If you’re visiting Melbourne, be sure to leave time to get out of the city to see the surrounding regions.
Go north, east, south or west to find stunning scenery, wildlife, art, gourmet food trails, wine tasting, gold rush history, walking and cycling, beaches and watersports.
Even skiing between June and September.
Curious to find out the most popular regional destinations, I came across the State of Victoria’s most visited regional destinations – listed below. The #1 destination is the Great Ocean Road, which saw 2.7 million visitors in 2018 while #8, the Dandenong Ranges, were visited by just over 600,000 people.
Most visited regional destinations in Victoria
- Great Ocean Road for stunning coastal views, the Twelve Apostles rock formation, walking and surfing.
- Mornington Peninsula for beaches, wineries, markets and water sports.
- Ballarat for Sovereign Hill, an open air gold mining town museum recreating the gold rush era.
- Philip Island for the penguin parade, seals and beaches.
- Bendigo for the art gallery, gold rush history, parks and museums.
- Yarra Valley for wine tasting tours, restaurants and to see Australian animals at Healesville Sanctuary.
- Daylesford/Hepburn Springs/Macedon for walking, cycling, relaxation and health spas.
- Dandenong Ranges for forest walks, gardens with views over Melbourne and the steam train Puffing Billy.
Interestingly they are all within a two hour drive of Melbourne, except the Great Ocean Road.
While you can make a long trip out of driving along the Great Ocean Road or hiking the Great Ocean Walk, there are bus tours from Melbourne so you can see it in one day if needed.
Saying that, a one day trip can take around 14 hours.
Such a long way for a day trip! And that got me thinking: what are the ideal day trip destinations and which regions are best seen with at least one overnight stay?
The top of the Mornington Peninsula is just an hour’s drive from Melbourne and gives visitors an amazing combination of beaches, wineries and national parks to explore.
The Yarra Valley definitely lends itself to a day trip – a 90 minute drive from the centre of Melbourne you can easily pick a few wineries to visit, eat lunch, visit an art gallery or see some Australian animals. You can even see it from the above in a hot air balloon.
The same can be said for the Dandenong Ranges – drive (or cycle) the switchbacks under a canopy of eucalyptus trees, go for a forest walk, have lunch in one of the fabulous cafes, take a ride on Puffing Billy, or visit the beautiful cool climate gardens.
Heading to Ballarat to experience the Sovereign Hill open air gold mining museum is an excellent day out, especially with children. Recreating a gold rush era town, there are shows and performances day and night; actors in 1850’s costumes running the shops and businesses; a gold mine tour and museums to visit. Again it’s a 90 minute drive but worth the trip.
Who can resist the thought of seeing fairy penguins surf in with the tide and waddle to their burrows in the sand dunes?
In 2018, around 1.4 million people succumbed to temptation and took the two hour journey from Melbourne to Philip Island to see the Penguin Parade at sunset. There’s grandstand seating on the beach to see the penguins arrive and boardwalks above the penguin pathways so you get to see them up close as well.
It’s not a coincidence that beaches fall between day trips and overnight trips. There’s a beach in St Kilda, a quick 30 minute tram ride from the city, where you can walk along the pier, watch kite surfers, swim and eat on the promenade with a view of the waves.
However, Melbournians regularly holiday on the beaches of the Mornington Peninsula, south east of Melbourne or the Bellarine Peninsula, west of Melbourne and there’s so much to do and see they merit a longer stay.
You can easily visit a bayside beach such as Blackrock just for a day, but if you’d like to try surfing, stay a little longer in beaches like Point Leo or Torquay. There’s also some great meals to be eaten and wine to taste in places like Red Hill and Balnarring.
There are three fabulous regions missing from the ‘Top 8’ destinations, possibly because they’re a three hour drive from Melbourne.
Maybe that’s the reason they’re fabulous – because you’re not sharing them with 1.4 million other tourists…
Wilson’s Promontory is a small peninsula in the Gippsland region, east of Melbourne, boasting pristine beaches and coastal walks with stunning views – so popular some accommodation is allocated by ballot in the peak season of December/January. The Gippsland region is also home to lakes, Ninety Mile Beach and spectacular coastal national parks.
Nagambie and High Country
To the north of Melbourne, off the Hume Highway, is High Country where the mountains and valleys provide adventure year round – from hiking and skiing and mountain biking and horse riding. There’s also some more relaxing activities, such as cycling the Pedal to Produce gourmet trail and wine tasting in King Valley.
A great stopover on the way to the High Country is Nagambie, home to the Mitchelton Winery, boasting a fabulous new hotel, restaurant and indigenous art gallery.
On the road between Melbourne and Adelaide you can hike to the rocky scenic lookouts of the Grampians, relax in wineries or sample an exceptional degustation menu at the ‘destination dining’ restaurant Wickens at the Royal Mail Hotel in the tiny village of Dunkeld.