It’s been said over and over, but it remains a truism: Melbourne is a secretive city. Unlike glitzy cities like New York, Paris or even Sydney, Melbourne is your classic ‘second city’ best experienced from the inside out.
There’s no internationally recognised monument in Melbourne to capture the imagination of tourists. There’s no epic history. But the city remains one of the great places to be. Art, sport, food, wine… these are Melbourne’s drawcards. A stunning city in spring and autumn, Melbourne has a bad reputation (especially among Sydney-siders) for its winters (June-August). Mild in comparison to many big city winters (average temperatures are around 15C (60F), they can still be pretty bleak.
But winter is also when Melbourne becomes more playful and secretive than usual. With the grey skies of winter folding over the grey architecture, the bars and cafes clear the roadside chairs and tables and the action moves inside. That’s when the city really comes to life.
There are two winter highlights in Melbourne. The first is the football. Australian Rules footy was born in Melbourne and the city remains the sport’s spiritual home. Yes, spiritual; even local religious leaders admit that footy is Melbourne’s premier belief system.
Nine of the sixteen teams that make up the national league are Melbourne-based; so on any weekend through winter, you can see four or five games played at the two major venues. Forget the high-tech, closed-roof stadium at the docklands, though, and head to the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Despite its name, this 100,000-seat arena is all about football. See one of the big-name suburban clubs, like Essendon, Collingwood, Carlton or Richmond, and get a taste of the fun and fervour that makes an arvo at the footy such a popular Melbourne family activity. If you’re visiting from overseas (or even out of state), check out an Aussie Rules footy match with an expert host who will talk you through the rules of the game.
The Melbourne Film Festival is the other big ticket item in winter. Hosted across multiple venues in the heart of the city, the festival, in its 56th year, is one of the oldest and most well regarded film festivals in the world. And Melburnians love it; around 200,000 people attend over three weeks, typically grabbing an espresso on the way and then downing a couple of reds or a local beer after the show. This year it kicks off on 25 July.
There’s lots of other events to keep locals and visitors entertained (and warm) throughout winter. The best way to find them is to nose around the streets and laneways of the city and listen out for the tell-tale muffled sound of a crowd having fun.