Melbourne is a city of neighborhoods. Italian or Chinese, groovy or chic, bohemian or beachside — Melbourne has them all. Each has its own character instilled by the type of people who live and work there — émigrés from all over the world who have brought their customs, beliefs, businesses, food, art and style to the city.
The Central Business District
Laid out as a grid, the city center is easy to navigate. The modern skyline of the financial district contrasts with well-preserved Victorian architecture, and the alley ways and arcades that snake through the city give it all charm and character. Swanston Street, a pedestrian mall generally considered to be the city's main drag, runs from the ornate 19th century domes of Flinders Street Station to the gleaming, billion dollar Melbourne Central Shopping Complex. The stretch of Collins Street between Swanston and Spring Streets is a more exclusive shopping strip. Known as "the Paris end" of the city, it is home to luxury boutiques and prestigious offices and hotels. Running parallel is Bourke Street, the oldest and most successful pedestrian precinct where major department stores, such as David Jones and Myer, are located. A block away, the entrance to Melbourne's Chinatown in Little Bourke Street is marked by an ornate Chinese arch. Spilling into the surrounding alley ways, it is one of the oldest in the world outside Asia, and is home to a fascinating variety of restaurants and grocery stores. The area between Swanston and Spencer Streets is nine-to-five territory, Australia's corporate heartland and headquarters of many of its largest enterprises. Ambitious plans are afoot to further extend this area by redeveloping the derelict warehouses of the adjacent docklands. The Colonial Stadium was the first project to be unveiled and if the developers have their way, the world's tallest building will soon follow. To the south and east lies a vast and beautifully maintained belt of parkland, containing the Fitzroy Gardens and the Melbourne Cricket Ground, with the Royal Botanical Gardens lying just across the Yarra River.
On the southern bank of the muddy and surprisingly narrow river lies the landmark Victorian Arts Centre and the chic Southgate shopping and dining precinct. Further along is the glitzy Crown Entertainment Complex offering a 24-hours of entertainment, luxury stores, nightclubs, eateries and one of the world's largest gaming facilities. Hugely controversial, it is one of the city's most popular, and popularly detested, sites. Whether the locals like it or not, it is also Melbourne's favorite visitor attraction. Directly opposite is the state of the art aquarium, the Convention Center and Exhibition Center.
Prahran & South Yarra
Just out of the city are Prahran and South Yarra, names often used interchangeably for roughly the same area. Home to Chapel Street, lined with boutiques and nightclubs, this is Melbourne's favorite playground and is packed every weekend with young people out for only one thing—fun! Saturday nights see the street grind to a halt and transform into a traffic jam disco, as cars blare top volume techno music, while the gay strip along Commercial Road also buzzes. The funkier, more relaxed Greville Street is home of vintage fashion stores, a weekend market and the venerable Continental Cafe. South of Prahran is Toorak, synonymous with discreet wealth, and home to many top executives.
Further out is St Kilda, which has transformed from a shabby red light district to a bayside resort, and is now a popular place for backpackers and Melburnians on a sunny weekend. The attraction is not so much the mediocre beach as the lively street life along Acland and Fitzroy Streets. Parts of the area still have a mildly seedy feel—that is definitely part of the attraction—but it also boasts Luna Park, an ornate and historic funfair along the waterfront, a lovely pier, weekend craft market, and the Esplanade and Prince of Wales hotels.
Just north of the city is Carlton. Many of the quaint Victorian terrace houses have been converted into student accommodation for the nearby university, and the district's cafés and bookstores buzz with life. The new Melbourne Museum is located here in the beautiful Carlton Gardens. Lygon Street, arguably the city's premier dining strip, is home to a large Italian community, as well as restaurants serving cuisines of Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam and even Jamaica.
Even more cosmopolitan is Brunswick Street, one of Melbourne's liveliest and most distinctive streets. Originally a working class neighborhood, it has emerged as the heartland of bohemian café culture, humming night and day with colorful bars, nightclubs and restaurants of every description, as well as funky and unconventional stores. Running parallel a few blocks down, Smith Street retains a grittier edge, with long-time local residents, refugees and the down and out mixing with the patrons of its cafés and music venues.
Williamstown & Other Areas
A little further out, but easily accessible by ferry or train, lies the old town of Williamstown—once a vital port. This quiet residential suburb has recently regained favor after many years in decline. Picturesque and historic streets, views over the sea and pride in bygone days attract hundreds of weekend visitors. An information center advises on the many things to do and see.
Once home to Greek immigrants, Richmond more recently has become known as “Little Saigon” with a growing Vietnamese community opening restaurants and shops along Victoria Street. The factory outlet stores of Bridge Road and Swan Street attract those in the know seeking bargain buys.
Tree-lined streets and beautiful town houses distinguish South Melbourne, popular both for its market and its growing breakfast café scene. Port Melbourne is being transformed from derelict docks to inner city dwellings while Albert Park is home to the Grand Prix and is a popular spot for joggers and dog walkers around its artificial lake.
Melbourne her neighborhoods, and it is only through exploring them that visitors will get a feel for the underlying beauty of this vibrant multicultural city.