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Photo: ZeHawk

Whether you’re living in Melbourne or just visiting, you’re always one corner away from a pleasant surprise.

Europe Down Under–that’s how I feel about the Victorian capital. At one point it was the nation’s capital, but an irresolvable dispute with Sydney gave Canberra that distinction.

14 months ago, my wife and I settled into a flat in the quiet, leafy beach suburb of Elwood. It became our base for learning what it meant to be a Melburnian. We got day jobs; we patronized the local shops; we found our favourite café.

I was cycling home from work the other day, keenly observing life as it whizzed by, when I started reflecting on what makes Melbourne, well, Melbourne.

I silently concluded that I love this city; you will too, and here are a few reasons why:

Trams ‘n’ trains

Yes, the locals perpetually complain about the public transportation system. The fact is, they don’t know how good they have it. The city and surrounding areas are fully serviced by a combination of trains, trams and buses. Unlike Sydney where you might have to pay four separate fares to get to your destination, Melbourne has one ticket for all the services.

Photo: macinate

There’s something romantic and nostalgic about trams. Not many cities have a comprehensive network of them, and if you want a unique experience, book yourself onto the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant (pictured above).

The ‘no worries’ culture

For a big city, the residents are pretty laid back. Look around and you’ll see hundreds of cafes full of folks sipping their lattes. The easy attitude may best be felt on the banks of the Yarra River where people lazily stroll or sit at the river’s edge and ponder.

World class events

There are only four tennis grand slams and Melbourne is home to one of them–that’s enough in my books to give the city full props. For two hot weeks in January, the Australian Open at Melbourne Park is host to the game’s top players, and draws in hundreds of thousands of fans.

Photo: brettmarlow1

Like food and drink? Be here in March when the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival pulls in top chefs from around the world–it’s 17 days of gastronomic bliss.

Following on its heels, the city’s testosterone rises a few notches during the Australian Grand Prix. The usually serene Albert Park is transformed into a track for Formula 1 race cars whipping around at 200 km/h.

If you happen to be here on the second Tuesday in November, don’t miss the Melbourne Cup. Although it’s also known as “The Race That Stops a Nation“, Melbourne is the only place in Australia where race day is a statutory holiday.

The weather

Four seasons in one day. Terribly cliched, but terribly true. I learned fast that layering is key as the climate can change dramatically, several times, in a single day. It’s also the windiest city I’ve ever been to; perhaps a bad-hairday town, it’s paradise for kite and wind surfers.

Photo: Author

Australians reading this are right now saying, “what? how can you love the weather there?”, and I understand that. It’s not easy to love. But it’s part of Melbourne’s identity and, hence, now mine. And that’s when you start loving it.

Keeping it real

Melbourne has done a stellar job of keeping local entrepreneurs in business. While big box shops and franchises do exist, the amount of independently owned cafes, restaurants and boutiques is staggering, ensuring a new experience every single time you venture outside.

Photo: avlxyz

Environmental conscience

On my ride to work it’s heartening to see the amount of cyclists on the road and the plans to make the city more bike friendly. There’s also the Target 155 campaign — an appeal to residents to cut back water usage to 155 liters per day. Of course, that’s just good sense as the dams near record-lows.

Photo: Looking Glass

The state government is committed to sustainability, promoting ways to cut back on energy and plastic usage, and generally helping residents become good global citizens. At my work they’ve recently replaced the Nescafe with organic, fair-trade instant coffee.

If you’re bored, you’re not trying very hard

You don’t have to look hard or travel far for a bit of adventure. The Central Business District (CBD) is small and compact with a zillion hidden laneways and alleys, each hiding shops, cafes and even street art for you to discover.

Suburbs like Fitzroy, Prahran, St. Kilda, and Carlton (among others) teem with their own cultural variances and enough things to explore to keep you busy for days. Just last week my wife and I took a walk to the St. Kilda pier and spotted a penguin. There’s always a surprise.

Photo: reinn

Day and weekend trips outside Melbourne can provide brief respite from the city. There is hiking in the Dandenong ranges, surf beaches in Torquay, and one of the best stretches of coastline in the world, the Great Ocean Road (for hikers, check out my post on the Great Ocean Walk).

