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Speaking recently at an Australian writers’ festival, author Dave Eggers referred to Melbourne as New York City’s spiritual cousin. Eggers was talking about the thriving literary scenes in both cities, but he could have just as easily been discussing public infrastructure, or immigration, or fashion. The similarities between Melbourne and NYC are numerous and striking, and help explain why so many ambitious Melburnians end up settling in Manhattan and Brooklyn, as opposed to, say, Sydney.

For New Yorkers visiting Australia, Melbourne offers the kind of cultural experience that Sydney can only dream of providing. Unless your primary reason for traveling to Oz is to lie on a beach or to surf, you’re better off skipping Sydney entirely and heading straight for its southerly sibling. Here are five reasons why New Yorkers, in particular, will love Melbourne:

1. Australians move to Melbourne to follow their creative dreams. New York City has long been a magnet for young Americans who just don’t fit in anywhere else—the artists, intellectuals, and queer kids who feel suffocated by their conservative hometowns. In Australia, the equivalent city is Melbourne, a place where liberal attitudes prevail and sympathetic state legislators provide financial and logistical support to universities and the arts.

It’s where the country’s young musicians hone their skills, where journalists and academics build their reputations, and where visual artists make their first big sales. And evidence of this thriving creative life is all around: witness the abundance of bookstores, the numerous sweaty music venues, and the museums and galleries that stay open late into the night.

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The Yarra River (© clearviewstock/istockphoto)

2. The ethnic diversity is staggering. Melbourne has always been a cheaper city to live in than Sydney, and as a result, it has become the Australian destination of choice for immigrants. Greeks, East Africans, and Vietnamese are particularly well represented, but there are literally hundreds of ethnic enclaves scattered across the metro area. While racism does exist, hate crimes are exceedingly rare, and New Yorkers of all stripes should feel comfortable exploring the city’s varied neighborhoods without fear of discrimination.

Multiculturalism infuses every aspect of life in Melbourne, from fast food (Japanese donburi and Vietnamese pho are dominant) to higher education (55 per cent of college students in Melbourne are from overseas). All this makes Melbourne feel less like an Australian city and more like a microcosm of the entire world—not unlike New York.

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Flinders Street Station (© LiveLifeTraveling/istockphoto)

3. The inner city is laid out on a grid. Downtown Melbourne is a breeze to navigate because, like Manhattan, almost all the streets are laid out at neat right angles. Sizeable areas of the city’s inner north and southeast align to a grid, too, making it difficult to get lost unless you venture a considerable distance out of town. These grids aid in the smooth operation of Melbourne’s mass transit system: a collection of trams, trains, and buses which all use the same ticketing method, Myki. Put simply, Melburnians don’t waste time getting from A to B because the powers-that-be figured it all out years ago—something that time-poor New Yorkers will certainly appreciate.

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The Queen Victoria Night Market (Charlie Hindhaugh/Flickr)

4. The city’s fashion boutiques rival the best in NYC and London. You could spend a week in Melbourne without visiting any of its haute clothing boutiques, but to do so would be to miss out on some of the city’s most intoxicating spaces. Take the retail heavyweight Assin, for example: it’s an enormous, subterranean room constructed from concrete and metal, featuring rack upon rack of pieces from dark-leaning brands like Ann Demeulemeester and Damir Doma. Or there’s Eastern Market—once a 19th century chapel, now a place to worship (and possibly purchase) one-off items by Carol Christian Poell, MA+, and others.

Melbourne street style draws equally from Japan and Europe. It’s a unique look but, as in New York, the emphasis here is on subtlety and sophistication, rather than glitz and bling.

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The Brooklyn Arts Hotel
5. The city’s small hotels pay homage to downtown Manhattan.

Melbourne has its share of shiny mega-hotels. But in the past decade, a new, Manhattan-inspired accommodation trend has taken hold: small, elegant establishments (often with no more than a dozen rooms and suites) that blend seamlessly with city’s creative and social scenes. The Cullen in Prahran is a fine example: its walls are adorned with original works by renowned contemporary Australian painter Adam Cullen, drawing art-lovers as well as weary travelers.

Downtown, the Ovolo takes inspiration from The Greenwich in Tribeca, offering bespoke rooms and, importantly, a complimentary minibar. Then there’s the Brooklyn Arts Hotel, an upscale B&B in chichi Fitzroy that’s reminiscent of a restored Brooklyn brownstone.

Dan Stapleton is a writer and editor currently based in Sydney, Australia. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Australian, Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, and others. He can be contacted via
email.