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The V&A Dundee, Scotland's newest attraction. Photo: Supplied
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When it was first unveiled in the 1920s, Speedo's Racerback swimsuit sparked moral outrage in Australia and was even banned from certain beaches for being too revealing. Swimwear was usually made of wool, with sleeves to protect the wearer's modesty, but this costume was daringly different: tighter-fitting, with straps that crossed at the back, and made of silk or cotton, which absorbed less water.

Olympic swimmers loved it – the hydrodynamic design enabled freer, speedier movement – and the Racerback helped pave the way for the even skimpier outfits (hello there, budgie smugglers) that would drive Australia's burgeoning beach and surf culture.

It also made a household name out of Speedo – the company founded in Sydney by Scottish immigrant Alexander MacRae (who was born in a small Highland fishing village near Loch Kishorn). You'll find an early Racerback among the exhibits at the V&A Dundee, Scotland's newest attraction, which opens beside the River Tay on September 15.

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Speedo's Racerback: the revolutionary swimsuit is an exhibit at the V&A Dundee.

Speedo's Racerback: the revolutionary swimsuit is an exhibit at the V&A Dundee. Photo: V&A

A sibling of London's Victoria and Albert Museum, it's part of a £1 ($1.8) billion regeneration of Dundee's historic dockyards, and is expected to lure visitors on side trips from the usual suspects, Edinburgh and Glasgow (both are just over an hour away by road or rail).

Set in a snazzy glass-and-concrete building by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma – who drew inspiration from the dramatic cliffs of Scotland's north east coast – the V&A Dundee will highlight the ingenuity of Scottish design, the waves it's made around the world and how it's made everyday life that little bit easier (and, in some cases, easier-on-the-eye).

The galleries display around 300 objects, from decorative arts like furniture, textiles and ceramics to fashion, engineering and biomedical design. As well as the Speedo antique, visitors' interest will be piqued by Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Oak Room, which the maverick Glaswegian architect designed for Kate Cranston's Ingram Street tearooms in Glasgow in the early 1900s. Kept in storage since it was salvaged from its original location almost 50 years ago, it has been beautifully restored and reconstructed to be the centrepiece of the permanent galleries. As you navigate the V&A, admiring the views over the "silvery" Tay as you do, you'll appreciate why Dundee was chosen to host this new museum.

The UK's first UNESCO City of Design – part of a network of almost 30 like-minded cities that include Bilbao, Helsinki and Geelong – it has long been a hotbed of innovation and creativity. Once synonymous with its jute, jam and journalism industries, Dundee is also the birthplace of iconic British comics like The Dandy and The Beano, the ZX Spectrum computer and hit video games Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto. Dundee University even has a professor of comics, while the city's Abertay University is renowned across the globe for its high-tech gaming courses that see graduates headhunted by Dundee's top developers, as well as the likes of Microsoft and Rockstar.

Shipbuilding was another local forte, and next to the V&A is RRS Discovery, a Dundee-built expedition vessel and visitor attraction that took Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton on a ground-breaking voyage to Antarctica in 1901. Incidentally, the V&A's first temporary exhibition, Ocean Liners: Speed & Style (until February 24), explores the golden age of ocean travel, flaunting furnishings and fittings from famous ships, including those, like the Lusitania, that were constructed in Scottish shipyards.

Also on show at the exhibition are fragments of Titanic, notably an oak panel from the ship's first-class lounge. Dundee has much to offer beyond the V&A (its motto, in fact, is One City, Many Discoveries). The historic central core is easily strollable, and although some streets are in need of TLC, with tatty, boarded-up shopfronts, there's generally an upbeat vibe, with regular arts and culture events and dozens of new businesses – from boutique delis and cafe-cum-barbers to wine-and-charcuterie bars and build-your-own-bear shops – opening in recent years.

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Some ventures, like Brewing 71, Dundee's first brewery in half a century, were launched by entrepreneurs who grew up here, moved overseas, then returned. "I was living away for 25 years but when I came back to Dundee I felt there was a new-found air of positivity about the place," says Brewing 71 co-founder Duncan Alexander, who started brewing as a hobby while living in Melbourne and with his fellow "Engineers of Beers", makes a diverse selection of craft brews in a converted ironworks west of the city centre.

The flagship brew is Dundonian Pilsner, and the brewery's pure, soft water – sourced from a local stream – is said to have an almost identical mineral content to that of the hallowed Pilsner of the Czech Republic. You can sample Brewing 71's drinks – and buy bottles with artfully designed labels – at its on-site taproom and in several establishments around Dundee.

