The capital of Victoria State in southeastern Australia, Melbourne stretches along the shores of Port Phillip Bay and encompasses more than 3,850 square miles, including the famous Yarra Valley wine region. The picturesque lanes of its central district are packed with both Victorian facades and 21st Century coffee hang-outs, making Melbourne unlike any other Australian hub. Designated a UNESCO City of Literature in 2008, it is at once a garden city, a cool coastal town and a slice of colonial history.
North of the Yarra River, the City Centre or Central Business District is a 25-minute cab drive from the airport and where to head for the 19th century ambience, trendy cafes and fashion stores that the city is known for. Flint Street Railway Station marks the distinction of this area and Federation Square is one of the world's busiest public areas, hosting arts events virtually every day.
Cross the river to bold-as-brass South Bank neighborhood, dominated by The Crown Entertainment Complex. Restaurants showcasing the talents of top chefs, clubs featuring live entertainment and international boutiques are the order of the day, as well the renowned Crown casino.
Go bohemian with the students of Melbourne in these funky northern districts. Bookshops stay open all hours and authentic Spanish tapas bars reign supreme in Fitzroy, while in University suburb Carlton, the Lygon Street Italian bistros are worth a trek for some al fresco lunching.
The largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere warrants a good few hours of browsing, while many a first-timer to Melbourne enjoys getting lost in the laneways that characterize Hoddle Grid. Just strolling down the famous Collins Street is like a walk down a Parisian boulevard, and you can discover tucked-away cafes, where local art adorns the walls separating an array of stylish ornamental parks.
The atmosphere of Melbourne is often likened to that of Europe, but the raw and rugged landscape beyond the city bounds is millions of years old. Learn how Melbourne came to be at the Melbourne Museum, which also has enough natural history and dinosaur bones to satisfy the young (and the young at heart) in your group.
From workshops to talks, animation exhibits to the history of movies itself, the Australian Center for the Moving Image allows you to peep behind the camera and immerse yourself in all things cinema.
Don?t stay in Melbourne without taking a drive out along the Great Ocean Road; a signature attraction in itself, you can also use the route to reach the haunting flats of Wreck Beach or the prime surfing tides of Bells Beach. Outdoor-lovers will feel like they?re walking among giants at the Otway Ranges?head up into the forest canopy itself for a stroll along the world's tallest and longest elevated walkway at Otway Fly.
Melbourne weather can change rapidly, but the city's rainy reputation is undeserved; on average, Sydney and Brisbane both see more annual rainfall than Melbourne. During the summer, temperatures range from lows in the mid-50s to highs in the upper 70s. Foliage changes dramatically in both the fall and spring, but the early months in the year are a particularly good time to see the Victoria countryside vibrant and alive.