There’s loads of really cool FREE stuff to do in Melbourne. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll also want to see all the great architecture, and Melbourne has plenty on offer! If there’s one noticably great thing about the city’s colonial past it’s that the British really liked to pile it on when it came to building pompous landmarks.
Thanks to the Qantas on-board entertainment system I now know that most of these buildings are partial imitations of classical French and Italian architecture, two nations not only known for their great food, but also their aesthetics and art. It is thus no wonder that many structures keep impressing us to this day, no matter how high and flashy modern skyscrapers around it get.
The thought of the mighty British stealing ideas like that might seem a bit embarrassing for the Empire, but consider that it was just a natural process. Young noblemen of the day often went to mainland Europe as a sort of “rite of passage”, but mainly to get away from home, have all-night, drug-fueled benders and engage in crazy foreign sex… much like the backpackers of today, but much, much richer and probably a lot more snooty. So yeah, the main reason why the British have brought forth so many architectural marvels is because some of its people had that backpacker spirit and went abroad for adventure.
Having said that, the face of Melbourne has changed drastically since the old days and the city is growing rapidly, constantly adding new buildings (some ugly, some beautiful) to the metropolis’ landscape. So for you to get a great overall experience, I will describe some of Melbourne’s most interesting and astounding landmarks, from old to modern. Oh and by the way: All of these items are walkable from the centre of town or accessible in a less-than-10-minutes tram ride!
1. Flinders Street Station
You knew this was coming, didn’t you? It’s a no-brainer, but no list like this would be complete without it. Right in the middle of the Central Business District lies the city’s arguably most well-known architectural marvel.
Why, if I would stick my head out of the window far enough, I could see it from where I’m writing right now.
Not only is this a massive and beautiful structure, but it’s also made special as it is not one of those “Look but don’t touch” historic sites. According to the Victorian Department of Transport, more than 110,000 commuters pass through the station every day. So not only is it pleasant to look at, but also extremely practical and might as well serve as your gateway to Melbourne. For more information on prices and times of public transportation visit Metlink Melbourne!
2. General Post Office
Just a 5-10 minute walk from Flinders Street Station you’ll find Melbourne’s General Post Office, or “GPO” as it’s conveniently abbreviated. Once you’ve gazed at it from the outside, make sure to peak inside as well as the interior is just as impressive as the facade. Many Melbournians choose to have their lunch break on the steps surrounding this building. So why not do like the locals do, grab a bite to eat from the many many close snack shops and restaurants, sit down and let everyone else keep bustling about while you enjoy a moment of rest. Personally, I think this place has a very Italian feel to it with its many arches, scroll work and bright white interior. But go see for yourself!
3. Victoria State Library
Taking up an entire city block, the library is one of the most impressive buildings in terms of scale. Being another place accessible to the public, you can soak in the grandeur as well as vast amounts of knowledge stored in the thousands of books available in there.
Don’t forget to check out the big dome room, you will not be disappointed! Oh and by the way, there is lots of other stuff you can do here as well. Lots of movies are available for your viewing pleasure. Or you can just head to one of the new media rooms, play away on one the many next-gen consoles or give your pictures that special something by using one of their computers equipped with the Adobe Creative Suite.
4. Victorian Railways Authority Office / Grand Hotel Melbourne
This one’s actually located directly across Nomads All Nations on Spencer Street. In contrast to all the buildings before, a big part of this building is not accessible to the public. Initially built as an office for the Victorian Railways Authority, it now also houses the “Grand Hotel”. The building is still used as an office for the Metropolitan Railways Authority, but basically the only thing giving that away is a medium-sized plaque on one of the entrances.
Although you cannot walk around freely here, it is still quite impressive to see, especially in contrast to the adjacent building of Australian newspaper “The Age” and Southern Cross Station. A strong, but not conflicting contrast showing off where Melbourne was and where it is going at the same time.
5. Shrine of Rememberance
A historical landmark in a very different sense. Built between 1928 and 1934, this war memorial commemorates the brave Victorian soldiers who fought in the second world war, many of whom never returned home. Situated on a hill just next to the Royal Botanical Gardens, the view down St. Kilda road towards the CBD is absolutely breathtaking, especially at night. It gives you an amazing sense of space and tranquility in an otherwise crowded city center.
The shrine itself looks like it’s come straight out of a bad movie about discovering that aliens have landed in ancient Egypt. Which is to say: It looks awesome! It owes its ancient yet out-of-this-world look to being inspired by the seven wonders of the ancient world. Oh, just a side note: Many of the soldiers from the world war that did return went on to build the Great Ocean Road, another must-see in Australia. You can book a tour of it in the Mad Travel Shop, 2 Spencer Street!
6. ANZ Tower
In a blunt move to out-evil the other Australian banks, ANZ went on to build their head office in Melbourne looking like the lair of a super villain straight out of a DC comic. Its excess use of black facade, church-like windows and roofs give it that gloomy, creepy feeling. Now I know back in the day aesthetics had different standards, but come on, that thing has Gotham City written all over it.
It is an absolutely interesting building nonetheless and clearly stands out against the Westpac and Commonwealth buildings who have once again proven that banks usually don’t have a sense of humour by just going for the conventional block skyscraper. Quick rule of thumb for building skyscrapers: If a 5-year old can do a better job in Google Sketch-Up, your design’s probably not very good to start with. But back to the building in question: It may look evil, but it’s definitely a cool addition to the Melbourne skyline and something you don’t see every day.
7. Melbourne Central
Impressively combing the old with the new, Melbourne Central is, as the name suggests, located right smack in the middle of the CBD. It’s a big shopping centre combined with an underground metro station. At the heart of it is the “Coops Shot Tower“, which belongs to the cultural heritage of Melbourne. To avoid it from being demolished, the complex was built around it with an 84 meter glass pyramid hovering over it. Again, it’s a stunning combination of old and new, and shows that both can coexist. But next to that, this is one great place for shopping! Many many stores can be found here including famous brands. But be warned, this shopping center is definitely not for the budget-conscious!
8. Port Melbourne (the whole promenade)
Obviously not a single structure, the whole esplanade is worth a visit. Just hop on the 109 tram to Port Melbourne and it will take you to the beach in 7 minutes flat! Now we really move away from classical architecture into more recent times. Starting at the final stop of the tram lies a stretch of multiple kilometers down the coastline which is packed with modern architecture. Some of the buildings just have funny shapes, some are renovated and redesigned versions of old structures and some are modern interpretations of earlier architecture.
If you’re up for it, you can walk down all the way to St. Kilda, although it is a bit of a stretch. It’s definitely worth it and the many bars in St. Kilda once you arrive will quench your traveller’s thirst. If you’re not into walking, just hire a bike and ride along the palm-lined promenade at dusk. Beauuutiful!
Now of course there are so many more great things to see here, but I hope this list at least gave you some idea of the architectural treasures in Victoria’s capital.