Alex Andersson encounters a wealth of indigenous art and seriously stylish shopping on a stroll around Victoria’s capital
1. IAN POTTER CENTRE, NATIONAL GALLERY OF VICTORIA
Founded in 1835, Melbourne has always had an intense rivalry with its glamorous counterpart to the north-east – Sydney. But what it lacks in harbour views drenched in perpetual sunshine, it more than makes up for in quirky character and culture.
The city is manageable in size and mapped out on a grid system, making it easy to navigate on foot. There is also the iconic No 35 tram, which is free and loops the central business district throughout the day, and a bike share scheme with drop-off points around the city (melbournebikeshare.com.au).
Your first stop is at Federation Square in the centre of the city, next to Flinders Street station, the hub of Melbourne’s underground metro (if you need to, you can store your luggage at Travellers Aid in the station).
In the square you will find the Ian Potter Centre, which is part of Australia’s oldest public art gallery, the National Gallery of Victoria, founded in 1861. In a city of more than 100 galleries, this is an excellent choice because of its comprehensive Australian art collection, including works by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities. It comprises more than 3,000 original pieces, including paintings, decorative arts, textiles and jewellery.
Current exhibitions include a comprehensive retrospective of work by pioneering Australian photographer Sue Ford (until August 24). Open 10am-5pm Tues-Sun; free entry. ngv.vic.gov.au
2. ST PAUL’S CATHEDRAL
Cross the street to St Paul’s Cathedral. Opened in 1891, natural light pours into this quiet oasis of calm, which features Venetian glass mosaics, marble floors and Gothic Transitional architecture, plus the TC Lewis pipe organ, built in England and shipped over to Australia to be installed at a cost of over £6,500 (about £700,000 today).
It’s a good place to shelter from Melbourne’s erratic weather. Outside, horses with carriages depart regularly, should you wish to hop on for a city tour.
The cathedral is open 8am-6pm Mon-Fri, 9am-4pm Sat, 7.30am-7.30pm Sun; free entry. stpaulscathedral.org.au
3. DEGRAVES STREET
Walk westward along Flinders Street and take the second right on to Degraves Street for a taster of Melbourne’s renowned bustling laneways.
Surprisingly devoid of pretension, this hip street is lined with independent shops and cafés interspersed with splashes of vivid street art. The al fresco seating makes for the perfect place to indulge in a cup of coffee. Trendy Melburnians flock here and the atmosphere is positively abuzz.
Try Sea Salt at number 31 for a taste of famously fresh seafood. A huge serving of the catch of the day, with chips and salad, is AU$11 (£6), and is so tender that it falls off your fork.
Other options include sushi prepared on site, and a selection of organic beef and free-range chicken burgers. Open 11am-8.30pm daily; tel +61 3 9654 2095; sea-salt.com.au
4. FLINDERS LANE
At the top of Degraves Street, take a left and stroll along Flinders Lane, the mecca of Melbourne-born fashion and product design.
This creative city has bred some serious style – and everybody who’s anybody is showcasing their wares in shops along this street. Pop into Craft at number 31 to pick up some unique limited-edition jewellery, textiles, glass and ceramics. Open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm; craft.org.au
5. BLOCK ARCADE
Where Flinders Lane intersects with the larger Elizabeth Street, turn northward and walk until you hit the corner of Collins Street.
This is the more “upmarket” shopping area, and there’s no greater testament to this than Block Arcade – a Melbourne icon of colonial high society.
The magnificent building carries a National Trust classification and epitomises lavish Victorian architecture and elegance. The structure that stands today was first built in 1892, and was modelled on the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele arcade in Milan.
Its 29 outlets include the Hopetoun Tea Rooms, which have been in operation since the day the mall opened. Find out more about its fascinating history at hopetountearooms.com.au. Haigh’s high-class chocolates and Royal Selangor, the world’s largest pewter-ware manufacturer, both have flagship stores here.
Block Arcade is located at 282 Collins Street and is open from 8am until 6pm Mon-Wed, 9pm Thurs-Fri, 5pm Sat; 9am-5pm Sun. theblockarcade.com.au