Australia


Australia destinations

about Australia is a wild and beautiful place, a land whose colour palette of red outback sands and Technicolor reefs frames sophisticated cities and soulful Indigenous stories.

Hip Cities

Most Australians live along the coast, and most of these folks live in cities – 89% of Australians, in fact. It follows that cities here are a lot of fun. Sydney is the glamorous poster child with world-class beaches and an otherwise glorious setting. Melbourne is all arts, alleyways and a stellar food scene. Brisbane is a subtropical town on the way up, Adelaide has festive grace and pubby poise. Boomtown Perth breathes West Coast optimism and Canberra showcases so many cultural treasures, while the tropical northern frontier town of Darwin, and the chilly southern sandstone city of Hobart, couldn't be more different.

Wild Lands & Wild Life

Australia is an extraordinarily beautiful place, as rich in rainforest (from Far North Queensland to far-south Tasmania) as it is in remote rocky outcrops like Uluru, Kakadu and the Kimberleys. The coastline, too, beset as it is with islands and deserted shores, is wild and wonderful. Animating these splendid places is wildlife like nowhere else on the planet, a place of kangaroos and crocodiles, of wombats and wallabies, platypus, crocodiles, dingoes and so much more. Tracking these, and Australia's 700-plus bird species, is enough to unearth your inner David Attenborough, even if you didn't until now know you had one.

Epicurean Delights

Australia plates up a multicultural fusion of European techniques and fresh Pacific-rim ingredients – aka 'Mod Oz' (Modern Australian). Seafood plays a starring role − from succulent Moreton Bay bugs to delicate King George whiting. Of course, beer in hand, you'll still find beef, lamb and chicken at Aussie barbecues. Don't drink beer? Australian wines are world-beaters: punchy Barossa Valley shiraz, Hunter Valley semillon and cool-climate Tasmanian sauvignon blanc. Tasmania produces outstanding whisky too. Need a caffeine hit? You'll find cafes everywhere, coffee machines in petrol stations, and baristas in downtown coffee carts.

The Open Road

There's a lot of tarmac across this wide brown land. From Margaret River to Cooktown, Jabiru to Dover, the best way to appreciate Australia is to hit the road. Car hire is relatively affordable, road conditions are generally good, and beyond the big cities traffic fades away. If you're driving a campervan, you'll find well-appointed caravan parks in most sizable towns. If you're feeling adventurous, hire a 4WD and go off-road: Australia's national parks and secluded corners are custom-made for camping trips down the dirt road and classic desert tracks from Birdsville to Cape York have adventure written all over them.

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Sydney, spectacularly draped around its glorious harbour and beaches, has visual wow factor like few other cities. Scratch the surface and it only gets better.

On the Wild Side

National parks ring the city and penetrate right into its heart. Large chunks of harbour are still bush-fringed, while parks cut their way through skyscrapers and suburbs. Consequently, native critters turn up in the most surprising places. Clouds of flying foxes pass overhead at twilight and spend the night rustling around in suburban fig trees; oversized spiders stake out corners of lounge-room walls; possums rattle over roofs of terrace houses; and sulphur-crested cockatoos screech from the railings of urban balconies. At times Sydney's concrete jungle seems more like an actual one – and doesn't that just make it all the more exciting?

After Dark

After a lazy Saturday at the beach, urbane Sydneysiders have a disco nap, hit the showers and head out again. There's always a new restaurant to try, undercover bar to hunt down, hip band to check out, sports team to shout at, show to see or crazy party to attend. The city's pretensions to glamour are well balanced by a casualness that means a cool T-shirt and a tidy pair of jeans will get you in most places. But if you want to dress up and show off, there's plenty of opportunity for that among the sparkling harbour lights.

Making a Splash

Defined just as much by its rugged Pacific coastline as its exquisite harbour, Sydney relies on its coastal setting to replenish its reserves of charm; venture too far away from the water and the charm suddenly evaporates. Jump on a ferry and Sydney's your oyster – the harbour prises the city's two halves far enough apart to reveal an abundance of pearls. On the coast, Australia ends abruptly in sheer walls of sandstone punctuated by arcs of golden sand. In summer they're covered with bronzed bodies making the most of a climate that encourages outdoor socialising, exercising, flirting and fun.

Show Pony

Brash is the word that inevitably gets bandied around when it comes to describing the Harbour City, and let's face it, compared to its Australian sister cities, Sydney is loud, uncompromising and in your face. Fireworks displays are more dazzling here, heels are higher, bodies more buffed, contact sports more brutal, starlets shinier, drag queens glitzier and prices higher. Australia’s best musos, foodies, actors, stockbrokers, models, writers and architects flock to the city to make their mark, and the effect is dazzling: a hyperenergetic, ambitious, optimistic and unprincipled marketplace of the soul, where anything goes and everything usually does.

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Sights

Australian Convict Sites

On the Unesco World Heritage list are 11 places collectively known as the Australian Convict Sites. Four are in this part of NSW: Hyde Park Barracks Museum in central Sydney; Cockatoo Island on the Parramatta River; Old Government House in Parramatta; and the Great North Rd, which connects Sydney to the Hunter Valley.

These sites are among many dating back to early colonial times. History buffs should consider purchasing a Sydney Museums Pass, which gives access to 12 historic properties in and around Sydney managed by the Historic Houses Trust, including Susannah Place, Justice & Police Museum, Government House, Hyde Park Barracks, Museum of Sydney, Elizabeth Bay House and Vaucluse House. The pass is valid for a month and available from any of the properties.

Sydney Olympic Park

More than just Olympic nostalgia, the 640-hectare Sydney Olympic Park, 14km west of the city centre, is a sprawling sustainable world unto itself. Each year 850 million litres of water are captured in the park's water features, reducing its demand on city water by half, and banks of solar panels generate much of the site's electricity. In the post-Olympic years the surrounding land has been transformed into nature reserves, 35km of cycleways and residential enclaves.

In the shadow of the main Olympic stadium is Games Memories, an outdoor multimedia installation consisting of 480 decorated poles. Nearby, the silver flying saucer which burst into Olympic flame has been converted into a fountain.

The train deposits you at the heart of the complex, near the main venues. It's also possible to arrive by ferry, though the wharf is at the far northern tip of the complex, next to the Newington Nature Reserve. From here it's a 3.5km walk (about 45 minutes) to ANZ Stadium, or you can catch bus 526 (16 minutes, departs hourly). The best way to explore the entire complex is by bike.

Money-Saving Tips

- For views, zip up to Blu Bar, on the 36th floor of the Shangri-La hotel, or the rotating O Bar on the 47th floor of the Australia Square tower. They're not cheap but a cocktail will cost less than the price of visiting Sydney Tower.
- Rather than booking an expensive cruise, explore the harbour on a Manly ferry or take the - -Parramatta River service upstream.
- Instead of the pricey BridgeClimb, head up the Pylon Lookout instead.
- Save your expensive public transport for Sundays, when all-day Opal card travel costs just $2.60.

Free

Sydney can seem an expensive city, but there's a lot you can do for free.

Many museums and galleries offer free admission to all or part of their collections, including top attractions such as the Art Gallery of NSW, Rocks Discovery Museum, Sydney Observatory, Maritime Museum, White Rabbit, Museum of Contemporary Art, Nicholson Museum and its scheduled successor the Chau Chak Wing Museum.

