Places In Victoria
TOP 10 TOURIST PLACES TO VISIT IN VICTORIA
Ask a Victorian to crown Australia’s top state and it’s no revelation to hear them nominate their home turf.
But there’s more than sentimentality to this claim, with Melbourne again named the country’s most-liveable city – and 10th in the world – by the Economist Intelligence Unit thanks to its “stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure”.
It’s a destination that enjoys a heaped helping of history, cherishes the great outdoors with 45 national parks inside the border, and hosts a handful of world-famous sporting events like the Australian Open tennis tournament and Formula One Grand Prix.
Victoria also tempts even the most demanding traveller, with a plethora of experiences and attractions on offer to satisfy discerning sightseers.
WHERE TO START VISITING PLACES IN VICTORIA
Victorian adventures tend to start in Melbourne. Most out-of-town travellers arrive by air but some will cross the border by boat from Tasmania, access via rail from one of the neighbouring states, or follow the asphalt on a road trip.
The metropolis centres around the riverside CBD and extends across all points of the compass through gentrified inner-city neighbourhoods, across leafy urban villages, and beyond to the sprawling commuter-belt suburbs.
Then it's into the state's rural regions, with Victoria divided into 12 tourist zones stretching from the Murray River to Mornington Peninsula and the Grampians to Gippsland.
The only question that remains is where to go. Easy, right? Well, perhaps not, because travellers are spoiled for choice within this destination covering the south-east corner of mainland Australia.
If you’re unsure, we're here to help. The team at AAT Kings drawing up our list of the most exceptional experiences on offer to explore Australia's Garden State.
FOR THE ART AFICIONADO
Victoria has art in abundance, with the state home to hundreds of galleries and artist workshops as well as a spectacular street-art scene.
The National Gallery of Victoria
The National Gallery of Victoria boasts a magnitude of magnificent masterpieces, with the collection now distributed across two campuses in the capital. The historic Ballarat and Bendigo galleries were raised with Gold Rush wealth, the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula are rich with boutique exhibition spaces, and Geelong’s Eastern Beach Road is the place to see the alfresco Waterfront Art Trail.
The Silo Art Trail
The latest addition to the state's art scene is the Silo Art Trail, with this driving route winding through the pastoral Wimmera and Mallee districts in Victoria's baked north-west corner.
The path is considered to be Australia's most extensive outdoor gallery with those following the asphalt between agricultural settlements and dot-on-the-map villages like Patchewollock, Sea Lake, Goroke, Horsham, Kaniva, Arkona and Lascelles seeing these larger-than-life murals.
The works have been created by renowned street artists from around Australia and cover the soaring sides of wheat silos with the scenes telling tales of history, heritage and bush humour while bathed in the golden sunlight that nurtures the agriculture industry.
Just some of the painted stories include Indigenous faces framed by a deep blue sky, youngsters swinging in a gum tree, and an old farmer with his trusty kelpie sheepdog by his side
And, best of all, the Silo Art Trail grows with new murals continuing to dress the railway-side monoliths in settlements around the region.
FOR THE ROAD-TRIPPING REGULARS
The Great Ocean Road
Every list of the world's best driving routes will feature the Great Ocean Road high up in the ranking. This legendary strip of asphalt twists and turns along Victoria's south-west coast from Torquay, just to the south of Geelong, to Allansford 240km away on the doorstep of Warrnambool.
The circuit is now more than a century old – established to give soldiers retuned from the Great War work during the Great Depression – and was built to link the isolated hamlets dotting the Bass Strait coast that were then only accessible by sea.
The road hasn't changed much in the 100 years since, and snakes through the valleys of the Great Otway National Park while gently ascending and descending undulating coastal hills carpeted by old-growth forests.
The Great Ocean Road is best done as a multi-day drive giving travellers ample time to see the famous places along the way – the Port Fairy Lighthouse, 12 Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, Hopetoun Falls – while pausing to enjoy the gourmet delights at the casual cafes and five-star restaurants along the route.
