When most people think of planning a trip to the Australian state of Victoria, the capital city of Melbourne is always the first place where people will start. Melbourne is after all a culturally diverse, lively, and cosmopolitan city rich in the arts, culture, and sports. It is the foodie capital of Australia and quite famous worldwide for brewing the best coffee there is! Yes, I am a biased Melbourne coffee snob but hell I am proud of it!
But what about the rest of Victoria? Is it as good as its main city?
Abso-freakin-lutely it is!
Most tourists will head off to the 12 Apostles, Yarra Valley, and Mornington Peninsula on day trips when visiting Melbourne, not venturing too far from the city. And while these locations are spectacular in their own right, there is of course so much more to see and do in the state of Victoria.
Here’s a list of some of my favorite off-the-beaten-path places in regional Victoria that should you ever choose to visit, definitely put some, if not all on your must-visit list.
1. Grampians National Park
Approximately 300km west of Melbourne is the sandstone mountain range of the Grampians National Park. A true beauty of mother nature with numerous bushwalks and hiking trails that are often not for the faint of heart. There are of course some easier trails for those of us less inclined to exert too much energy. The Grampians National Park is also home to some of the best rock climbing in Victoria.
Clear and sparkling streams that create natural swimming pools such as Venus Baths are scattered around the National Park and make for a relaxing wind down after a long and arduous walk. The impressive Mackenzie Falls is one of the largest in Victoria.
Base yourself in Dunkeld and be sure to dine at the acclaimed Royal Mail Hotel or at Halls Gap where you can get up close with Australian wildlife such as kangaroos, emus, koalas, and wallabies.
2. Wilsons Promontory
Located roughly 2.5 hours south of Melbourne Wilsons Promontory is often considered to be one of the most beautiful coastlines in Victoria. Covering the southernmost parts of mainland Australia Wilsons Promontory National Park has something for everyone. With sweeping views of a magnificent coastline, dramatic cliff faces, long pristine sandy beaches, and dense lush rainforests it is a nature lover’s dream.
The area offers everything from hiking trails, dolphins and southern whale spotting, amazing sunset gazing and when all the elements are right you can even view the elusive Aurora Australis on the horizon.
While no accommodation can be found within Wilsons Promontory National Park, there is accommodation close to the area which can offer a stay with a difference. Visitors can spend a night or two in a cottage next to a lighthouse or inside an eco-tent powered by solar energy.
3. Ballarat beyond the goldfields
While Ballarat is historically famous for its gold rush past, Sovereign Hill and the Eureka Stockade and is a sometimes-popular destination to visit outside of Melbourne there is so much more to this bustling country city than its past and much more than the gorgeous Victorian era buildings that line its main streets. Although they are worth a walk past too.
For the foodie and wine lover, the scene in Ballarat is exceptional. Locally sourced produce, meats, and wines are constantly featured on menus in the city’s growing list of impressive cafes, bars, restaurants, and hotels. There is even an annual beer festival that showcases local microbreweries as well as the bigger named ones. Ballarat also hosts the light installation festival ‘White Night’.
If you happen to spend a few days exploring Ballarat, be sure to head out to the small but cute surrounding towns like Buninyong, Creswick, and Clunes (to name a few). Mineral Springs and Spa towns, Daylesford and Hepburn are a short car drive away.
Located an hour west of Melbourne, Ballarat is quite a pretty city and worth popping on your list of must see when touring regional Victoria.
4. Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula
Roughly an hour’s drive southwest of Melbourne, this easy-going coastal city and peninsula is home to a flourishing foodie scene, craft breweries, cafes, wineries, local produce stores, and being coastal loads of seafood, of course.
During the summer months, the Bellarine Peninsula is a popular holiday destination for Victorians, so it really does come alive being a hub of activity. There is something for everyone, especially the sun seeker and the adventurous. Whether it be hiking the You Yangs or all kinds of water sports including swimming and surfing at local beaches Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads.
A little further down the road is Torquay and the famous surf mecca Bells Beach considered to be the starting point of the Great Ocean Road.
If you are looking for a coastal break, then heading out of Geelong along the peninsula you are sure to find a perfect spot to unwind.
