Only got a couple of days to get to know a new destination? Our Big Five City Guides can help. We break each destination down into culture, history, dining, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos. Louise Reynolds checks in from Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula, thanks to Choice Hotels.
While Victoria’s better known tourist hotspots attract most of the accolades, Geelong has been quietly transforming itself into what can only be described as a first-class cultural and culinary destination.
With an enviable position on Corio Bay in Port Phillip (just an hour by train from Melbourne), a beautiful foreshore precinct, and a revamped city centre, there’s plenty happening inside Victoria’s second city. Outside, Geelong is the gateway to the magnificent Bellarine Peninsula — home to charming holiday towns, stunning beaches, and a quickly evolving gourmet food scene. Cool climate wines do well here and craft brewing is also on the rise. There’s never been a better time to get a taste of this amazing region.
Enjoy this Geelong travel guide.
Need to know
Base yourself: Geelong Waterfront
Average hotel price per room/per night: AUD $152
Great breakfasts: 360Q, Piknik, Wharf Shed Cafe
Awesome coffee: Public, At the Heads, Rolling Pin bakery
Must-dos: Geelong Bollard Trail, Bellarine Taster Tour, The Q Train
Best times to visit Geelong and the Bellarine
Geelong and the Bellarine have similar weather patterns to Melbourne, although the region generally receives more rain. It’s worth packing for every eventuality, as Melbourne’s infamous ‘four seasons in one day’ adage also applies here!
Summer is a great time to enjoy everything the splendid Geelong Waterfront precinct has to offer. You can expect temperatures in the high 20s and low 30s. Occasional heat waves push the mercury up into the high 30s, but cooling ocean breezes bring relief.
Autumn is a lovely time to visit the region, and the changing of the season is very evident. Pack plenty of layers. In winter, temperatures drop significantly. Expect averages in the low teens, and overnight temperatures in low singles figures.
Spring brings the highest rainfall for the year, but you’ll enjoy balmy days with temperatures in the high teens and low 20s. Pack those layers and keep a brollie on call.
Geelong for history lovers
Geelong was established in the mid 1800s at the head of Victoria’s fast-growing farming country.
The city grew to become the indisputable wool capital of Australia, and later a manufacturing hub. Discover how the wool industry shaped the city by paying a visit to the National Wool Museum, which is housed in an original 1870s woolstore and auction house. From here, railway tracks once led straight to the end of Cunningham Pier — where fast clipper ships waited to rush the wool to Europe’s clamorous markets.
The work involved in getting wool from the sheep’s back to market was laborious and backbreaking, and the museum’s two permanent galleries are dedicated to the growing and production of wool. The museum also boasts one of only two remaining Axminster carpet looms in the world. This fascinating contraption revolutionised the carpet industry. It utilised a card system to create patterns — a very early example of the principles of applied computing!
A short drive from Geelong, the historic borough of Queenscliff on the Bellarine Peninsula became a popular seaside resort in the nineteenth century. Its position at the top of Port Phillip Bay meant Queenscliff was seen as critical to Victoria’s defences. Fort Queenscliff was built and a railway constructed to connect the fort to Geelong. Today Fort Queenscliff is a museum and The Bellarine Railway operates heritage train rides between Queenscliff and Drysdale. Regular visits from Thomas the Tank Engine delight children.
Top cultural experiences in Geelong
The centre of Geelong has undergone a major transformation in recent years — with a focus on the creation of cultural precincts.
At its heart is the new state-of-the-art library and Geelong Gallery. The gallery’s permanent collection includes some classic works from renowned Australian artists including Sidney Nolan, Margaret Olley, Russell Drysdale, Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and famed Indigenous artist Albert Namatjira. The Geelong Gallery also attracts top-level temporary and travelling exhibitions, including the prestigious Archibald Prize.
Boom Gallery hosts exhibitions by local artists. In a second venue just across the road, you can watch some of the artists at work. Salt Contemporary Art in Queenscliff exhibits the works of Australian painters, sculptors and ceramicists.
One of the icons of Geelong — and a giant art installation in its own right — is the collection of colourfully painted bollards that line the foreshore. The bollards were created in the 1990s by local artist Jan Mitchell (1940-2008), who painted timber piles from a demolished pier. Each one depicts a character that shaped Geelong’s history. There are more than 100 positioned along the Geelong waterfront — stretching from Limeburners Point to Rippleside Beach. Following the Bollard Trail is a must-do.
Great places to eat in Geelong and the Bellarine
The buzz in the region is all about food and wine.
Geelong’s restaurant and bar scene is centred on Little Mallop Street in the heart of downtown. Head for Caruggi — a trattoria-style eatery serving delicious northern Italian fare. The extensive menu includes pizzas, pastas and steaks. The service is friendly and fast, which makes Caruggi a great option for a quick bite to eat.
Alma is the celebrated latest addition to Geelong’s dining scene. The restaurant offers contemporary Australian dining inspired by South American flavours, and everything on the menu is designed to be shared. While South American cuisine isn’t known for being vegetarian friendly, there are some very memorable meat-free menu options, including the roast potatoes and baked pumpkin with goat curd, chick peas and chilli jam. The comprehensive wine list features South American drops (such as Argentinian malbecs), and local options — including a pinot gris from BAIE Wines on the Bellarine. It goes down exceptionally well with the roast chicken.
Located on the Cunningham Pier, Wah Wah Gee offers a fresh, feisty and fun Asian-inspired menu that everyone will love. Relax on the pier and enjoy delicious dishes from all corners of Asia. What’s not to love?
