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.
You will get free access to the Ian Potter Centre: National Gallery of Victoria, except for special exhibitions. The museum has a wonderfully eclectic, three-level interior design, with each room varied in shape and colour. 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 such as metal and barbed wire; and Australian colonial art, landscapes and impressionist works. (Federation Square; 03 8620-2222; open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
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. (180 St. Kilda Road; 03 8620 2222; open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
The Arts Centre Melbourne is home to The Australian Ballet, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne Theatre Company andOpera Australia. Art exhibitions are also held here. (100 St. Kilda Road; 1300 182 183; open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and for performances.)
The State Library of Victoria established in 1854, houses two million books, and its handsome reading room (viewed best from Levels 5 & 6) was modelled 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 artefacts, 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. (328 Swanston Street; 03 8664 7000; open Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
St. Paul's Cathedral is English Gothic Revival in style with an interior of decorative mosaics, floor tiles and wood carvings. A choir sings at 5:10 p.m. every Tuesday through Friday and at Sunday services. The 98-metre church spire can also be climbed. 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. (Corner of Flinders and Swanston streets; open Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday 7.:30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m.)
For a view of the city, Eureka Skydeck 88 affords the highest public view in the Southern Hemisphere -- 360 degrees and 284 metres up. For a truly scary experience, a glass cube called The Edge supports 12 fearless souls out beyond the building's top edge with views in all directions, including straight down. There is a charge for The Edge; check eurekaskydeck.com.au for details. (7 Riverside Quay, Southbank; 03 9693 8888; open 10 am to 10 p.m. daily)
Queen Victoria Market is located a few blocks to the north end of the city's main street grid; it is one of the largest pavilion-style markets of any major city in the world and replete with Australia's bountiful foods, arranged in rows and rows of stalls, plus delis, quick eateries and clothing stalls. People from the city centre 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. (Queen Street, off Elizabeth Street; open Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
The Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne founded in 1846, comprise 40 undulating hectares 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. (Birdwood Avenue, South Yarra; open daily, 7.30 a.m. and 6.30 p.m.)
The Docklands is a contemporary commercial, residential, sports, marina, hotel and restaurant hub in the old industrial port area. It's also home to the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel offering panoramic views over the city and beyond. You can reach the Docklands via the free City Circle tram or river cruises.
St. Kilda is a quirky seaside suburb with many 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, 12, 16, and 96. For a variety of city views, you can go via one route and come back another way.
Rippon Lea Estate, built by a wealthy merchant in 1868, is a grand suburban mansion set in a an attractive expansive garden with a pond, waterfall, windmill and lookout tower. The house reflects the whims of its last owner, who redecorated some of the rooms in a lavish Hollywood style designed to entertain Melbourne's then-elite social set. The Rippon Lea Estate can be reached by train from Flinders Street in 10 minutes and via tram No. 67 in 20 minutes, followed by a short walk. (192 Hotham Street, Elsternwick; 03 9523 6095; open daily, September to April, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m, May to August, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m; hours for guided mansion tours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., subject to guide availability; garden tours run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Sovereign Hill, near Ballarat, recreates Victoria's gold rush days during the 1850s, 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 candlemakers, confectionaries, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, carriagemakers, 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. Catch bus route No. 21 for the short drive to Sovereign Hill and back. Ballarat city bus 9 also provides a transfer. (Bradshaw St, Golden Point; 03 5337 1199; 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.)