The desire to visit Australia for the first time is matched only by the desire to experience Sydney as part of that visit. Beyond that, most of us have to pick and choose "Down Under" experiences due to time constraints. There is no way to see all of this vast large country on the first stay. Melbourne, Australia's second city is worth serious consideration.
My recent visit after a ten year absence revealed huge growth in the last decade. I flew on United's brand new non-stop B787-9 Dreamliner service from LAX, which was fine style in Business First. The crew did a good job in both directions.
Sydney is always recognizable due to the water vistas and iconic buildings such as the Opera House. It's personality reflects a style close to Los Angeles, a more casual, breezy and outdoor slant. Melbourne, by contrast, reflects a bit more dressy, sophisticated and refined personality closer to a San Francisco feel. The city even has a large network of trams which connect the various areas; a Miki card can give you unlimited travel on the trams and local buses and trains. Not included on that card are the four Colonial Dining Car Tams which offer an "on the go" but gourmet 3- and 4-course nightly dining experience which is unique and satisfying. Melbourne prides itself on having over 3,000 restaurants, most with a clear farm-to-table ethic.
The narrow laneways in the area near Collins Street come alive at night with outdoor dining and bars serviced by the adjacent restaurants. The dress is upscale compared to Sydney, with younger people adapting a bit. Typically the young women dress in fancy outfits and high heel shoes with the guys getting away with dark tee shirts and jeans. Southbank, which was once the sleepy south side of the Yarra River, is now alive with many hotels, restaurants and bars along a very busy river walk. My hotel, the solid 4-Star Crown Promenade, was in an excellent location. Part of the Crown Casino Complex, the best part of it is the casino itself is off to the side and not visible from the hotel unless you really look for it.
The city architecture dates back from the 18th century with early works such as the Flinders Street Railway Station and the Queen Victoria City Market. Yet there are many significant high rise buildings. Famous St. Kilda Road starts out in city center with a wide tree lined look and an imposing commercial and residential mix and evolves as it gets closer to the bay and ocean. There it is the typical beach side galleries, seafood restaurants and shops. There are many outstanding hotels in Melbourne in well located areas.
Being the capital of the State of Victoria, the city has a wealth of galleries and museums including the National Gallery of Victoria, The Australian Centre of Contemporary Art and the Heide Museum of Modern Art.
Unique to this area is the nightly march of the little penguins at nearby Phillip Island. After swimming and feeding for up to several weeks, the penguins bring back food stored in their bodies to their little babies still on the island. By booking the Penguin Express and the Penguin Plus package, you get the direct service to the island (about 2 hours from Melbourne) and the closest viewing of the penguins from your position on wooden sidewalks elevated above the sand. When you see the penguins, they take on almost human personalities with the groups waiting for each other and watching out for predators.
Melbourne offers a wealth of possibilities and should be seriously considered in any comprehensive Australia program. Let an Aussie Specialist with 20 trips Down Under like myself show you the way.
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