Friday, 19 December 2008 12:00 AM
Melbourne must be a favourite Australian city for many. There is plenty to do, it has a buzzing atmosphere and the people are unaffectedly friendly.
Don't be surprised when the lady serving you coffee calls you 'honey' and asks how you are. She hasn't mistaken you for an old acquaintance; that's how she greets all the customers. After the initial shock, it feels genuinely pleasant.
Even though Melbourne is on the other side of the world, it has a European vibe. The city's population is extremely diverse, with communities originating from all over the globe.
British visitors are unlikely to feel too homesick, as Australia has much in common with the UK in terms of culture, and Melbournians have a great sense of humour.
The former is Melbourne's tallest building and offers the opportunity of standing in a glass box, which gives the illusion of standing in mid-air at a rather great height. Probably not one for the vertigo sufferers! The latter measures 253 metres tall and is a little cheaper than its younger, taller competitor.
From either, you can get great views of the city and truly appreciate its size. Remember the camera.
Sights and Sounds
Tourists may like to take a cruise on the Yarra River which gives a different perspective of the city, and the surrounding area is particularly attractive at night.
Melbourne also boasts plenty of green spaces. The Royal Botanic Gardens are particularly picturesque. The city is home to the state of Victoria's Parliament buildings, around which visitors with an interest in politics can take a tour and sample a cream tea.
For sports enthusiasts, there are opportunities to go and see Aussie-rules football, soccer, rugby and cricket. A particular highlight of the sporting calendar is the Melbourne Cup.
The annual horse race is very popular and a good day out for locals and visitors alike.
Even for those less interested in horse-racing, it is worth going to see the outfits and soak up the atmosphere. Melbourne Cup Day is a public holiday in Melbourne and there is definitely a party atmosphere throughout the city.
Summer in the City
As well as visiting the main tourist sights, holidaymakers may like to explore some of the different areas of Melbourne, all of which have their own individual character.
St Kilda, for example, is generally considered one of the trendiest areas. There are plenty of cafes and the area is home to the city's theme park, Luna Park. In St Kilda tourists can also walk along to the harbour area at sunset and watch the Fairy Penguins coming ashore.
There is a beach area where there is an interesting night market during the summer months. However, those seeking a day or even just an afternoon on the beach should definitely opt for South Melbourne Beach, which is more tranquil and prettier.
To the North, Brunswick is an interesting area. It is seriously diverse, which is reflected in the supermarkets and eateries. Brunswick Street, which, confusingly, is in the area of Fitzroy, is good for shopping, restaurants and bars - try Bimbo's for some cheap and tasty pizza.
Many UK visitors might be tempted, unashamedly or otherwise, to take the 'Neighbours' tour. This involves being taken around Ramsay Street, Erinsborough High and a few other landmarks which feature in the soap.
A cast member will also meet and greet fans! There are also two evening events where there are opportunities to meet actors from the soap and run in competition with one another. One takes place in St Kilda, which is a good place to spot Neighbours actors out and about, and the other takes place at Night Owl on Elizabeth Street in the CBD.
Initially, Melbourne may seem to lack much in the way of nightlife, especially in the CBD. However, a top tip is to have a look around the small alleys which can be found off the main streets.
There are also some bars around the Yarra which become packed in the summer months.
Furthermore, as with everywhere, asking the locals is always a good way to discover some hidden gems. Lustre Lounge is great for cocktails and the decor alone merits a visit. For something a little more alternative, try St Jerome's on Caledonian Lane.
The Belgian Beer Cafe Eureka, located in Southbank, is also great for beer drinkers.
If the weather is fine, Rooftop Bar offers great views, fake turf, deck chairs and film screenings. And even if the weather does take a turn for the worse, the bar is situated at the top of Curtin House, a building with several floors, each housing a different bar with its own style.
Where to Eat
In terms of eating out, Melbourne offers a vast range of cuisines.
It seems possible to find just about any kind of food in this city; though Asian cuisine has a particular prominence and is of a good standard. Melbourne is a great place to try sushi; much better than anything available in Europe.
In terms of practicalities, Melbourne is straightforward to navigate, the CBD is set out on a grid and there is a comprehensive tram system. Like all good cities it makes a great tourist destination all year round.
However, spring and autumn are good times to visit. The city can feel like a sauna in the summer months; not ideal for serious sight-seeing, and despite the widespread belief in the UK that the sun is always shinning in Australia, Melbourne is one of the cooler parts of the continent and temperatures do go down to about 6Â°C in the winter.
A typically cited Melbournian phenomenon is the daily changing of the seasons. Indeed, as well as the welcoming nature of the people, the weather will probably make UK tourists feel at home and a common piece of advice given to Melbourne's visitors is to carry an umbrella and sun cream at all times! Much like in the UK, visitors may well experience brilliant sunshine one minute and pouring rain the next.
Out of the City
Finally, Melbourne is also well situated for day and weekend trip opportunities.
For those keen on wildlife and stunning views, Phillip Island and Wilson's Promontory are popular destinations.
Melbourne is also a good place to stop before making a trip down the Great Ocean Road.
Melbourne is great for a chilled out city break. London on fast-forward this is not, but it certainly has plenty of vibrancy and character.