Wandering the city’s parks, gardens and national parks (though there’s a vehicle fee) is gratis and rolling out your towel for nothing on the beach is an Australian birthright.

While you can't just go traipsing through the Opera House you can scramble all over it. Then you can walk over that other great icon, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and wander through Luna Park (rides are charged).

Many of Sydney's most beautiful old buildings are open free to the public, including Customs House, the Mint, St Mary's Cathedral, State Library of NSW and GPO. For added entertainment, visit Parliament House on sitting days. Window-shoppers should peruse the exquisite Queen Victoria Building and the Strand Arcade. For more modern architectural thrills, check out Central Park and the nearby Dr Chau Chak Wing Building.

Beaches

Whether you join the procession of the bronzed and the beautiful at Bondi, or surreptitiously slink into a deserted nook hidden within Sydney Harbour National Park, the beach is an essential part of the Sydney experience. Even in winter, watching the rollers break while you're strolling along the sand is exhilarating. Sydney's ocean beaches broadly divide into the eastern beaches, south of the harbour, running from Bondi southwards, and the northern beaches, north of the harbour, starting at Manly. The numerous harbour beaches are mostly east of the bridge on both the north and south side.

Sleeping

Sydney offers a vast quantity and variety of accommodation, especially concentrated in the downtown, Rocks and Darling Harbour areas. Even so, the supply shrivels up under the summer sun, particularly around weekends and big events, so be sure to book ahead. Prices, even in the budget class, are high; city-centre hotels charge stratospheric rates.

Eating

Sydney’s cuisine is exceptional and rivals that of any great world city. The city truly celebrates Australia’s place on the Pacific Rim, marrying the freshest local ingredients – excellent seafood is a particular highlight – with the flavours of Asia, the Mediterranean, the Americas and, of course, its colonial past. Sydneysiders are real foodies, always seeking out the latest hot restaurant.

Drinking & Nightlife

In a city where rum was once the main currency, it’s little wonder that drinking plays a big part in the Sydney social scene – whether it’s knocking back some tinnies at the beach, schmoozing after work or warming up for a night on the town. Sydney offers plenty of choice in drinking establishments, from the flashy to the trashy.

Entertainment

Take Sydney at face value and it’s tempting to unfairly stereotype its good citizens as shallow and a little narcissistic. But take a closer look: the arts scene is thriving, sophisticated and progressive – it’s not a complete accident that Sydney’s definitive icon is an opera house.

Spectator sports, led by rugby league, are huge and attending a match is highly recommended.

Shopping

Shopping is the number one recreational activity for many in hedonistic, consumerist Sydney. Retail covers a wide range here, from glitzy city-centre boutiques, to mass-produced koala-heavy tourist tat, to just-so Paddington galleries and grungy Newtown vintage stores. Best of all are the markets, with a bit of everything and a really buzzy weekend scene; an essential Sydney experience.

Activities

Who wants to be stuck inside on a beautiful sunny day? Certainly not most Sydneysiders. Give them any excuse and they’ll be stripping off nonessential clothing and hitting the city’s beaches, parks and pools. With looking good such an obvious concern, the city has devised myriad ways to stay built, bronzed and beautiful. Oh, and healthy, too.

Kiteboarding

Sydney Harbour’s too busy and the ocean’s too rough, but Botany Bay is just right for strapping yourself into a parachute and kitesurfing! Brush up your aqua-aeronautic skills with a Kitepower lesson.

Swimming

Fancy a dip? Sydney has sheltered harbour coves, saltwater rock pools, more than 100 public pools and brilliant ocean beaches. Always swim between the flags on lifesaver-patrolled beaches, and avoid swimming in the ocean for a day and in the harbour for three days after heavy rains. See Beaches for more. Many outdoor pools close at the end of April for the cooler months and reopen in early October.

Running

In the city centre, the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Domain are ideal for a run, and you'll be joined by legions of office workers at lunchtime. Running across Sydney Harbour Bridge or Anzac Bridge makes for a healthy commute. Centennial Park will spirit you away from traffic fumes, or hit Bondi Beach for a soft-sand shuffle. If it’s a hill climb you’re after, the Bondi to Coogee Clifftop Walk is a scenic sweatfest.

Fitness and Yoga

What do you bench? Most of Sydney’s bigger hotels have a small gym for guests’ use, usually for free. Casual sessions at Sydney’s top inner-city gyms can be pricey; combined gym/swim deals at public swimming pools are often cheaper – see Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre, Bondi Icebergs Swimming Club, Cook & Phillip Park Aquatic & Fitness Centre, North Sydney Olympic Pool and Victoria Park Pool.

Most of Sydney seems to be looking through its third eye: yoga classes happen at gyms, pools and community centres. There are also lots of outdoor sessions.

Classpass (www.classpass.com) lets you access a good diversity of Sydney fitness and yoga classes at a reasonable price.

Surfing & Paddleboarding

Sydney has been synonymous with surfing ever since the Beach Boys effused about ‘Australia’s Narrabeen’ in 'Surfin’ USA' (Narrabeen is one of Sydney’s Northern Beaches). For updates on what’s breaking where, see www.coastalwatch.com, www.surf-forecast.com, www.magicseaweed.com or www.swellnet.com.

Most beaches have surfboard hire available and several have companies offering surfing lessons. The southern end of Manly Beach and the northern end of Bondi are popular spots for beginners; Freshwater is another learner-friendly break.

Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is very popular on both the harbour and ocean, with operators at several spots including Manly, Rose Bay, Coogee and Avalon hiring out boards.

Sailing

An introductory sailing lesson is a brilliant way to get out onto the harbour, though it’s not for the budget-conscious. More experienced salts can skipper their own boat.

Inline Skating & Skateboarding The beachside promenades at Bondi and Manly are in-line skating hot spots, but Centennial Park is better for serious workouts. You can even skate across Sydney Harbour Bridge.

For skateboarders, there’s a decent skate ramp at the south end of Bondi Beach, and a skate centre at Sydney Olympic Park.

Diving

Sydney’s best shore dives are at Gordons Bay, Clovelly; Shark Point, Clovelly; Shelly Beach, Manly; and Ship Rock, Cronulla. Other destinations include North Bondi, Camp Cove and Bare Island. Popular boat-dive sites include the grey nurse shark colony at Magic Point, off Maroubra; Wedding Cake Island off Coogee; Sydney Heads; and off Royal National Park.

Lawn Bowls

Formerly the domain of dapper septuagenarians, lawn bowls has become inexplicably hip for a certain demographic in recent years. Younger folk have learned to appreciate the sport's affordability, retro-kitsch vibe and the time-honoured traditions of drinking and smoking while the balls are rolling. Jack high!

Wildlife-Spotting Contrary to popular stereotypes you're unlikely to see a kangaroo bounding down George St. There are, however, plenty of native critters to be spotted if you know where to look. Mrs Macquaries Point is a good place to see sulphur-crested cockatoos. Keep an eye on the sky for the twilight flyover of swarms of bats (grey-headed flying foxes, to be exact).

Water dragons can be spotted sunning themselves in Lane Cove National Park and in the bush around Parsley Bay, while you might be lucky enough to come across a goanna on the Manly Scenic Walkway.

