Melbourne is one of Australia's sweetest delights; a city designed to awaken the senses and stir the soul. The State capital of Victoria, it is widely considered to be the most European of Australia's cities.
To lose yourself in the city's cobblestone alleyways is to discover a romance long-forgotten. Fine restaurants and quaint boutiques hide behind non-descript doors in buildings from a by-gone era.
The year-round calendar of events, sensational shopping and fabulous food lure a great many visitors to this city. Those fortunate enough to call this cultural heaven home, have ready access to a thriving art scene that includes major art exhibitions and musical extravaganzas.
Bejewelled with innumerable leafy parks and public gardens, floral displays and decorative fountains compliment fine sculptural works. A network of trams makes access to Melbourne's attractions a breeze, while outlying areas may be reached by way of train.
Melbourne's migrant history has resulted in the creation of distinct cultural precincts, such as the Greek Quarter (Lonsdale Street), the Vietnamese enclave (Victoria Street), Chinatown and the Paris End of Collins Street. A number of the city's fine schools offer international studies and lessons that are given in languages other than English.
Positioned to the north of the city centre are the suburbs of Fitzroy and Carlton. They are home to Melbourne's alternative and Italian communities and some fine examples of Victorian architecture.
Richmond lies to the city's east and is famed for its Greek and Vietnamese eateries. The upmarket suburb of Toorak lies along the banks of the Yarra River, while to the west and south are the bay-side suburbs of Port Melbourne, South Melbourne and St Kilda. See Where to Live Guide for Melbourne
For more information on Melbourne's suburbs try this very useful and entertaining website - cityhobo.com
Geographically Melbourne CBD (Aussie for 'city centre') is at the northern end of Port Phillip Bay. The city spreads out unevenly from there, extending much farther (up to 45km) to the east and south east than to the west or north. Traditionally, the areas of the west of the CBD were considered more industrial and 'working class' than others due in part to the location of the docks and proximity of industry, though recent housing development is changing that.
The Yarra river runs through Melbourne passing the southern edge of the CBD before continuing eastwards into the Yarra Valley. Melbourne's most affluent suburbs tend to hug the eastern shores of Port Phillip Bay (Brighton, Black Rock, Middle Park etc.) or the most central suburbs hugging the Yarra river (Toorak, Prahan, Kew etc.).
Melbourne is generally flat, with the nearest significant hills being at the eastern extremity of the city - The Dandenongs, a forested and beautiful area.
Melbourne has one international airport, Tullamarine which lies to the north west of the the city. This airport also serves as the Melbourne hub for Virgin Blue, Qantas and limited Jetstar domestic services. One other smallish airport, Avalon, services most of Jetstar's Melbourne domestic flights. Avalon is between Melbourne and Geelong on the M1. Neither has a train link to the city, though bus services are available to both for access to the city.
Driving rules in Melbourne are as per any other Australian city but with notable quirks that take account of driving near or on tram lines. This is most obvious in the CBD where many road require drivers to perform a 'hook turn' when they wish to turn right at a crossroads, at which point they must signal right then get in the left hand lane before turning right (the logic being not to block the trams which pass through the centre of the road). This causes a degree of stress in the uninitiated.
The most significant driving route into and out of Melbourne is the M1, which is also known as 'South Eastern Freeway', 'Monash Freeway' or simply 'The Monash' for short. This freeway runs from the south east of Melbourne through the southern edge of the CBD and westwards over the West Gate Bridge and onwards to Geelong which is south west of Melbourne. Access to the CBD on the Monash from the south east involves an electronic toll point administered by CityLink. From either direction this road becomes highly congested at typical commuting hours.
The Calder Freeway starts near the western edge of the CBD and runs north from there onwards to Gisborne and farther afield. Part of it is a CityLink toll road.
 Public Transport
Melbourne has a significant tram and train network. Both spread out from the CBD, the train network spreading the farthest out. Stations reside in one of two zones, called 'Zone 1' and rather unsurprisingly 'Zone 2', the price of travel tickets reflecting in part whether travel stays within one zone or traverses them both. Period tickets are administered by Metlink. Almost all inbound train journeys end up at Flinders Street station in the CBD.
