The concrete pavements of your neighbourhood may serve you well for a quick 6am pre-work jog, but there’s nothing quite like a destination run to really challenge you.
Running trails and parks are scattered around Melbourne to keep your cardio sessions adventurous. Enlist a running buddy, grab your sneakers and start ticking them off.
Let’s start with Melbourne’s most popular. The Tan takes you on a scenic loop around the city’s Botanical Gardens for 3.8 kilometres. You’ll pass The Shrine of Remembrance, run along the Yarra River and catch glimpses of the NGV, Arts Centre spire and Sidney Myer Music Bowl. It can get crowded during peak times (particularly 8am to 12pm on weekends), but the track is wide enough to accommodate the jogging masses. If you want the trail to yourself, head in for an early-morning or late-night run – street lamps light the way when it’s dark. If you’re running clockwise, as most people do, prepare yourself for Anderson Street’s 500-metre incline – it’s a challenge for even the most experienced runners.
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Albert Park Lake
It’s always motivating to run on the track where the fastest cars in the world come to race in the Melbourne Grand Prix. Or maybe it’s because it’s really flat. If you’re easing into a running regime, take your first few jogs here. One loop is 4.7 kilometres of smooth asphalt with nice open views of the lake. Albert Park is close to Port Phillip Bay and the flat landscape does make for strong winds.
The Melbourne Solar System Trail
Along the foreshore of the City of Port Phillip there’s a creative 5.9-kilometre run that takes you from the south end of St Kilda Beach (through St Kilda, Middle Park and Albert Park) to Sandridge Beach in Port Melbourne, or from the Sun to Pluto, as the track’s scientific artwork suggests. Modelled on the Solar System, the path leads you from a sculpture of the Sun, past Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and so on, until you reach ex-planet, Pluto. The planets are accurately spaced out on a one-to-one-billion-kilometres scale. They act as useful checkpoints to keep your legs ticking over. Because this run is on the foreshore, the water adds a sense of calm to this run, as does the flat terrain.
Head to Bay Street and pick up a takeaway pastry and coffee. Enjoy them on the sand with views over the water.
Next to Melbourne Cemetery, Princes Park offers another flat option for those avoiding inclines. The 3.2-kilometre part-gravel, part-asphalt loop follows the perimeter of the park, circling the sporting fields where football, rugby, tennis, lawn bowls and dog frolicking takes place. If you’re up for some interval training, race the tram that runs parallel with the trail down Royal Parade, or pretend there are a few ghosts on your tail as you pass the cemetery around the back. If you’re feeling good after a loop, and you’re up for a few extra kilometres, head across Royal Parade into Royal Park. There’s an array of trails that wind around the Melbourne Zoo, the State Netball & Hockey Centre and down next to the Royal Children’s Hospital.
Off Sydney Road, you’ll find house-roasted coffee and brunch at Wide Open Road.
Capital City Trail
Not many people recognise the Capital City Trail by its name, but it’s likely you’ve stepped foot on it before. It’s a long 27-kilometre loop and runs through Melbourne’s city centre and a few inner-eastern and northern suburbs. The trail consists mainly of sections of other trails, such as the Merri Creek, Main Yarra, Moonee Ponds Creek and Inner Circle Rail trails. Now, we’re not saying you need to do the full 27-kilometre loop in one hit. Break it into sections. Start with a stretch along the Yarra from Princess Bridge, down to Docklands and back (five kilometres), or perhaps go in the opposite direction towards Chapel Street and back (6.4 kilometres). Then you can move around to the eastern side of the trail, which runs through the lush Studley Park, Yarra Bend Park and around Abbotsford Convent. It doubles as a cycling route, so watch for bikes.
Different sections of this trail provide different snacking stations. Broadsheet's favourite is the Farm Café Abbotsford Convent/Yarra Bend Park .
Yarra Bend Park
Backing onto the Capital City Trail is Yarra Bend Park – the largest area of natural bushland left in inner Melbourne. Different trails wind through the park through open woodlands, playing fields, around the golf courses and down towards the encampments along the river. In Yarra Bend Park you can see native Australian wildlife and lush, leafy landscapes. For views of the city skyline, run up the hills to one of the many lookouts scattered around the park.
Out in the north-west, the Maribyrnong River hosts a collection of loops to cater to varying fitness levels. The most popular loop is a touch over four kilometres, and follows the palm-tree-populated banks of the river. The course is relatively flat, with only a few small inclines during the bridge crossing at Afton Street and Maribyrnong Road. If you’re looking for a longer loop, continue under the Maribyrnong Road Bridge and head toward the next footbridge crossing along the river. This extra part will add just over three kilometres onto your run and also give you a little peace and quite – not many people venture past the Maribyrnong Road Bridge.
If you're really game, start at Canning Reserve Tea Gardens at Avondale Heights and take on the 6-kilometre run to Footscray where you'll find beer and a slice of pizza waiting at Back Alley Sally's. After 6 kilometres you've earned it.
Dandenong Ranges National Park
It’s most famous for its 1000 Steps (Kokoda Track Memorial Walk), but beyond this busy tourist attraction there’s a 3215-hectare wonderland for the seasoned jogger. It’s a park not for the faint-hearted. It’s extremely hilly and the trails can get narrow in certain parts. If it’s been raining, there will be plenty of mud. But the huge trees, native flora and fauna, and the fresh, crisp air here is unlike anywhere else in Melbourne. It’s the pinnacle of destination runs and will push your limits. It’s easy to get lost because the area is large and there are countless trails, so make sure to take note of which turns you’ve taken.
Make a day trip out of the journey and head south to explore the Dandenong area.
This article was updated on December 3, 2021.