Whales pass along the coast between May and December and it's surprisingly easy to spot their spouts from the cliffs – grab a perch at Waverley Cemetery and keep an eye out for the whale-watching boats. Snorkelling is rewarding both in the harbour and on the coast. One of the best spots is Gordons Bay, where a free underwater nature trail has been set up, or at Shelly Beach, next to Manly.

Cycling

An ever-increasing number of Sydney roads have designated cycle lanes, but some of these run between parked cars and moving traffic (watch for opening doors). If you’re just cycling for fun and not to get around, opt for the long cycle paths at North Head (near Manly), Sydney Olympic Park and Centennial Park.

Travel with Children

With boundless natural attractions and relaxed, outdoor living, Sydney is great for kids. Families can easily show their little ones a good time without suffering for it themselves, with many great options that don’t cost a cent: swim, wander and play all across the city.

LGBT Travellers

LGBT folk have migrated to Oz's Emerald City from all over Australia, New Zealand and the world, adding to a community that is visible, vibrant and an integral part of the city’s social fabric. Partly because gay and straight communities are so well integrated in central Sydney, and partly because of smartphone apps facilitating contact, the gay nightlife scene has died off substantially. But the action's still going on and Sydney is indisputably one of the world’s great queer cities.

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Equal parts dynamic, cosmopolitan, sports-mad and arty, Melbourne simultaneously exudes style and keeps its best spots hidden, inviting discovery by food and culture lovers.

Within the Grid

Melbourne is often dubbed the most 'European' of Australian cities – indeed the eastern, designer section of Collins St was crowned the 'Paris End' in the 1950s. There's also a mini New York vibe here, thanks to the city's well-ordered grid and scattering of art-deco high-rises. But Melbourne is uniquely Melbourne, too. Much of that is due to the 230-plus laneways that penetrate into the heart of city blocks, which are recognised for world-class street art, restaurants and bars. Spend a year here – or a lifetime – and there will still be another route to take; another gem to uncover.

Neighbourhoods

While central Melbourne has its own allure, the city's charm lies in its diverse suburbs, each of which tells a different tale. Despite the long-standing north–south divide (glitzy South Yarra versus hipster Fitzroy), there’s an effortless, laid-back appeal surrounding Melbourne's bars, cafes, festivals and people that transcends borders. Best experienced like a local, neighbourhood pockets of delicious food reflect the ethnic communities that inhabit them: Victoria St, Richmond, for Vietnamese; Carlton's old-school Italian; Balaclava for Jewish bakeries; Middle Eastern in Brunswick; Footscray for Ethiopian; and Chinatown for Asian food matched only by its country of origin.

Sport

It's not the high-rises and bridges that strike you when first visiting Melbourne, but the vast sporting edifices on the fringe of the city centre. Melburnians are crazy about AFL football ('footy'), cricket and horse racing, while grand-slam tennis and Formula One car racing draw visitors in droves. Sport is part of the social fabric and takes on something of a religious aspect here. In fact, sporting events have nearly as many public holidays allotted to them as religion – everyone gets the day off for the Melbourne Cup horse race and the Friday before the AFL Grand Final!

Deep Reserves of Cool

It’s easy to label Melbourne a 'hipster' destination, but for a city that’s more than 20 hours by plane from New York and London – and home to half as many people – it’s more a trendsetter than follower. Melbourne's long been food and coffee obsessed and had liberal, bohemian and progressive strands to its subculture. Top chefs are inspired by their heritage and don't just cook local produce, but native ingredients used by Indigenous Australians for hundreds of thousands of years. Mingled with hotspots in laneways, warehouses and on rooftops, it’s clear that Melbourne doesn't have to try – it just is.

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Sights

Nostalgic Sights

You’ve got to hand it to Melburnians: they have a certain sentimentality about neon signs and industrial buildings. Things cherished by the average Melburnian include:

- The neon Nylex Clock (currently not ticking) atop malt silos near the Yarra River in Richmond.
- The Skipping Girl neon sign (renewed and skipping again) near Victoria Gardens in Richmond.
- The Uncle Toby’s silos in Sunshine, in Melbourne’s industrial west.

Worth a Trip: Werribee

These en route to the Great Ocean Rd, or looking to do a short trip outside Melbourne, should consider Werribee, a 30-minute drive down the Princes Hwy that begins with a trip across the Westgate Bridge.

Most people visit Werribee Open Range Zoo, a 225-hectare, African-safari-style experience run by Melbourne Zoo. Admission includes a 45-minute safari tour, where you'll see grazing rhinos, giraffes, antelopes and zebras on savannah-like plains. The walking trail has enclosures for lowland gorillas, lions, hippos, cheetahs and meerkats, among others.

Also part of the Werribee Park complex is Shadowfax Wines (a five-minute drive from the zoo), with wine tastings and wood-fired pizzas. Werribee Mansion is another highlight. Today serving as a museum, it was built in 1877 by prosperous farm owners and brims with colonial arriviste ambition, featuring an Italianate edifice and Victorian period details. If you want to stay the night, the lavish Mansion Hotel & Spa is stylish and modern, and has a leisurely country-house ambience. Its spa, with relaxation and beauty therapies, is a great place to indulge.

Down the road is Point Cook, birthplace of the Royal Australian Air Force. It's now home to the RAAF Museum, an essential visit for aviation fans and war buffs. There's plenty of awesome aircraft on display to enthrall kids and adults alike, from flimsy box-kite planes to sleek F-111 fighters. There's also a comprehensive exhibit on Australia at war, featuring memorabilia such as shrapnel from the Red Baron's German plane, shot down by Australians in WWI. The museum is located at the RAAF Williams base, so you'll need to bring ID.

If you don't have a car, Werribee Park Shuttle departs from NGV International in Melbourne at 9.20am, heading to all the above sights (though if you're doing the RAAF museum you'll only have time for one other sight) and returning to Melbourne around 3pm. Bookings are essential.

Sleeping

As in any big city, accommodation in Melbourne can be expensive. You'll need to book ahead if your trip coincides with a major event, such as the Australian Open or Melbourne Cup. Note that prices shoot up on Friday and Saturday nights. Backpackers are scattered around popular suburbs, while four- and five-star hotels centre in the city. Boutique hotels book up fast, as does rental and home-sharing accommodation.

Eating

Melbourne's reputation as a culinary destination has been shaped significantly by its history of migration. Greeks, Italians, Lebanese, Indians, Chinese, Vietnamese and people from many other ethnicities have all left their mark, and Melbourne's best contemporary restaurants gainfully plunder them all. Melburnians are adventurous in their dining habits, and the best places are never secrets for long.

Drinking & Nightlife

Melbourne's drinking scene is easily the best in Australia and a major player on the world stage. There's a huge diversity of venues, from basement dives hidden down laneways and rooftop cocktail perches to wine-bar locals and urban breweries and distilleries. Many pubs have pulled up beer-stained carpet and polished the concrete, but don’t dismiss the character-filled oldies that still exist.

Entertainment

Whether it's ball games or ballet that gets your pulse racing, Melbourne's very full calendar is bound to have something for you. The city likes to think of itself as both the sporting and the cultural capital of Australia – an odd mix, perhaps, but one that's widely embraced by locals.