There is a lifetime of experiences in and around Melbourne. The time will come when I will stop calling it home, and I am certain that when it does, there will still be many things I haven’t done or seen. But this is what will keep me coming back.


Has Melbourne caught your eye? Feel free to ask our resident expert any questions you have about this wonderful city.

If you have any experiences yourself from Melbourne that you want to share, leave a comment below!

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About The Author

Carlo Alcos

Carlo is the Dean of Education at MatadorU and a Managing Editor at Matador. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He lives in Nelson, British Columbia.

  • Julie

    Loved this! I’m not sure why, but Australia’s never been high on my must-see list– perhaps because I don’t know enough about it. But you just gave me lots of reasons to visit!

  • Melanie

    Reading the article made me miss Melbourne even more! I lived in Melbourne for 9 years before moving to Adelaide for the short term. I am biased, but I think it is the best city in the world. It is much nicer than Sydney and much easier to get around. And, yes, it is VERY windy – frustratingly so! I spent a week in Chicago – the supposed windy city – not so.

    I noticed you didn’t mention the Australian Rules football season, which most Melburnians (and Victorians) live for. It’s a must see and do. There’s also cricket over the summer (Dec-Jan). Plus the International Comedy Festival in April.

  • Carlo

    Melanie, you’re absolutely right! And I actually did include AFL initially, but took it out. Partly because I’m not really a fan of it (don’t shoot me Melburnians! – I’m Canadian, so hockey is my sport), but moreso keep the piece to a respectable length! It could be much longer and include so many more things…

    So I’m counting on you readers to add to the list! :)

    Thanks for the comments!

  • Paula


    Great article… I am from Sydney and I am not supposed to say this but I love Melbourne..

    Sydney has lots of great events too but there is something about Melbourne that makes things seem more special… we have a food festival and a comedy festival too but they just seem to do it bigger and better…. I am not sure if its the people of the geographic layout of the city but it just works!

    Oh and the trams and ticketing are brilliant.

  • Carlo Alcos

    Ah ha! Outed!! :) (not sure why I’m so smug, you did it yourself :)

    I’ve been to Sydney a handful of times and enjoy it there too…just not sure if I could live there. The area around it is beautiful, the Central Coast, the beaches…I can’t wait to explore the area when I travel round Oz.

  • Tania

    Too true…. being from Sydney myself i have to agree that Melbourne is by far a much easier city to get around. No car, no worries. While they could never compete with sydney’s amazing harbour, they make up for it with everthing else they have to offer. Every alley or lane way you turn into is full of surprises, and the Queen Victoria markets on a weekend are a food lovers paradise. Note to self, must visit more often.

  • J

    I love Melbourne (and Australia in general) but i wish more shops opened past 5pm! Coming from Asia, the 5pm shutdown’s still quite the shocker, even though i’ve lived here for half a decade.. :P

  • Carlo Alcos

    I completely understand! It was very hard to get used to. Sometimes it still drives us crazy, but also, I think it’s good…promotes a healthier work-life balance. I think it’s hilarious that 30 mins before closing, the shop will bring the sliding door down half way and they’ll already be vacuuming, putting things away, clearing the display cases, etc.

    Then as soon as that minute hand hits the hour, bam! They’re outta there faster than you can say “Hey! You locked me in!” :)

  • Hal

    Wow, that alley shot makes me want to visit right now! Thanks for this glimpse into your current home, Carlo.

  • brett marlow

    Hey Carlo! Great Article on Melbourne. My home town!

    I too love Melbourne and think its the best city in the World!

    I love the Weather! And the city itself just has so much charm!

    There are always great world class events happening!

    Melbourne has both the Moto and F1 Grand Prix! Australian Grand Slam Tennis Championship, World class Spring horseracing carnival and Great Theatrical events! Some of the best golf courses! TIger Woods is on his way! And for foodies and wine tasters its the best.

    It truly is a sophisticated city!

    And thanks for using my pic at the Australian Open Tennis Championship!


  • Carlo Alcos

    Thanks for the comment Brett! And thanks again for sharing your pics :)

  • True Uruguay

    Really well written and very enjoyable article!

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