x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Cosmopolitan Melbourne offers coffee and culture

My Kind of Place Saeed Saeed gives a guide to his home city, the capital of the Australian state of Victoria.

Melbourne's Brunswick Street is a popular place to shop for a bargain in a charity shop or grab a bite to eat in one of the many cafes. Alamy
Melbourne's Brunswick Street is a popular place to shop for a bargain in a charity shop or grab a bite to eat in one of the many cafes. Alamy

Why Melbourne?

Waves of immigration have made Melbourne one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities, regularly rating among the world's most liveable. The state capital is known as Australia's cultural hub, with festivals through the year, museums, galleries, and some of the world's best 19th-century architecture. But it is also known as a sports-mad city, hosting events ranging from the Melbourne Cup horse race, Australian Rules football, the Australian Grand Prix and the grand slam Australian Open tennis tournament.

The city is also an ideal base to explore the countryside, ranging from Phillip Island's penguin parade, the craggy ranges of Grampians National Park and the aptly named Great Ocean Road.

A comfortable bed

Whatever your budget, Melbourne has a bed for you. For those looking to rest in regal and historic surroundings you can't go past the 19th-century Hotel Windsor (thehotelwindsor.com.au; 00 613 9633 6000) in Melbourne's political centre in Spring Street. It often hosts foreign dignitaries and VIPs, while politicians recovering from a bruising session in the state parliament - located across the road - can often be found taking solace in the in-house Cricketer's Bar.

The rooms feature a mix of high-tech facilities and elegant colonial charm, with polished mahogany furniture and original art work. Suites cost from AU$392 (Dh1,493) per night, including breakfast and taxes. Nearby on St Kilda Road is the Royce Hotel (www.roycehotels.com.au; 00 613 9677 9900), a five-star boutique hotel with modern designer furnishings and Italian marble bathrooms. Suites range from $169 (Dh643) without breakfast. For those on tighter budgets, Vibe Hotel (www.vibehotels.com.au; 00 612 9356 5060) is sited amid the foodie haven of Carlton, a 15-minute walk from Melbourne's centre. It has an outdoor pool and the rooms, flush with a bright retro decor, cost from $92 (Dh350).

Find your feet

Melbourne has Australia's best public transport but the city centre is easy to navigate on foot. To learn some of the history of the grid-shaped pattern of streets and lanes, try a walking tour. Walking Melbourne (www.walkingmelbournetours.com.au) is one of the better ones, with options of "marvellous Melbourne", highlighting the opulent 19th-century architecture dating from the gold rush days, and "mysterious Melbourne", with a focus on ghosts, gangsters and other sinister tales.

Or you can wander around yourself, visiting sights like the landmark Flinders Street Station, the arts scene on St Kilda Road and the National Gallery of Victoria. If your feet are sore, hop aboard the free City Circle Tram, stopping at landmarks such as the Royal Exhibition Building, Carlton Gardens and the pedestrian-only Bourke St Mall.

Meet the locals

For all the cafes, galleries, historic buildings and parks, if you really want to mingle with Melburnians, you need to go to a game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Nobody calls it that, abbreviating it to the MCG or just "the G". Depending on the time of year, this stadium south-east of the city centre is filled with 100,000 fanatical followers of either Australian Rules football or cricket. The Boxing Day cricket test is one of the landmarks on the national sporting calendar. This year Australia will take on India.

Book a table

The wide range of nationalities who have made Melbourne their home also makes the city one of the world's top gastronomic centres. Brunswick Street, north of the central city, is a vast culinary motorway with a huge range of options - ranging from eclectic cafes, where coffee is taken very seriously, to fine dining restaurants.

The city is particularly well known for its Italian, Greek, Turkish and Vietnamese food. Lygon Street, parallel to Brunswick Street, is famous for its Italian food. Brunetti (www.brunetti.com.au) is a chain which has now spread as far as Dubai but you can try the original in Carlton for the city's best coffees and cakes. For a more substantial meal, Il Gambero is a favoured spot by the city's Italian food connoisseurs, with a variety of pasta, pizza, chicken and meat dishes. Try the house special, spaghetti Gambero, with its hearty sauce including chicken, avocado, pesto, spring onions, a dash of cream and Napoli sauce. A three-course meal for two at Il Gambero usually costs $100 (Dh 381).

Shopper's paradise

Melbourne has plenty of shopping ranging from the bazaar-like Queen Victoria Market (www.qvm.com.au; closed Monday and Wednesday) to shopping precincts such as Chapel Street, in the fashionable suburb of Prahran. Those with an eye for a bargain can trawl what the locals call "op shops" (opportunity shops, where charities sell donated clothes) in Brunswick Street and Sydney Road.

What to avoid

A stuffy attitude. Melburnians are often laid back, optimistic and tolerant and they expect you to be so. Also refrain from having expectations regarding the weather. Melbourne is often referred to as experiencing "four seasons in one day" so expect weather changes.

Don't miss

The Melbourne Cup, one of the most famous horse races in the world, is held on the first Tuesday in November and is known as the race that stops Australia. For Melburnians, who get the day off work, the race is almost secondary to the event, whether it's barbecues beside the Yarra River beforehand or the highest of high fashion being displayed among the spectators.

sasaeed@thenational.ae