Victoria is a great place to travel, and a great place to live, too: its state capital, Melbourne, has been ranked the most liveable city 6 years in a row by the Economist, and it’s also been voted the world city with the best coffee, beating out the traditional favorites of Rome and Vienna.
But with 2.6 million international visitors flocking to Victoria in 2016 alone, there’s plenty to offer outside of Melbourne’s urban buzz: drive the famed Great Ocean Road, relax on the beach at a coastal village, enjoy the splendour of a national park, or check out the adorable little fairy penguin colony at Phillip Island!
There’s so much to do in Victoria that if you can, devote a few weeks to exploring. You’ll experience a fascinating insight into Australian city and country culture, meet plenty of friendly locals, and make memories to last a lifetime.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Victoria:
1. Grampians National Park
This stunning national park boasts exceptionally scenic diversity: from rugged sandstone ridges to lush waterfalls and colorful Spring wildflowers, you’ll find many picture-perfect shots for your photo album: the sunset views are an absolute must-see.
The Grampians are the home to many Australian marsupials and native birds, so it’s a great spot for fauna-spotting while you enjoy the many walking trails in the area There’s also fascinating examples of ancient indigenous art.
If you make a small trip outside the park to Ararat or Halls Gap, there’s plenty of gorgeous modern art by local studios too, and Ararat is a popular destination in its own right, particularly interesting for its eerie ghost tours.
2. Torquay and the Great Ocean Road
Torquay is an adorable seaside resort town known for being the gateway to the Great Ocean Road, but it’s well worth a visit in its own right: its famous for its surf beaches, including the world famous Bells Beach, and if you visit during Easter you’ll be able to see some of the world’s best surfers in action at the Bells Beach Rip Curl Pro.
The Surf Coast walk is a wonderful, relaxing journey, or you could just enjoy some sunbathing! If you’re in the mood for a romantic holiday destination, Torquay is perfect: the Surfcoast Cottages and Bells Estate Cottages are adorable, and there’s plenty of tasty dining options here.
From Torquay, many travelers will continue onto the Australian Heritage-listed 243-km Great Ocean Road, the backdrop for many an international car commercial with its gorgeous coastal and mountain views, charming towns like Apollo Bay, and yet more of the pristine white-sand beaches that Australia is rightly world-famous for.
3. Great Otway National Park
The Otways are a very popular detour for drivers on the Great Ocean Road, and are considered an iconic Victorian experience; they’re popular with locals, interstate and international travelers alike.
Stop in a few towns on your way, and make sure to take the time to explore the Great Otway National Park (if you’re a daredevil, maybe even try the zipline!)
4. Phillip Island
Just under 2 hours by car, with a bridge linking it to the mainland, Phillip Island is a popular day-tripping destination for Melbournites and tourists alike.
The island is best known for its adorable colony of Little Penguins, one of Australia’s most popular tourist attractions.
The penguins return to shore en masse every sunset; visitors can view them from several different locations, such as the Penguin Parade viewing platform or the underground facility; there’s also the option of the Ultimate Penguin Tour, which offers a more personal and intimate penguin encounter.
The visitor centre is also very informative and interesting.
Visiting the penguin colony is a must-do, but there’s plenty more on Phillip Island to enjoy: a koala conservation centre, an animal park, and Warook Farm – a fully working farm which is over a century old.
The island is also for its excellent beaches, which are popular with swimmers and surfers alike, as well as various family-oriented activities such as the Islantis Surf Experience, A Maze’n Things, a chocolate factory, and a summer carnival that has been running for over 50 years.
The island also boasts several wineries, and many excellent restaurants.
5. Alpine National Park
The Alpine National Park is home to two of Victoria’s best known mountains, Mt Buller and Mt Hotham, both of which operate alpine resorts that are famous throughout Australia as winter sports destinations.
Of course, spring and summer in the Alpine National Park is an entirely different experience, so it’s worth making trips at various times of year to the Park if you have the chance! The scenery is stunning, with gorgeous flora and fauna, especially in wildflower season.
The walking and biking trails are great for an outdoorsy holiday.
Both Mt Hotham and Mt Buller offer a variety of summer activities and events, from abseiling to fireworks and film festivals, so it’s worth checking their respective websites to see what’s on.
Bendigo offers a fascinating insight into Victoria’s past.
Located just under 2 hours drive from Melbourne, as well as being easily accessible by train, Bendigo was a gold rush boomtown in the Victorian era.
