit Sydney Road in Brunswick, one of Melbourne’s major commercial areas. Here, immigrants have made the neighbourhood one of the most vibrant in the city by bringing the sights, sounds, and flavors of their respective home countries and showcasing them with pride.
Sydney Road is one of food critic and Masterchef Australia judge Matt Preston’s favourite haunts, which should tell you about the caliber and quality of the eats here. He’s particularly fond of a humble establishment called A1 Bakery, a café and Middle Eastern grocer known for its Lebanese pizzas and flatbreads. Another well-known spot is Rumi, helmed by chef-owner Joseph Abboud. The menu here is described as modern Middle Eastern, where Lebanese flavours meet classical French techniques for flawlessly executed dishes that have made Rumi truly deserving of its title as the best Middle Eastern restaurant in the area.
Melbourne’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in the Southern Hemisphere, said to have been first established in the 1850s as a settlement for Chinese immigrants looking to capitalise on the Australian gold rush. To say that it is in the city’s central business district seems imprecise; rather, it feels as though the district grew around it instead. Many buildings and architectural fixtures in the area remain largely unchanged, creating visual interest when taken against its backdrop of modern skyscrapers.
Chinese immigrants have always played a large part in shaping and broadening the country’s cultural identity, and today, Australians of Chinese ancestry make up 5.6% of the total population. Their culture is proudly, unapologetically displayed and celebrated here, from the lion statues guarding the traditional arches to the countless Chinese restaurants in the area. Of course, the food is amazing, and most every style of Chinese cooking is well-represented here, from authentic mouth-numbing Sichuan cuisine to comforting Shandong pan-fried dumplings.
Chinatown is a haven for other Asian cultures, too, so don’t be surprised to find Japanese dessert cafés, Korean clothing boutiques, and Vietnamese pho joints sharing space on the same street.
Melbourne is a very walkable city, laid out in a highly-organised grid like Manhattan in New York. The three spots mentioned in this article are within kilometers of each other: start at Sydney Road’s Brunswick neighborhood and work your way south towards Queen Victoria Market. On foot, this is a mostly straight hike that can take a little over an hour to complete, but you can always make use of the city’s extensive public transport network. From the market, Chinatown is only a few blocks away, andthe walk shouldn’t take more than a half-hour. If we must leave you with a final reminder, it’s to dress in layers and always carry an umbrella.The weather in Melbourne can change in a snap, and it can go from dry and sunny to heavy rain within minutes. Happy exploring!