Melbourne is the most European of Australia’s cities. This is due as much to the sudden, stunning wealth generated by the Gold Rush in the 1800s as it is to Melbourne’s settlement history.
Melbourne was settled by free men, not by convicts. It started as a village for cattlemen, and grew at a comfortable pace—until the discovery of gold. The population surged. The next big population explosion came at the beginning of the 20th century, when people from eastern and southern Europe were fleeing the devastation of war. As a result, Melbourne is rich in European-style cafés and great Italian restaurants, pastry shops reflect the traditions of Vienna, Warsaw, Prague, and Budapest, and the town is home to the third largest Greek-speaking community in the world, after Athens and Thessalonica.
The older parts of Melbourne are elegant and charming. Architecture is often imposing and reflects both European sensibilities and the wealth created by the Gold Rush.
Among the delights in Melbourne is its still-extensive fleet of trams, or streetcars—the oldest network of streetcars in the world. Hundreds of trams run over a couple of hundred miles of track, both through the city and out to the suburbs, making this an easy city to get around—and in an environmentally friendly way. The trams are a cultural icon here every bit as much as the cable cars are in San Francisco. While no system of transportation is completely without flaws, Melbourne’s trams are remarkably reliable, affordable, and simply a fun way to get around town.