And there's never a bad time to embark on a Great Ocean Road adventure. During winter dramatic Southern Ocean storms deliver moody squalls best enjoyed from a cosy cabin nestled into the green of an Otways' peak, while summer brings warm weather perfect for sitting on the sand and savouring sunset drinks in the garden of a waterside pub.
FOR THE NATURE LOVER
Victoria doesn't boast an abundance of coastal islands – counts put the number close to 30, from Middle Island in Warrnambool's Stingray Bay to Gabo Island which serves as a Bass Strait sentry near Mallacoota – but it's all about quality rather than quantity with Phillip Island topping the list for travellers.
This rural 100sq/km plot guards the entrance to Western Port Bay and boasts a year-round population of nearly 12,000 people living in sweet settlements like Rhyll, Cowes, Ventnor and Summerlands. But that number swells by 40 per cent during the summer school holidays when visitors cross the San Remo bridge to enjoy the long stretches of sand, patrolled beaches, and sea breezes.
But there's more to Phillip Island than sun, sea and sand with the Bass Coast address world famous for wildlife.
Phillip Island's legendary Little Penguins – the charismatic creatures that emerge from the deep daily at dusk to feed families hidden in burrows dotted beneath the grass-covered dunes – are the star attraction and draw millions of admirers every year.
There are myriad options for taking in the nightly parade, from selecting a seat in a sand-side stand or standing beside one of the paths the critters use to complete the commute home from waves to burrows. There's also the option of watching from an underground hide, with the penguins waddling right past head-height windows, or joining a ranger-guided tour with information about the colony delivered via personal headsets.
But the Phillip Island wildlife encounters need not end there with the destination home to koalas, wallabies, echidnas, kangaroos, and wading birds.
Seal Rocks accommodates one of Australia's largest fur seal colonies, and a two-hour cruise is the best way to schedule an up-close encounter with the playful population, while the Koala Conservation Reserve's tree-top boardwalks provide perches for up-close viewing.
BEST FOR HISTORICAL HAPPENINGS
Ballarat is Victoria's largest inland settlement and an address that, in a couple of decades short of 200 hundred years, has evolved from a rustic and rebellious miners' camp into a cosmopolitan city that's home to one very famous tourist attraction as well as glorious galleries and historic hotels.
Sovereign Hill is the living museum that tells the story of Ballarat as a Gold Rush boomtown and brings the 1850s to life through a bustling village complete with diggings, underground mines, characters in costume, coach rides, shops, workshops and schools.
The nearby Art Gallery of Ballarat – funded during the Gold Rush by those who found a fortune on the diggings – is now listed as one of Australia's oldest galleries and boasts a celebrated collection of Australian art that stretches back to the days before the Heidelberg School.
Grand Victorian and Edwardian buildings line Lydiard Street, Lake Wendouree played host to the 1956 Olympic Games rowing competition, and Craig's Hotel welcomed an enviable assortment of VIP guests over the decades from Prince Albert to Mark Twain and Dame Nellie Melba.
BEST FOR WINERY WANDERING
This whole state is best for winery wandering with 800 commercial vineyards, 700 wineries and 600 cellar doors inside this viticultural corner of the country.
There are almost 70 recognised wine regions throughout Australia, and a rough count puts 21 of those districts inside Victoria with roughly 17,000ha under vine with established and emerging producers turning out old and new-world varieties that are winning awards and earning praise around the planet.
The Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Rutherglen are the most recognised addresses but zones like the King Valley, Geelong and the Grampians are considered hidden gems with many of the wineries across Victoria multi-generational businesses telling charming stories of family heritage and pastoral history.
Shiraz Central stretches from the Grampians to Golden Triangle, Rutherglen is famous for fortified drops, the Yarra Valley memorable for cold-climate varieties, and the Pinot Coast encompasses the Bellarine and Mornington Peninsula.
