Sprawling, multicultural Melbourne, with its varied neighborhoods, suburbs, and enclaves, is home to more than three million people. The vibrant City Centre, which is bisected by the Yarra River, encompasses almost 14 square miles; it's where most of the city's high-end hotels—along with historic buildings, designer boutiques, lively bars, and restaurants of every description—are found. Parkville, a gentrified suburb surrounding the University of Melbourne, is popular with students and academics, as is neighboring Carlton (also the center of Melbourne's Italian community, with its attendant pizzerias, trattorias, and dolce vita). Nearby Fitzroy, a lively bohemian enclave, is jam-packed with funky stores, cafés, restaurants, and bars and includes the city's small but vibrant Spanish quarter (along Johnston Street). South of the Yarra, the ritzier, leafier suburbs are home base for the city's well-heeled style mavens.
WHEN TO GO
Melbourne's location on the southeast coast means it's one of Australia's most temperate cities year-round. Those keen to escape the Northern Hemisphere winter prefer to visit between December and February—high summer south of the equator, with sunny, hot weather (80- and 90-degree days aren't uncommon). Wintertime (June to September) is rainy and cold, though snow is virtually unheard of. Still, the city cozies up with open fires burning in cafés, restaurants, and bars, as well as a full roster of cultural events. Spring (October to December) and fall (March to May) are pleasantly mild and jam-packed with art, food, and flower festivals and fashion and sporting events.
HOW TO GET THERE
Melbourne's Tullamarine Airport lies 15 miles northwest of the city's center (61-3-9297-1600; www.melair.com.au). From the United States, Qantas has direct daily flights from Los Angeles; trips take just over 14 hours (61-2-9691-3636; www.qantas.com).
Taxis into the city center leave from the South and Qantas terminals. The ride takes around half an hour and costs about $70. Alternatively, SkyBus operates around the clock, with bus routes between the airport and the Southern Cross Terminal (at Bourke and Spencer streets, just west of the city center in West Melbourne). The buses also make pickups and drop-offs at some hotels. The rides take about 25 minutes and cost $13 one-way and $20 round-trip (61-3-9335-2811; www.skybus.com.au).
Melbourne's trams cover a lot of ground, extending about eight miles into the suburbs. City Circle Trams does 30-minute circuits of the city center, free of charge, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily (there's one every 10 to 15 minutes). Its hub is the Flinders Street Station (at Flinders and Swanston streets in the city center). Where the trams leave off, the train system extends the network to the far-out suburbs; and where neither trains nor trams go, buses will. Tickets for travel on all three services are available from vending machines at train stations, on trams or buses, or from certain stores and newsstands. For info on routes, fares, and schedules, visit www.doi.vic.gov.au/doi/internet/transport.nsf or call 61-3-9655-6666.
If you'd prefer to avoid public transportation, bright-yellow taxis are numerous in the city and not very expensive. They can be hailed off the street.
The Melbourne Visitor Centre, beneath Federation Square, has hundreds of free maps and brochures, a hotel-booking service, patient staff, and cheap Internet access (corner of Swanston and Flinders streets; 61-3-9658-9658; www.thatsmelbourne.com.au; open daily 9–6). The Melbourne Greeter Service, based here, can hook you up with a volunteer guide who shares your interests and can show you the sights. There's also a tourist information booth in the Bourke Street Mall (open daily 10–5).
For more information on city and regional attractions, go to www.visitvictoria.com.View Australia Factsheet