Technically, over 5,000 miles separate Melbourne from the Chinese city of Shanghai. When standing on the corner of Swanston Street, however, in Melbourne’s CBD, and looking west down Little Bourke Street past rows of Chinese shops, it’s easy to forget you’re still in Australia—rather than Shanghai itself. With the lone exception of San Francisco, Melbourne’s Chinatown is the oldest of its kind in the entire Western world. Established in 1851 by laborers in Victoria’s gold rush, Melbourne’s Chinatown has thrived as the center of the city’s Chinese community. Walking beneath the towering red arch that marks the Chinatown entrance, the smell of dumplings and Sichuan cuisine seems to waft, lift, and rise above each narrow alleyway entrance. While once notorious for its opium and brothels, modern Chinatown is known for its food and colorful, cultural cuisine. Haggle with a vendor selling bright pink dragon fruit or cups of steaming green tea, and feast on miniature dim sum plates full of classic Cantonese flavor. If you ever come up for air between meals, visit the Chinatown Visitor Center and accompanying Chinese Museum, which explores the Chinese community’s history from gold miners up through today.
Melbourne’s Chinatown rests between the corners of Swanston and Spring Street. It’s a short walk from Melbourne’s CBD, and while the area is always a buzz of activity, late January or early February are packed during Chinese New Year. For sights, the Chinese Museum is open daily from 10am-5pm.