This part of town is occupied mainly by office buildings, but there are some interesting places among them, such as the Old Melbourne Gaol, the State Library of Victoria, Chinatown, and the QV shopping and food precinct.
Occupying the block between Swanston, Lonsdale, Russell and Little Lonsdale streets, QV is divided up into a series of laneways. You can weave through here at your leisure, maybe stopping in at one of the cafes or go shopping with a purpose: high-end fashion stores line Albert Coates Lane, while Artemis Lane is a wonderland of homewares. You can also explore Red Cape and Jane Bell lanes. (The medical-themed lane names relate to the site’s history – QV was once the site of the Queen Victoria Women’s Hospital, a part of which still remains.) When you’ve finished shopping, step into one of QV’s various eateries. Open 10am–6pm Mon–Wed and Sat, 10am–7pm Thurs, 10am–9pm Fri, 10am–5pm Sun.
State Library of Victoria
The State Library of Victoria’s front steps and lawn make a great spot for soaking up the sun. In fact, pre–Fed Square, this was the city centre’s biggest public space and the main meeting spot for demonstrations. On the third floor of the Roman-style building is an impressive fi ve-storey octagonal reading room, restored to its original sky-lit splendour. The library also incorporates several art galleries and is now home to the Wheeler Centre: Books, Writing, Ideas, the centerpiece of Melbourne’s UNESCO City of Literature Initiative. This new hub for Victoria’s literary community hosts a year-round program of talks, readings and debates. Cnr Lonsdale and Swanston sts; (03) 8664 7000; open 10am–9pm Mon–Thurs, 10am–6pm Fri–Sun.
Old Melbourne Gaol
Melbourne Gaol was the setting for the execution of some of early Victoria’s most notorious criminals. Discover the horrifying reality of death masks and the Particulars of Execution, a how-to book on this gruesome subject. If you are brave enough, join a candle-lit Hangman’s Night Tour (conducted four times weekly at 8.30pm, 7.30pm in winter) or a ghost hunt (held monthly). Russell St, between Victoria and Latrobe sts; (03) 8663 7228; open 9.30am–5pm Mon–Sun; at 12.30pm and 2pm Sat the story of Ned Kelly, ‘Such a Life’, is performed (free with entry).
Chinatown has prospered and flourished since the first Chinese migrated to Victoria at the beginning of the gold rush. Decorated archways herald the entrance to the Little Bourke Street strip at the Swanston, Russell and Exhibition street ends. Like Chinatowns around the world, Melbourne’s Chinatown is distinctive, with lanterns decorating the street at night and exotic aromas drifting out through the doorways of small restaurants.
The Chinese Museum, in Cohen Place off Little Bourke Street, tells the tale of the Chinese who migrated to Australia in search of the ‘New Gold Mountain’, and is also the resting place of Dai Loong (Big Dragon), which roams the streets during Chinese New Year. 22 Cohen Pl; (03) 9662 2888; open 10am–5pm daily.
The section of Lonsdale Street between Russell and Swanston streets is the centre of Melbourne’s Greek community. On the southern side are Greek bookshops, music stores and, of course, cafes and restaurants.
The Melbourne Central shopping complex has undergone a major facelift, with some serious thought given to the way Melburnians like to shop. The historic nine-storey shot tower and pointed glass ceiling remain, but it now offers less of a one-stop shopping experience and more of an adventure through a network of arcades and laneways. But this is not so much an innovation as a restoration of Melbourne as it was intended to be. An underground shopping concourse leads from the Lonsdale Street entrance to Melbourne Central Station. (03) 9922 1122; open 10am–6pm Mon–Thurs and Sat, 10am–9pm Fri, 10am–5pm Sun.