Melbourne offers enough cultural, culinary and sporting attractions to keep visitors entertained for weeks, but keep some time free to explore what lies outside the city.
Within a couple of hours’ drive (or less) of the CBD are forested mountain ranges, quaint rural towns, rolling vineyards, dramatic coastline and extraordinary wildlife viewing opportunities. In most cases, you can be back on Lygon Street in time for dinner!
Here are five of the best day trips from Melbourne.
A world away from the CBD (yet in reality just 35kms), the stunning Dandenong Ranges are dotted with charming mountain villages and gentle rainforest hiking trails through the enchanting (and quite possibly enchanted) Sherbrooke Forest. You can stop for morning tea and a stroll through the arts and craftsy Sassafras and Olinda, take a step back in time on the Puffing Billy steam train at Belgrave, wander through the wonderful sculpture gardens of the William Ricketts Sanctuary, and take in sweeping views back to the city and bay area from Skyhigh Mount Dandenong. For those without a car, an organised tour from Melbourne will show you many of these highlights.
Tip: There are countless holiday cottages, B&Bs and guesthouses hidden away in the serene Mountain Ash forests of the Dandenongs. It’s the perfect place for a weekend getaway.
This day trip destination is hugely popular with Melburnians themselves. The historic town of Daylesford is located around 80 minutes’ drive west from the city, in the shadow of the magnificent Macedon Ranges. Along with nearby Hepburn Springs, this is a renowned spa region. It attracts a steady stream of devotees looking to take advantage of the thermal spring treatments offered by the area’s many luxury spas.
Daylesford’s main street is jam-packed with a collection of galleries, craft shops, cafés and restaurants. While your best bet is to work your way up both sides of the street so you don’t miss anything, Bromley & Co is an amazing contemporary space worth particular mention, and the Convent Gallery within the Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens (on top of an extinct volcano) offers three levels of fine art. Stop off at Wombat Hill House for the most sensational food this side of anywhere (two words: Croque Senor – made with Spanish chorizo!). It’s under the same ownership as the award-winning Lake House hotel, restaurant and spa.
Again, an organised tour from Melbourne to Daylesford is an easy option for seeing the best of the region.
Made famous by the haunting Australian book and film, Hanging Rock in the Macedon Ranges (an hour from the city) is a massive six million year old volcanic rock formation, the sacred indigenous history of which runs far deeper. You don’t need to be super fit for the 40-minute hike to the top, and the rewards are magnificent views and the chance to experience the infamous eerie ambience.
The rock is part of the Macedon Regional Park and the region is rich with flora and fauna along its network of trails. The Sanatorium Lake trail, for example, is just a couple of kilometres long and takes in some stunning scenery and great picnic spots. The Macedon Ranges Walking Trail is a more ambitious 30kms. There’s an excellent Discovery Centre, for those interested in geology, but even if you didn’t think you were, learning more about the fascinating formation of this volcanic plug will soon change your mind.
Great Ocean Road
The drive along the stretch of Victorian coastline known as the Great Ocean Road is rated one of the most scenic in the world. There’s a lot to take in (including the Bay of Islands, magnificent Cape Otway and the surrounding Great Otway National Park), but you can certainly get a good taste of it in a day.
The drive starts at Torquay, home of the renowned surfing break at Bells Beach, then hugs the rugged coastline to Cape Otway, the famous ancient limestone formations of the 12 Apostles (unfortunately now reduced to eight), Port Campbell, and officially ends at Allensford.
For those that just want to sit back, relax and enjoy the experience, there’s no end of guided Melbourne day tours to the Great Ocean Road on offer. If you have energy to burn (and the time to spare), the Great Ocean Walk from Apollo Bay to the 12 Apostles (completed over a few days) is a superb experience.
If there’s anything cuter than a parade of hundreds of little penguins waddling home after a busy day of fishing, I’d like to know what it is so I can disagree! That is exactly what you’ll have the opportunity to see on Phillip Island — a two-hour drive south-east from Melbourne. The 100-square-kilometre island is home to a thriving colony of little penguins. Tourists have been coming here daily since the 1920s to witness the penguin parade up the beach at dusk. Today it’s one of the country’s most popular wildlife attractions.
While everyone gets a good view of the parade from the specially constructed tiered seating areas, visitor numbers are strictly limited. Book well in advance. There are lots of penguin tours from Melbourne that will take care of all the details.
There are plenty of other things to see and do around the island, including wildlife sanctuaries, scenic walks, golf, fishing, galleries and shopping (lots of local arts and crafts). So if you want to make a weekend of it — go right ahead!
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best day trips from Melbourne? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Cover image courtesy of Phillip Island Nature Parks. Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Julietta Henderson is a travel and feature writer. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying ten years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy and France. She has travelled extensively through Europe, North America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and Russia, and believes the keys to a great travel experience are an open heart, an open mind and an open-ended ticket.