Melbourne’s central business district (CBD) lies on the north bank of the Yarra River. The train system runs a ring around the CBD and trams amble up and down most of its main streets. Melbourne’s heart is bounded by Flinders, Elizabeth, Little Bourke and Russell streets. This central core takes in the eclectic corner of Swanston and Flinders streets, and further in there’s a charming network of arcades and backstreets.
A station, a pub and a cathedral
As the major train station in the CBD, Flinders Street Station is the first port of call for many people travelling in from the suburbs.
On the three corners facing the station are three other landmarks: Federation Square (see next entry), St Paul’s Cathedral and the Young and Jackson Hotel. Across Swanston Street, the grandiose St Paul’s Cathedral was built in 1891. Its mosaic interior is well worth a look.
Federation Square is the biggest building project to occur in Melbourne in decades – if not in actual size, then at least in terms of its public significance and architectural ambition. The central piazza is paved with 7500 square metres of coloured Kimberley sandstone. Surrounding it are bars, cafes, restaurants and shops, many of them with unique views over Flinders Street Station and the Yarra. Down by the river, Federation Wharf is home to Rentabike (see Getting around, p. 136) and a departure point for river cruises (see Walks and tours, p. 137). Fed Square’s must-visit attractions are the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (see below).
Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Australian art has finally found a home of its own at this gallery. On the ground floor is a large space dedicated to Indigenous art – from traditional sculptures and bark paintings to the bright and expressive works of modern Aboriginal artists. Also in the gallery are the best of the colonial artists, such as Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton. The new NGV Kids Corner is one of the city’s best destinations for preschoolers. Federation Sq; (03) 8620 2222; open 10am–5pm Tues–Sun; general admission free. The National Gallery of Victoria’s international collection can be found on St Kilda Rd (see p. 132).
Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI)
ACMI is a museum of the 21st century and an Australian first, exploring all current guises of the moving image. Here you will find cinemas screening films and darkened galleries with screen-based art, as well as temporary exhibitions. Check the newspapers for details of films running or visit the website (www.acmi.net.au). Federation Sq; (03) 8663 2200, bookings (03) 8663 2583; open 10am–6pm daily, open later for scheduled film screenings; general admission free.
Your experience of Swanston Street can be totally different depending on which side of the road you walk on. One side of the street is a grand boulevard lined with trees, and dotted with significant buildings and quirky public sculptures. The other side (the west side) seems overcrowded with discount stores, souvenir shops and fast-food outlets. Swanston Street is closed to cars other than taxis.
On the corner of Swanston and Collins streets is the prominent Melbourne Town Hall, a venue for various public events including the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Opposite is a statue of Burke and Wills, the two explorers who set out on a doomed journey to find the fabled inland sea. On the corner of Bourke Street is the quirky sculpture, Three Businessmen Who Brought Their Own Lunch. Swanston Street also boasts some fine historic buildings (see Grand old buildings, p. 137) , and further north is the State Library of Victoria (see p. 131).
This is Melbourne’s most dignified street. The top end near Spring Street has been dubbed the ‘Paris end’ with its European ambience and designer boutiques. Near Elizabeth Street is Australia on Collins, where you will find all the big names in Australian fashion as well as a ground-floor food court. Towards Spencer Street are impressive buildings, such as the Old ANZ Bank (see Grand old buildings, p. 137).
Laneways and arcades
From Flinders Street Station to Bourke Street Mall, you can slip through a world of cafes, fashion boutiques and jewellers, many of them selling one-off items that you just won’t find in malls and department stores. But it is also worth it for the walk alone – narrow, darkened and usually bustling, these laneways seem to be a completely separate world to the rest of the city.
The section of Degraves Street closest to Flinders Lane is closed to cars and is full of cafes spilling onto the paved street. Across from Degraves Street is Centre Place, with more cafes as well as bars and designer-fashion outlets. Towards Collins Street, Centre Place becomes a covered arcade.
Block Arcade runs between Collins and Little Collins streets. It boasts Italian mosaic floors, ornate glass ceilings, tearooms and exclusive clothing boutiques. Follow the arcade to Elizabeth Street, or to the laneway that joins it to Little Collins Street, where there are yet more cafes.
Over Little Collins Street is Royal Arcade, Australia’s oldest surviving arcade. Above the Little Collins Street entrance stand two giants, Gog and Magog, of the ancient British legend. You can take Royal Arcade to either Bourke Street Mall or Elizabeth Street. (To get to the mall you can also take the adjacent, cafelined Causeway.)
Recent building works in the city, such as the GPO development in Bourke Street Mall (see next entry , the renovation of Melbourne Central (see p. 139) and the QV site (see p. 138) , have opened up more of the old laneways, restoring the original vision of Melbourne’s designer, Robert Hoddle.
Bourke Street Mall
Bourke Street Mall is the heart of Melbourne’s shopping district, with big department stores and brand-name fashion outlets. Between Elizabeth and Swanston streets the mall is closed to cars, making it the territory of trams and pedestrians.
The Myer and David Jones department stores both have entrances on the mall. Myer, in particular, is renowned for its fine window displays at Christmas. At the west end of the mall is Melbourne’s GPO, once the city’s post office but now a smart shopping complex showcasing a who’s who of fashion labels, cafes and bars. If you fancy a break from shopping, grab a seat along the mall and watch life wander by. More often than not there will be a busker performing for your entertainment.
Flinders Lane is home to a terrific array of art galleries (see Flinders Lane galleries, p. 130) , including the Anna Schwartz Gallery. With exhibitions that draw on a wide variety of art forms and often push the envelope, expect to be surprised and delighted, especially if you’re into conceptual art. On the corner of Flinders Lane and Swanston Street, the Nicholas Building is an important address in the Melbourne arts scene, home to numerous small, artist-run spaces. Anna Schwartz Gallery:185 Flinders La; (03) 9654 6131; open 12–6pm Tues–Fri, 1–5pm Sat; admission free.