Activities

Golf

Some of Melbourne’s golf courses are rated among the best in the world. The illustrious Sandbelt (www.thesandbelt.com) refers to eight courses stretching along the bay; they’re built on a sand base, creating perfect conditions year-round. Among them are Royal Melbourne, Australia’s best and regularly rated in the world's top 10, and Kingston Heath, ranked number two in Australia. To get a hit at the Sandbelt courses you’ll need a letter of introduction from your own club, and often a verifiable handicap.

There are plenty of good-quality public courses, too. Green fees cost around $25 for 18 holes during the week, and all courses have clubs and buggies for hire. Visit www.publicaccessgolf.com.au/tag/melbourne for course listings.

Lawn Bowls

Formerly the domain of senior citizens, bowling clubs are now inundated by younger types – barefoot, with a cheap beer in one hand and a bowl in the other.

Sailing

With about 20 yacht clubs around the shores of Port Phillip, plus Albert Park Lake, Melbourne has some fantastic yachting opportunities. Discover Sailing (www.discoversailing.org.au) is a good starting point for sailing centres and courses.

Spas

Melbourne has a number of top-notch spas and baths at which to get pampered and relax. Most of the luxury hotels have their own in-house spas, also available for use by non-guests.

Swimming

In summer, do as most Melburnians do and hit the sand at one of the city’s metropolitan beaches. St Kilda, Middle Park and Port Melbourne are popular patches, with suburban beaches at Williamstown, Brighton and Sandringham. Public pools are also well loved.

Tennis It’s not just as spectators that Melburnians really dig tennis. You’ll find enthusiastic clubs and beautifully sited courts scattered throughout the inner city.

Water Sports

Kiteboarding has a fast-emerging scene around the St Kilda coastline and Altona beach that revs up between November and April. Elwood, just south of St Kilda, is a popular sailboarding area.

Running

Melbourne’s favourite runs include the 4km 'Tan' track (around the Royal Botanic Gardens), the 5km path around Albert Park Lake and the sweeping paths of Fitzroy Gardens. The bicycle tracks beside the Yarra River and along the bay also see a lot of well-trained traffic.

Shopping

Melbourne is proud of its makers. Despite empty shops on once-booming strips like Bridge Rd (Richmond) and Chapel St (South Yarra), passionate, dedicated retailers still cater to a broad range of tastes. City laneways and Gertrude St (Fitzroy) are great for small, independent clothing boutiques, but keep your eye out for finds in arcades, vintage stores and markets, too.

Travel with Children

While it's common to view Melbourne as an adults' playground geared to eating, drinking and shopping, there's plenty to keep the kids engaged too. The city does a particularly good job of whiz-bang interactive museums, while age-old attractions like the Royal Melbourne Zoo and Luna Park still work their magic.

Gay & Lesbian Melbourne

While there's still a handful of specifically gay venues scattered around the city, some of the best hang-outs are weekly takeovers of mainstream bars (especially Sunday afternoon at the Railway Hotel in Windsor, Sunday evening at the Emerson in South Yarra, Thursday night at Yah Yah's in Fitzroy and next door at The 86 for Honcho Disko, and Saturday-night drag at Pride of our Footscray). Semi-regular themed gay party nights are also popular, like Woof (www.woofclub.com), DILF (www.iwantadilf.com), Closet (www.facebook.com/closetpartyoz), Fabuland (www.facebook.com/fabulandmelb) and Swagger (www.facebook.com/swaggerparty). For lesbians, there's Fannys at Franny's (www.francescasbar.com.au) and Mother Party (www.facebook.com/motherqueergirlsparty).

The big event on the queer calendar is the annual Midsumma Festival. It has a diverse program of cultural, community and sporting events, including the popular Midsumma Carnival at Alexandra Gardens, St Kilda’s Pride March and much more. The Melbourne Queer Film Festival, Australia's largest, also screens more than 100 films from around the world.

For more local info, pick up a copy of free magazine Star Observer (www.starobserver.com.au) from gay-friendly bookshops, venues and some libraries (check online for distribution), or digitally subscribe to LOTL (formerly Lesbians on the Loose, www.lotl.com). Gay and lesbian radio station JOY 94.9FM (www.joy.org.au) is another important resource for visitors and locals.

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No longer satisfied in the shadow of Sydney and Melbourne, Brisbane is subverting stereotypes and surprising the critics. Welcome to Australia's new subtropical 'It kid'.

Alfresco Living, Year-round

Brisbane has a climate its more famous southern rivals would kill for (despite what they may tell you). When Sydney and Melbourne shiver through the winter months, Brisbane continues basking in the sun. After all, this is the capital city of the Sunshine State, a meteorological Promised Land where winters are mild and short enough for a daytime alfresco toast. It's a fact not lost on Brisbanites, who indulge in outdoor thrills all year round, from inner-city rock-climbing and kayaking, to riverside cycling and sunning on the nation's only man-made city beach.

Culinary Enlightenment

The Brisbane food scene is booming. Innovation and ingenuity are the key words these days, driving everything from Gauge's cult-status black garlic bread to Nodo's Valrhona chocolate and beetroot doughnuts. Menus across the city are flaunting the seasonal and the regional, transforming top-notch produce into beautiful, confident dishes spanning all budgets and countless cuisines. Imbibing in Brisbane is no less impressive, with a sharp, competent booty of specialty coffee microroasters, microbreweries and cocktail bars pouring faultless single-origin brews, seasonal beers and out-of-the-box cocktails crafted with everything from lemon myrtle to local Brisbane honey.

Cultural Awakenings

Forget the 'cultural backwater' tag. Brisbane 2.0 is a kicking hub of creativity, with an expanding arsenal of enlightening, thought-provoking drawcards. It's here that you'll find the Australia's largest public gallery of modern art (GOMA) and its most important festival of new Australian music (Bigsound Festival). Whether you're up for catching a cult-status band in a state-of-the-art hangar, a subversive cabaret in a one-time power station, or an opera in a subterranean reservoir, this town has you covered.

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Sights

Art Galleries

While the Gallery of Modern Art, aka GOMA, and the Queensland Art Gallery might steal the show, Brisbane also has a growing array of smaller, private galleries and exhibition spaces where you can mull over both the mainstream and the cutting-edge.

The Pillars Project One of Brisbane's most unexpected art spaces. A series of pillars under the South Brisbane Rail Underpass have been transformed into arresting street-art murals by numerous artists. Among these is the internationally acclaimed, Brisbane-raised Fintan Magee.

Institute of Modern Art Located in the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts in Fortitude Valley is this excellent noncommercial gallery with an industrial vibe and regular showings by both local and international names working in mediums as diverse as installation art, photography and painting.

TW Fine Art Easy-to-miss, this Fortitude Valley gallery eschews the 'keep it local' mantra for intellectually robust, critically acclaimed contemporary art from around the world. It also runs an innovative online gallery of limited-edition prints, which you can browse at the gallery and have couriered straight to your home.

Fireworks Gallery Hidden away in an industrial corner of Bowen Hills, Fireworks is one of Brisbane's best-loved commercial galleries. With an emphasis on group exhibitions, the space showcases mainly painting and sculpture from emerging and established Australians artists, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

Milani A well-regarded commercial gallery in West End with rotating exhibitions of cutting-edge, sometimes confronting, contemporary Australian artwork. Many of the artists represented are Brisbane based, making it a good spot to savour the local scene.

