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Melbourne’s inner city (often referred to as the central business district, or CBD) is arranged as a regular, rectangular grid of streets, intersected with small and hidden laneways. People say there's a European feeling about it, and perhaps this is true. The wider streets are criss-crossed with trams, while the laneways reveal secrets that you will only discover with a bit of perseverance. Tucked among them you'll find a myriad of cutting-edge bars, tiny cafés, fine restaurants and art installations.
Bourke Street Mall lies in the heart of the city and is a pedestrian mall anchored with department stores Myer and David Jones. The grand GPO (General Post Office) building on the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth Street houses boutique fashion stores and restaurants.
The lanes that bisect the city hum with the energy and creativity that characterises Melbourne, and attracts graffiti artists and high-end designers, cheap cafes and haute cuisine, velvet-coated jazz clubs and dive bars built from discarded furniture. Local designer boutiques and vintage stores are clustered along Centre Place, Flinders Lane and Degraves Street. Block Arcade and Royal Arcade offer spectacular examples of Melbourne's 1880s architecture, built at the height of the Victorian gold rush.
The blocks of Little Bourke Street between Swanston and Exhibition Streets is Melbourne’s Chinatown. While the restaurants in the street now reflect wider Asian immigration into Melbourne, The Chinese Museum in Cohen Place documents Melbourne’s Chinese heritage. Cantonese food is still well represented with Shark Fin Inn and Shark Fin House, Dragon Boat and Westlake serving yum cha daily, and the haute Flower Drum offering fine dining. Cheap options such as Shanghai Dumpling House and Supper Inn are popular with the locals.
Collins Street and Little Collins were once the centre of Melbourne’s fashion industry and rag trade, and this history is still reflected in the 'Paris End' of Collins Street (east of Swanston Street) where the flagship stores of Chanel, Giorgio Armani, Tiffany & Co, and Louis Vuitton are located. More casual shopping is to be found at two3four and Australia on Collins. Little Collins Street and Howey Place house an array of smaller Australian designers.
The area around Lonsdale Street between Swanston Street and Russell Street is testament to Melbourne’s huge Greek population. Tzindos Taverna, Dion Restaurant or Medallion Café do traditional Grecian food and Stalactites is famous for it’s all night souvlaki. International Dienthes Cake Shop serves some of Melbourne’s best baklava alongside dark, bitter coffee. There are also travel agents who specialise in the Mediterranean, bookstores, and Greek music shops.
On the fringes of the central business district are several other things Melburnians have a passion for. The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) is just east of the city centre - the home of Cricket and Australian Rules football (AFL) - as is the Tennis Centre, which hosts the Australian Open. Etihad Stadium, built explicitly for AFL but also is just west.
In this city, coffee culture and sport sit comfortably side-by-side. Just south of the Arts Centre lies one of Melbourne's great parks - the Royal Botanical Gardens - a peaceful place where locals picnic beside ponds and beautiful trees. The Yarra River runs through part of the city, past the city’s public square, Federation Square, which is home to the Ian Potter Centre, the film and screen museum The Australian Centre for the Moving Image, and numerous bars and restaurants. Melbourne's newest park, Birrarung Marr, winds along the riverbank.
Just south of the river on St Kilda Road you’ll also find the home of the National Gallery of Victoria, The Australian Ballet, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Arts Centre, Melbourne Recital Centre, Melbourne Theatre Company, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), and the Malthouse Theatre. The Arts Centre Market is held on Sundays along the footpaths at the eastern end of the riverbank. The Crown Entertainment Complex which contains the city's sprawling casino and a multitude of restaurants and Eureka Tower, Melbourne's tallest building with an impressive viewing deck, are both south of the river.
Carlton, just north of the CBD has two of Melbourne’s architectural landmarks, the Royal Exhibition Building, completed in 1880, and the Melbourne Museum. Lygon Street is home to Melbourne’s greatest concentration of Italian restaurants: local favourites are Tiamo and Tiamo 2 and coffee powerhouse, Brunetti’s. Nearby, Readings Bookstore is one of Melbourne’s best loved independent booksellers.
Brunswick Street, Fitzroy is often touted as the bohemian quarter of the city, though some say the artists are moving north to Sydney Road, Brunswick and High Street, Northcote. Gertrude Street has the highest concentration of vintage and small fashion designers, antiques and specialty bookstores. Each Saturday the Rose Street Artists' Market sells wares from almost a 100 local designers and artists. . Johnston Street holds Melbourne’s diminutive Spanish Quarter.
The nightlife and restaurant scene errs towards new and up-and-coming chefs, and tends to be cheaper on Smith Street. Notable local eateries include Cutler & Co, The Commoner and Gigibaba.
There is a thriving gay scene centred around Smith and Peel Street in Collingwood, with The Peel a popular - though usually men-only - venue on Thursday to Sunday nights.
Queen Victoria Market just on the edge of downtown Melbourne is the entrance to North Melbourne and the city’s largest open air market. Errol Street is the suburb’s heart, whose terraces now house a strip of cafes. Victoria Street has a growing pocket of Korean restaurants.
Melbourne's premier fashion shopping area, Chapel Street, stretches from Prahran to South Yarra and is lined with high street chain stores - including Top Shop - and specialist boutiques. Chapel Street Bazaar is packed with vintage homewares, furniture and clothing; and the most unique source for an Australian souvenir. Prahran Market has a beautiful array of the freshest local produce.
Coffee aficionados should visit St Ali or Dead Man Espresso – the zenith of coffee obsessives in a coffee obsessed city. Cafes abound on Coventry, Dorcas, Park and Bank Streets if you can’t find a seat. South Melbourne Market, while smaller than the Queen Victoria Market has good delicatessens and locals swear by the restorative powers of the market dim sims. Freshly shucked local oysters can also be eaten on the spot.
St Kilda’s decades of decline and neglect have been replaced by a rapid makeover. Once a vibrant, diverse and genuinely interesting part of town, it's now the weekend haunt of the middlebrow, a place to see and be seen on the urban beach and boulevard. Live music venues at the art deco Palais, the Esplanade Hotel and the Prince Bandroom keep the spirit of the older St Kilda alive and the faded façade of Luna Park looms in front of small seaside amusement park.
Melbourne’s Jewish contingent shop and sup in Balaclava’s Carlisle Street, and south to Elwood, and north to Windsor and Prahran, is home to Melbourne's coolest crowd. Here you can select a different café for breakfast or lunch every day of the week. There are bars on every second corner, frequented by designers, djs, musos and the upwardly-mobile. There's a strong cross-cultural mix from the days when Greek and Jewish migrants made this area their home.
Victoria Street, Richmond offers an authentic taste of Saigon and Vietnamese restaurants, grocers and butchers stretch the length of the street from Hoddle Street to the Yarra River. The eating is mostly downmarket but authentic. Melbourne’s largest concentration of fashion factory outlets and seconds stores are along Swan Street and Bridge Road, and feature Australian labels including Gorman, Metalicus, Mimco and Country Road. Church Street has a number of designer furniture stores.
The Corner Hotel is a Melbourne live music institution and attracts local and international acts. A flurry of bar and restaurant openings in Swan and Church streets including Bar Economico, Meatmother, The Meatball and Wine Room, Fonda Mexican and Union Dining have even further boosted Richmond's 'cool' credentials.