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Tour description

Melbourne (mel-burn) is the cultivated sister of brassy Sydney; some call this city the cultural capital of the continent. But it's also known for its rich migrant influences, particularly those expressed through food: the espresso cafés on Lygon Street, Melbourne's little Italy, Brunswick's Middle Eastern/Indian/Turkish enclave, Richmond's little Vietnam, or the Chinatown district of the city center. Built on a coastal plain at the top of the giant horseshoe of Port Phillip Bay, the city center is an orderly grid of streets where the state parliament, banks, multinational corporations, and splendid Victorian buildings that sprang up in the wake of the Gold Rush now stand. This is Melbourne's heart, which you can explore at a leisurely pace on foot or aboard Melbourne's civilized streetcars.

Cruise Sights

Cook's Cottage. Once the property of the Pacific navigator Captain James Cook, the modest home, built in 1755, was transported stone by stone from Great Ayton in Yorkshire and rebuilt in the lush Fitzroy Gardens in 1934. It's believed that Cook lived in the cottage between voyages. The interior is simple and sparsely furnished, a suitable domestic realm for a man who spent much of his life in cramped quarters aboard sailing ships. Fitzroy Gardens near Lansdowne St. and Wellington Parade. Admission charged.

East Melbourne. The harmonious streetscapes in this historic enclave of Victorian houses, which dates from the boom following the gold rushes of the 1850s, are a great excuse for a stroll.

Federation Square. Encompassing a whole city block, the bold, abstract-style landmark was designed to house the branch of the National Gallery of Victoria, which exhibits only Australian art. The square also incorporates the Centre for the Moving Image; the BMW Edge amphitheater, a contemporary music and theater performance venue; the Victorian Wine Precinct, showcasing the best of local wine; the Melbourne Racing Museum; the Melbourne Visitor Centre; and restaurants, bars, and gift shops. Flinders St. between Swanston and Russell Sts.

Melbourne Aquarium. Become part of the action as you stroll through transparent tunnels surrounded by water and the denizens of the deep at play. Or take a ride on an electronic simulator. If you're feeling brave, check out the shark dives-they're held daily, include scuba equipment, and are led by an instructor. Flinders and King Sts. Admission charged.

Melbourne Museum. A spectacular, postmodern building surrounds displays of the varied cultures around Australia and the Pacific Islands. The Bunjilaka exhibit covers the traditions of the country's Aboriginal groups, while the Australia Gallery focuses on Victoria's heritage (and includes the preserved body of Australia's greatest racing horse, Phar Lap). Carlton Gardens, 11 Nicholson St. Admission charged.

Melbourne Observation Deck. If you want a 360-degree panorama of Melbourne, there's no better (or more popular) place than from the 55th floor of the city's tallest building. Admission includes a 20-minute film and use of high-power binoculars. Level 55, 525 Collins St., at King St. Admission charged.

Melbourne Zoological Gardens. Flourishing gardens and open-environment animal enclosures are hallmarks of this world-renowned zoo, which sits 4 km (2 1/2 mi) north of the city center. A lion park, reptile house, and butterfly pavilion where more than 1,000 butterflies flutter through the rain-forest setting are also on-site, as is a simulated African rain forest where a group of Western Lowland gorillas resides. The spectacular Trail of the Elephants has a village, gardens, and a swimming pool. An orangutan sanctuary includes viewing from tree-high boardwalks. Twilight jazz bands serenade visitors on summer evenings. Elliott Ave., Parkville. Admission charged.

National Gallery of Victoria. This massive, moat-encircled, bluestone-and-concrete edifice houses works from renowned international painters, including Picasso, Renoir, and van Gogh. A branch of the National Gallery, in Federation Square in the city center, exhibits only Australian art. 180 St. Kilda Rd., South Melbourne. Admission charged.

