Welcome to Melbourne – consistently voted one of the world's most liveable cities.
Your tour begins at the corner of Swanston and La Trobe Streets. This unofficially marks the northern boundary of the city. All you'll need from here are good walking shoes, and regular coffee stops.
La Trobe St is also where you catch the free City Circle Tram. This mode of transport is not only a Melbourne icon, but this route is also popular with travellers and students. It’s a great way to get a sense of the boundaries of the city. And did I mention free.
Heading south down Swanston St, you’ll see the regal State Library of Victoria on your left - a great place to just hang out and absorb the bookish atmosphere or seek out one of the exhibitions and informative talks on offer. It’s also quite a sight on the weekends – throngs of people lie on the grass, street dancers boogie to boombox tunes and soapbox orators rant every Sunday.
Continue along Swanston St past modern QV – a good spot to stock up on groceries or a quick meal. When you get to the corner of Swanston and Little Bourke St, look to your left up Little Bourke – welcome to Chinatown! Come back if you’re hankering for cheap noodles or dumplings; for now, we’re off to get a hit of caffeine.
Turn right and head west down Little Bourke St, cross Elizabeth St and look out for Brother Baba Budan (359 Lt Bourke St). This tiny little joint serves up some of Melbourne’s best coffee – if it’s too busy, backtrack and go down Somerset Place to Little Mule Co. Grab a latte and check out the cool fixies on display. Sandwiches and fixed-gear bikes are made to order. Take your pick.
Head back to Elizabeth St and continue half a block past the GPO Building. This former post office dates back to 1859 and now houses upmarket boutiques. You can get fantastic sushi rolls from Kenzan and $10 ramen at Ramenya – both on the eastern side of the building. Follow the commotion and hubbub onto Bourke Street Mall. Always busy, this pedestrian- and tram-only street is the heart of Melbourne’s city. Apart from the flagship Myer and David Jones department stores, it’s a good place to people-watch and catch some of the city’s best buskers. Free entertainment? Why not.
Just off Bourke St Mall, look out for Causeway Lane. If you haven’t realised yet, Melbourne thrives on its laneways – these are the arteries that pump lifeblood and culture through the city. If you’re ever bored with all the main streets (Swanston, Elizabeth, Bourke), just wander off into a side street. You never know what you might find!
Causeway Ln connects across to Block Place. It’s a popular strip filled with al-fresco cafes and restaurants. Basement Discs, one of Melbourne’s best music stores, is also found here. Return for free lunchtime gigs. Continue on through the Block Arcade. This stunning shopping arcade was built in 1891 and has some of Melbourne’s best-preserved architectural elements – check out the mosaic tiles, wrought-iron rafters, and glass ceilings.
Pop out onto Collins St. To the west lies Melbourne’s commercial heart – big banks and companies are packed into skyscrapers and heritage-listed buildings. Head in the opposite direction, east up towards the breezy 'Paris' end of Collins St. On the corner of Collins and Swanston is the Melbourne Town Hall. Loads of cool events such as the Melbourne Comedy Festival (starts March 30 in 2011) are held here.
Continuing on, Collins St soon turns into an uptown tree-lined boulevard peppered with high-end boutiques (Prada, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci etc) and several stand-out Victorian buildings. As you approach the corner of Collins and Russell Sts, look out for the Scot’s Church and St Michael’s Uniting Church. Snap some travel pics and continue up Collins St, turning right onto Exhibition St and then take the next right down Flinders Lane.
Skinny Flinders Ln has an offshoot that's Melbourne’s most famed lane. Halfway between Exhibition and Russell Sts, AC/DC Lane was formerly Corporation Lane…boring! The city council made the decision to rename the lane after Australia’s most famous rock export. Today, the lane is fronted by Cherry Bar, a location that provided inspiration for many Melbourne rock bands, including Jet.
Stay on Flinders Lane. Once you get past Russell St, locate Hosier Lane and walk down. Don’t be surprised to find tourists trying to take pics of the ever-changing wall of graffiti art along the lane. The world’s most famous (and pricey) street artist, Banksy, once graffitti'd this wall – sadly, it was painted over by the local council. Oops.
Pop out from Hosier Ln onto Flinders St and turn right, heading west. You’ll see several key Melbourne landmarks at the corner of Flinders and Swanston St. On your right is St Paul’s Cathedral. The current building was erected in 1885 and has several gothic elements including the spires and arches. Diagonally across is the iconic entrance to the Flinders Street Station. The face of the station is covered in clocks and it’s a popular meeting spot; 'I’ll meet you under the clocks' being a common reference.
Federation Square is opposite St Paul's. Love it or hate it, this is a stark example of modern architecture. Since it officially opened in 2002, it has become one of Melbourne’s most popular attractions. If you’re ever bored on the weekends, drop by. Odds are there’ll be a free gig or performance happening. Each year, thousands pack the square to catch the Australian Open and other key Melbourne events on the giant TV screen.
End all that walking with a well-deserved beverage. Pop across to the Young & Jackson's pub on the corner of Flinders and Swanston St. It’s one of Melbourne’s oldest pubs (c1861) and a popular watering hole (with a rooftop cider bar). If alcohol isn’t your thing, continue along Flinders St and chuck a right into Degraves St. Cafes abound – indulge your sweet tooth with a dainty cupcake or continue the caffeine addiction. Whichever the case, congratulations – you’ve just seen some of the best sights in one of the world’s most liveable cities. Welcome to Melbourne!
Shawn Low is Lonely Planet's Asia-Pacific Travel Editor. Read his tweets: @shawnlow