There are many well-preserved examples of Victorian architecture in the town, making Bendigo famous for its heritage buildings and gold rush history alike; at one point, the output of Victoria’s goldmines were higher than anywhere else in the world besides California, with almost 1 million kilograms of gold having been extracted in Bendigo alone since mining began in the 1850s.
Like the gold rushes in the US, the Victorian gold rush brought in an influx of migrants from within Australia and overseas, transforming the town from a quiet sheep station to a major settlement.
Some popular sites for heritage and cultural tourists to visit in this now-thriving modern city are the Discovery of Gold Monument, the Bendigo Tramways Museum, the Golden Dragon museum (which commemorates the Chinese population which developed during the gold rush, peaking at 20% of the town’s population in the 1860s) and the Joss House Temple, as well as several buildings that are listed on the Victorian Heritage Register: the Bendigo Town Hall (built in 1859), the Old Post Office, the Law Courts (1892), the Sacred Heart Cathedral (1896), Shamrock Hotel (1897), and the Memorial Military Museum (1921).
The growing city has much to offer beyond heritage and cultural tourism: lovely national parks, a science museum, the excellent Bendigo Art Gallery, and the Bendigo Botanic Gardens which overlook the gorgeous Lake Weeroona.
For a wonderfully informative taste gold rush history, the Central Deborah Goldmine can’t be beat – this subterranean tour of a genuine historical mine shaft is a very memorable experience (although perhaps not ideal for the claustrophobic). You can even pan for gold at the end of your visit!
7. Wilsons Promontory National Park
Victoria’s largest coastal wilderness area is beloved by locals and tourists alike, with the opportunity to get close to a wide variety of Australian native flora and fauna; “the Prom”, as it is nicknamed, is the home to many kangaroos, emus, wombats, echidnas, and gorgeous birdlife.
As the Prom is well-touristed, these animals are very used to people, and will be very friendly to you if you’ve got some feed to offer! The walking trails at the Prom are lovely, and it’s also a great spot for relaxing on the beach.
It’s a popular location for camping, but also for romantic getaways, so you’re sure to find accommodation that suits your needs as well.
8. Mornington Peninsula
The Mornington Peninsula is a lovely little day-trip from the hustle and bustle of Melbourne; just over an hour away (and a very pleasant drive), you’ll find a different world.
The peninsula is famous for its wineries, cherries and berries, as well as produce straight from the farm-gate (and tasty restaurant fare, as well!). It’s also a popular foraging spot, including for sea spray herb, seaweed and mushrooms (Mushroom Tours offers helpful advice on distinguishing from the poisonous and the palatable!)
Like many regional attractions, the gorgeous walking trails on the peninsula shouldn’t be missed, but there’s also plenty to do in the towns.
The Peninsular Hot Spring in Sorrento are particularly enjoyable, especially as natural hot springs in Australia are few and far between.
Rosebud and Rye boast many family attractions, and if you’re in the mood for a beachside tipple, Portsea has a lovely pub.
The bright, colorful shacks along the beach at Mount Martha make it well worth a visit too.
There are several national parks on the peninsula, spanning over 25,000 hectares in total.
They include lovely sites such as Cape Schank (home of a lighthouse build in 1859 which still operates today, as well as being a perfect spot to catch the sunset).
9. Healesville Sanctuary
Located in the heart of the scenic Yarra Valley, this sanctuary is widely considered to be the best spot in Australia to see and interact with Australian wildlife in unspoiled natural habitat.
Get up close and personal with all manner of famous Aussie animals: kangaroos, koalas, emus, wombats and even platypuses (the sanctuary’s most iconic species). There’s also several interesting “wild encounters” available, such as “wombat pat & play”, “wade with the platypus” and a dingo encounter (apparently they sometimes give visitors a kiss on the cheek!) These uniquely Australian experiences make the sanctuary a trip to remember.
10. St Kilda
Melbourne has a lot to offer visitors, but a particular must-see is St Kilda.
This suburb boasts a wide range of attractions, from beachside relaxation to a thriving nightlife scene, the famous Esplanade Markets, and some of the best food in the city (if not the state). The suburb is quite ethnically diverse, and Acland Street in particular is well-known for its Greek and Jewish bakeries and cake shops, so it’s a perfect spot if you’ve got a sweet tooth.
There’s also many vegetarian restaurants here (particularly noteworthy is the pay-as-you-feel Lentil as Anything).
St Kilda is also known for its boutique shopping, vintage finds, and its iconic colorful beach shacks.