Suzanne O’Connell Gallery A New Farm gallery specialising in Indigenous art, with brilliant works from artists all across Australia. Check the website for regular exhibition openings.

Jan Murphy Gallery This Fortitude Valley stalwart hosts regularly changing exhibitions of contemporary Australian art from both established and emerging creatives. Expect anything from painting and sculpture to photography from names like Heidi Yardley, Fred Fowler, Adam Pyett and William Mackinnon.

D'Aguilar National Park

Suburban malaise? Slake your wilderness cravings at this 36,000-hectare national park, just 10km northwest of central Brisbane. Pronounced 'dee-ag-lar', its mix of open eucalypt woodlands, scribbly gum forests and subtropical rainforests harbour over 800 plant species, including rare and threatened species. Maps are available at the Walkabout Creek Discovery Centre, located at the park's entrance. Also here is a cafe and the South East Queensland Wildlife Centre, where you can observe a number of local critters, including reptiles, nocturnal marsupials and a platypus.

Walking trails in the park range from a few hundred metres to a 24km-long loop. Among them is the 6km-return Morelia Track at the Manorina day-use area and the 4.3km Greenes Falls Track at Mt Glorious. Mountain biking and horse riding are also options. You can camp in the park too, in remote, walk-in bush camp sites. There are a couple of walks (1.5km and 5km return) kicking off from the visitor centre, but other walks are a fair distance away (so you’ll need your own wheels).

To get here, catch bus 385 ($5.70, 25 minutes) from Roma St Station to The Gap Park 'n' Ride, then continue walking 650m up the road.

Riverside Path

One of the best ways to see the city is to stroll, cycle or jog along the riverside path. You can plot a day out following one side of the river and head back on the other side. Don’t miss a stroll through the South Bank Parklands, and up to Kangaroo Point, passing below the rock-climbing cliffs (a good pit stop is the Cliffs Cafe). Nearly every bridge has a separate pedestrian lane separate from traffic, including the Story Bridge, which has a magnificent views of downtown. Frequent ferry docks means you can always hop on a boat when you’re ready to call it a day.

The Barracks

Across a footbridge from Roma St Station or a short walk away from Caxton St in Petrie Terrace, the Barracks once served as a jail (1860 to 1883), then as a police depot (until the 1940s), and then sat derelict for decades before reopening as a mixed-use development in 2008, following a $120 million overhaul.

Comprising three big heritage-listed buildings from its former days, the development was hailed an immediate success (and garnered national awards) in the realm of urban renewal, and Brisbanites have embraced it as their own – noir history and all.

The Barracks houses the six-screen Palace Barracks cinema as well as a major supermarket, liquor store and a small handful of shops and casual eateries.

Brisbane for Kids

The Gold Coast may have the theme parks, but green, sun-soaked Brisbane is no slouch on the family-fun front, with plenty of diversions, many of them free.

Riverside South Bank offers abundant thrills. It’s here that you’ll find free, patrolled Streets Beach. Australia’s only artificial, inner-city beach, its combo of shallow and deeper water makes it ideal for both young ones and their adult playmates. Within walking distance is the slow-spinning, panoramic Wheel of Brisbane. If it’s wet (or too hot), South Bank’s Queensland Museum & Sciencentre stimulates young minds with interactive exhibits, while the free Gallery of Modern Art comes with its own Children’s Art Centre and (from February to November) Toddler Tuesday sessions, which use games and storytelling to explore works from the gallery’s collection.

Across the river at City Hall, young ones can get hands-on at the Museum of Brisbane and climb the building’s soaring clock tower. For an even more spectacular view, those aged six and older can scale the city’s iconic Story Bridge. Flowing below the bridge, the Brisbane River offers numerous diversions, from super-affordable CityCat ferry rides to Riverlife kayak tours. From the city, ferries sail downstream to the Brisbane Powerhouse arts centre, its year-round program including kids’ theatre and workshops. Flanking the centre is New Farm Park, home to a treehouse-inspired playground.

Further afield, kids can travel through the galaxy at the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium and schmooze with Australia’s cutest marsupial at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.

Sleeping

Brisbane's slumber options are varied, ranging from plush suites in heritage buildings to self-contained apartments and party-prone hostels. In general, prices do not abide by any high- or low-season rules; wavering rates usually reflect demand. Rates are often higher midweek, as well as during major events and holiday periods.

Eating

Brisbane's food scene is flourishing – a fact not lost on the nation's food critics and switched-on gluttons. From Mod Oz degustations to curbside food trucks, the city offers an increasingly competent, confident array of culinary highs. Particularly notable is the growing number of eateries fusing high-end culinary sophistication with an easy, casual vibe that is indelibly Brisbane. Hungry? You should be.

Drinking & Nightlife

From a booming microbrewery scene to serious new wine bars focussed on artisan winemakers and interesting varietals, Brisbane's drinking scene has grown up significantly in recent years. The city's live-music scene is also booming, with cult-status venues like Newstead's The Triffid and the Valley's new Fortitude Music Hall (opening mid-2019) serving up impressive independent talent, both homegrown and touring. Tip: always carry photo ID.

LGBTI Brisbane

While Brisbane's LGBT scene is significantly smaller than its Sydney and Melbourne counterparts, the city has an out-and-proud queer presence. Newstead and Teneriffe have become residential epicentres for gay men, especially the upwardly mobile and buffed. Across the river, West End remains popular with artier, more alternative LGBTI folk, while other queer-friendly inner-city neighbourhoods include Fortitude Valley, Bowen Hills, New Farm and Paddington.

In Fortitude Valley, the Wickham Hotel attracts a mainly mixed crowd these days, though it remains a staunchly queer-friendly pub. The Valley is also home to queer club Beat MegaClub and the scenier Family; on Sunday the latter hosts ‘Fluffy’, Brisbane’s biggest gay dance party. Closer to the city centre, Spring Hill's Sportsman Hotel is a blue-collar pub with pool tables, drag shows and a rather eclectic crowd.

Major events on Brisbane's queer calendar include the Queer Film Festival in March, arts festival Melt in June/July and the Brisbane Pride Festival in September.

For current entertainment and events listings, interviews and articles, check out Q News (www.qnews.com.au). On air, tune in to Queer Radio (9pm to 11pm every Wednesday; www.4zzzfm.org.au), a radio show on 4ZZZ (aka FM102.1) – another source of Brisbane info. For lesbian news and views, Dykes on Mykes precedes it (7pm to 9pm Wednesday).

Activities

Brisbane's subtropical climate encourages physical activity, with a slew of activities ranging from cycling and rock-climbing, to swimming, kayaking and more. In many cases, these activities offer the best views of the city itself, making them sightseeing experiences in themselves. You'll find a plethora of excellent art and heritage walking trails around town at www.brisbane.qld.gov.au/facilities-recreation/sports-leisure/walking/walking-trails.

Entertainment

Most big-ticket international bands have Brisbane on their radar, and the city regularly hosts top-tier DJ talent. World-class cultural venues – among them the Queensland Performing Arts Centre and the Brisbane Powerhouse – offer a year-round program of theatre, dance, music, comedy and more. Film offerings range from mainstream to art-house, screened everywhere from multiplex cinemas to inner-city parks.

