Over the Easter weekend, we made a family trip to Melbourne. I'd been wanting to visit Melbourne since leaving Sydney. The two cities have a rivalry for best Aussie city, and I wanted to experience the difference for myself. The more I asked around, the more rave reviews I got for Melbourne. The overwhelming answer was Melbourne was a shopping mecca. When I mentioned I might be going to Melbourne solo (Markus doesn't care much for city trips), I can't tell you how many women were quick to offer to join me. Of course, in the end, Markus decided escaping Perth was more important than the actual destination, so off we all went together for a few days in Melbourne (pronounced "Melbun", not "Melburn", if you want to pass the Aussie test).
Before I left, a girlfriend advised me that Melbourne isn't a pretty city, but it has so much on that you could happily be there for a year and not exhaust your options. I think I have to agree. We stayed downtown in a fantastic location in that it was accessible to many desirable spots, but it was like being downtown in any nondescript city. I may upset a lot of locals when I say this, but Melbourne isn't very pretty. It does, however, have so many other draws that you forgive its appearance without a second thought. The public transportation network was awesome! A shuttle service took us from the airport to the central train station ($56 round trip for family of four), and from there a free shuttle took people to their respective hotels. This saved us from the perils of taxis without carseats (and the expense involved), and the girls loved riding the red bus. We were so amazed at the free hotel shuttle. It is offered by the airport shuttle company, not the individual hotels, which is pretty impressive. From our apartment-hotel (the Quest Hero), we easily walked to Parliament and caught the free tourist tram on the City Circle line which took us just about everywhere else we wanted to go.
We arrived on Saturday late afternoon and left early Wednesday morning, so that gave us three full days there, two of which were public holidays due to Easter. Amazingly, that didn't impact us much at all. The museum, aquarium and zoo were open over the holiday (we checked in advance), so the girls were happy. Actually, we didn't make it to the zoo. We went to the museum on day one, the aquarium on day two, and then back to the museum on day three because they enjoyed it so much!
My girlfriend was stunned that I went to Melbourne and didn't do a bit of shopping, but our trip was perfect without it. What I really wanted was some quality family time away from Perth for a while, and we got just that. We were blessed with excellent weather (far from a given in Melbourne, apparently), fantastic food options at hours that suited the kiddos (stunner!), and lots of nice, new things to see and do. So, what's my verdict on the best Aussie city (keeping in mind I've only seen three)? It depends on what you're after. Sydney has a magnificent harbor and no one could argue with its visual appeal as a city, but Melbourne has a diversity, a heart and a soul that we found in the fantastic Sydney neighborhood where we stayed but not in the city overall. While it doesn't look particularly fabulous, Melbourne definitely felt more European, and it reigns superior in art, theater, shopping, and dining. I suggest you visit and decide for yourself.