If you're into gin, you might prefer the tipples crafted by another local firm, Dundee Gin Co. Order them at trendy city-centre watering holes like Bird & Bear on Whitehall Crescent – it's kitted out with bird cages, hand-painted wallpaper and steampunk fittings – and "secret" speakeasy Draffens, which is hidden in the basement of a former department store. You enter via an unmarked door down Couttie's Wynd, a narrow, atmospheric alley that wouldn't look out of place in Edinburgh's Old Town.

Another hip new downtown joint is The Bach, which serves Antipodean-style brunches and lunches, with vegan and vegie options, and flat whites using coffee roasted in the nearby seaside town of Arbroath. Owned by a Kiwi couple who moved to Dundee to work in the video games industry, The Bach sits opposite the McManus Galleries. Boasting an impressive collection of art and myriad Dundee-related exhibits, the McManus occupies one of the city's majestic Gothic Revival Victorian buildings, which date back to Dundee's "Juteopolis" pomp. Jute, a natural fibre imported from Britain's south Asian colonies, was woven in the textile mills that still loom here, their chimneys piercing the city's skyline. Some of these brick behemoths are ghostly and derelict, others have been turned into offices and apartments. One mill hosts the Verdant Works museum, which explores jute's rise and fall and contrasts the lives of the downtrodden workers and wealthy mill owners. Many of these so-called "Jute Barons" commissioned fancy mansions in Broughty Ferry, a fishing village-cum-upmarket suburb where you'll find pleasant pubs, bakeries and restaurants.

For city-centre wining and dining, including locally caught fish and seafood, try the Jute Bar & Restaurant tucked inside much-loved, multipurpose cultural hub, the DCA (Dundee Contemporary Arts). I enjoy a three-course dinner that's both artistically presented and delicious: rabbit, spring onion and pea risotto; duck breast, with Parisian potatoes, and butternut jus with roasted pak choi; and cinnamon doughnuts laced with chocolate and ice cream.

Another popular pull for foodies is The Newport, a pub, restaurant and gallery in Newport-on-Tay on the other (south) side of the river. Run by lauded chef Jamie Scott, it has a lovely riverside terrace that gets chocka when Dundee's living up its nickname, "Sundee". The city is apparently blessed with more hours of sunshine than anywhere else north of the border. And when it gets really toasty – well, above 20 degrees – Dundonians gravitate to the sandy beaches on the city's outskirts. You might even see a few folk in Speedos.

FIVE MORE THINGS TO DO IN AND AROUND DUNDEE

DOLPHIN SPOTTING

. Take a high-speed RIB ride on the River Tay towards the North Sea, keeping a look out for bottlenose dolphins, who often frolic here from May to September. See pirateboatsltd.com

DUNDEE LAW

Scale the city's 400 million-year-old extinct volcano – altitude 174 metres – for stirring panoramas of Dundee and the pretty, surrounding countryside.

DIGITAL GRADUATE SHOW

Every year, in early-to-mid May, you can check out the latest innovations – including Virtual Reality games – designed by the students of Abertay University at its city-centre campus. See abertay.ac.uk

ST ANDREWS AND CARNOUSTIE

Golfers can play rounds at these legendary links courses. Carnoustie has a swanky new bar and restaurant that's a nice spot for lunch. See standrews.com and carnoustiegolflinks.co.uk

GLAMIS CASTLE

The late Queen Mother spent much of her childhood at this turreted stately pile, which is 20 kilometres north of Dundee. See glamis-castle.co.uk

TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/scotland

dundee.com

taycountry.uk

visitscotland.com

visitbritain.com

FLY

Emirates flies from Sydney and Melbourne to Glasgow and (from October) to Edinburgh. The latter is also served by Qatar and Etihad. It's possible to take a direct train from London King's Cross to Dundee (a six-hour journey). See nationalrail.co.uk

STAY

On Dundee's waterfront, the new four-star Apex City Quay Hotel & Spa has rooms from about £50 ($88). See apexhotels.co.uk

Urban Quarters has smart city-centre serviced apartments. Priced from around £270 for a two-night stay, they're named after famous Dundonians like Anna Thompson, who emigrated to the US and married Horace Dodge, founder of the Dodge motor car empire. See urbanquarters.co.uk

Steve McKenna was a guest of Dundee Tourism, Visit Scotland and Visit Britain

from traveller.com.au