Shopping

Brisbane's retail landscape is deliciously eclectic, stretching from Vogue-indexed high-end handbags to weekend-market arts and crafts. Not surprisingly, the city's independent retailers and galleries offer the best buys, their racks, shelves and walls graced with the likes of upcycled vintage frocks, cult-label streetwear, sculptural jewellery, leather goods, bold brushstrokes and quality confectionery made with local ingredients. Cards at the ready, dive in!

Travel with Children

Brisbane offers a plethora of diversions to keep young kids and teens engaged, including inner-city beach fun, bridge climbs and a string of interactive galleries and museums.

During school holidays the Brisbane City Council runs free and low-cost activities as part of its 'Chillout' program for 10- to 17-year-olds: see www.brisbane.qld.gov.au.

LGBT Travellers

Brisbane has a small but lively gay and lesbian scene centred on the inner-city suburb of Fortitude Valley, home to the city's biggest gay and gay-friendly clubs, Beat MegaClub and Family. You'll also find a visible queer presence in the suburbs of New Farm, Newstead and West End. Brisbane hosts a number of LGBT events annually, including Brisbane Pride Festival, Melt and the Queer Film Festival. For current LGBT news and event listings, see Q News (www.qnews.com.au).

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In Wadjuk country, way out west in the Indian Ocean breeze, Perth regularly attracts that most easy-going of adjectives – 'liveable'. Under a near-permanent canopy of blue sky, life here unfolds at a pleasing pace. Throw in superb beaches, global eats and booming small-bar and street-art scenes, and Perth seems downright progressive. Free from the pressures of congestion, pollution and population afflicting Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, Perth and neighbouring port town Fremantle are uncomplicated, unfettered and alive.

Yes, it's the most isolated city of its size on the planet, but this remoteness fosters an outward-looking world view. Instead of heading east for their holidays, locals – who suffer the ugly, geologic-sounding moniker of 'Perthites' – travel to Bali, the Maldives, Singapore, Sri Lanka… Currency-exchange reports include the Indian rupee, while the Perth-to-London 'Dreamliner' direct flight delivers Europe's virtues in a tick under 17 hours. Forget about isolation: Perth is going places.

Sights

Many of Perth's main attractions are within walking distance of the inner city, and several are in the Perth Cultural Centre precinct past the railway station in Northbridge. Easy day trips include Swan Valley and Rottnest Island, and don't miss Perth's brilliant string of Indian Ocean beaches, with Scarborough and Cottesloe beaches the highlights.

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Sleeping

Perth's hotel options have improved greatly in recent years, with a slew of luxury and designer hotels opening in Northbridge and the CBD. Most of Perth's hostels are in Northbridge; some cater to long-term residents working in Perth, which can skew the ambience for travellers. But some good news: accommodation prices here have collapsed since the WA mining boom went bust. Perth is now an affordable city for sleepy people.

Eating

The slowing of WA's resources boom means that Perth's restaurant prices have eased a little. However, it can still be an expensive city for the hungry. The happening 'hoods for eating are Northbridge, Leederville and Mt Lawley, while nowhere does beachy fish and chips like Fremantle. Look forward to some cool cafes, brilliant bakeries and top seafood across the board.

Drinking & Nightlife

Recent law changes in Perth produced a salvo of quirky small bars that are distinctly Melbourne-ish (…just don't mention this comparison to any local bartenders). Small bars have been sprouting everywhere, including in the formerly deserted-after-dark CBD. Northbridge, traditionally pubby, brawly and brassy, now sustains a more idiosyncratic drinking scene, while in Fremantle – a hard-drinking port town – craft beer reigns supreme.

Activities

With weather this good, it should really come as no surprise that Perth is an active, outdoorsy kinda town: locals are up and about early in the morning, jogging, swimming, surfing, riding bikes and paddling SUPs across the broad Swan River estuary.

Cycling

Perth can get a bit hilly, but cycling is still an excellent way to explore the city. Kings Park has some good bike tracks and there are cycling routes along the Swan River, running all the way to Fremantle, and a Coastal Trail tracking north to Sorrento. For route maps, see www.transport.wa.gov.au/cycling or call into a bike shop. For bike hire, try Spinway WA, the city's bike-kiosk system, or Cycle Centre for longer rentals.

Whale Watching

The lucrative whale-watching season off the Perth beaches runs from mid-September to early December, when 30,000 cetaceans – mostly blue and humpback whales – ride the 'Humpback Highway' up the coast. Tour operators offer either a refund or a repeat trip in the unlikely event that whales aren't spotted. Tour boats are fitted with underwater hydrophones, so you can also listen to the whales singing. Be aware, however, that research suggests that human interaction with sea mammals potentially alters their behavioural and breeding patterns.

Entertainment

Highlights of Perth's entertainment scene include live music, comedy and excellent and often edgy theatrical productions. Sport is also critical to Perth's sense of self-worth, with the local Australian Rules football, basketball, soccer and netball teams all enjoying strong support and, it must be said, absurdly frequent success in national competitions.

Gay & Lesbian Perth

Perth is home to all of Western Australia's gay and lesbian venues. Before you get too excited, let's clarify matters: 'all' entails a couple of bars (The Court and Hula Bula Bar), a club (Connections) and one men's sauna. Many other bars, especially around Highgate and Mt Lawley, are somewhat gay-friendly, but it's hardly what you'd call a pumping scene.

For a head's up on what's on, pick up the free monthly newspaper Out in Perth (www.outinperth.com). Pride WA runs PrideFest, a 10-day festival from mid-November culminating in the Pride Parade.

Shopping

Visit Northbridge for vintage and retro stores, and Leederville for design shops and galleries. In the city, the William St mall offers major retailers, while King St is home to independent clothing designers. Down in Fremantle, books and music shops prevail, plus some quirky arts-and-crafts hubs. The historic Fremantle Markets are always worth a look, if only for the buskers!

Travel with Children

With a usually clement climate and plenty of open spaces and beaches to run around on, Perth is a great place to bring the kids. Of the beaches, Cottesloe is the safest and a family favourite. Otherwise, the netted Sorrento Beach Enclosure offers waves without the risk of becoming something's lunch. With older kids, arrange two-wheeled family expeditions along Perth's riverside bike paths or Coastal Trail north or south from Scarborough. Kings Park has playgrounds and walking tracks.

The Perth Royal Show, held late September, is an ever-popular family day out, with breakfast-reintroducing rides, kitsch show bags and proudly displayed poultry. Many of Perth's big-ticket attractions cater well for young audiences, especially the Aquarium of Western Australia, the fabulous Perth Zoo and the Art Gallery of Western Australia.

Scitech is a good rainy-day option, with more than 160 hands-on, large-scale science and technology exhibits. For artificial rain, try the squirting water jets at Hyde Park Playground in Mt Lawley, or the Elizabeth Quay Water Park by the river.

Fremantle is super kid-focused, with an excellent program of events at the Fremantle Arts Centre and the awesome WA Shipwrecks Museum and Western Australian Museum – Maritime. And at the end of the day, Little Creatures brewery has a big sandpit full of toy trucks.

LGBT Travellers

Perth is largely a welcoming and safe destination for gay and lesbian travellers. For listings and events, pick up the free monthly newspaper Out in Perth (www.outinperth.com).

