If Sydney is the New York of the Southern Hemisphere, then Melbourne is Boston or Philadelphia -- with attractions centralized rather than sprawling, a low-key atmosphere, a traditional look, and tons of restaurants, cafes, nightlife and cultural destinations. Melbourne prides itself on being one of the world's most livable cities, and while that may indeed be true, the capital of the state of Victoria is certainly one of the most delightful to visit -- welcoming, relaxed, international and cultural.
Melbourne was and still is the most English of Australia's cities, and yet it also has a highly cosmopolitan population of over four million. Waves of British, Italian and Greek immigrants began arriving after World War II, and when immigration restrictions changed to allow Asians to become residents, a huge influx arrived, including lots of students at Melbourne University.
The Yarra River runs through the city center, and leafy parks and open spaces give relief from the vehicular traffic that travels, as in Britain and New Zealand, on the left. North of the Yarra River, you will find the commercial heart and to the south most of the museums, theaters, concert halls and open spaces -- including the lovely Royal Botanic Gardens. Nearby neighborhoods such as Carlton, Fitzroy, Richmond, Toorak and St. Kilda are worth exploring by foot with each area having its own distinctive flavor.
Happily, pedestrians have lots of rights and walking is free-flowing and safe. It's also ever so easy to navigate the city via its wonderful tram (trolley) system. The first electric models began running in 1889, and unlike so many other cities, they were never abandoned. In fact, the network is expanding.
Being in the south of the country, Melbourne gets cloudy, rainy and cold in the winter months (Northern Hemisphere summer) and warms to pleasantly hot in summer, which is when most travelers visit. While Sydney is the most popular stop for international visitors, nonstop flights are also available to Melbourne from the U.S., and Sydney is just a short flight or a pleasant day-long train ride away.
--written by Theodore W. Scull