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 six years in a row by the Economist, and it’s also been voted the world city with the best coffee, beating out the traditional favourites 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 you devote a few weeks to exploring if you can. You’ll experience a fascinating insight into Australian city and country culture, meet plenty of friendly locals and make memories to last a lifetime.
Grampians National Park
This stunning national park boasts exceptionally scenic diversity: from rugged sandstone ridges to lush waterfalls and colourful 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 an excellent spot for fauna-spotting while you enjoy the many walking trails in the area. There’s also fascinating examples of ancient indigenous art.
Suppose you make a short trip outside the park to Ararat or Halls Gap. In that case, 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.
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 beautiful, 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 travellers 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.
This historic roadway is located along Victoria’s southern coastline and winds its way from Torquay through some of the state’s most popular tourist towns, such as Lorne, Apollo Bay, Port Campbell, before ending in Allensford. The Great Ocean Road – which is dedicated to WWI soldiers killed in action – is 243 kilometres (151 mi) of the Australian National Heritage listed roadway that was hand-hewn by returned soldiers between 1919 and 1932. It is now a popular tourist route, taking its travellers on a spectacular winding journey past a number of renowned landmarks. With eucalypt forests on one side and the pounding waves of the Surf and Shipwreck Coasts on the other, you’ll be amazed at the natural beauty of this road.
Along the way, stop and visit Lorne, a quaint little seaside town full of friendly cafés, pubs and restaurants overlooking the ocean. Here, you can watch the surfers relishing the pristine beaches while you enjoy the village atmosphere. Apollo Bay likewise offers a seaside escape, but you can also take a drive through the Otway National Park to Cape Otway to visit Australia’s oldest lighthouse. From here, you can look out for Humpback and Southern Right Whales from winter to spring, while the ancient mountain lake of Lake Elizabeth offers the opportunity to see platypus in their natural habitat.
The pinnacle of the Great Ocean Road for many visitors is found on the coast near Port Campbell. The stunning Twelve Apostles rock formation, Loch Ard Gorge and many other sandstone monoliths and coastal features are visible from the roadside lookouts and walkways. If you have time, a helicopter flight over the area is a great way to get a different perspective on the coast and see just how rugged the sea is.
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 travellers 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!)
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 exciting.
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. This fully working farm 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.
Phillip Island is situated about 140 kilometres (87 mi) south-southeast of Melbourne. This 26 kilometre (16 mi) long, 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) wide island is widely known for its motorsport – hosting the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix; however, the island is most visited for its Little Penguins!
The Phillip Island Penguin Parade allows visitors to observe the daily march of the fascinating Little Penguins (also known as Fairy Penguins) from their daily activities in the ocean to their night-time nests. The Little Penguins delight visitors of all ages and often give observers a good chuckle with their playful antics. The penguins aren’t the only impish residents, though – Seal Rocks is home to over 16,000 gorgeous fur seals, which can be seen playing on the rocks and in the water, sunning themselves and generally doing what seals do best – being absolutely adorable!
Phillip Island is also a bounty for those who love water activities, particularly scuba diving and snorkelling, with underwater environments housing a wondrous array of fish and other sea life.
Easily accessible from Melbourne CBD, the Mornington Peninsula is located to the southeast of the capital and is flanked by Port Phillip, Western Port and the Bass Strait. This popular tourist destination is packed with beautiful natural attractions, such as sweeping beaches, rocky outcrops, undulating hills and mangrove wetlands. Food and wine connoisseurs will be thrilled to hear that the Peninsula offers a number of cellar doors and fine restaurants, boasting some of the region’s best fare.
The Peninsula also offers something for the kids in the form of giant hedge mazes and water-based activities; however, it’s the coastline that really draws the crowds. Locations such as Point Nepean and Cape Schanck offer absolutely stunning views and great walking tracks. The quaint seaside towns are welcoming and interesting, with homely towns such as Rye offering a friendly base to explore from, right alongside swankier areas, such as Portsea and Sorrento. The town of Fingal even has its own hot springs.
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 various summer activities and events, from abseiling to fireworks and film festivals, so it’s worth checking their respective websites to see what’s on.