Outside the city, there are plenty of ‘wow’ culinary moments as well. The Q Train — the Bellarine Peninsula’s new fine dining restaurant on rails — combines two of my very favourite things: train travel and enjoying great food. Award-winning chef Greg Egan has designed an exceptional six-course degustation experience, that again, heroes local produce. The train itself is operated under charter by The Bellarine Railway. The carriages were formerly part of the Sundowner rail service that operated between Brisbane and Cairns.
During the three-hour return trip from Drysdale to Queenscliff, you’ll enjoy a sumptuous feast while taking in the gorgeous scenery of the aptly named Swan Bay (and its grand population of black swans). Don’t miss this.
The management at Queenscliff Brewhouse have set themselves an ambitious goal – to showcase the largest range of regional produce in the area — and they’re well on their way to achieving it. In the recently renovated tasting room, you can enjoy the Tastes of the Region menu — including a great value tasting board of local specialties and a beer paddle or wine flight of five local drops for just $20 per person. It’s a terrific opportunity to taste a bit of everything that makes the region’s cuisine so special.
The brewhouse’s bistro does tasty pub style food, and there’s a whiskey bar stocked with 200 different varieties.
With Aussie coffee-capital Melbourne just up the road, it comes as no surprise that Geelong and the Bellarine have enough great cafes to support a month-long brekky binge. Start in Queenscliff at Piknik — located in a converted petrol station. It has quickly become a favourite with locals. On the lovely harbour, a stone’s throw from the ferry terminal, 360Q serves up great food with a view. At the Heads at Barwon Heads juts out over the water and occupies probably the pick of Peninsula cafe locations. Back in Geelong, Wharf Shed Cafe on the foreshore has a lovely outlook over the bay from its al fresco tables. Other city cafe options of note include Public at the new library, and Sunday Geelong inside Boom Gallery.
If you simply want to grab a pie and a doughnut (and who doesn’t from time to time?), head for Rolling Pin bakery in Queenscliff.
Remember that it’s not all about the main tourist centres when it comes to taste-testing the best of the Bellarine. The wider peninsula harbours innumerable gourmet producers and cool climate winemakers, and the handy Bellarine Taste Trail is a great resource for navigating your way around the more than fifty local wineries, breweries and providores.
Take some time out between culinary engagements to kick back and relax.
Some of the loveliest spots for a quiet stroll include the Geelong foreshore and the Victorian-era Geelong Botanic Gardens — where several trees are listed on the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) Register of Significant Trees. Other tranquil options are the foreshore between Point Lonsdale and Queenscliff, and the edge of Swan Bay. The more energetic visitor might like to cycle the Bellarine Rail Trail.
If you need to cool off, take the plunge at the enclosed sea baths at Eastern Beach in Geelong, which are surrounded by an art deco-era boardwalk. Relaxing on the beach with a good book is the done thing at Point Lonsdale, Barwon Heads and Thirteenth Beach.
To sooth body and soul, Mud Day Spa in Queenscliff offers a comprehensive range of pampering treatments for women and men. The luxurious Kodo massage with LI’TYA essential oils draws on ancient Indigenous healing traditions. After my massage, I was so relaxed my Fitbit accused me of napping!
Where to shop in Geelong
Geelong offers plenty of standard Aussie shopping opportunities, but there are some much more entertaining retail experiences to be had.
If you have a passion for vintage fashion (or homewares just like nana used to own), lock up your credit card before entering the Amazing Mill Markets. If you have a husband who collects toy soldiers or vinyl LPs from the 70s, you’d better lock him up too. With thousands of retro items, the market certainly lives up to its ‘amazing’ tag.
The rummaging doesn’t end there. Geelong Vintage Market also offers an extraordinary array of collectables — spread throughout its 3,500 square-metre showroom.
To take home a taste of the region’s craft beers, wines, ciders and produce, Queenscliff Brewhouse is a one-stop-shop. Geelong Cellar Door also carries a big selection of local wines, and has a popular in-house wine bar and eatery.
Where to stay in Geelong
Quality Hotel Bayside Geelong
Quality Hotel Bayside Geelong is an ideal base for exploring everything Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula have to offer — and a lovely spot to return to each day to soak up the glowing afternoon ambience on the Geelong Waterfront. The hotel offers spacious rooms with comfortable furnishings. There are 68 rooms to choose from, including one and two-bedroom apartments (perfect for self catering), family rooms and executive suites. Many offer magnificent bay views.
The hotel is positioned just metres from the foreshore and bollard trail. Amenities include a heated outdoor swimming pool, sauna, and complimentary bike hire. Black Salt is the hotel’s renowned in-house restaurant and yet another opportunity to enjoy the region’s superb produce. It’s open for breakfast and dinner daily.
How to get to Geelong and the Bellarine
Geelong is located 75 kilometres southwest of Melbourne. If you are travelling by car, take the West Gate Freeway and follow the signs. V/Line runs regular train services between Melbourne and Geelong.
If you’re travelling from interstate, Avalon Airport is located just 20 kilometres from Geelong’s CBD. Jetstar flies into Avalon Airport from a number of major Australian cities. Transfers to Geelong from Melbourne Airport are also available.
Two ferry services travel to the Bellarine Peninsula. Searoad Ferries operates between Queenscliff and Sorrento (connecting the Bellarine with the Mornington Peninsula). Port Phillip Ferries transports passengers between Melbourne’s Docklands and Portarlington on the Bellarine.
The Bellarine Peninsula is easily accessible by car from Geelong.
Do you have any tips to add to our Geelong travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Louise Reynolds made up her mind at the age of about four that she would one day travel the world — and has so far visited around 30 countries across five continents and the Pacific. A hopeless Francophile, she has a particular love for France, its language and pretty much all things French. Louise’s favourite way to see the world is on foot and her boots have taken her walking on famous trails in Europe, South America and New Zealand. She also has a passion for her home state of Victoria and loves exploring its diverse regions.