For those with a penchant for sparkling, the King Valley’s Prosecco Trail is tended by the descendants of the Italian migrants that settled to farm tobacco and began growing grapes to blend a few bottles of the old-country varieties.
BEST FOR URBAN ADVENTURERS
Have you heard of Degraves Street, Hardware Lane, Centre Place, Hosier Lane, and Duckboard Place? No? How about Melbourne's laneways? Yes, of course you have. Everyone knows about Melbourne's legendary laneways which have become a mecca for urbanites seeking cool cafes, boutique shopping, contemporary crafts, and vibrant street art.
Described by Visit Melbourne as a "hive of bustling, creative laneways with their hidden boutiques, famed restaurants and hole-in-the-wall cafes", these narrow brick and concrete canyons weave between buildings to link the main roads in the city's neat grid of CBD streets.
Flinders Lane was first and is now considered the queen with award-winning restaurants, boutiques, contemporary galleries and local fashion labels all well-established while Duckboard Lane has evolved from a WW2 haunt for resting troops to a hub for foodies and artists.
A string of cool cafes has moved into Hardware Lane, the walls of ACDC Lane wear murals paying tribute to music, Drewery Lane doors open to prohibition-era bars and rooftop cocktail lounges, and it's not uncommon to see the work of international artists adorning Hosier Lane's vertical canvases.
And while each laneway has created its own unique character, they all have one thing in common. They all accommodate some of the city's best places to eat and drink and are worth exploring after dark when the subtle glow from the window of a restaurant, café or bar signals a compelling reason to stop for a bite or beverage.
BEST FOR COASTAL CHARACTER
It's hard to put a finger on what makes the Mornington Peninsula marvellous. It started as a destination for long and lazy warm-season holidays, with thousands of Victorians still sentimental about spending every day of the summer school holidays camped in the council caravan parks lining the foreshore between Safety Beach and Sorrento.
But there's so much more to the region that's only an hour's drive from the middle of Melbourne, with this district blossoming in the years since the Baby Boomers and Generation X came of age. It now boasts a captivating coastal charm that's part Hampton's chic, a little bit Mediterranean, and a lot of rural romance.
The location is now listed as one of Australia's premier wine regions – producing classic cool-climate varieties like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris – and cultivated a culinary culture that sees artisan producers hidden along country lanes and esteemed fine-dining eateries dotted between the vines.
Beaches on the Port Phillip Bay side are suited to serene swimming, with those along the Bass Strait border only suitable for those able to manage booming ocean breakers, and the coastline boasts walks that wind through beautiful bushland that frames spectacular seaside scenery.
Well-being is a focus, with dozens of day spas delivering pampering treatments while the tranquil Peninsula Hot Springs features a string of pools and ponds that meander across the undulating landscape to satisfy those set on soaking in therapeutic thermal water.
The Arthurs Seat Eagle, Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park, Portsea Pier and Cape Schanck Lighthouse are some famous places while gastro-pub dining at Flinders Hotel, the Montalto Sculpture Trail, Heronswood House & Garden and Two Bays Walking Track are amongst the hidden gems.
BEST FOR MARVELLING AT MASTERPIECES
The National Gallery of Victoria's Winter Masterpieces is now considered to be as Melbourne as the MCG and Victoria Market, with the annual exhibition bringing some of the world's most celebrated canvases to the city straddling the Yarra River.
During the past 20 years the St Kilda Road campus has combined with Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, the Hermitage in St Petersburg, Frankfurt's Stadel Museum and the Musee d'Orsay in Paris as well as dedicating a show to Vienna’s Secessionist Movement and spotlighting Dali, Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet and Degas.
But the Winter Masterpieces is about more than canvases hanging in an exhibition space, with personal audio devices leading guided tours that add deeper layers to the discovery and the gallery's cafes create menus that celebrate the themes
NGV Friday Nights is also a highlight of the exhibition season, with musicians playing in the impressive Great Hall and pop-up eateries dotted around the building to let visitors enjoy exclusive after-hours access.