Melburnians love their sport. They watch it avidly, discuss it avidly, and play it avidly. Australian Rules football dominates, though it is known as 'footy' or AFL within Victoria. The term 'Aussie Rules' wouldn't be recognised. The AFL season runs from March of each year using a ladder (league table) system that ends in August of each year. The teams in the top half of the ladder then enter a knock out match system culminating in September's Grand Final held at Melbourne's MCG (often known as 'The G' for short). The teams with the highest fan base are all from Melbourne and are Carlton, Collingwood Magpies and Essendon Bombers. Home matches for Melburnian clubs are almost always played at one of two venues, Telstra Dome, and Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
Melbourne is big on its sporting calendar. Many a Melburnian drops in on the Australian Open Tennis tournament that occurs every January. Bigger still is the highlight of the flat racing season in late October and early November. Otherwise known as the 'Spring Racing Carnival' it features many racing meets across meeting venues, the highlights being the Caulfield Cup at...guess where...Caulfield, and the Melbourne Cup at Flemington on the first Tuesday of November. The hullaballoo surrounding the Melbourne Cup is akin to that of mixing the English Grand National with Ascot. Everyone wagers on it, Victorians have a public holiday for it, and all attendees are dressed to teh nines, ladies adorned with flash dresses and wonderful hats. Few return from a meet sober. But let's not forget the Melbourne Grand Prix. Boxing Day is traditionally spent watching cricket at the MCG. Every couple of years there is an obscure cricket series called The Ashes played.
Soccer is increasingly a big deal. Having once been blighted nationally for crowd violence due to ethnic allegiances to certain teams, the sport re-organised itself a year or two ago to purge itself of this, with some considerable success. Melbourne Victory are not only the Australian champions of 2006/7 but are attracting large crowds in excess of 50,000 to their home ground of the Telstra Dome. Still the sport is still nowhere of the status of AFL.
In Melbourne Storm we have the runners up of the 2006/7 NRL (National Rugby League) season. In all truth NRL is a poor runner up in terms of popularity behind AFL, and now maybe even soccer. Rugby League is seen as the sport of New South Wales, not Victoria, and thus barely registers in the consciousness of the people.
See also Wine.
Melbourne is surrounded by wine regions. The Yarra Valley is by far the most famous of them to those in the UK, but the Mornington Peninsula and Geelong Regions are within a stone's throw of the city too, and though not internationally as famous produce highly regarded wine.
The wines of these regions are considered 'cool climate' wines - meaning that the temperature drops below a certain level (17C ?) for more than a certain number of days per year. The effect of this is that some grapes varieties such as cabernet sauvignon or shiraz do not have as much opportunity to ripen, whereas other varieties such as pinot noir perform better. Hence the wine regions near Melbourne are famed for their pinot noirs, and sparkling wines (champagnes) in particular. As the wineries tend to be small ('boutique') and thus not to produce the very high volumes of bottles required to make it worth it for Tesco etc. to purchase, you'll not find these wines in major UK chains. Some of these wines can be very expensive. Clearly, it is a matter of taste (and budget) what you'll like but some of the more popular wines are produced by De Bortoli (Yarra Valley), Domaine Chandon (Yarra Valley). Red Hill Estate (Mornington Peninsula) offers a nice range too.
Except the most exclusive ones, most wineries operate cellar doors open most days of the week. Each region will set aside at least one weekend a year for a wine festival. Yarra Valley's 'grape grazing weekend' is typically in February and is very busy indeed. You can wonder how interested many of the utterly sloshed people there are interested the wine itself. Nonetheless, the weekend is an institution in itself. In June it is Mornington Peninsula Wine Weekend whose centrepiece is a tasting at Red Hill Village Hall. Though more restrained than the Yarra's you'll still need to work out who the friend that'll be doing the driving!