Melbourne offers enough cultural, culinary and sporting attractions to keep visitors entertained for weeks, but leave 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 many cases, you can be back on Lygon Street in time for dinner!
Here are ten top Melbourne day trips.
1. Great Ocean Road
While it’s most famous for the spectacular 12 Apostles sea stacks (albeit a few less than that these days), there is so much more to see and do along the Great Ocean Road. Along with a visit to the historic Cape Otway Lightstation, a day is just enough time to also experience some of the majesty of the Great Otway National Park. The Great Ocean Road officially starts at Torquay (home of the renowned surfing break at Bells Beach) and hugs the rugged coastline all the way to Port Campbell National Park — which is where you’ll find the Apostles. The drive officially ends at Allensford.
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 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!).
3. Dandenong Ranges
A world away from the Melbourne CBD (yet in reality just 35 kilometres), 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.
4. Phillip Island
All the world loves a penguin and there are plenty of them to love on Phillip Island, which is located about 90-minutes’ drive southeast of the city. The appropriately named little penguin is the smallest species of the bird, but that doesn’t stop this colony from putting on a blockbuster evening show. The much-loved nightly ritual, where the penguins return from a day of fishing in Bass Strait to scurry up the beach to their rookery, has been entertaining the locals and tourists for decades.
There are plenty of other things to see and do around the island, including wildlife sanctuaries, scenic walks, golf, fishing, galleries and shopping for local arts and crafts. So, if you want to make a weekend of it — go right ahead!
5. Hanging Rock
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 30 kilometres. 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.
6. Mornington Peninsula
Located just 60 minutes’ drive southeast of Melbourne’s CBD, the Mornington Peninsula is not only a hot spot for tourists, but also a favoured day trip destination for Melburnians themselves. The pristine beaches, rolling rural hills and laid-back vibe are all part of the attraction, as is the fabulous food and wine scene. This is the perfect destination for couples, groups of friends, and families, and you can do as much or as little as you like.
7. The Grampians
As the continental drift continued around 400 million years ago, the Grampians were the eastern shoreline of what was to become the continent of Australia. Massive forces pushed, lifted and folded the accumulated sediment, creating three spectacular west-sloping ridges that literally seem to rise from nowhere in the midst of the surrounding plains. Weathering gradually eroded the monoliths, creating the dramatic sandstone peaks and towering escarpments of the Grampians today.
A favoured destinations for hikers and a hotspot for wildlife spotting, any visit here will be one steeped in wonder.
8. Yarra Valley
The Yarra Valley is the jewel in the crown of Victoria’s wine scene. You could fill several days visiting the cellar doors of the many wineries around Yarra Glen and Healesville, along with those nestled in the surrounding hills. There are some 300 vineyards and more than 150 wineries. Famous names include Domaine Chandon, Di Bortoli and Yering Station, but there are plenty of boutique family-run establishments to enjoy as well. And let’s not forget the valley’s gourmet food scene. All in all, this is one delicious day tour destination!
9. Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula
While Victoria’s better known tourist hotspots attract most of the attention, the state’s second city — Geelong — has been quietly transforming itself into a cultural and culinary hub. The city 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. Now’s the time to get a taste of this amazing region — before everyone else catches on!
The regional Victorian city of Bendigo was built on the back of the gold rush of the second half of the 19th century — and it shows. Glorious period architecture lines the streets and lavish statues and monuments pay testament to the wealth and prestige that the city enjoyed during this period. While Bendigo demands a longer stay, it is doable as a day tour from Melbourne. Highlights include the Central Deborah Gold Mine, the city’s Vintage Talking Trams, and the Bendigo Art Gallery — which has hosted numerous blockbuster touring exhibitions.
The activities and attractions mentioned in this story are provided as a guide only and may not be included in the Melbourne day trips and tours offered by The Big Bus. Please check the itinerary notes for your preferred tour for a list of the included sights and stops.
Cover image: The Grampians. Image courtesy of Visit Victoria. Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Julietta Henderson is a Melbourne-based travel and feature writer. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying for ten years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy and France. Julietta 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.
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