BEST FOR OUTDOOR ADVENTURE
If one destination inspires imaginings of outdoor adventures, it’s the Grampians. These majestic mountains in Victoria's south-west corner are encompassed inside the Grampians National Park and surrounded by pretty villages like Dunkeld, Halls Gap and Pomonal.
While a dozen driving routes cater to those keen on sightseeing by road, those willing to don sensible shoes and a backpack will enjoy the best experience with the Grampians a haven for hikers and wonderland for walkers.
Meander one of the marked trails that weave across the Grampians National Park escarpment to gaze upon fern-filled gorges, seasonal streams filled by water dancing down sheer rock walls, hidden waterfalls and jagged peaks that slice across the horizon.
At the expert end of the scale the Grampians Peak Trail is a multi-day trek that covers 106km between Mt Zero and Dunkeld to include locations like Redman Bluff, Mount William, Major Mitchell Plateau, Signal Peak, Mount Abrupt and Mt Sturgeon.
Those seeking something less strenuous can make the 30-minute stroll to The Balconies from Reed Lookout to gaze across Victoria Valley, saunter to the spectacular Mackenzie Falls, or ascend to the Pinnacle while looking out for the koalas and echidnas that call the Grampians home.
Tramping also provides access to Indigenous sites around the region, with the destination boasting the largest number of Aboriginal rock-art sites in southern Australia and over 80 per cent of the ancient outdoor First Nation galleries in Victoria.
Sites the public can access include Billimina, Gulgurn Manja, and Manja, which all sit inside Grampians National Park, and Bunjil's in Black Range Reserve close to nearby Stawell.
It's a picturesque destination that continues to change with the seasons. Wintery whites give way to the arid tones of summer that creep across the landscape as the sun bakes the farmers' fields to frame the khaki shades of the native bush carpeting the heights.
During autumn the deciduous trees planted by pioneering pastoralists turn shades of red, burgundy, orange and yellow and wildflowers fill the paddocks when the weather starts shifting towards summer.
BEST FOR SOOTHING SOAKING
Victoria isn't short of hot springs and thermal ponds, with healing water bubbling up from far below ground at the Japanese Mountain Retreat in Montrose, Warrnambool's Deep Blue Geothermal Baths and the Peninsula Hot Springs in Fingal.
But the most famous – and historic – place to "take the water" is the mineral springs, boutique bathhouses and romantic retreats dotted around Hepburn Springs in the heart of Victoria's Golden Triangle.
The healing properties of the water were identified by the Italian and Swiss miners that arrived at the diggings roughly halfway between Ballarat and Castlemaine during the 1850’s Gold Rush. When these migrants, all hailing from countries that respected the restorative powers, took into the account the mineral content they quickly outlawed the prospecting practices that would pollut the source of the healing springs.
Today the Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa, The Mineral Springs, and Peppers Mineral Springs Hotel are all elegant addresses to indulge in a soak or spa treatment while the Hepburn Mineral Springs Reserve is a parcel of preserved parkland surrounded by bushy blocks that features taps above springs for bottling Mother Nature's brew.
Nearby Daylesford, the settlement three kilometres from Hepburn Springs, has benefited from centuries of visitors venturing into the region and thrived to become one of the state's favourite long-weekend locations with fine-dining addresses, boutique retail browsing, and art galleries lining the wide streets.
STILL NEED MORE TIPS TO EXPLORE VICTORIA
Still not satisfied? We can continue if that’s not enough inspiration. The next 10 locations on the Victorian travel to-do list including Puffing Billy, the MCG on Boxing Day, Mt Buller during ski season, Kyneton’s Piper Street, the Black Spur Drive, Bright when the autumn colour is showing, a paddle steamer ride in Echuca, Wilsons Promontory, the Bonegilla Migrant Experience near Wodonga, and Brunetti Classico in Carlton.