Yarra Valley & The Dandenong Ranges
The Dandenong Ranges are located approximately 35 kilometres (21.7 mi) east of Melbourne, while the Yarra Valley is a little further along, about 90 kilometres (56 mi) northeast of the CBD. Both areas are breathtaking, and both are easily accessible on a day trip from the state’s capital.
With the Yarra River at its heart, the Yarra Valley is a world-renowned cool climate wine-producing region that offers its visitors a tempting array of wining and dining options. The many cellar doors dotting the verdant, rolling landscape offer either daylight opening hours or overnight accommodation for those who genuinely want to indulge.
The Dandenong Ranges are a boon for nature lovers, photographers and those with a keen eye for natural beauty. Rolling, steep hills dip into seasoned gullies, with both covered in thick, ancient temperate rainforest. Mt Dandenong – the centrepiece – offers views of Greater Melbourne in the distance, with stands of tall Mountain Ash trees crowded by dense ferny undergrowth below. Your day here can be spent bushwalking, picnicking and wildlife spotting. Alternatively, head to Healesville Sanctuary for guaranteed wildlife encounters.
Bendigo offers a fascinating insight into Victoria’s past.
Located just under 2 hours drive from Melbourne and 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 significant 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 people 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, overlooking the gorgeous Lake Weeroona.
For a wonderfully informative taste of gold rush history, the Central Deborah Goldmine can’t be beaten. This underground tour of an actual historical mineshaft is a very memorable experience (although perhaps not ideal for the claustrophobic). You can even pan for gold at the end of your visit!
Creating the border between Victoria and New South Wales, the Murray River runs almost the whole way along the top of Victoria and boasts more sunny days than anywhere else in Australia. No matter what time of the year you visit, you’re likely to get some sunshine, at least for a bit of your visit!
This is a great place to take your first camping trip, where you can get out and about in nature, enjoy life at a slower pace and see a completely different side of Australia. There are many great places along the Murray River to free camp, so it can also be a super cheap option for a quick getaway.
The High Country
In the northeast of Victoria, you will find the High Country, a great little pocket of Victoria that’s full of national parks, Victoria’s highest mountains, lakes, snow resorts, vineyards and wineries and a rich history including gold discovery, cattlemen and bushrangers.
There are heaps of different places to explore in the High Country, from the snowfields in the wintertime to country towns surrounded by waterfalls, hidden rock pools, crystal clear rivers and incredible scenic drives.
If you have the chance, make sure you visit the High Country in both summer and winter. The region is extremely different in each season, although both are just as magical as each other, offering vastly different experiences.
Some of the top towns to visit in the High Country include Bright, Eildon, Myrtleford and Harrietville.
Ballarat & The Goldfields
Located on the lower western plains of the Great Dividing Range, around 105 kilometres (65 mi) west-north-west of Melbourne, Ballarat is a historic gold rush town that allows its visitors a glimpse back in time to an essential part of Australia’s heritage.
In the 19th century, Ballarat’s Goldfields area experienced a rush of eager miners, all hoping to strike it rich in this area. These miners and their descendants were responsible for the growth that has made Ballarat and surrounds it today. For those hoping for their own taste of gold fever, there are still small alluvial gold deposits throughout the region’s waterways just waiting to be found by a lucky fossicker.
If you’d like to step back in time, a visit to the 19th-century replica town, Sovereign Hill, will give you a convincing taste of the past. While there, a visit to the Gold Museum and the ‘Blood on the Southern Cross’ sound and light show is highly recommended.
Daylesford is a gorgeous spa town roughly an hour and a half from Melbourne, making it very popular with both locals and tourists.
Established initially 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.
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 are even bats at night! There are three significant fountains in the complex: 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.
The 10 regional city local government areas are Ballarat, Greater Bendigo, Greater Geelong, Greater Shepparton, Horsham, Latrobe, Mildura, Wangaratta, Warrnambool and Wodonga. The remaining 38 local government areas including six alpine resort areas are referred to as the rural local government areas.
Victoria is the smallest mainland state in Australia at 227,038 square kilometres. The only state smaller is the island of Tasmania. Is is only quarter the size of the next biggest state New South Wales, and incredibly only 9% the size of the largest state, Western Australia.
Mildura tops the state with the sunny figures of just 59 cloudy and 150 clear days. The data has been collated from annual averages of daily cloud cover reports recorded by the Bureau of Meteorology for up to 150 years.