Melbourne, melbourne Parliament House

Melboune Parliament House and Around

Returning to the Old Treasury Building and heading up Spring Street brings you to Eastern Hill, the area selected by Charles La Trobe, Victoria's first governor, for state use in the 1840s. Oozing authority at its summit is the colossal Parliament House (free 50min tours Mon-Fri 10am, 11am, noon, 2pm, 3pm & 3.45pm on days when parliament is not sitting), built in stages between 1856 and 1930 on a grassy knoll known as Lovers' Lane. Following the federation of Australia's six colonies in 1901, the first Federal Parliament of Australia took over the building, forcing the Victorian Government to find alternative accommodation in the Royal Exhibition Building, where it remained until 1927.

The Federal Parliament then shifted to Canberra, allowing the Victorian Government to reclaim its original home. Through the main doors a vestibule leads into the elaborate Queen's Hall, used mainly for formal state functions, while doors to the right and left connect with the chambers of the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly. Don't miss Question Time (2pm; arrive early to claim a seat), when you can sit in the Public Gallery and - depending on the subject of the debate - listen either to the members' heated exchanges or count the number who have fallen asleep.

Opposite Parliament House, the immaculately preserved Windsor Hotel began life as the Grand Hotel in 1883, before being taken over three years later by future Victorian premier James Munro, who established his moral credentials by immediately declaring the establishment teetotal. Check out the palatial interior, its rooms resonating with the hum of well-bred conversation, or indulge in a posh afternoon tea (daily 3.30-5.30pm) of tarts and lamingtons in the hotel's restaurant, 111 Spring Street. Just north on the same side of the street, the Princess Theatre is a sparky piece of nineteenth-century chic which opened in 1886 and was transformed a year later into one of Melbourne's most extravagant buildings, when tarted up in recognition of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee Year. Designed by William Pitt and later refurbished by Henry White in 1901 and David Marriner in 1987, the Princess is arguably Australia's most lavish theatre, notable for its flamboyant exterior topped off by a gilded trumpeting angel on the uppermost tower and the latest hi-tech stage equipment. Legend has it that the 38-year-old Italian-born Englishman Frederick Baker ("Federici") had a heart attack and fell to his death while playing Mephistopheles in the opera Faust, and his ghost haunts the theatre to this day. The Theatre Bar is named in his honour. To the northeast looms St Patrick's Cathedral, designed by William Wardell, the architect responsible for some of Melbourne's finest nineteenth century churches (Mon-Fri 8am-6pm, Sat 8am-7.30pm, Sun 8am-8pm).

A more modest church stood on the site until 1850, when the Reverend J.A. Goold, Bishop of Melbourne, decided it was too small for the city's burgeoning population and had it demolished. Its replacement was still under construction when, in 1858, the ambitious Goold declared that a still grander cathedral was required, to be constructed on the proceeds of Victoria's booming pastoral industries. Work proceeded slowly, however, and was frequently suspended as labour vanished to the goldfields. Finally consecrated in 1897, the cathedral boasts one of the city's finest collections of stained-glass windows, and the beautifully proportioned interior is graced by an enormous marble crucifix.