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The suburb of Carlton is located just north of the Melbourne central business district, bounded by Victoria Street in the south and Nicholson Street to the east.

Carlton's main shopping strip is based around the tree-lined Lygon Street. Famous for its huge variety of cafes and restaurants, many offering outside dining, this is the historic heartland of Melbourne's Italian community.

Carlton is characterised by its Victorian era architecture including notable buildings such as the Trades Hall building (opened in 1859), the Carlton Post Office in Elgin Street (1883) and court house in Drummond Street (1889). Carlton has a rich collection of residential architecture in the form of terrace houses with a good collection being found along the wide tree-lined boulevard of Drummond Street.

There are many European-style public squares in Carlton, typically a mixture of lawns with shade provided by established trees and expanses of paving with monuments such as fountains and memorials. At the northern end of Argyle Square gardens in Lygon Street is Piazza Italia whose centrepiece is a sundial surrounded by a large open space area tiled with porphyry stone from Italy.

The 16 hectare Carlton Gardens, situated on the corner of Victoria Parade and Nicholson Street, includes ornamental lakes, colourful garden beds, and shady pathways. Located within the gardens is the Royal Exhibition Building. Completed in 1880, it was given a World Heritage listing in 2004. It was the location of Australia's first sitting of government at Federation in 1901 and has hosted events including trade exhibitions, conventions and concerts. The Melbourne Museum is located adjacent to the Royal Exhibition Building and is currently the largest museum complex in the Southern Hemisphere.

Carlton North is located between Princes Street and Park Street, with its main commercial hub stretching along shady Rathdowne Street and known as Rathdowne Village. Another significant shopping strip is located at the northern end of Nicholson Street. A large slice of Carlton North is occupied by the Melbourne General Cemetery which was opened in 1853, and Princes Park with its extensive sporting facilities.