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Crystal clear, blue waters and rocky outcrop on the Melbourne coastline

Elegant European flavours fuse with a uniquely modern Australian outlook in the city of Melbourne, which is quite unlike anywhere else in the land Down Under.

The usual ingredients are all here: sun, sea, sand, surf, bronzed bodies, cracking global cuisine and scintillating nightlife. But Melbourne dishes up a host of courses you might not expect to feast on in Australia. You'll get a stimulating cultural calendar, bohemian cafés, world-class galleries and museums, and Victorian opulence. Standing proud on the banks of the Yarra River and just minutes from beaches and the buzz of large-scale sporting events, you should book hotels in Melbourne as early as possible to secure your stay in this lovely and lively part of the world.

Melbourne hotels are peppered around the sprawling city, in districts such as the CBD (Central Business District), Fitzroy, St Kilda, South Yarra and Italian-flavoured Carlton.

You should hang your holiday hat according to your plans. For shopping, attractions and mainstream nightlife, stay in the buzz of thMelbourne at nighte CBD, where you'll find some of the top luxury hotels in Melbourne. For an alternative nightlife scene, independent boutiques, quirky cafés, an arty atmosphere and more of a local neighbourhood feel, look for hotels in Fitzroy, which is home to Brunswick Street.

The beaches of St Kilda draw backpackers as well as other travellers, and you can expect to find budget hotels and hostels by the beach, as well as a plethora of four- and five-star hotels with sea views.

If sporting events are bringing you to Melbourne, look for hotels south of the river. The MCG is in Yarra Park and plays host to cricket and Aussie Rules football, as is Melbourne Park, home of tennis championship, the Australian Open. Also south of the city is Albert Park Lake, which welcomes Formula 1 fans every year for the Australian Grand Prix. The only sporting exception to the south of town rule is the Melbourne Gold Cup, held at Flemington Racecourse (see events, below).

Across the city you can easily find hotels from well-known names among the locally-managed and run establishments. Look out for Comfort Inn, Best Western, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Radisson, Quality Inn, Travelodge, Mercure, Marriott, Novotel, Quest, Ibis, Travelodge and Crowne Plaza.

Top five attractions

Melbourne Zoo

With 350 animal species from Australia and further afield, this 150-year-old zoo is one of the Victoria's premier family attractions.

Melbourne Observation Deck

Take in the vast expanse of Melbourne from the dizzying heights of the observation deck in the city's first skyscraper - the Rialto Towers. Ascend after dark to see the big city lit up.

St Kilda

The treasures of beach-side St Kilda are numerous, though Luna Park attracts many visitors. It's a 100-year-old amusement park that, despite all of its modern attractions, still maintains an old fairground charm.

Old Melbourne Gaol

This historic monument to justice will bring a genuine fright to your night - especially as it was where notorious bushranger Ned Kelly breathed his last breath upon its sinister gallows.

Neighbours Tour

Visit the home of one of Australia's most successful exports and go walkabout down Ramsay Street. Official tours start from around $50.

Events

Melbourne Food and Wine Festival; March: Unleash your inner foodie as Melbourne showcases the very best of Australia's culinary talent. Of course, no event like this would be complete without sampling some of the country's world-famous wines.

Rip Curl Pro; Easter: As surfing spectacles go, the Melbourne Rip Curl Pro is the world's longest-running surf contest. You'll be able to see some of the best board-riding professionals around as they show off some outrageous skills on the famous Bells Beach breaks.

Melbourne Gold Cup; November: The Grand National, Kentucky Derby and the Melbourne Gold Cup - the three greatest horse racing events on the planet. Put on your best hat and soak up the atmosphere on one of the biggest dates in the sporting calendar. Make sure you book hotels early however, as accommodation can be hard to come by around race day.