Don't Miss in Melbourne
Federation Square is the indoor-outdoor Grand Central, the city's premier gathering spot. Geometrically designed buildings housing art galleries, cinemas, shops and cafes surround a large open area used for concerts, outdoor films, sitting, strolling and people watching. The city's excellent Visitor Center is located here in spacious underground premises.
At the Ian Potter Centre: National Gallery of Victoria, you'll get free access, except for special exhibitions. (A recent one dedicated to Australian landscape artist Fred Williams was well worth the price of entry.) The museum has a wonderfully eclectic, three-level interior design, with each room varied in shape and color. It houses the largest collection of Australian art, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art on canvas and bark; intriguing sculptures made from wood and found objects like metal and barbed wire; and Australian colonial art, landscapes and impressionist works. (Located in Federation Square, the museum is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. It's closed on Mondays.)
The National Gallery of Victoria International is located just south of the Yarra River and is accessed by the Princes Bridge and St. Kilda Road. Admission is free to the general collection, which includes works by major European artists. Special exhibitions require a fee. (It's located at 180 St. Kilda Road and is open Wednesday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It's closed Tuesdays.)
The Arts Centre is located along St. Kilda Road; the complex includes the State Theatre, the Playhouse, Fairfax Studio and other venues. The lobbies' art works are open to the public. (180 St. Kilda Road; open Wednesday - Monday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
The State Library of Victoria established in 1854, houses two million books, and its handsome reading room (viewed best from Levels 5 & 6) was modeled after London's original British Museum Library Reading Room. The central dome provides galleries for two permanent exhibitions: The Changing Face of Victoria (covering more than 200 years with historic artifacts, photos, drawings, maps and a video) and Mirror of the World (books and ideas, an exhibition from the library's valuable rare book collection). Admission is free. Internet use is also free -- there's a wireless hotspot. (You'll find it at 328 Swanston Street; it's open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
St. Paul's Cathedral, located at the corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets and across from Federation Square, is English Gothic Revival in style with an interior of decorative mosaics, floor tiles and wood carvings. A boys' choir sings at 5:10 p.m. every Tuesday through Friday and at Sunday services. The church spire (321 feet) is climbable. On the opposite corner is the imposing mustard yellow facade of Flinders Street Railway Station with its long arcades stretching along Flinders Street and St. Kilda Road.
For a view of the city, Eureka Skydeck 88 (Riverside Quay, Southbank) affords the highest public view in the Southern Hemisphere -- 360 degrees and 935 feet up. For a truly scary experience, a glass cube called The Edge, taking 12 fearless souls, extends out beyond the building's top edge with views in all directions, including straight down. There is a charge for The Edge. (The hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
Queen Victoria Market, off Elizabeth Street, a few blocks to the north end of the city's main street grid, is one of the largest pavilion-style markets of any major city in the world. It's replete with Australia's bountiful foods, arranged in rows and rows of stalls, plus delis, quick eateries and clothing stalls. People from the city center and the suburbs go there on a regular basis to shop for some of the world's finest produce. Cafes surrounding the market pavilion add to the liveliness and diversity of offerings. (It's open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
The Royal Botanic Gardens
founded in 1846, comprise 99 undulating acres with 50,000 plant specimens from all over the world. Highly varied sections of the gardens include the rainforest, fern gully, camellia garden and ponds with geese, ducks and swans. It's free and may be accessed by walking about a mile via Princes Bridge and then along the Yarra River or from St. Kilda Road just south of the National Gallery of Victoria International. The area along the Yarra River has free barbecue setups and picnic tables, and the botanical garden has two attractive indoor/outdoor cafes. (It's on Birdwood Avenue, South Yarra, and it's open daily.)
Docklands -- an emerging commercial, residential, sports, marina, hotel and restaurant complex -- is still under construction in the old industrial port area, but its many restaurants, shops and public attractions are already open to visitors. You can reach Melbourne's largest new development via the free City Circle tram or river cruises.
St. Kilda is a quirky seaside suburb with a huge number of restaurants and pastry shops, especially along lively Acland Street, plus an attractive esplanade, good beach, long pier with an arts and crafts fair on Sundays, and Luna Park with its old-fashioned amusements, including a rollercoaster. It makes a nice half-day outing. Ride out on tram numbers 3, 3a, 16, 67, 96 and 112. For a variety of city views, you can go via one route and come back on another.
Rippon Lea, built by a wealthy merchant in 1868, is a grand suburban mansion set in a lovely 14-acre garden with a pond, waterfall, windmill and lookout tower. The house reflects the last owner, who redecorated some of the rooms in Hollywood style to entertain Melbourne's then-elite social set. It can be reached by train from Flinders Street in 10 minutes and via tram 67 in 20 minutes, followed by a short walk. (Hours for guided tours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Sovereign Hill, near Ballarat, re-creates Victoria's gold rush days during the 1850's, when it was the richest alluvial gold mining area in the world. See the tented and mud-and-bark hut living quarters, and watch horses hauling carts and carriages and propelling machinery. The town has candle-makers, confectionaries, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, carriage-makers, wheelwrights and furniture manufacturers. You can pan for gold, explore a mine and spend the night in a lodge overlooking the town. Take a V Line train from Southern Cross station, and 90 minutes later, you'll arrive in Ballarat, itself an architecturally outstanding Victorian city of some 90,000 residents. A free bus meets the train for the short drive to Sovereign Hill and back. Ballarat city bus 9 also provides a transfer. (It's open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Gold Museum's hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.)