While Victoria’s better known tourist hotspots tend to attract most of the accolades, Geelong’s star is on the rise.
With an enviable position on Corio Bay in Port Phillip (just an hour by road or train from Melbourne), a beautiful foreshore precinct, and a revamped civic centre, there’s plenty happening inside this bustling regional 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 several craft brewers have set up shop.
Here are ten of the best things to do in 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! A bright sunny day is your cue to get out and enjoy everything the splendid Geelong Waterfront has to offer. This vibrant recreational precinct just goes from strength to strength. Here you’ll find restaurants and cafes, stunning parks and gardens, plenty of public art, and of course, fabulous views of Corio Bay.
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), and following the Bollard Trail is a must-do.
The centre of Geelong has undergone a major transformation in recent years — including the creation of a cultural precinct. At its heart is the 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.
Also check out Boom Gallery, which hosts exhibitions by local artists. In a second venue just across the road, you can watch some of the artists at work.
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.
There’s a buzz across the region about food and wine, and Geelong has plenty of great places to eat. 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.
Celebrated Alma offers contemporary Australian dining inspired by South American flavours, and is another must-try. 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.
Located on the Cunningham Pier, Wah Wah Gee does 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?
There are plenty of ‘wow’ culinary moments to be had outside the city, and The Q Train — the Bellarine Peninsula’s fine dining restaurant on rails — is certainly one of them. The train itself is operated under charter by The Bellarine Railway, and 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 six-course degustation experience that champions local produce. Enjoy your meal while soaking up the gorgeous scenery of the aptly named Swan Bay (with its grand population of black swans). Don’t miss this.
The Bellarine Taste Trail is a great resource for navigating your way around the more than fifty wineries, breweries, distilleries and providores in operation across the Bellarine Peninsula. But with all that liquid temptation, it’s a good idea to let someone else do the driving. Andy’s Trails is one of the region’s newest tour operators and their small-group wine, craft beer and gin tours are lots of fun. We tagged along for the ride to Basils Farm, Oakdene winery, Flying Brick Cider Co and Yes said the Seal wines, and Jack Rabbit Vineyard. Tastings at each venue are included in the cost of the tour.
It’s also possible to taste-test the best of the Bellarine in one convenient location. The Queenscliff Brewhouse showcases a wide range of regional products in their recently renovated tasting room. The Tastes of the Region menu includes a great value grazing board of local produce and a beer paddle or wine flight of five local drops — for just $30 per person. Alternatively, the brewhouse’s bistro offers tasty pub-style meals, 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.
Take some time out between attractions 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.
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.
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.
For more information, visit www.visitgeelongbellarine.com.au.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do in Geelong? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
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.