5. Port Fairy
Located at the end of the Great Ocean Road on Victoria’s famed Shipwreck Coast is the charming fishing village of Port Fairy. Closer to the South Australian border than what it is to Melbourne, Port Fairy is wedged in between beach towns Warrnambool and Portland.
Famous for its annual Folk Festival, the town of Port Fairy has a buzzing local art and food scene. Local food stores, pubs, cafes and vineyards supply the town and area with great quality produce that many travel far and wide to sample. The town also houses art galleries, quaint boutiques, and antique stores where the streets are lined with Norfolk pines and old bluestone cottages.
The scenic drive along the Great Ocean Road to this beautiful town is nothing short of breath taking and makes the long drive from Melbourne worthwhile.
Mildura is possibly as ‘outback’ as Victoria can get yet is also known for being cosmopolitan for its location. The city of Mildura sits on the banks of the vast Murray River in northwest Victoria some 6 hours from Melbourne.
Home to chef hatted restaurant ‘Stefano’ and many other foodie places that tip their hats to both modern Australian and international cuisines coupled with the numerous wine bars, pubs and wineries, Mildura has fast become a go to foodie destination in Victoria.
Mildura is also home to a country music festival, arts centre and famous paddle steamers that run along the Murray River. For a unique experience in Victoria, be sure to put Mildura on your must visit list.
7. King Valley
With its rolling hills, numerous wineries, and hearty produce, Victoria’s King Valley can often be likened to Italy’s famous counterpart, Tuscany.
The wine-producing region is centered on the King River between Wangaratta and the Alpine National Park in the North East Victoria approximately 3 hours’ drive from Melbourne. And while it is well known for its wineries, the King Valley is also home to great hiking trails, quality food and restaurants, breweries, fishing and camping areas as well as being a base to the surrounding Alpine National Park.
The King Valley has a real homely feel to it, especially in the cooler winter months. If you are looking for a quaint and cosy spot for winter warmth, good hospitality, hearty cuisine, and full-bodied red wines by a wood fire, the King Valley is the perfect place to be.
8. Lakes Entrance
Lakes Entrance is a coastal town found in the southeast of Victoria. A 3-hour drive from Melbourne. It is well known for its picturesque system of inland waterways, Gippsland Lakes, and the vast 90 Mile Beach.
A popular spot for families, campers, nature seekers, surfers and swimmers, Lakes Entrance is a great base to explore the coastline, try your luck at fishing, visit caves, and indulge in fresh seafood caught in the area. A walk across the landmark footbridge links the town with the sand dunes and windswept coastline of Bass Strait. Ferries operate in the area for exploring the Gippsland Lakes and inland waterways.
The area is home to some incredible wildlife both land and sea based including kangaroos, pelicans and dolphins.
Marysville is a small town in the Yarra Valley, about an hour and a half northeast of Melbourne. Nestled in the foothills of Victoria’s Alpine Region, Marysville has long been a popular holiday retreat for visitors, especially during the stunning springtime season and the colorful autumn period.
Marysville and its surroundings are an ideal destination for lovers of nature and the outdoors. Bushwalking and skiing at Lake Mountain, 25 minutes from Marysville, are popular activities as is admiring the view of the Victorian Alps from the mountain. The Steavenson River runs through the town center and southeast to Steavenson Falls, one of Victoria’s highest.
If coming to Marysville from Melbourne, the drive up the Black Spur alone is a jaw-dropping experience filled with some of the most stunning views and beauty that this corner of Victoria has to offer.
10. Macedon Ranges
A quick hour drive north from Melbourne is where you’ll find the Macedon Ranges. Home to many quaint little towns, wineries, gin distilleries, artisan food, and some of Victoria’s finest produce, the Macedon Ranges are sure to hit the spot for satisfying any hunger and/or thirst.
The area is rich with expansive forests and mountain ranges including Mount Macedon and the infamous Hanging Rock. All walkable for those seeking to walk off some of the excess culinary delights.
Autumn is especially beautiful in the area with many flocking to Macedon and other small towns to take insta-worthy pictures of the wonderful pin oak-lined streets with its abundance of color from the deciduous trees as they start to turn from green, to yellow and then a vivid red. March to April is the perfect time to be visiting the area to capture its true beauty.