-- When the Economist Intelligence Report put out its latest roundup of the world’s most livable cities, something on it looked familiar. Melbourne topped it. Again. For the sixth year in a row, actually. In a respected annual survey that looks at things like safety, infrastructure and the environment, Melbourne ranks number one. And as the buzz about Australia’s second largest city spreads, it tops many travelers’ wish lists, too.
Melbourne is the capital of the Australian state of Victoria. It’s a thriving metropolis, with tons of culinary and cultural attractions. And its waterfront location, as well as its plethora of options for outdoor fun, only broadens its allure. If you’re planning your first visit, consider this your Melbourne to-do list.
Skip summer, go winter
Sometimes the best way to get a travel deal is knowing when to go,” says Blaire Constantinou, a travel expert in Travelzoo’s Los Angeles office who visited Australia earlier this year. In Melbourne, as in all of Australia, “June-through-September and February-through-March trips – winter and late summer Down Under – offer the most value.” This is when you’ll find sales, especially on airfare and air-inclusive packages, as well as fewer crowds. The weather will be in your side, too – 60s and 70s (though August and September can definitely see cooler days).
Skip the gallery, stroll the laneways
The art scene sizzles in Melbourne, but you’ll find some of the most eye-popping works on the street. Laneways are Melbourne’s quaint, intimate, stylish alleys – this is people watching and hole-in-the-wall finds at their best. The walls here are sort of an ever-changing canvas, and the murals and paintings are impressive. Cruise Blender Lane, off Franklin Street, and the various laneways off Flinders Lane between Swanston and Russell Streets.
Eat, then smile
Some dining and wine spots here give you plenty to look at. They’re perched so well, they’re known as much for their menus as for the selfie ops they offer. Fitzroy is a bohemian enclave teeming with art studios, funky shops and buzzing restaurants; here, drinks at both Upside Rooftop Bar and Naked in the Sky means relaxing on an open terrace with wide views of the city and bustling Brunswick Street below. Stanojevic really liked Siglo and The Toff Stage & Carriage, and Goldilocks and Transit always get high marks.
In Melbourne’s Southbank precinct, Eureka Skydeck is known as the tallest public vantage point in the Southern Hemisphere; at 1,000 feet up, its far-as-the-eye-can-see 360-degree views are breathtaking. Five days a week, Eureka 89, one floor above the Skydeck, serves up gourmet dinners with a generous side of those sweeping views; $220 gets you a seven-course degustation menu with wines.
Skip the bar, visit the stadium
Melbourne loves sports. Actually, “it’s sports crazy,” insists Martin Brown. “It’s all about the sport!” So forget catching a game at the local sports bar. In Melbourne, you can catch the action live at Australia’s largest stadium (and, with a capacity for 100,000 cheering fans, the largest cricket stadium in the world). Melbourne Cricket Ground hosts Australian football matches in winter; the game resembles rugby but is a purely Australian display of speed and contact.
In the summertime, watch a live cricket match. The revered Melbourne Cricket Club hosts competitors from all over the world. MCG is also home to the National Sports Museum and offers behind-the-scenes tours that include walking on the turf and catching beautiful city views from the terrace. MCG is only about a half-mile from city center and can be reached by train, tram or bus.
Want more sport? Near MCG, Melbourne Park’s two arenas host international tennis, cycling and basketball matchups. Catch rugby action at AAMI Park.
Skip the museum, go to prison
Old Melbourne Gaol is a 19th-century relic that remains one of Melbourne’s oldest buildings. This huge bluestone building once housed some of Australia’s most infamous criminals, like gangster Squizzy Taylor and bush-ranger Ned Kelly. Scope out the cells during a self-guided tour; in the police watch house, guests often find out what it’s like to get arrested. Feeling brave? The gaol hosts several one-hour late-night tours (which are not recommended for kids under 12): opt for a candlelight storytelling tour of the building’s purported ghosts or the Hangman’s Tour, which recounts the 130-plus hangings that took place here.
The Koonie Heritage Trust is all about preserving and promoting southeastern Australia’s native peoples. The group’s headquarters in the heart of Melbourne city center features changing programs and exhibitions year-round, including works of modern-day indigenous artists and permanent displays of oral history recordings and photos. The gift shop carries authentic aboriginal arts and crafts. The Trust also leads walking historical and cultural tours throughout the city, many of them for free.
You’ve got plenty of ways to connect with nature here. The Melbourne Zoo is home to more than 300 species amid rainforests, bushlands and underwater displays. At the SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium, take a break from the 12 exhibit zones to catch “Finding Dory and Friends: The Experience,” a first-of-its-kind aquarium display created in partnership with Disney Pixar, featuring moments from the hit animated film.
Skip Melbourne, head to Tasmania
Before you return that rental car, steer toward Tasmania. The overnight ferry ride aboard Spirit of Tasmania takes you (and your car) from Melbourne to Devonport in about 10 hours. That means you’re ending your day on the mainland and waking up on the shores of Australia’s smallest state. This 200-cabin Finnish-built vessel is a ferry, not a fancy cruise ship, but it underwent a major refurbishment in 2015 and features several bars, two cinemas and Wi-Fi. TMK (the Tasmanian Market Kitchen) features Tasmanian wines and cheeses.