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Sophisticated, cultured, neat-casual − the self-image Adelaide projects is a nod to the days of free colonisation. Adelaidians may remind you of their convict-free status – and of the Kaurna Aboriginal heritage of this land – but the stuffy, affluent origins of the 'City of Churches' did more to inhibit development than promote it. But these days things are different. Multicultural flavours infuse Adelaide's restaurants; there's a pumping arts and live-music scene; and the city's festival calendar has vanquished dull Saturday nights. There are still plenty of church spires here, but they're outnumbered by pubs and hip bars tucked away in city lanes.

Down the tram tracks is beachy Glenelg: Adelaide with its guard down and boardshorts up. Nearby Port Adelaide is slowly gentrifying but remains a raffish harbour 'hood with buckets of soul.

Note that Adelaide's accommodation prices lag behind the rest of Australia’s capitals – a high season midrange double is under $200.

Sights

Glenelg

Glenelg, or 'the Bay' − the site of SA's colonial landing − is Adelaide at its most LA. Glenelg's sandy beach faces towards the west, and as the sun sinks into the sea, the pubs and bars burgeon with surfies, backpackers and sun-damaged sexagenarians. The tram rumbles in from the city, past the Jetty Rd shopping strip to the alfresco cafes around Moseley Sq.

The Glenelg Visitor Information Centre has the local low-down, including information on diving and sailing opportunities. Pick up the Kaurna yarta-ana cultural map for insights into Aboriginal heritage in the area.

From the city, take the tram or bus 167, 168 or 190 to get to Glenelg.

Port Adelaide

Mired in the economic doldrums for decades, Port Adelaide − 15km northwest of the city − is slowly gentrifying, morphing its old redbrick warehouses into art spaces and museums, and its brawl-house pubs into craft-beer emporia. The place has soul!

The helpful Port Adelaide Visitor Information Centre stocks brochures on self-guided history, heritage-pub and dolphin-spotting walks and drives, plus the enticements of neighbouring Semaphore, a very bohemian beach 'burb. Activities include dolphin cruises and kayaking, plus downloadable walking-tour apps.

Adelaide's solitary tram line is rumoured to be extending to Port Adelaide at some stage. Until then, bus 150 will get you here from North Tce, or take the train.

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Sleeping

Most of Adelaide's budget accommodation is in the city centre, but in a grid-town this easy to navigate, staying outside the CBD is viable. North Adelaide is under the flight path, but it's otherwise low-key. For beachside accommodation, try Glenelg. 'Motel Alley' is along Glen Osmond Rd, the diagonal southeast city access road that becomes the highway to Melbourne. Interestingly, many of Adelaide's hotels have actually dropped their accommodation rates slightly in recent years.

Eating

Foodies flock to West End hot spots like Gouger St (goo-jer), Chinatown and the food-filled Central Market. Arty Hindley St − Adelaide's dirty little secret − also has a smattering of good eateries. In the East End, Rundle St, Ebenezer Pl and Hutt St offer alfresco cafes. North Adelaide's Melbourne and O'Connell Sts have bistros, cafes and pubs.

Drinking & Nightlife

Rundle St has a few iconic pubs, while in the West End, Hindley St's red-light sleaze collides with the hip bars on Leigh and Peel Sts. Cover charges at clubs can be anything from nothing to $15, depending on the night. Most clubs close Monday to Thursday.

Practical Tip: Pint of Coopers Please!

Things can get confusing at the bar in Adelaide. Aside from the 200ml (7oz) 'butchers' − the choice of old men in dim, sticky-carpet pubs − there are three main beer sizes: 285ml (10oz) 'schooners' (pots or middies elsewhere in Australia), 425ml (15oz) 'pints' (schooners elsewhere) and 568ml (20oz) 'imperial pints' (traditional English pints). Now go forth and order with confidence!

Entertainment

Arty Adelaide has a rich cultural life that stacks up favourably with much larger cities. For listings and reviews, see Adelaide Now (www.adelaidenow.com.au) and Adelaide Review (www.adelaidereview.com.au).

Shopping

Shops and department stores line Rundle Mall (www.rundlemall.com). The beautiful old arcades running between the mall and Grenfell St, most notably Adelaide Arcade, retain their original splendour and house eclectic little shops. Rundle St and the adjunct Ebenezer Pl (www.ebenezerplace.com.au) are home to boutique and retro clothing shops.

Activities

On the Land

Adelaide is a pancake-flat town − perfect for cycling and walking (if it's not too hot!). You can take your bike on trains if there's room (you'll need to buy a ticket for your bike), but not on buses or trams.

Trails SA (www.southaustraliantrails.com) and Walking SA (www.walkingsa.org.au) offer loads of cycling- and hiking-trail info: pick up its 40 Great South Australian Short Walks brochure, or download it from the Walking SA website.

There are free guided walks in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. The riverside Linear Park Trail is a 40km walking/cycling path running from Glenelg to the foot of the Adelaide Hills, mainly along the (at times underwhelming) River Torrens: pick up the two brochures covering the route from city to the hills, and the city to the beach, or download maps from www.southaustraliantrails.com. Another popular hiking trail is the steep Waterfall Gully Track (three hours return) up to/down from Mt Lofty Summit and back.

To pick up an Adelaide Free Bike to explore for a day, contact Bicycle SA.

Adelaide gets reeally hot in summer. Hit the beach at Glenelg, or the pools at the Adelaide Aquatic Centre or SA Aquatic & Leisure Centre. Away from the beach, check out Popeye cruises on the River Torrens and the little Paddle Boats nearby, run by the same folks.

Travel with Children

There are few kids who won't love the tram ride from the city down to Glenelg; kids under five ride for free!. You may have trouble getting them off the tram − the lure of a splash in the shallows at Glenelg Beach then some fish and chips on the lawn should do the trick.

During school holidays, the South Australian Museum, State Library of South Australia, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide Zoo and Adelaide Botanic Gardens run inspired kid- and family-oriented programs with accessible and interactive general displays. The Art Gallery also runs a START at the Gallery kids' program (tours, music, activities) from 11am to 3pm on the first Sunday of the month.

Down on the River Torrens there are Popeye river cruises and Paddle Boats, which make a satisfying splash.

In Port Adelaide, you can check out the South Australian Maritime Museum, National Railway Museum or South Australian Aviation Museum, or set sail on a dolphin-spotting cruise.

The free street press Kiddo (www.kiddomag.com.au) and Child (www.childmags.com.au), available at cafes and libraries, are largely advertorial but do contain event and activity listings.

Getting around town, Adelaide's buses and trains are straightforward to navigate with kids (through the tram is your best bet if you're pushing a pram). The city is 'flat as a tack', as they say – so getting around the streets with a pusher is easy. Baby-change facilities are available in some public toilets and large department stores: David Jones on Rundle Mall has a good one. For babysitters, try Hessel Group.

LGBT Travellers

Adelaide has long been a LGBT-friendly kinda town. That said, there are plenty of intolerant 'bogan' types here, there are only two real gay bars – Mary's Poppin and Sugar, both off Rundle St – and the scene is hardly pumping.

Other pubs with LGBT leanings include the Wheatsheaf in Thebarton and the Archer Hotel in North Adelaide. Further afield, Maslin Beach on the Fleurieu Peninsula is a short drive south of Adelaide, with a clothing-optional/gay hang-out section at the southern end.

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No doubt about it, Hobart’s future is looking rosy. Tourism is booming and the old town is humming with low vacancy rates, high real-estate prices and new-found self-confidence.