Old Melbourne Gaol. A museum run by the Victorian branch of the National Trust is housed in the city's first jail. The building-rumored to be haunted-has three tiers of cells with catwalks around the upper levels. Its most famous inmate was the notorious bushranger Ned Kelly, who was hanged here in 1880. The Hangman's night tours (reservations essential) are a popular, if macabre, facet of Melbourne nightlife. Russell and Mackenzie Sts., City Center. Admission charged.

Royal Botanic Gardens. The present design and layout were the brainchild of W.R. Guilfoyle, curator and director of the gardens from 1873 to 1910. Within its 100 acres are 12,000 species of native and imported plants and trees, sweeping lawns, and ornamental lakes populated with ducks and swans that love to be fed. Guided walks leave from the visitor center. Summer brings alfresco performances of classic plays, usually Shakespeare, children's classics like Wind in the Willows, and the popular Moonlight Cinema series. Anderson St., between Alexandra and Birdwood Aves., South Yarra.

State Houses of Parliament. Dating from 1856, this building was used as the National Parliament from the time of federation in 1900 until 1927, when the first Parliament House was completed in Canberra. Parliament usually sits Tuesday to Thursday from March through July and again from August through November. Spring and Nicholson Sts.

Victorian Arts Centre. Melbourne's most important cultural landmark is the venue for performances by the Australian Ballet, Australian Opera, and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. It also encompasses the Melbourne Concert Hall, Arts Complex, and the original National Gallery of Victoria. One-hour tours begin from the information desk at noon and 2:30, Monday through Saturday. On Sunday a 90-minute backstage tour (no children) begins at 12:15. At night look for the center's spire, which creates a magical spectacle with brilliant fiber-optic cables. 100 St. Kilda Rd. Admission charged.

Cruise Shopping

Melbourne has firmly established itself as the nation's fashion capital. Australian designer labels are available on High Street in Armadale, on Toorak Road and Chapel Street in South Yarra, and on Bridge Road in Richmond. High-quality vintage clothing abounds on Greville Street in Prahran.

Chapel Street is the heart of the trendy South Yarra-Prahran area. This long road is packed with pubs, bars, notable restaurants, and upscale boutiques. The Toorak Road end (nearest to the city) is the fashion-conscious, upscale section where Australian designers showcase their original designs. Walk south along Chapel Street to Greville Street, a small lane of hip bars, clothing boutiques, and record stores. Past Greville, the south end of Chapel Street is grungier, with pawnshops and kitschy collectibles stores.

On the river's edge next to the Victorian Arts Center, Southgate is a prime spot for lingering-designer shops, classy restaurants, bars, and casual eating places help locals and visitors while away the hours.

Dotted with chic boutiques, many of them selling merchandise by up-and-coming Australian designers, Flinders Lane will make fashionistas happy, especially between Swanston and Elizabeth streets. Block Arcade (282 Collins St., City Centre) is an elegant 19th-century shopping plaza. Royal Arcade (355 Bourke St., City Centre) built in 1846, is Melbourne's oldest shopping plaza and remains a lovely place to browse. The shops at QV (Swanston and Lonsdale Sts., City Centre) lie along six open-air lanes, and range from posh clothing boutiques to chocolate shops.

Cruise Activities

Bicycling. Melbourne and its environs contain more than 100 km (62 mi) of bike paths, including scenic routes along the Yarra River and Port Phillip Bay.

Cricket. A tour of the Melbourne Cricket Grounds (Jolimont Terr., Jolimont) is essential for an understanding of Melbourne's sporting obsession. Outstanding museums here include the Australian Gallery of Sport and Olympic Museum, and the MCG Museum and Library. The site is a pleasant 10-minute walk from the city center or a tram ride to Jolimont Station.

Horse Racing. Melbourne is the only city in the world to declare a public holiday for a horse race-the Melbourne Cup-held on the first Tuesday in November since 1861. The Cup is also a fashion parade, and most of Melbourne society turns out in full regalia.

Port Photo: jago/iStockphoto

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