Melbourne- a Jewel in Australia's Crown

by Ollie Barstow on 23 February 2012, 15:02PM Melbourne- a Jewel in Australia's Crown

While Sydney has its landmarks and icons, Melbourne’s attractions are less superficial, its developed cultural scene establishing the city as Australia’s home for excellence in art, music, cuisine, nightlife, fashion and design, while festivals celebrating anything and everything are a frequent occurrence, all contributing to a strong reason why you should include Melbourne on any holiday to Australia.

Funky and trendy are words often associated with Melbourne and by simply strolling down the leafy tree-lined boulevards it’s hard not to be enticed by Melbourne’s ‘cool’ ambience. From marvelling at the glorious Victorian-era architecture (Flinders Street Station), eyeing the scale of the city’s vigorous modern developments (Eureka Tower)and even appreciating the grittier graffiti art that dots the streets (Centre Place), Melbourne successfully juxtaposes authenticity and modernity, with a side of bohemian for good measure.

Taking to the free City Circle tram, itself a charming city relic, I head to the centrepiece of Melbourne’s clash of architectural cultures at Federation Square. Something of a talking point for most Melbourne residents, the ultra-modern design of the buildings that frequent Federation Square divide opinion, but for every man’s eye-sore, the geometric shapes and quirky facades are at leasteye-catching.

Somewhat less controversial are the developments occurring in the Docklands area, which is now a bustling hive of activity, with stylish residential and commercial buildings, restaurants, bars and the impressive Etihad Stadium, satisfying the Melbourne penchant for trendy living, social enterprise and even sport in one rapidly growing area.

Such development is indicative of Melbourne’s aspirations and I couldn’t help but be impressed by the efforts to position itself as Australia’s foremost holiday destination. After all, while Federation Square may not necessarily be pretty, it remains a vision of confidence.

Even so, while Melbourne is certainly forward-thinking, it retains a wink and a nod to the past with its twisty lanes and arcades, particularly in the popular Centre Place, which is brimming with quirky shops in which to lose an afternoon casually strolling.

Such appreciation of the arts is represented by Melbourne’s position as Australia’s cultural capital, a status it takes to the world stage with international festivals in art, film and comedy, while a plethora of venues have been created to sate the appetite for ballet, literature, opera and theatre.

The choice is vast, forcing me to whittle my sight-seeing (or sight-experiencing) down to a few choice destinations. There are few disappointing choices, but the National Gallery of Victoria is a particular treat with its 65,000 works of art – one of which is the extraordinary stained glass ceiling for the Great Hall -, while the Victoria Arts Centre, with its distinctive spire, and the State Library, with its neo-classical façade, are worthy venues to promote Melbourne’s prominent theatre and literature scenes.

Moving onto the waterfront suburb of St. Kilda, I experience a different flavour of Melbourne’s rich culture, its reputation evolving over time from bohemian haunt to its current status as an increasingly wealthy area. Landmark attractions include the historic Luna Park, an amusement park that has barely changed in almost a century and proves that high-tech rides aren’t the sole route towards enjoyment as I scream my way around the 1911-built Scenic Railway rollercoaster.

Extricating myself from the bustle of the city centre, I went in search of solace on the offshore Phillip Island, famous for its Penguin Parade. A pleasure to watch as the incredibly cute ‘Little Penguins’ waddle across the beach to their sand dune burrows, adorable doesn’t quite do it justice!

Though not exactlyfound intheir natural habitat, Melbourne is an excellent destination for animal-lovers, with the city’s zoo and aquarium homing some of Australia’s most iconic creatures. Naturally any visit to Australia isn’t complete without cuddling a koala or feeding the kangaroos, and my child-like enthusiasm as I hold one of the cute bears is indicative of exactly why Melbourne is such an engaging city.

Indeed, Melbourne is a celebration of all things Australian, an authenticity that earns it a status that often sees it surpass Sydney as Australia’s most revered destination.

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