Melbourne: Race into pole position Down Under

As Australia's sportiest city gets set for the Grand Prix, James Litston finds culture and shops galore

Petrolheads are revving up for the return of the Formula 1 motor racing season, which gets under way next weekend at Melbourne's Albert Park circuit with the Australian Grand Prix: a race won last year by Britain's Jenson Button.

Once the grandstands are dismantled post-race, Albert Park reverts to a peaceful oasis just north of the seaside suburb of St Kilda. Start your walk at the park's Carousel Café (00 61 3 8646 6000; foodanddesire.com), whose lakeside deck affords excellent views of the city skyline. Then set out along the lakeshore to your left.

Where the path veers right to skirt around the lake, continue straight along the adjacent paved road – a part of the actual racetrack – and on past the domed canopy of the MSAC outdoor pool, built for the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

At the traffic lights just beyond, cross Albert Road and head down Cecil Street: a quiet, residential road of historic architectural styles and shady melaleuca trees, in the suburb of South Melbourne. The street's Art Deco, Victorian and Federation designs symbolise the early decades of Melbourne's expansion.

It gets a bit bland after the attractively tiled Lamaro's pub at number 273, so pick up the pace for the next 100m or so. Look right as you cross Bank Street to see the Parisian-influenced façade of South Melbourne Town Hall. Two blocks on lies the regenerated South Melbourne Market (southmelbournemarket.com.au). Explore the covered marketplace (open Wednesday and Friday to Sunday) to see the colourful produce and exotic Southern Hemisphere seafood, as well as homewares.

Feeling peckish yet? Then head back outside and graze your way around the world at the stalls and restaurants along the market's Cecil Street frontage. Choose from burritos, tapas, sushi and Turkish gozleme pastries, or join the queue at the dim sim stall (number 91) to sample one of these super-size dumplings known colloquially as "dimmies".

Hunger sated, head back to the junction with Coventry Street and turn left. Browse the trendy shops and hip cafés along this attractive Victorian strip, then turn left again onto Clarendon Street. At the next junction (York Street), you can escape the heat by riding the 112 tram for a couple of stops, otherwise continue on foot all the way down to Crown Casino. Dead ahead lies the Yarra River, where a right turn brings you on to the Southbank. This sanitised stretch of riverbank, with its mix of restaurants and street entertainment, has become a tourist hub and is pleasant for a waterfront stroll.

Things get edgier across the river in the Central Business District (CBD). To get there, head left over Sandridge Bridge (a former railway crossing), pausing to take in the whimsical, steel sculptures on the left (another legacy from the Commonwealth Games) and soaring Eureka Tower – the city's tallest building – on the right.

On reaching the north bank, continue right and take the pedestrian underpass beneath Flinders Station. Emerging on Flinders Street, turn right, cross over and go half a block to Degraves Street, the best-known of Melbourne's celebrated laneways.

As recently as the 1980s, central Melbourne held little appeal – a victim of the 1960s "doughnut effect" that saw people desert the city centre for the suburbs. Then a counterculture revolution saw the laneways reborn, with cheap rents attracting the small, independent businesses that now characterise these narrow passageways today.

Regeneration began right here in Degraves Street and rapidly spread to its grungier continuation, Centre Place, and on through the full laneways network. Even the dodgiest-looking, most graffiti-strewn dead-ends can yield welcome surprises, be they off-the-grid fashion stores, hole-in-the-wall cafés or tiny standing-room-only bars.

There are plenty more laneways to discover, but for now, pass through Centre Place and turn right on to Collins Street. Note the imposing 1870s architecture; this was the region's financial and commercial centre during the Gold Rush, when Melbourne was the richest city in the world. Collins Street remains Melbourne's most prestigious shopping destination.

At the end of the block, turn right onto Swanston Street, Melbourne's busiest thoroughfare. Pass the cathedral and cross back over Flinders Street. You're now in Federation Square (fedsquare.com), a major cultural and event space loved or hated for its striking, deconstructivist architecture. Pause at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia (00 61 3 8620 2222; ngv.vic.gov.au) to browse its collection of Australian and Aboriginal artworks.

Finally, pop down the stairs to Federation Wharf and take a pew at Riverland (00 61 3 9662 1771; riverlandbar.com). Order a local chardonnay and watch rowing boats glide along the Yarra: a fitting end to a wonderful day in the sportiest – and most happening – city Down Under.

Fresh cuts

The all-new Ovolo Hotel (00 61 3 869 2077; ovologroup.com), located in the CBD's coolest quarter, is made for city slickers. Each spacious, apartment-style room comes with added extras such as complimentary Wi-Fi, laundry, minibar treats and continental breakfast. The perfect fit for an urban, clued-up crowd. Doubles from A$195 (£130).

Even newer is Captain Baxter (00 61 3 8534 8999; captainbaxter.com.au), an upmarket restaurant in laid-back St Kilda that opened in December 2012. The globally-inspired menu is designed for sharing (a real Melbourne trend). Kick back and enjoy flavourful, modern Australian dishes and uninterrupted views over the busy beachfront boardwalk.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Singapore Airlines (0844 800 2380; singaporeair.com) offers four daily departures from Heathrow to Singapore (plus another from Manchester), with onward connections to Melbourne.Return fares start at £1,085.

Melbourne is also served by Qatar Airways (0870 389 8090; qatarairways.com/uk) from Heathrow and Manchester via Doha; Qantas (08457 747767; qantas.co.uk) from Heathrow via Singapore (from 31 March via Dubai); Emirates (0844 800 2777; emirates.com/uk) from a range of UK airports via Dubai; Etihad Airways (0870 241 7121; etihadairways.com) from Heathrow and Manchester via Abu Dhabi; Thai Airways (0870 606 0911; thaiairways.co.uk) from Heathrow via Bangkok; and Malaysia Airlines (0870 607 9090; malaysiaairlines.com) from Heathrow via Kuala Lumpur.

Staying there

The Prince, 2 Acland Street, St Kilda (00 61 3 9536 1111; theprince.com.au) is a good bet for contemporary seafront style, with a lobby wrapped in gleaming black glass and 40 bright airy guestrooms. Doubles from A$154 (£103), room only.

More information

visitmelbourne.com/uk

australia.com

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
music
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
peopleBroadcaster has a new role bringing 'the big stories that matter' to US
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Life and Style
Moves to regulate e-cigarettes and similar products as medicines come amid increasing evidence of their effectiveness
healthHuge anti-smoking campaign kicks off on Wednesday
Life and Style
fashionEveryone, apparently
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
art
Arts and Entertainment
Shia LaBeouf is one of Brad Pitt's favourite actors in the world ever, apparently
filmsAn 'eccentric' choice, certainly
Life and Style
An Internet security expert has warned that voice recognition technology needs to be more secure
techExperts warn hackers could control our homes or spend our money simply by speaking
Extras
indybest
News
peopleBenjamin Netanyahu trolled by group promoting two-state solution
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    Day In a Page

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style