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Melbourne

federation square 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 excellent Visitor Center is located here in spacious underground premises.

The National Gallery of Victoria has two distinct properties worth visiting. The Ian Potter Centre, located on Federation Square, has a wonderfully eclectic, three-level interior design, with each room varied in shape and color. It houses a large collection of Australian art, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art on canvas and bark; intriguing sculpture made from wood and found objects such as metal and barbed wire; and Australian colonial art, landscapes and impressionists. The National Gallery of Victoria International is located just south of the Yarra River and offers works by major European artists.

For performances and other cultural events, head to the Arts Centre Melbourne; the complex includes the State Theatre, the Playhouse and Fairfax Studio, among other venues. The lobbies' art works are open to the public.

The State Library of Victoria houses more than two million books, and the design of its handsome reading room was based on London's original British Museum Library Reading Room. The central dome provides galleries for two permanent exhibitions: The Changing Face of Victoria with historic artifacts, photos, drawings and maps, 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 here.

St. Paul's Cathedral, located at the corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets across from Federation Square, is English Gothic Revival in style with an interior of decorative mosaics, floor tiles and wood carvings. A choir of men and boys 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.

Photos: 11 Best Australia Experiences

For a view of the city, Eureka Skydeck 88 affords a 360-degree panorama from 974 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.

The Royal Botanic Gardens comprise 94 undulating acres with 50,000 plant specimens from all over the world. Sections of the gardens include an Australian forest walk, 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 botanic garden has two attractive cafes.

webb bridge docklands melbourne 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.

St. Kilda is a quirky seaside suburb with a huge number of restaurants and pastry shops, an esplanade, a beach, a pier with an arts and crafts fair on Sunday, and Luna Park with its old-fashioned amusements, including a couple of roller coasters. It makes a nice half-day outing. It's served by several different tram routes; for a variety of city views, you can go via one and come back another.

Sovereign Hill, near Ballarat, recreates 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 and confectionary makers, blacksmiths and tinsmiths, carriage makers and wheelwrights, and furniture manufacturing. You can pan for gold, explore a mine and spend the night in a lodge overlooking the town. It's about 90 minutes outside of Melbourne by train or car.
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