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Where to Play

 Urban Hikes 
With its compact central business district, intriguing arcades and appealing parks and gardens, Melbourne is a city tailor-made for long walks and leisurely strolls. A good place to begin is the Golden Mile Heritage Trail, a 2 1/2-mile route that winds through central Melbourne between Federation Square and the Melbourne Museum, passing numerous sites of historical and cultural significance along the way. Walk the track on your own (printed guides are available at tourist offices and museum shops), or book a guided tour at the visitor information center at Federation Square. Other good destinations for city walks include the paths and promenades along the Yarra River, the shady avenues of Fitzroy Gardens (www.fitzroygardens.com), the manicured Royal Botanic Gardens (www.rbg.vic.gov.au), the recently redeveloped Docklands district, and the ethnic enclaves of Chinatown (along Little Bourke Street), the Greek quarter (at Lonsdale and Russell streets), Little Italy (Lygon Street in Carlton) and Little Saigon (Victoria Street in Richmond). For seaside walks, head south to St. Kilda, a lively Melbourne suburb on Port Phillip Bay with a fun waterfront commercial district and a shared-use recreational cycling and pedestrian path along the shoreline.
Information: Fitzroy Gardens,
 Galleries and Performing Arts 
Melbourne may be smaller than Sydney, but Australia's second city is no slouch when it comes to fine art. The National Gallery of Victoria (www.ngv.vic.gov.au) has two important exhibition spaces in the arts precinct south of central Melbourne -- the NGA International gallery on St. Kilda Road, displaying works from Asia, Oceania, Europe and the Americas, and the NGA Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square, which houses Australian indigenous and non-indigenous art from the colonial period to the present. The city also is home to the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (www.accaonline.org.au), the Heide Museum of Modern Art (www.heide.com.au) and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (www.acmi.net.au). Melbourne's busy calendar of symphony, opera, live theater, jazz and popular music events features performances at the Arts Centre complex on the south bank of the Yarra (www.theartscentre.net.au) and at numerous other venues around town. Major annual festivals include the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in April (www.comedyfestival.com.au), the Melbourne International Film Festival in July (www.melbournefilmfestival.com.au), the Melbourne Fringe Festival in September-October (www.melbournefringe.com.au) and the Melbourne International Arts Festival in October (www.melbournefestival.com.au).
Melburnites are as passionate about sports as they are about the arts, and no athletic endeavor has a more loyal local following than Australian Rules Football, an action-packed homegrown game that vaguely resembles rugby. "Footy," as the sport is known locally, is played professionally at several Melbourne-area arenas, most notably the Melbourne Cricket Ground just east of the Melbourne Park tennis center. If your visit coincides with the Australian Football League season, joining the enthusiastic crowds at an Aussie Rules match can bee good fun -- check the AFL Web site (www.afl.com.au) for schedules. Melbourne also hosts a number of major international sporting events in addition to the Australian Open, including the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in March (www.grandprix.com.au), the Rip Curl Pro Surf & Music Festival in April (www.ripcurl.com/events) and the Melbourne Cup horse race in November (www.vrc.net.au).
Information: AFL,
Visitors to Melbourne can get a preview of Australia's unique animal and plant species without ever leaving the city. The Melbourne Zoo (www.zoo.org.au/melbourne), a few miles north of the central business district at Royal Park, displays koalas, kangaroos, emus, wombats and other indigenous critters along with a larger collection of animals from around the world. Various exhibits at the excellent Melbourne Museum in Carlton Gardens (www.melbourne.museum.vic.gov.au) explore aspects of Aussie wildlife, including a fascinating re-creation of a native temperate forest with thousands of live trees and plants and some 20 species of snakes, frogs, birds and other small vertebrates. On the south bank of the Yarra, the magnificent Royal Botanic Gardens (www.rbg.vic.gov.au) harbors numerous examples of native flora, with guided walking tours focusing on aboriginal plant lore. Farther afield but well worth the journey are the Melbourne Zoo's Healesville Sanctuary (www.zoo.org.au/healesville) and the Australia Garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne (www.rbg.vic.gov.au/rbg_cranbourne), both of which are located about an hour's drive from central Melbourne.
Information: The Melbourne Zoo ,
 Phillip Island Penguin Parade 
The nightly parade of penguins at Summerland Beach on Phillip Island, about two hours south of the city, is among the most popular tourist attractions in all of Victoria. After feeding at sea during the day, throngs of the irresistibly cute critters -- a species known locally as fairy penguins, but more properly called little penguins -- emerge from the surf at sunset and return to their burrows in the dunes. It's a marvelous sight to see, though not exactly a wilderness experience -- the procession has been packaged to accommodate large numbers of spectators, with a visitor center and gift shop, a cafe and a network of boardwalks and viewing stands built to contain the crowds and protect the penguins from their adoring fans. There's even an elite "sky box" viewing tower for visitors who are willing to pay a premium for a better view. The island, which is linked by a bridge to the mainland, is easily accessible by car, and tour packages from Melbourne are readily available if you prefer not to drive yourself.
 Great Ocean Road and the Shipwreck Coast 
One of the world's most spectacular coastal drives follows Australia's southern shoreline west of Port Phillip Bay -- a fantastic day trip from Melbourne or part of a longer multi-day circuit through the Victorian countryside. The Great Ocean Road (www.greatoceanrd.org.au) is the name given to a stretch of two-lane highway that winds for some 150 miles between Geelong (about 45 miles southeast of Melbourne) and the town of Warrnambool. The serpentine roadway was carved out of the rugged landscape by World War I veterans as a memorial to their fallen comrades, passing through several attractive seaside communities and miles of magnificent coastal vistas. Most famous is a site dubbed the Twelve Apostles, a group of weathered sandstone pinnacles that rise over the surf off Port Campbell National Park. Driving the coastline from Melbourne to Warrnambool and returning along the faster inland route takes all day, so it's best to spend a night or two on the road  if you want to take in the area's exquisite beaches, hiking and mountain bike trails and surf spots. For an even longer excursion, spend a few days driving the Great Southern Touring Route (www.greatsoutherntouring.com.au), which begins along the Great Ocean Road, then leads inland at Port Fairy toward the Grampians, then returns to Melbourne via Ballarat and the Goldfields region.
Information: Great Ocean Road,