IT may not have a harbour bridge, a coral reef or even a large rock. But Melbourne is making a bid to be the holiday destination in Australia.

And whether you are planning a long holiday or just a stopover on a longer tour of Oz, the Victorian capital is well worth a place alongside Sydney, the barrier reef and Ayres Rock on the list of must see places in the southern hemisphere.

Situated a 12-hour drive and around 1,000km from Sydney, Melbourne is fast proving to be a real rival to its tag as the biggest city in Australia. And speaking to any resident, they will tell you Melbourne beats Sydney all ends up.

The traditional heart of the city is Flinders Street with its outstanding yellow and green station that opens on to Swanston Street and its myriad mix of souvenir shops, upmarket department stores and shopping arcades.

From Prada to Tiffany, Louis Vuitton and Gucci - Melbourne has it all.

Across from the main entrance to the station, which is the best place to not only get around the city loop of stations but also out to other areas of the state, is Federation Square.

Once a forgotten backwater, Fed Square is now transformed into a public open space complete with bars, restaurants, museums and art galleries.

Head to South Pier in the city centre for excellent seafood with a massive choice while there is also a fantastic if small Chinatown and the south east Asian influence on the city is seen with Vietnamese, Malaysian and Indonesian cooking.

But more obviously, Melbourne is struck with European influences. As well as the British community, the city boasts excellent Greek, Italian and Spanish flavours.

One of the delights of Melbourne is how many parks there are to enjoy.

The Yarra river, which winds its way through the city, provides a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle.

Crossing the Yarra also brings you to probably the best park, the sprawling Royal Botanic Gardens. Also home of the governor of Victoria, the gardens include a massive lake as well as a wide variety of plants from across the world.

Melbourne has a diverse and extensive range of museums and art galleries.

The highlight is the sprawling Melbourne Museum situated in the grounds of the spectacular 19th century Royal Exhibition Buildings to the north of the city.

This museum has it all, including a large, living rainforest in the central hall.

But the hugely moving Aboriginal hall, which charts the history of the indigenous people through their own stories, is outstanding.

Ghoulish fans should head to the Old Melbourne Gaol to see Ned Kelly's death mask and hear tales of both the executioners and the criminals.

The State Gallery of Victoria is the stand out art gallery. Even if you don't get around to going through the extensive collections the hall is worth a visit simply to marvel at the architecture which includes a waterfall entrance and the world's biggest stained glass window.

But the real heart of Melbourne is sport.

From the grand prix in March to cricket in December and January, the Australian Open in January and Aussie Rules through the winter months - there is something for everyone.

The sprawling Olympic Park is the fulcrum. As well as the home of rugby league side the Storm, the park houses the Rod Laver Arena and Melbourne Park tennis centre.

Courts which the pros use for the Open can be hired from around $20 an hour. You can also swim in the pool used during the Commonwealth Games at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre.

All this is shrouded by the imposing concrete monster that is the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The 100,000-capacity stadium staged the athletics finals at the 1956 Olympics and last year's Commonwealth Games but is more often used for cricket and Aussie rules.

If you can't get to a game though, take one of the excellent tours which includes a trip round the dressing room and the chance to step on the hallowed turf.

Away from the centre might be some people's most abiding memory of Melbourne - Ramsay Street. Yes the home of Neighbours is a real life street in the eastern suburbs.

You can get there yourself via a circuitous public transport route but the best option is to take a tour which runs from Flinders Street and takes around three hours.

At $30 there is only a limited amount to see and a better option is to take in the Neighbours night on Mondays at the Elephant and Castle pub in St Kilda. For $40 you get to meet the stars (Toadie is a regular!), take part in a quiz and hear Karl Kennedy's (Alan Fletcher) band.

Melbourne Zoo, just two train stops from Flinders Street, is perhaps the best place to see koalas and kangaroos, although this excellent park also includes brilliant elephant, orang-utan and gorilla habitats.

And if you want to take a trip, the Great Ocean Road, the Dandenong Ranges and Philip Island are the best choices.

Hire a car to take a trip down the Great Ocean Road - around 12 hours should ensure you see all the highlights including the iconic rock formations of the Twelve Apostles. Otherwise see the penguin parade at Philip Island. Around two hours drive away, the penguins came ashore in their hundreds at dusk - beware at peak times though as you will have to fight other tourists to find a spot on the beach.

For a real break head to the Dandenong Ranges - miles and miles of peaceful, unspoilt rainforest - this time easily accessible by public transport.

But the place you cannot miss out on in Australia is the beach and Melbourne has too many highlights to mention.

St Kilda is the quickest to get too, but can get crowded in the summer, Brighton is fantastic with its colourful beach huts but the real gem is Williamstown.

The small town has excellent and fresh seafood, amazing ice cream and best of all a beach that remains quiet even in the heat of summer.

And it's all walking distance from the train line.