Melbourne is situated at the mouth of Australia's Yarra River. (Richard Sowersby/BBC)
Marvellous Melbourne has topped the Economist Intelligence Unit’s most liveable cities list for two years running, a position most residents concur with enthusiastically. Situated on southern Australia’s Port Phillip Bay at the mouth of the Yarra River, the Victoria state capital has buzzy waterfront districts, green parks, numerous art galleries and narrow alleys, all of which give the city a rich and varied street life with distinct and charming neighbourhoods.
What is it known for? Melbourne may be Australia’s second city (after Sydney) -- and there is a fair bit of rivalry between the two -- but residents deem their fair town first for culture, arts, festivals, food and fashion, and for having a more genteel quality of life than their brash sister 870km to the north. The city’s leafy streets and Victorian suburbs are filled with cafes that serve up perfect flat whites (similar to a latte) and short blacks (espressos), while impressive developments are filling the waterfront neighbourhoods with fresh residential and commercial spaces.
Melbourne has something for any culture hound, from near weekly festivals to graffiti-filled laneways containing some of the best street art in the world. Ethnic groups from Asia and the rest of the world who have settled in areas like Footscray in the west of the city make Melbourne a great multicultural and multi-cuisine magnet. “We have hip little bars and grungy, funky pubs, fabulous restaurants, plenty of green space and it doesn’t get as stinking hot as the rest of Australia,” said Jenny Webby, an IT manager and lifelong resident. “There are great beaches and always something cultural going on.”
Near the historic Flinders Street Station in Melbourne’s Central Business District (CBD), the decade-old Federation Square has become a gathering place for performances and cultural events, despite initial criticism of its seemingly jumbled-up architecture and design. The square is now considered one of the world’s best public spaces and it hosts more than 2,000 events a year, drawing people from all over Australia. Melbourne’s tram system connects the CBD with the city’s suburbs and there are many dedicated bike paths and bike lanes on the roads. “It is easy to cycle everywhere, particularly north of the river,” Webby said.
Where do you want to live? Districts close to the CBD are very popular, including those in the inner south of the city such as the beachfront St Kilda, and those north of the Yarra River, such as Fitzroy. “Eight out of the 10 most searched suburbs to rent are located close to the city, in affluent, fashionable areas like St Kilda, Richmond, Hawthorn, Elwood and South Yarra,” explained Tom Ainsworth, head of sales for the property site realestate.com.au. The majority of popular areas are within an 8km radius of the city centre.
Outer suburbs such as Berwick and Pakenham “are well-priced and appeal to first-home buyers and families”, Ainsworth added. “Then a significant portion of people are looking at regional areas including Geelong to the west and Mornington Peninsula, Mount Martha and Mount Eliza [southeast of the city].” Empty nesters and others looking for low-maintenance lifestyles are considering townhouses and luxury apartments in the bayside suburbs, as are foreign buyers interested in investment properties. “Within inner bayside and CBD markets, we’re finding 30% to 40% of our buyers are coming from overseas,” explained Torsten Kasper, managing director of estate agents Chisholm and Gamon. “Shrewd buyers look for suburbs that neighbour growth suburbs, as there is generally a flow-on effect. For example, East St Kilda is getting the benefit of the rise of St Kilda. We’re also seeing people looking at North Melbourne and West Melbourne.”
Side trips For short getaways, people head down the coast to Mornington Peninsula or west to towns along the Great Ocean Road such as Torquay and Lorne. The scenic Yarra Valley, which is home to numerous wineries, is 90km east of the city and country towns such as Castlemaine, Daylesford and Kyneton in the Macedon Range are an hour to two hours drive from the city.
Melbourne Airport is the second busiest in Australia and serves numerous domestic routes around the country — the one-and-a-half hour Sydney-Melbourne route is one of the Asia Pacific’s most travelled. The city is a Qantas hub and has direct flights to many international destinations, such as London, about a 23-hour flight, and Los Angeles, roughly a 15-hour flight.
Practical info The property market is steadily improving in Melbourne. “We’re certainly finding that there’s more buyer depth in the market, which we didn’t see a few months ago,” Kasper said. The cost of a two-bedroom apartment varies from suburb to suburb, but in North Melbourne they go for around $400,000 Australian dollars, in East St Kilda they cost roughly $450,000 Australian dollars and in Elwood expect to pay upwards of $500,000 Australian dollars. Townhouses and small homes in North Melbourne are between $600,000 and $800,000 Australian dollars, while in Ellwood they can reach $1 million.
Two-bed rentals in popular neighbourhoods range from $450 to $800 Australian dollars per week, while townhouses range from $600 to $1,000 per week.