<em>Photography: Shutterstock / F11Photo.</em>
Photography: Shutterstock / F11Photo.
Australia’s known for gorgeous beaches and the rugged outdoors, but laid-back culture capital Melbourne offers a little something different.

Australians are so laid back that if you accused them of being excessively so, and they disagreed, they wouldn’t argue. Why? Because… they’re chillin’, dude. Have a beer, man. Relax.

And so, because of this carefree culture, it’s hard not to get swept up in this laid-back, hammock lounging, live-for-today attitude – which is practically part of the country’s DNA at this point.

And nowhere is this more evident than in Melbourne, which is arguably the country’s most popular destination for tourists. Sure, Sydney has the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, but it doesn’t boast even half of the bohemian vibrancy of its East Coast sister.

Melburnians, as pretty much no one calls them, always look like they’ve just stepped out of an H&M commercial. Effortlessly cool. And it probably was effortless. Who has time for – you know – effort when it’s such a lovely day?

That’s not to say there isn’t lots to do in Melbourne, of course. When not busy chilling, visitors will find plenty to occupy them in the city, which was the capital of Australia for 26 years between 1901 and 1927 before Canberra took over. (Not Sydney, in case that one catches you out in any quizzes.)

One of the non-negotiable places to hit up in the city is the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, which really are breathtakingly beautiful, with views that could make even the most stubborn of eternal bachelors begin daydreaming about the prospect of romantic proposals.

Attracting more than a million visitors a year, the park is truly stunning, and could possibly give even Central Park an inferiority complex. A great way to enjoy the park – besides the classic afternoon walk and a picnic, of course – would be to book an open-air cinema experience. Nowhere in the world does open-air cinema quite like Australia. Sitting on a comfy beanbag chair, sipping wine, licking your ice cream and devouring sliders brought over by staff, all while watching a film on a colossal screen, with a grand view of beautiful gardens in the background? It doesn’t get better than that, does it?

Those are some of the nicest scenes you’ll see in Melbourne, nature-wise, but to get the best view of the central region – and it is gorgeous to take in, with the perfect blend of nature and skyline – you can boat along the river. You get a great sense of the city’s scope, the center of which is quite accessible, and easy to get your head around in a day or two.

Trams will also be your friend if you don’t fancy Ubering. And let’s face it, trams are more fun. The city boasts the largest tram system in the world outside of Europe.

Another must-see is their aquarium. OK, I know what you’re thinking. Once you’ve seen one aquarium, you’ve seen them all, right? Wrong. Go to the Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium; it’s like stepping into an episode of Blue Planet. Even David Attenborough would be taking pics.

The star of the show here is definitely Pinjarra. That is one big crocodile – and a full-fledged diva too. At 50 years old, this famous saltwater croc, who weighs 1,650 pounds, was rescued from flooding 30 years ago. Staff there say he’s the biggest croc in captivity, anywhere, and every day tourists question them about whether or not the beast – which feeds on one chicken a week – is actually real. He’s quite a sight to behold.

You can also get selfies with stingrays who generously pose with you through the glass of some very entertaining underwater tunnels, where you can also safely view the sharks and other aquatic delights that don’t end up on the barbie.

And if you want to see gorgeous creatures in their natural habitat, another must-see is Key Beach, famous for the penguins that chill out on the rockery by the beach at night. Crowds gather for them, and they’re really worth waiting for. Around the beach there are also some lovely bars, shops and rides that make for a great day out.

But if you want to make the most of the super cool underbelly of Melbourne, check out the Fitzroy area. Special-blend coffee and hipster charity shops, pubs with ales no one has heard of, tattoos everywhere – if you want to feel square and cool at the same time, this is your place. It’s a nice change of scenery, for sure.

As is the Crown Casino, which is the center of entertainment in the city. Any cuisine you could desire will cater to you at the giant complex – if you haven’t wasted all your chips on the blackjack tables.

And, for a really special experience, step back in time by going to Eau De Vie – the secret hidden cocktail bar. With fancy drinks presented in imaginative and interactive ways, with staff that really transport you to a time since past – of jazz and liquor – you’ll struggle not to have the perfect evening of indulgence and fabulous luxury in this speakeasy gem.

But, fair warning – Melbourne is expensive. This is not a trip that would be easy to do on a budget, a fact that’s also true of Australia in general. Savings are most certainly required. But so much of what’s on offer in Melbourne feels worth a bit of extra cash. Quality food and drink really is the standard in the city – which was originally named Batmania until the 19th century (maybe Bruce Wayne sued?).

And you don’t even have to tip (the bar staff are so well paid they apparently wouldn’t be comfortable accepting it. Imagine!) However, hand-in-hand with that, service is also verrrrrry slooooow. But that’s because? Yep, you got it. Everyone’s chill. As will you be.

There are plenty of places to choose from when dining out. Melbourne has the highest number of restaurants and cafes per number of people of any other city in the world. So you certainly won’t go hungry here.

If your idea of Australia is hanging with kangaroos and koala bears, don’t be surprised when they’re not greeting you off the plane at Melbourne. That image of the land is more concentrated in the outback areas.

And if you’re specifically after a full-on beach holiday, maybe Sydney would be preferable, although the iconic city is only an hour or so flight away, so many tourists work both cities into their holiday. Melbourne is also known for unpredictable weather (it can experience four seasons in a single day) so maybe it’s best that you save the sunbathing for Sydney. But usually, it’s
glorious sunshine. Usually.

Melbourne is the real star of Australia’s East Coast. So don’t be as laidback as an Aussie when it comes to booking your trip to Melbourne, OK? Or you’ll really miss out on something special.

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