The pier is gorgeous, especially when it’s lit up at night and you can go penguin-spotting.
The botanic gardens are also a lovely way to work up an appetite for the excellent local fare (or alternatively, work off that delicious cake!)
You’ll also find Luna Park here, an iconic amusement park opened in 1912. The Scenic Railway was opened in the Park the same year, making it the world’s oldest continually-operating rollercoaster (with fantastic views of Port Phillip Bay). It’s free to enter, just pay for what you ride, and it’s fun even just for a walk around.
Fitzroy is described by Time Out as an “inner-city mecca for all things cool and kooky”; vintage shopping, a vibrant bar and pub scene, a thriving alternative subculture, and delicious restaurants serving a wide range of Australian and international food, generally at very reasonable prices.
The best thing about Fitzroy is definitely the atmosphere – it’s a fun area just for a wander around – but there’s also lots of live music events going on at any time, as well as a variety of markets, art events, etc.
A visit to the in.cube8r Fitzroy Emporium and Gallery is also highly recommended.
12. Carlton Gardens
The Carlton Gardens are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a short walk from Melbourne’s city centre.
The complex includes the Royal Exhibition Building, Imax Cinema, and Melbourne Museum, all of which are well worth a visit.
The gardens are a gorgeous example of Victorian landscaping, as well as being noteworthy for their biodiversity.
The Royal Exhibition Building is a very attractive example of heritage architecture.
You’ll also find plenty of wildlife in the area, such as possums, kookaburras, and tawny frogmouths; there’s even bats at night! There are three major fountains in the complex as well: the Exhibition, French and Westgarth Drinking fountains.
The area makes for a pleasant and easily accessible day out for Melbournians and visitors to the city.
Daylesford is a gorgeous spa town roughly an hour and a half from Melbourne, making it very popular with both locals and tourists.
Originally established as a gold-mining town, Daylesford has been a popular spa destination for a century.
The town is famous for its natural spring mineral spas; the broader area of the town and surrounds are home to over 80% of Australia’s effervescent mineral water.
As well as its many spas, Daylesford is known for its wineries, galleries, restaurants, and its gorgeous lake views.
The Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens are also a lovely attraction, and the stunning Hepburn Regional Park is only a stone’s throw away.
14. Dandenong Ranges
The Dandenong Ranges are a low mountain range on the outskirts of Melbourne, 35km from the city centre.
Gorgeous, lush and green, they make for a popular nature day-trip for the locals, as well as a must-see for tourists.
In particular, the popular Puffing Billy scenic railroad is a great way to enjoy the beauty of the Ranges.
The highest point is Mount Dandenong, at 633 metres.
You’ll find great farm-gate produce here, breathtaking bushwalks, lovely bed-and-breakfasts, sweet little towns, immaculate gardens, and well-preserved Australian architecture.
There’s also plenty of wildlife to encounter in the Ranges: kangaroos, koalas, wombats, and more!
Ballarat is another famed gold-rush boom town, now a thriving city with great cafes and restaurants, and many events to attract the modern traveler as well (the Ballarat Beer Festival and the Summer of Sound are particularly popular). The Ballarat Art Gallery is also a must-see, a stroll around the lake is a fun way to while away some time, and the Ballarat Wildlife Park is a great spot for a koala fix!
Like Bendigo, it has done a fantastic job of preserving its history: there are plenty of examples of heritage architecture to be found, and the fascinating Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka is actually located on the historic site of the 1854 Eureka Stockade, the site of a renowned rebellion against the colonial authority of the UK that was a crucial moment in the history of Australia’s road to becoming an independent democracy.
Sovereign Hill is a particularly enjoyable tourist site in Ballarat; this open-air museum and historical park has been described as Australia’s best outdoor museum, and it will truly make you feel like you’ve traveled back in time to the heady days of the beginning of the gold rush over 150 years ago! The experience is very authentic, and highly informative; you can go underground and enjoy a fully-guided gold mine tour, visit 1850s shops, see steam-driven machinery in operation, and have a chat with the various fully-costumed staff members “plying their trades” as candlemakers, wheelwrights and candy-makers of yore.
(Of course, it’s also a fantastic spot for photo opportunities!)
8km outside of Ballarat, you’ll find Kryal Castle, biling itself as “Australia’s only medieval adventure park and resort”. There’s something a little out-of-place about jousting knights and dragons in the middle of Australia at the height of summer, but it’s still a lot of fun, and fantastic to keep any smaller travelers in your group entertained.