On the Waterfront

Hobart is a harbour town – a port city where the world rushes in on the tide and ebbs away again, bringing with it influences from afar and leaving the locals buzzing with global zeitgeist. Or so the theory goes. These days, Hobart’s waterfront precinct is certainly abuzz, with old pubs alongside new craft-beer bars, myriad cafes, museums, festivals, ferries, fishing boats, yachts, accommodation and a floating pier upholding fine restaurants…all of it washed with sea-salty charm and a sense of history. On a sunny afternoon, there are few more pleasant places to find yourself.

Up the Mountain

Riding high above the city is kunanyi/Mt Wellington, a craggy basalt beast seemingly made for mountain biking and bushwalking. Known as kunanyi by local Aboriginal people, and just 'the mountain' by everybody else, this 1271m-high monolith both defines the city below and shelters it. Drive to the summit in any season – you're assured of either a show-stopping view or an out-of-time, lunar, cloud-shrouded experience, wandering around between snowdrifts, lichen-dappled boulders and the stunted plants that somehow survive in these lofty skies. Finally, barrel back down to the waterfront on a mountain-bike tour like no other.

Eating & Drinking

Watery cappuccino? Lukewarm sausage roll? Maybe a deep-fried, reconstituted squid ring? Forget it: the bad old days of Hobart food and drink are long gone. The new order of service here focuses on top-quality local and seasonal produce, turned by deft chefs into marvellous restaurant, cafe and pub meals. Coffee culture is also firmly entrenched, with double-shot pick-me-ups available at every turn. And booze? Cascade Brewery leads Australian's mainstream brewing brigade, but an under-fleet of creative craft-beer breweries is also bubbling up here. And with dinner, cool-climate wines from the nearby Coal and Derwent river valleys are hard to beat.

Party Time

Hobart's summer festival season is an absolute blast! For a few weeks circling around New Year's Eve, this little city goes berserk with travellers, foodies, musicians, and sailors from the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race turning the town upside down. The Taste of Tasmanian festival, highlighting local produce, is the summer centrepiece. Then, in the depths of winter, Hobart's more macabre, unhinged side comes out to play: the Dark MOFO festival shines a pale gothic light on the city's past and present, with visitors revelling in offbeat performances, feasts, bonfires, installations and plenty of good red wine.

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Sights

Whales in the Derwent

In the 1830s Hobartians joked about walking across the Derwent River on the backs of whales, and complained about being kept awake at night by the noise of the ocean giants cavorting in the river. In typical Tasmanian style, the ensuing whaling boom was catastrophic, driving local populations of southern right and humpback whales to near extinction. Though still endangered, the occasional forgiving whale returns to the Derwent during the June–July northbound and October–November southbound migration. If you spy one, call the Parks & Wildlife Service Whale Hotline.

Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race

Arguably the world’s greatest and most treacherous open-ocean yacht race, the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race winds up at Hobart’s Constitution Dock some time around New Year’s Eve. As the storm-battered maxis limp across the finish line, champagne corks pop and weary sailors turn the town upside down. On New Year’s Day, find a sunny spot by the harbour, munch some lunch from the Taste of Tasmania food festival and count spinnakers on the river. New Year’s resolutions? What New Year’s resolutions?

Heritage Buildings

Hobart’s amazing cache of well-cured old buildings makes it exceptional among Australian cities. There are more than 90 buildings classified by the National Trust here – 60 of them are on Macquarie and Davey Sts alone. The intersection of these streets features a gorgeous sandstone edifice on each corner, including the austere St David’s Cathedral. Also worth a look is the 1864 Town Hall, taking its architectural prompts from the Palazzo Farnese in Rome.

Sleeping

Hobart has plenty of budget hostels and pubs offering accommodation, some salubrious, some not so much. Like the rest of Tasmania, midrange accommodation here isn’t exactly a bargain (B&Bs and motels, mostly), but top-end accommodation can be quite reasonable. If your budget stretches beyond $250 per night, you can afford something quite special: designer hotels, historic guesthouses and mod waterside apartments. Booking ahead is always a good idea, regardless of season.

Eating

Eating in Hobart is one of the true pleasures of any visit down south. Local Mod Oz restaurateurs are wide awake to southern Tasmania's excellent produce, and are doing good things with it in the city's kitchens. The cafe and coffee scenes here, too, will keep you going, while seafood and pub-grub offerings are also enticing.

Drinking & Nightlife

Hobart’s younger drinkers are 10,000 leagues removed from the rum-addled whalers of the past, but the general intentions remain true – drink a bit, relax a lot, and maybe get lucky and take someone home. Salamanca Place, the waterfront and North Hobart are the main drinking and nocturnal hubs.

Entertainment

Some Hobartians come home in the evening, open a beer and sit and watch the sun set behind Mt Wellington – what more entertainment do you need? A bit of live music, perhaps: Hobart is host to a clutch of good live-music pubs and a classical concert hall. The theatre scene simmers along here, too, and there are some top-notch sporting events to behold.

Shopping

While Hobart might not be a shopping destination, there are some fabulous markets here, plus quirky city shops, purveyors of fine food and drink, quality bookshops, outdoor stores aplenty, and a brilliant arts scene centred on Salamanca Place.

Activities

It's not so much what's in Hobart that appeals to active types, it's what's around the city: surf beaches, kunanyi/Mt Wellington, the Derwent River and, of course, Tasmania's world-famous wilderness areas are all within easy reach. A terrific cycling and walking resource is the Greater Hobart Trails (www.greaterhobarttrails.com.au) website, detailing dozens of options around the city.

Swimming & Surfing

Hobart’s city beaches look inviting, especially at Bellerive and Sandy Bay, but the water here tends to get a bit soupy (the Derwent River when it reaches Hobart becomes a tidal estuary – it's not yet the open sea). For a safe, clean swim, you’ll be better off heading further south to the beaches at Kingston and Blackmans Bay. Or, failing that, the sparkling Hobart Aquatic Centre in Glebe, close to the CBD, is great for a few indoor laps.

The most reliable local surfing spots near Hobart are Clifton Beach and Goats Beach, en route to South Arm – about 30km and 35km from Hobart respectively. North Clifton is often a bit more sheltered than Clifton Beach proper, but requires a bit more of a hike to get across the dunes. Goats is unpatrolled and has a strong longshore drift: keep an eye on a landmark back on the beach so you don't get dragged along too far.

Cycling & Mountain Biking

Hobart isn't big on bike lanes, but there's a terrific cycling path here running from Macquarie Point on the waterfront all the way north to MONA, following an old railway line. It's called the Intercity Cycleway (www.greaterhobarttrails.com.au/track/intercity-cycleway), and is about 20km one-way. Bike hire is available from the MONA ferry terminal or several other spots around the waterfront; try Hobart Bike Hire.

On the mountain-biking front, there's one seriously big mountain here. Tackle the Mt Wellington Descent, or go off-road on some challenging trails; see www.wellingtonpark.org.au/bikes. A more managed environment is the excellent Glenorchy MTB Park in the northern suburbs.

Travel with Children

Hobart is an outdoorsy kinda town, and despite its rep for being cold (yes, it is), it's the second driest capital city in Australia. There's lots to do that's free, good museums for when it does rain, and plenty of active things to do around town.

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