Hanging by a wire
Melbourne's trams have an iconic status similar to that of London's Underground or Sydney's ferries. Gliding serenely through the city's wide streets, they may seem like an archaic form of transport - slower than a train and more rigid than a bus - but not only is the tram the most convenient way in which to cross the gridded city but also the most scenic. With the network extending through the inner suburbs, trams are an excellent means for exploring Melbourne's charms.
The city is proud of its tram network, the most extensive in the world, and has resisted global trends in refusing to do away with the system. Such is the love for this mode of transport that a stationary tram has been converted to a bar outside of the Arts Centre on Melbourne's South Bank, while a fleet of moving Tramcar Restaurants cruise the network, serving lunch and dinner.
Trams are free within downtown Melbourne but fees apply outside of the CBD. To avoid confusion, drivers announce when they are leaving the free travel zone. Tickets cannot be purchased with cash, so if travelling beyond the city area, be sure to purchase a Myki card from a 7-Eleven or other convenience store. This plastic card, which operates on a tag-on/tag-off system, can be used on all of Melbourne's public transport.
Getting to the MCG and Richmond: Trams 48, 70 and 75
To reach the Melbourne Cricket Ground from the city, ride the 48 from Collins Street or the 70/75 from Flinders Street. A Myki travel card is required as the MCG does not fall within the free tram zone. After the cricket, trams become hideously packed and slow-moving. It will probably be more comfortable - and potentially faster - to walk back to town. Follow the crowds to avoid getting lost.
Beyond the ground along these routes lies the vibrant neighbourhood of Richmond. The better part of the area's nightlife centres upon Swan Street, serviced by the 70 tram, where the pick of pubs is the Corner Hotel, a legendary live music venue with a great upstairs beer garden. Mexicali Rose, a short stroll down the road, is a choice restaurant with hearty fresh Mexican fare. The 48 and 75 follow the more sedate Bridge Road, where the four-storey Mountain View Hotel is a decent place to grab a beer before the cricket.
Fitzroy and the inner north: Trams 86 and 11
Melbourne's picturesque bohemian region houses more young professionals than penniless artists these days but still has the city's best pubs.
From Collins Street, the 11 runs up Brunswick Street, Melbourne's most fashionable thoroughfare, to Fitzroy's swarm of excellent, "local"-style pubs. On Brunswick Street the Labour in Vain is a homely, comfortable establishment that can become a heaving mass of bodies when hosting live music. A short stroll down backstreets lie the Standard, where David Lloyd claimed he saw a horse in the bar during the last Ashes, as well as The Rose, which is one of Melbourne's great football pubs. Brunswick Street also has a diverse range of eateries, with Naked for Satan a great choice for not merely its superb tapas but the sweeping views from its dining deck.
The 86, leaving the city from Bourke Street, ventures up Smith Street to the grungier suburb of Collingwood. Just up from the tram route, The Union Club Hotel is a handsome establishment that, at 20 minutes' walk from the MCG, is a good spot for a drink either side of the cricket. Among the chic gastronomic restaurants along Smith Street, Jim's Greek Tavern is a local institution with succulent lamb and saganaki. An alluring alternative is the Aboriginal social enterprise restaurant, Charcoal Lane, on Gertrude Street, whose menu includes blackened emu fillet and wallaby sirloin.
St Kilda: Trams 3, 12, 16 and 96
St Kilda is a boisterous seaside neighbourhood lounging beside Port Phillip Bay. The beachfront is lovely (although the bay's murky waters are hardly inviting) and a saunter along the seafront through to the neighbourhood's thoroughfares is often extraordinary. St Kilda is home to all kinds of people and boasts fascinating street life. The 3 and 16 from Swanston Street in the city plough a direct route down St Kilda Road, while the 12 from Collins Street and 96 from Bourke Street provide a more circuitous and picturesque ride through South Melbourne.
The 3, 16 and 96 travel down the Esplanade, where the historic Espy Hotel is a magnificent spot for a drink; it features a good kitchen as well as a rowdy live music scene in the evening. Wilder yet is the legendary Prince of Wales, where St Kilda's music scene and gay culture combine spectacularly. For more wholesome pursuits, cross over from the Esplanade to St Kilda's boardwalk and stroll along the seafront. Ice-cream from one of the beachfront vendors makes a welcome accompaniment, and the fairground, Luna Park, at journey's end contributes to the conviviality.
Touring around the city: Tram 35 and the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant
The free City Circle Tourist Tram skirts the perimeter of downtown Melbourne, taking in many of the city's key landmarks. The ornate heritage trams wend a circuit that covers Federation Square and Flinders Street Station, Carlton Gardens' Royal Exhibition Building and Melbourne Museum, as well as the Docklands precinct with its Melbourne Star Observation Wheel. Passengers may disembark and re-board at the various sights or simply continue to ride. It's not the most effective way to reach a destination but a nice way to spend an hour.
The Colonial Tramcar Restaurant is a hoot. The food is decent, the atmosphere jovial, and the experience of fine dining in a moving tram entirely novel. The restaurant operates for luncheon, early- and late-evening rides, and tables should be reserved well in advance. It's an expensive ride but consider that drinks are included (you may have to prompt the busy wait staff). And who knows when you'll next get the chance to dine in a tramcar?
Benjamin Golby, a resident of Melbourne, is writing a thesis, "Music about Donald Bradman"