The city centre has traditionally been thought of by visitors as the area enclosed by the circle tram, but it is far better to think of Melbourne city as a collection of inner city villages. Just to the north are Carlton, Fitzroy and Collingwood. Their proximity to the city meant that these were among the first areas to be developed as it expanded rapidly during the gold rush. Carlton is best known for being an area where Italian immigrants settled. It’s now a middle-class area where yuppies enjoy the Italian food and cafés of Lygon Street. The neighbouring Fitzroy also has some fine boom-time domestic architecture but had become a slum by the 1930s. Cheap rents attracted immigrants, students and artists and the area gradually gained a reputation for bohemianism. Brunswick Street is still lively and alternative although increasingly gentrified. The alternative set now claim Smith Street in Collingwood, just a few blocks to the east, as their own. Johnston Street, crossing Brunswick, is the centre of Melbourne’s Spanish community. These areas are the liveliest of the Melbourne villages and have some of the city’s best cheap eating, edgy shopping, colourful street art and raw live music venues.
Just to the west of the CBD is a vast area known as Docklands, as big as the CBD itself. This was the city’s major port until the 1960s when containers began to be used in world shipping and vast holding sheds were no longer needed. The area has undergone some massive redevelopment in the last 10 years or so, transforming the area into an attractive waterfront precinct for inner city offices, apartments, restaurants, shops and entertainment venues. The flagship is the Etihad Stadium, a major venue for Aussie Rules football matches and Rugby League games. It is a great venue for a walk and views across the CBD.
Southeast of the centre, Richmond is the place to come for Vietnamese cuisine and offers the inner city’s best range of factory outlet shopping on Bridge Road and Swan Street. Greeks populated the suburb before the Vietnamese and the community is still represented in the restaurants of Swan Street. South of the river, Toorak and South Yarra have long been the most exclusive residential suburbs and this is mirrored in the quality of the shops and cafés at the northern end of Chapel Street. The southern end becomes funkier and less posh as it hits Prahran, where Greville Street is full of second-hand clothes shops, bookshops and cafés and Commercial Street is the centre of the city’s gay community. These suburbs are among the most fashionable and stylish and unsurprisingly Chapel Street is a wonderful destination for clothes shopping.
Down by the bay St Kilda has a charm all of its own. An early seaside resort that became seedy and run down, it’s now a cosmopolitan and lively suburb but still has an edge. Only the well-heeled can afford to buy here and though some of them aren’t too keen on living next to the junkies and prostitutes still seen on Grey Street, the picturesque foreshore makes this the most relaxed of the inner suburbs and a great place to base oneself for a few days. Here also is Luna Park (Cavell St, T9534 5764, http://www.lunapark.com.au, mid-Apr until mid-Sep Sat-Sun 1100-1800 and mid-Sep until mid-Apr Fri 1900-2300, Sat 1100-2300, Sun 1100-1800, from $35.95, children $25.95 and family $123), a fairground with some impressive rides and an unmistakable front door.
The rural area northeast of Melbourne is promoted as a Valley of the Arts for its past and present links with artists’ communities. A path winds along the Yarra River from the city centre to Eltham (25 km) so hiring a bicycle is a good way to explore these leafy and tranquil areas beyond the city. An important stop along the way is the Heide Museum of Modern Art (7 Templestowe Rd, Bulleen, signposted from Eastern Freeway, T9850 1500, http://www.heide.com.au, Tue-Fri 0900-1700, Sat-Sun 1200-1700, $12, children free, concessions $8), the former home of art patrons John and Sunday Reed during the 1930s and 1940s. The museum is set in beautiful bushland by the river and includes a sculpture garden with works by Anish Kapoor and Anthony Caro. The gallery has an exceptional collection of modern Australian art and hosts temporary exhibitions of contemporary art.
If you have your own transport and want to see something unique and Australian, head to the Bellbird Picnic Area (off Yarra Boulevard, location Melway 2D K6). You’ll see a vast array of bizarre Christmas tree decorations there, as well as the largest Flying Fox (fruit bat) colony in Victoria....
do you know Inner suburbs well?